January 23, 2012

WWE vs TNA: the Live Event Experience


So last month I went to a WWE house show...

Don't look at me like that. The ticket was a Christmas present and the show was on my birthday (yes, really). Plus, since the world is supposed to end this year, I figured I ought to get that Daniel Bryan shirt while I still can. I don't have to make excuses to you people! Get off my back, damn it!

Ahem... as I was saying... those of you who follow me on twitter were probably surprised to read this since I usually have some pretty scathing things to say about the WWE product on Monday nights at 9-11 pm. But I'm still a wrestling fan first and foremost. What's more, since my ticket to a TNA live event taking place 2 weeks later was already sitting on my desk, I thought this would give me a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the 2 companies on the live event experience they offer.

And heeerrreee weeeeee gooooo!!!

First, I have to dwell on a couple things for a minute. Seeing a WWE show is expensive. Yeah, I'm not exactly breaking new ground with that little nugget, but it's the truth. $10.00 just to park my car for a few hours?! Kiss my ass! And don't even ask what the venders were charging for food; bottled water must be in short supply these days considering how much they were demanding for it. And please don't bother telling me that it's the arena, not WWE, that sets the prices for these things; I'm well aware of that, but I reserve the right to get pissed off regardless. The economy sucks and my money doesn't just fall from the freaking sky.

Don't think of this as a criticism of WWE as much as just a general observation about what happens when you follow the company that books the bigger venues. If you go to a WWE show, expect to lighten your wallet. A lot. That's all I'm saying.

Also, the merchandise stand didn't have any Daniel Bryan shirts, so I got a CM Punk shirt instead. Not really important, I know, but still, it bugged me.

Anyway, on to the show...

WWE markets their product to families now. So, no surprises here, there were a lot of kids in the audience. Irritating kids. Kids that would make you want to sterilize yourself if you were subjected to them for more than a few hours. On this particular show I was seated next to one such child.

Within 5 minutes of sitting down, I realized, to my utter horror, that this shrill, ear-splitting, eye-gougingly, sack-crushingly annoying, loudmouthed little puke was a rabid R-Truth fan. With R-Truth being one of the most intolerable characters in this company, I started getting a sinking feeling in my stomach around this time. Then I found out this rancid little pustule was also a big fan of the godawfully dancing, excruciatingly bland personality vacuum that is Eve Torres. Now imagine that the arena is filled with many more kids like this.

Yeah... this night was not destined to go well.

To my great irritation, the show started with a lengthy video package featuring various celebrities talking about how awesome the WWE is. Yes, I know this is standard practice for WWE events, but it's always annoyed me. You don't have to sell the audience on the show; we're already here, we bought our tickets. All you're doing now is wasting our time, and quite frankly, it reeks of self-indulgence.

Once the show actually started, the Miz came out to cut a promo about his match that night. Apparently the advertised main event of Punk vs Cena vs Del Rio in a triple threat cage match was scrapped due to Del Rio's injury, and instead we were getting Cena vs Kane and Punk vs Miz, which struck me as a pretty poor substitute, but whatever.

R-Truth came out, Miz hightailed it, then John Laurinaitis came out and booked Truth in an impromptu match with (shoot me) David Otunga.

The only good thing about the match that followed was that it was less than a minute long. With that out of the way, finally the official card began.

First was Beth Phoenix vs Eve Torres for the Divas title, with special guest time keeper and referee, the Bella Twins.

The Bellas pulled some heel tactics (which was helpful since I had no idea if they were faces or heels these days), leading to Beth getting the win, then they beat down Eve until Kelly Kelly made the save.

Believe it or not, this was actually one of the better parts of the show, if for no other reason than the Divas didn't feel like the biggest afterthought ever conceived for once. By Diva match standards it was actually pretty good and it got maybe 6 or 7 minutes, which was very refreshing to me since their matches on Raw and Smackdown rarely go longer than 90 seconds these days.

There was nothing revolutionary here, but I would rank this highly above what we usually get from the Divas on WWE TV, simply because it was treated as more than just an obvious piss break segment. It's faint praise, yes, but praise nonetheless.

Then Mick Foley was introduced as the "special guest host" for the evening, and if I cared at all about Mick Foley at this point I might have thought that was pretty cool, but I really don't. His appearances just don't feel special anymore, they haven't for a long time, and stuff like this is not helping. He did his cheap pop routine that was played out 10 years ago, and this was really just a lame mini-angle to set up the next match.

What followed was a complete waste of 10 minutes that concluded with Jack Swagger jobbing to Jerry Lawler and then eating Mr. Socko. All you haters out there, please remember this the next time you bitch at TNA about the veterans overshadowing the young talent.

It made my soul hurt that the crowd was so into Lawler. Personally, I was pissed off that he was even there taking up a spot on the card that should have gone to someone young and relevant.

I tried to start a "PLEASE RETIRE!" chant, but nobody was interested -- they were too busy cheering for Swagger getting embarrassed by the 60-year-old color commentator. Hey, remember when Swagger was the world champion? Neither does anyone else.

Then we had a 6-man tag, which I thought might be fun until I saw who was in it. It was Alex Riley, Mason Ryan and some guy from FCW that I'd never heard of vs 3 NXT jobbers who, quite frankly, weren't even worth the effort I spent to stand up and take a picture of them. Riley seemed fired up here, but the match was completely forgettable.

Mason Ryan sucks on ice. This guy is only marginally better than Rob Terry, so imagine my complete incredulity and utter disgust when he was the most over person in the match.

It was at this point I came to the conclusion that if I really wanted to enjoy myself that night, I was probably in the wrong arena and I was just going to have to turn my brain off and roll with it.

Then came the match that I'm guessing replaced the Divas match as the piss break segment of the
evening, Santino Marella vs Michael McGillicutty. I spent the next few minutes wondering how in the world a ham-and-egger like McGillicutty even qualified for the house show circuit to begin with. Though, to be fair, I was thinking the same thing about Otunga and the entire heel team in the 6-man tag.

Discussing this match would only waste valuable seconds. The crowd seemed satisfied when Santino did the Cobra, which, I'm pretty sure was the only reason why the match was even on the show in the first place. But for people like me who think the Cobra is a stupid move, I was left grossly underwhelmed. Nothing to see here, folks.

Santino did invite some kids into the ring to do his victory trombone routine with him afterward, which was a nice treat for the kids, but was really nothing we haven't seen before.

Things then picked up a little with Zack Ryder defending the US title against Dolph Ziggler (w/ Vickie Guererro).

I'll give these guys credit -- they were the first people on the show who looked like they were really having fun and there's was the first men's match of the show that I was genuinely entertained by. Vickie interfered during the match and the referee ejected her from ringside, which felt like a mistake to me since whether or not Ziggler can actually draw heel heat without her is a total crapshoot.

But the match was enjoyable and Ryder earned some points with me for being only the second wrestler on the show who didn't head straight to the back immediately after his match. He actually took a minute to hang out with some fans at ringside, which I thought was pretty cool of him.

After this was John Cena vs. Kane, which wasn't nearly as eventful as recent episodes of Raw would have you believe. This went all of 4 or 5 minutes at most and ended with Kane getting himself DQed with a chair shot. L-A-M-E!

[SIDE NOTE: Sorry for the poor picture quality here. This is where my camera battery died and I had to switch to my iPod.]

He then headed for the back, but the kryptonite must have fallen out of his pocket at that point, because he just HAD to go back to the ring so Cena could hit him with the Attitude Adjustment.

Naturally, all the little kids went nuts for that, but considering Cena was surely one of the main reasons why most of those fans showed up that night (I'm going by the t-shirts here), this was a total bust.

After a dull intermission, during which the WWE didn't lift a finger to keep the crowd entertained, it was main event time with CM Punk vs the Miz in a cage match for the WWE title.

Disagree with this all you want, but I'm going to say it anyway: WWE cage matches are BORING. When WWE watered down their ring style some years back, the cage match was one of the biggest casualties. There's just nothing exciting about these things anymore and this one was no exception.

Most of the match was slow and rather dull up until the last few minutes when it picked up. The finish was well booked and wrestled, but if you've seen any Raw or Smackdown cage match in the last few years, you've seen this one.

That said, I knew what to expect going in and I ended up enjoying the match for what it was; they weren't about to kill themselves at a house show after all. Plus, Punk was the main guy I went there to see and was one of only 2 people I genuinely marked out for (Howard Finkel being the other one), so seeing him go over in a cage match live was still really cool.

But get this: the instant, and I mean the instant Punk got the 1-2-3 and the bell rang, people started heading for the door. This is something I have never seen at any TNA event I've been to -- it was like they couldn't wait to leave. I know it's hardly uncommon at events like this and I certainly understand the desire to beat the masses to the parking lot, but the WWE champion is still in the ring for crying out loud! What kind of fan leaves when the show isn't even over yet?! The kind of fan the WWE markets their product to, that's who.

Anyway, a lot of those people probably feel pretty stupid now because post-match Punk jumped into the crowd to celebrate with the fans. And he actually stuck around for while, going from one side of the arena to the other, so a bunch of people in the stands got to see him up close, including me since I had a floor seat.

For this, Punk gets the same points that Ryder and Santino got. They were the only 3 people on the entire show who seemed to genuinely appreciate the fact that the fans came out to see them. Everyone else couldn't seem to be bothered that much.

And just like that, the show abruptly ended. The lights came back on and we were ushered out the door. And as I walked to my car, I was left thinking 2 things: #1) while it was a fun night out, the show I got wasn't worth the money, and #2) I regretted not staying home and watching UFC 141 instead. Thankfully, I got home in time to see Lesnar vs Overeem, so that worked out.

The WWE is an impressive spectacle, no doubt about it. The set is great, the production is superb, with all the bells and whistles that TNA doesn't have the budget for. But there's something very important that they're missing: heart. Seeing it live, you're smacked in the face with how cold and formal everything is, and the get-you-in-get-you-out mentality is in full effect.

With a scant few exceptions (Santino, Ryder and Punk), I left the arena with the impression that once they had my money they felt like their job was already done and they really couldn't get me out of there fast enough. If any new fans who were seeing the WWE live for the first time and didn't know what to expect were hoping to get an autograph or a picture with one of the stars, they were pretty much out of luck.

The WWE likes to project this image that they love their fans so much and it's their honor to perform in front of them, but in person it comes off like they secretly feel it's the other way around.

So, did the live event experience offered by TNA manage to raise the rather low bar set by the biggest wrestling/entertainment company in the world? Stay tuned for part 2 to find out.

To be continued...


Vince Not Vance said...

You paid only $10 for parking? Sheesh, that's insanely cheap (but I live in a major metropolitan area, so that's probably why).

Went to see a Raw house show a few weeks back & our group had to pony up $35 for parking to the arena. No joke. We chipped in so everything ended up working out, but still.

Otherwise, good read, waiting to see the next part.

Justin Howlett said...

WOW! You actually had something positive to say about WWE! I`m shocked. But hey, I can`t blame you for constantly shitting on WWE.