Enthralling action, gripping plotlines, larger-than-life performances and personalities – I’ve seen all of this and more on my TV as a wrestling fan.
But actually being at a big-time live show turns all of those qualities up by 1,000, and for three hours you are removed from reality and immersed in the crazy, captivating world of pro wrestling.
“Young, old, families, friends, people on their own – none of those categories mattered. We were all in one category, wrestling fans”
When WWE NXT scheduled a network special event at the SSE Arena in Wembley for the finale of its UK tour, I knew I had to move fast.
Tickets sold out in less than five minutes, but luckily I secured mine and so became one of the privileged 10,000-plus fans in attendance on the night.
As somebody who had only ever watched wrestling on television, you could say I was than a little excited.
The moment I walked into the arena and saw the ring and the crowd, a massive grin spread across my face and pretty much stayed there for the whole evening.
As I located my seat, it was refreshing to see all types of people at the event. The young, the old, families, friends, people on their own – and none of those categories mattered. We were all in one category, wrestling fans.
Whatever you think of pro wrestling, it knows how to put on a show that makes fans feel it’s worth paying their hard-earned money to attend.
The party-like atmosphere at this one was in evidence even outside the arena, with the gathering hordes of WWE aficionados in high spirits, chanting all the way as they moved up the queue to get in.
” It was the perfect match to get the crowd up and gave the show a sense of momentum that never flagged”
The televised show started with a special appearance by probably the most recognisable face on the night, former superstar and now executive vice-president of talent relations/live events of WWE, Triple H.
It was like the Triple H of old. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand and hyped things up to the max as the first rendition of the NXT chant echoed around the cavernous venue.
The first match on the card was actually one of the night’s best, between Japanese star Asuka and Emma. These women really left it all in the ring, delivering intensity in every move.
Asuka showcased her submission expertise and hard-hitting style to claim the victory. It was the perfect match to get the crowd up and gave the show a sense of momentum that never flagged as the night went on.
If I was to tell you what came next blew the roof off the place and produced the largest reaction of the night, you’d imagine it must have been a really intense back-and-forth contest with an array of exciting moves and death-defying leaps – but it was simply an entrance to the ring!
When Enzo Amore and Colin Cassidy’s music was pumped out, it really did feel like England had scored at the nearby national stadium. The crowd roared and sang along with every word of their famed opening entrance skit, complete with their native New York accent.
This segment really brought home why I originally became a pro wrestling fan. It’s an art that elevates audience participation to a level that leaves other forms of entertainment trailing in its wake.
A lot of the time, the wrestling isn’t what garners the loudest reaction but rather it’s the entrances, promos and catchphrases in which the crowd really feel most deeply involved.
A fairly rudimentary match followed between crowd favourite Apollo Crews and the villainous Baron Corbin.
Some viewed this as the right time to get more drinks and food. Others aimed some vulgar chants at the evil Baron, who egged on the crowd, embraced their bile and basked in the hatred. Corbin went on to win and afterwards endured more profane abuse before, in typically British fashion, we clapped him off all the way.
As we got further into the card, I could really sense the anticipation building for the last two matches – the championship contests were most likely the ones that people had really paid to see.
As Bayley made her memorable entrance and wrestled Nia Jax for the NXT Divas Championship, we Londoners started the now famous Bayley chant based on Hey Baby, the former UK no 1 song made famous by DJ Otzi.
Since the Wembley show, the chant has taken off and is now sung in Bayley’s honour at all the events she appear at back in the USA and elsewhere around the world. We were not only just there to witness and admire, but we were making history.
The main event was finally upon us and one word comes to mind when looking back – brutality. Reigning NXT heavyweight champion Finn Balor and challenger Samoa Joe really put it all on the line. The promise of blood, sweat and tears has become a cliché in the fight world, but this match lived up to it.
It truly had everything. Drama, emotion, violence, technical wrestling and no little amount of brawling. It truly did live up to its hype and delivered on all fronts, so much so that after Balor retained his belt to the delight of the crowd, he had to be carried out by medics. That’s what steel chairs, a table and a 300lb Samoan monster will do to you…
The event drew to a close and I truly felt like I’d got my £60 worth, and left with a new-found respect for all the performers who had put their bodies through so much for our entertainment.
Wrestlers are on the road 300 days a year, fighting in a new city every night, and to experience it live was truly special – one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride.
I recommend anybody to go next time WWE rolls into your town. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Even if you aren’t a wrestling fan, by the time you come out of the arena at the end of the show, you will be.