These days there are two kinds of professional wrestling fan; the marks are mostly young kids and families who buy the t-shirts, cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys regardless of how talented they are, while the ‘smart marks’ appreciate the finer art of storytelling and in-ring talent. I’ve been both over the course of my life, but last night as I left Leeds Arena I felt like a little bit of both for the first time ever.
John Cena, the man whose slogans adorned the t-shirts of many a young fan and his dad last night, has never been a truly world-class in-ring performer, but he makes up for it with charisma and under-dogged determination as well as the kind of baby-faced heroic charm which would make even Hulk “eat your vitamins and say your prayers” Hogan in his prime look a bit hackneyed.
It was Cena’s main event match against Alberto Del Rio which, even in an arena only three-quarters full, made me truly realise the spellbinding effect he has over audiences. Their match was by far the best of the night and told a great story: Cena the new World Heavyweight Champion, still not back to full fitness after a lengthy absence, stalked around the ring by his opponent, the cagey former champion who knows exactly what he must do to win, and is very capable of doing so. Cena struggled through an injury sustained halfway through the match to come back and win it despite a ref bump and Del Rio’s hard-hitting style.
Another personal highlight of the evening for me was the performance of CM Punk, the darling of the smart marks – as physically devastating in the ring as he is verbally on the microphone. His first words of the night to heel genius Paul Heyman: “Here’s the plan – I’m gonna get in that ring in ten seconds and hit you with this stick.” Massive, massive pop from the crowd. Punk’s ‘unscheduled’ tag match, where he teamed with Daniel Bryan to face the mysterious Wyatt Brothers, had the crowd on their feet for the best part of the match, too.
The rest of the matches were fairly forgettable, unfortunately; being house matches rather than taped allows the performers to relax the pace a bit, which tends to reduce actual match quality – and the order of events was especially unfortunate for one Curtis Axel, the Intercontinental champ: having fled the ring to avoid CM Punk and his big stick earlier in the night, he then returned later to defend his belt against R-Truth in front of a crowd which had earlier witnessed his cowardly act and so gave him no quarter as a threat. He still managed to win, though, which made opponent R-Truth look pretty daft; though his years-old rapper shtick does that for him anyway.
My misheard chant of the night: the initial “Goldberg” chants aimed at poor-man’s-Goldberg Ryback, changed into “Boring” by someone a few seats on my right (despite nothing boring happening), changed again into “Yorkshire” by someone a few seats over from them.
All in all though, a fantastic experience in a nice and shiny new arena – and certainly not my last trip to see the WWE superstars in action. Thanks to Ladbrokes for helping make a great night for me and my lady, who have since admitted a fondness for each other’s wrestling heroes after seeing them on the night. Never saw that coming!
Images from http://www.wwe.com/events/leeds