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WWE Bret Hart Appreciation Night at Madison Square Garden report (Or "Why do so few wrestlers know how to work house show style?")

Let's start with the quick & dirty results:

  1. Kofi Kingston defeated Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler in a non-title match
  2. WWE Tag Team Champions Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre defeated Chris Masters & MVP to retain the titles
  3. Alberto Del Rio defeated Chavo Guerrero
  4. Kelly Kelly & Melina defeated Unified Divas Champion Laycool
  5. Mark Henry defeated Jack Swagger
  6. Bret Hart & The Hart Dynasty defeated Heath Slater, Michael Tarver, & Justin Gabriel (Jerry Lawler was special refereee)
  7. The Big Show defeated CM Punk
  8. World Heavyweight Champion Kane defeated The Undertaker in a New York Street Fight to retain the title

Overall, it was a very fun show.  The highlight of the show was the Bret Hart appreciation ceremony (hosted by Howard Finkel in a very pleasant surprise) and the six-man tag team match immediately following it.  The crowd was very into Bret's return, as expected, and his performance blew away his other efforts since returning.  Everything he did looked sharp, and he even did the 2nd rope elbow drop, which got one of the biggest pops of the night.  He also took some kind of offense for the first time that I can remember in his 2010 matches in the form of an eye rake by Slater.  The post-match brawl where Lawler and Hart cleared the ring with awesome-looking punches was great, too.  Bret took  a long time circling the ringside area after the match, talking at length with fans and posing for photos.  A tremendously well-planned and executed segment that made the show feel like something special.

CM Punk vs Big Show was, for sheer entertainment value, the other highlight of the show.  Punk's has a huge arsenal of heel shtick that works tremendously well at house shows, especially against an opponent like Big Show who's also very expressive and can use the giant shtick to work well with Punk.  At one point, when Show was hulking up out of a sleeper hold with Punk on his back, Punk screamed "NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" before being thrown to the mat.  After the match, he sold the knockout punch by staggering around and falling out of the ring.

This leads to my criticism of the card: While most of the matches were technically/mechanically fine to very good, most of the wrestlers seemed like they didn't know/forgot how to work an expressive house show match for the back of the arena, instead working matches that probably would've probably come off a lot better if I was watching them on TV. The exceptions would be:

  • Kofi Kingston with his "BOOM!" spots
  • Chris Masters throughout the tag title match (dancing pec shtick, lots of fun stuff on the apron waiting for the hot tag while the heels got the heat on MVP, etc.)
  • Guerrero (interaction with Tony Chimel & lots of cool veteran shtick to get the crowd fired up and behind him, which was especially impressive since he was a heel on TV the previous night)
  • Laycool (all of the usual mugging they do on TV)
  • Mark Henry (expressive selling among other little things)
  • Bret & Lawler (it just came naturally to them, not as shticky as the others mentioned, but being great veteran workers they were instinctively working for the back of the arena in a more subtle way)
  • Show & Punk (see above note about their match)
  • Undertaker (see Bret & Lawler)

The Hart Dynasty also came off well, but more in a way where they "wrestled big," if that makes sense.  Ziggler, Rhodes, McIntyre, Del Rio, Swagger, Nexus, and to a lesser extent Kane (who I really like as wrestler but he was dull here) weren't nearly as expressive and didn't "wrestle big" enough, and it hurt the show.  For all but Kane, I suspect that has to do with how developmental is getting them ready for working WWE TV style.  It's a shame, because many of those guys are really solid mechanically, but I have worries for the next generation of WWE stars if they're so set in their ways of working for a camera that they can't be bothered to change up their style for house shows.

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