Hours before I stepped into Madison Square Garden, a friend said they were shocked I was paying real money to see a WWE house show. A few times, these words came back to bite me, but for the most part, I left impressed.
Matt Hardy vs Bray Wyatt
Once Matt was woken by losing to Bray (which would wake up even Sleeping Beauty), it appears that His Broken Brilliance has no interest in repeating that incident, entering to a piano theme that sounded an awful lot like his final theme in TNA.
Wyatt talked on the mic, Matt just screamed, and I continued to hope that Brother Nero, Queen Rebecca, King Maxel, Señor Benjamin or Vanguard 1 will join the show.
The finish saw Matt pinning Bray after hitting ... the Twist of Fate.
Absolution (Paige, Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose) vs Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Mickie James
This match was memorable for two things. First, that it's such a freaking relief to see Paige back in the fold. As she kneed Bayley over and over again on the apron furthest from me, I thought about how the darkest timeline of them all has her career fading away as she's stuck with Alberto.
Secondly, while Mickie James got the quietest entrance pop of the match, a "We Want Mickie!" chant did happen at some point. I was pleasantly surprised how into this match the crowd was, considering many of us had seen it the night before on Raw. Paige over cleanly with The Rampaige, to the 1-2-3.
Walking With Elias
As the lights came back on after that match, Elias got one of the more positive reactions to his appearance I've seen to date, alongside Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Elias actually freaking performed FREEBIRD, a post-Christmas miracle!
Of course, he added a verse of his own, about how he hates performing at The Garden and how New Yorkers suck. Had he been talking about the Barclays, I wouldn't have disagreed.
Goldust, Titus O'Neill, Apollo Crews, Heath Slater and Rhyno vs The Revival, The Miztourage and Curt Hawkins, who had Elias in their corner
You know how you know the Raw tag team scene sucks eggs? The Revival, who should be in your matches of the damn year for their TakeOver work, were lost to this 5 on 5 comedy jobber tag match. Rhyno got the pin, after hitting a monster spine buster on Hawkins. It's no GORE, but I dug it.
Enzo vs Kalisto
Two monster pops for the little guys, who wrestled a match to decide who is the bitchier member of the WWE roster. Enzo got the stronger reaction, and the crowd still sings along with him, but after the crowd yelled S A W F T SAWFT, Enzo chastised us, saying only he says it now, and he spat it out very quickly.
While Enzo (who wore a leopard-print Supreme robe to the ring) cheated a little here and there, he won relatively cleanly after hitting Jord-Enzo (which a smark behind me reminded everyone is actually Gail Kim's Eat Defeat).
Samoa Joe vs Finn Bálor
This was a good match, but felt insanely short when Joe got Finn in the Coquina Clutch seemingly out of nowhere. In that moment, the crowd died a little on the inside. After Joe left, Finn had the spotlight on himself, looked a little sad, and then left.
I wonder if they're trying to build support behind Finn by having him lose, combined with the "he's not over" rumor.
Asuka and Dana Brooke vs Nia Jaxx and Alexa Bliss
Why the crowd chose this match to be inordinately quiet is not exactly puzzling, as there was enough reason to be confused. First of all, I was still put off by the previous result being so fast, and wait, why is Asuka is teaming with Dana? Weren't they just feuding? What the hell?
Asuka submits Alexa with an armbar.
Kane vs Braun Strowman
The crowd popped pretty strong for Kane, which sent me into a "what the hell is going on? Is this return and push not as terrible and dumb as it feels like at home?" And then Braun entered to a louder pop, and my smark rage calmed down.
Kane lost by DQ after hitting Strowman with a steel chair extremely-early on. Strowman returned the favor by powerslamming Kane through a table.
Strowman, now seemingly the friendly monster among men, spent time to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with fans sitting ringside.
As I walked around the food concourse, I was reminded about how WWE house shows are supposed to be the platonic ideal of a WWE show, filled with families having fun.
Until I saw the merch stand. First of all, this is how I learned that the Undertaker's I Respect The Flag shirt is real, and not some snarky photoshop from the internet.
Then, I saw that WWE charges $40 for the Roman Reigns shirt in the adult medium size and larger.
Steel Cage match for the Raw Tag Team Championships: The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro) vs Jason Jordan and Seth Rollins (c)
A sign of a good match is when you're happy with the result, even though you wanted the exact opposite. This is what happened when The Bar failed to stop JJ and Rollins from leaving the cage.
Humorously, both Seth and Jason managed to escape the cage on their own. The first time, Seth had to come back, diving in to save the guy who I swear is lying about being Kurt's son. The second time, Jordan managed to get under Sheamus, getting him in the Electric Chair position, while Rollins managed to escape.
I still swear that the titles will switch hands in the very near future, so that Jason Jordan will have a meltdown and reveal he lied to Kurt, and then take his not-dad out with a duplex. Then Angle eliminates JJ from the Rumble, and you have a Mania match.
Ever hear that the house show crowds — who aren't as jaded as the marks that go to TV tapings and just get into business for themselves — are the real fans with wholesome opinions? Well, the house show crowd at MSG booed the bejesus out of Jason Jordan too. That means, I believe, that he's a heel. Legally binding, possibly.
John Cena vs Roman Reigns (c) for the Intercontinental Championship
John Cena loves to bring up how fans only chant "Let's Go Cena," vs "Cena Sucks," to show his opponents how they've yet to truly succeed. That was the case as this match started, but for a brief moment, a "Let’s go Roman" vs "Roman sucks" chant war broke out, and I was one of the folks chanting for Mr. Reigns.
Which was a first for me. And why was I chanting for Roman? Was it that glaring bald spot from Big Match John? No, it was mostly because of how great Roman's IC title challenges on Raw have been. Plus, they've been good about keeping him to short sentences, and being the brooding badass I've wished he could be.
Oh, and there was one other reason why: a 9-year-old two rows in front of me was yelling "ROMAN SUCKS" at me every time I cheered for Roman.
Match started slow with a test of strength, then built up as the crowd was all-in, super hot for this match (though The Garden was louder for Cena/Styles at a summer 2016 house show). Cena tried to turn a rolling deadlift into an AA, but couldn't hit the move as Roman reversed it into a spear.
Cena lifted Roman's arm in a show of respect to the victor, and the crowd went home happy.
As I left the building, I looked at the original price of my ticket and wished I hadn't paid a 50-percent markup from the original.
Henry T. Casey is a tech writer for Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag who can be found at @henrytcasey on nearly every social media service. He podcasts about wrestling at The Ring Post, which you can listen without worrying about it being too negative or going over every damn segment on Raw.
Photos: Henry T. Casey