NXT TakeOver: New Orleans offered a friendly reminder that maybe I don’t know any better, after all.
You may fit my bill (my guess is that many of you do) and if you don’t, hey, maybe you’re just a better wrestling fan than I am.
2018 is the era of reality. It is so different from the 1980s and 1990s, when, for the most part, you knew what you saw, and no one could see everything.
I had the opportunity to attend legendary announcer Jim Ross’ Slobberknocker Session on Friday morning (more on what I learned there later this week), and one of the items that seemed to poke Ross was how nowadays, there is so much behind-the-scenes information out there available on the internet (including right here at CagesideSeats.com) that the on-screen story has become more and more difficult to tell.
Ross turned to the crowd mid-discussion and asked whether or not those in attendance found it harder to dislike villains these days, and I found it to be a great thought.
The Miz, one of the best at being a villain in today’s landscape, berates fans all over the country, including his hometown of Cleveland, but log onto his Instagram (or frankly, watch last week’s Raw) and he won’t stop gushing about how proud he is to be a father.
The era of information has made the average fan (and a devilishly handsome blogger you may be reading at this very moment), an expert.
And there I was Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
I had just watched one of the greatest matches I had ever seen live—six men I was getting to see for the first time taking dangerous bump after dangerous bump. How could WWE run a match in which one man comes out on top and all six look that damn good?
Shrug. I didn’t know but they had just done it.
And what was the very first thing I thought after the match?
I turned to my colleague and said, “That was great, but I can’t believe Triple H would put that first. How is anything supposed to follow that?”
Spoiler alert. Three-hours-later Pete would want to come up and slap the taste out of my mouth.
While the sentiment of my thought was partly right—kudos to Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler for having the match that they did after the all-timer that preceded them—I really should have just shut up and enjoyed the show.
Moon and Baszler’s bout was quieter when it came to bumps, but the story was so well told. Baszler popped her own shoulder back in because of how bad she wanted this. Moon said she wouldn’t ever give up the women’s title, and she was ultimately right. She fell asleep, so it was taken from her. Beautiful.
At this point, I was satisfied, but I must admit, still questioning H. Sometimes the best lessons in life need time to sink in.
And out came the tag teams for the Dusty Classic finale.
One of the first things that happened is Adam Cole, who barely had anything left to give after wrestling in the night’s initial match, is slammed through a table, leaving Kyle O’ Reilly ripe for destruction.
I figured Authors of Pain are headed up to WWE soon (again, we’re all experts, right?), so Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong must be getting the push.
And then it happened. Swerve.
If you were still groggy from the “lull” of a mere singles match without ladders, you weren’t anymore. Strong gave up a title to join the villains—and damn it Ross, yes, they were all cheered by the crowd as if they had just won The Masters.
But the audience was alive again, by design, ready to watch the NXT Championship match.
And to no surprise, it was also fabulous and very well-told. I joked that it was the best three-star match that I had ever seen, because in my mind, Andrade “Cien” Almas, Aleister Black and Zelina Vega are all future power players in this business.
After watching Almas-Black-Vega (yes, her name must be included), it would not surprise me if this same match was highly anticipated for WrestleMania 36. And because of the gift of NXT, it will matter even more to us then because of what transpired Saturday night.
If dinner wasn’t enough, there was dessert. And H served up everyone’s favorite—Johnny f-ckin wrestling.
Remember that whole thing about how hard it is to be a villain in today’s pro wrestling landscape? Apparently, nobody told that to Tommaso Ciampa.
Think about it.
When is the last time you could recall an audience being 100 percent behind one wrestler over another? Money in the Bank 2011? And sorry, er, Mr. Punk, that was kind of cheating—location, location, location.
The nuances of the Gargano-Ciampa story—from Ciampa’s absence to the crutches to the lack of entrance music—all played a role in making Ciampa the most hated wrestler in the WWE realm, and it was palpable in New Orleans.
Everybody wanted Johnny Gargano to win and after several false finishes that brought the crowd to its feet, everybody got what they wanted.
Three hours of wrestling had just provided me with one cold and harsh, humbling reminder:
Look, dummy. Sit back and watch the show.
The experts are in the back.