Disclaimer: The good folks at World Wrestling Entertainment graciously hooked me up with tickets to their WWE NXT Live show recently, in St. Catharines, Ontario. This is my review of the event!
“WE. ARE. NXT!”
When Johnny Gargano yelled those words, to conclude a fun night of wrestling matches, the audience burst into cheers, including my kids B and J. What started out as curiosity ended with two converted fans!
For the uninitiated, NXT is basically like the WWE’s minor league wrestling system. It is a roster of talented performers who aren’t quite ready for the big stage. Some of the wrestlers are brand new, some are experienced but still perfecting the intricacies needed to be called up one day, while others are big name “independent” workers with built in fan bases who are adjusting to the WWE style. Whereas WWE promotes itself as “sports entertainment”, NXT has a more pro wrestling vibe to it. Less talking, more in-ring action. NXT has its own weekly TV show and regular pay-per-views, as well as their own merchandise. It’s really not a reach to say that some of the stars in NXT are just as popular as WWE ones.
In our house, I do find myself watching wrestling more lately. It’s one of the few shows that I can put on and follow while doing other dad duty stuff, without having to pay attention too closely. Yo, with three kids, to paraphrase Batista, it’s like distractions are not only welcomed, but encouraged.
B will watch with me sometimes, but he’s not that familiar with the NXT brand. J, conversely, only knows John Cena. However, both are pretty open-minded when it comes to outings, so I knew they’d be down for some live wrestling action. Plus, J had told me recently that she wanted to be a princess when she grew up. Now, I know some princesses are pretty empowering. However, I also know that some are just side pieces for their Prince Charmings. I figured it would be a good opportunity to expose J to some other strong female characters.
In terms of the show, the Meridian Centre was about two thirds full. From what I could tell, the crowd was mainly families (with more small girls there around J’s age than I expected), and 20ish/30ish year old looking “smart fans”; that is, the more hardcore wrestling fans who know the behind the scenes stuff. Trust me, this made a difference.
To work on their money skills, I had a little contest going, where before each match, B and J would make a prediction as to who they thought would win. If they were right, I would give them 25 cents. Since they are little kids, their automatic pick would be to pick the good guy or girl, so they could boo the baddies. I’ve been to WWE shows before, and since those crowds tend to have more casual fans in them, they will play along, and cheer/jeer appropriately. With the NXT crowd, though, the smart fans just cheered their own personal favorites! For example, one wrestler named Velveteen Dream is a heel (bad guy). However, he’s such a cool, great performer, that, as soon as his music hit, the place went nuts. B and J both asked me if he was good or bad. All I could say was that he was in the middle. They then both picked him to win. Unfortunately, he lost to another crowd favorite, Aleister Black, in an awesome match.
The crowd also popped huge when Richochet’s name appeared on the jumbo screen, and he showed up. This was one of his first matches in NXT, as he hadn’t been on the TV shows yet. So to me, it was unexpected that he got such a big reaction. However, he is a star outside of WWE. Dude’s an incredible athlete, and did some stuff that I had never seen before, in his match with Buddy Murphy.
Not every thing was bizarro world, though. By far, the wrestler who got the most heat was a Marcell Barthel, an arrogant German. Earlier that day, Germany had stunned Canada at the Olympics in hockey, crushing our gold medal dreams. Barthel made sure to mention this to us, which got him booed out of the building, unsurprisingly.
Also unsurprisingly was J’s favorite contest – the women’s three way match between Nikki Cross (dat gurl be cray cray), Aliyah (who bragged about reppin’ Toronto, and hated on St. Catharines, so she got booed hard) and the NXT Women’s Champion, Ember Moon. J really liked Moon. I tried to say she was a butt-kicking warrior princess, but J took that to mean she was the Queen. Eh, close enough.
All in all, it was a fun night out, with a lively crowd. If you had no idea who the performers were going in, they all did such a good job in getting their characters over, and the audience was so into them, that it was easy to be invested in the outcomes of the matches. B and J went in blind, and a week later, they still randomly talk about Johnny Wrestling (Johnny Gargano), Mrs. Wrestling (Candice LeRae, Gargano’s wife), the Queen, or Velveteen Dream. I’ll add that even though my tickets were free, NXT Live is reasonably priced, as well. For our event, cheap seats weren’t that much more than taking the family to a 3D movie, for example. I also appreciated that, at least from our vantage point, the audience respected the kids in attendance, so the chanting and yelling was not vulgar or profane.
Thanks again, WWE. If NXT Live comes to your town, as Billy Red Lyons use to say, don’t cha dare miss it!