BUFFALO, NY – Followers of the Bills and Sabres are no strangers to disappointment, so when the WWE brought The Great American Bash to the HSBC arena Sunday night, fans seemed braced for the event to deliver less than its full potential.

As of 7:00, 45 minutes before the ticketed start time, only 8,000 tickets had been sold for the 20,000+ seat arena. People who were already lined up outside the doors shrugged and explained that Buffalo fans are usually late-comers to any event. Still, there was something more than a tradition for being fashionably late in effect — there was some downright indifference regarding the event, even by some that had purchased tickets simply because the WWE was in town.

Dan, a fan from North Tonawanda, had the earmarks of a big fan: he was in line early and was already carrying the souvenir t-shirt. When asked what match he was looking forward to the most, though, the t-shirt really came in handy for the list of matches printed on the back. After Dan scanned down the list, he hesitated before finally picking “Undertaker versus Hassan, probably, and Animal’s return.” Most fans were citing the Undertaker/Hassan match as their main interest, due to the recent decision to bring Mark Copani’s Arab-American character to an end.

Shawn Spears, of the Niagara Falls promotion Neo Spirit Pro Wrestling, arrived in full “fan mode” sporting a vintage pale-blue WWF t-shirt and bringing his younger brother to the show. “I think any wrestler will tell you that they’ve been watching since the age of five, so this is mark-out time for me — why not?” Spears said as he looked around at the growing crowd. “It’s good to see everybody out here supporting wrestling.”

When it was time to roll out the Sunday Night Heat warm-up match, Buffalo fans had, in fact, lived up to their reputation and filled up most of the empty seats. It would not be a sell-out, though, as the building was full to the right of the announcer’s table, but not to their left. The cameras probably never pointed in that direction. After the obligatory crazed cheering that must accompany the beginning of every show (trying to keep pace with those incredibly loud pyrotechnics), the crowd remained on their feet for the tag-team title match.

Buffalo certainly advertised itself as a potential home-base for some kind of “Fair Treatment for Aging Animals” movement, giving the portly superstar plenty of support throughout the entire match. In fact, once Animal had dedicated the match to Hawk and walked back with the belt, it was to be the peak of crowd energy for the whole night. It was matched a few times, but never topped.

The fans seemed to be in a bind when it came to giving their support to either Booker T or Christian. While Christian was getting the more fan-favourite treatment, it seemed that everybody turned on him when he threatened Sharmell. That act was quickly forgiven, though, and the majority of fans cheered him (and booed Booker T) until the end. Oddly enough, Booker T received a huge ovation for the victory.

The match between Orlando Jordan and Chris Benoit had “one-sided crowd pleaser” written all over it, and the fans seemed to be sitting back waiting for an apparently inevitable Benoit win. When it didn’t happen, all they were left with was a familiar “No Goal” feeling after Jordan ran Benoit into the exposed turnbuckle to escape with the win.

There are only a certain number of sure things when it comes to pleasing the fans — and The Undertaker’s entrance is certainly one of those things. After giving Hassan a surprisingly mixed reception (it would be a stretch to say it was split, but there were definite pockets of supporters in the crowd), the fans couldn’t help but get caught up in the theatrics of the long, slow walk to the ring by The Dead Man. This was another match where the fans more or less waited to see how it ended, rather than getting too wrapped up in the match itself. Of course, The Undertaker was aided on his way to victory by a few inspiring “U.S.A.” chants, but the real cheers were only let loose once the match was over and The Undertaker set about cleaning house. Big cheers for a final farewell to Hassan — though no character is ever permanently mothballed, so we’ll see what the future brings.

At one point near the beginning of the six-man tag match, a short “ECW” chant popped up, but it didn’t have any staying power. Neither did the match, though, so that ended up being fitting.

The match between Guerrero and Mysterio ended up serving the fans another failure to deliver something — anything — to fulfill the build-up of “The Secret”. The match itself had the fans lapping up the best wrestling of the night, but when the moment came for Eddie to stand alone in the ring after his loss, it seemed as if everyone was waiting for him to grab a mic and either spill his surprise, or at least try to. At least Eddie had the good sense to get face-to-face with a Rob Zombie look-a-like in the front row and jaw it out with him for a few minutes – with full marks going to the fan for not blinking once.

Nothing says “second last-match” like Bra & Panties. The men in attendance were bored out of their skulls during this encounter, but hey, the kids loved it.

Finally, it was time to roll out the heavyweights. JBL received by far the best chorus of boos of the night, and made Batista’s entrance seem uninspired by comparison. This slugfest probably shouldn’t have got the fans as excited as it did, but the sheer disgust that JBL can inspire with the slightest touch helped keep the fans motivated to boo him and cheer Batista. The ending seemed a perfect cap to the night — a strange and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion that caught the fans off-guard, and not in a good way.

Thankfully, everybody got a reason to cheer when Batista beat up on JBL and Jordan after the match, allowing people to go home happy. I suppose if Dominik Hasek had been able to powerbomb Brett Hull after the 1999 Stanley Cup clinching-game was over, more people would have left feeling satisfied, too.