DETROIT – Unlike many SLAM! Wrestling readers, most of my nostalgic childhood wrestling memories don’t involve Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Having grown up in Chatham, Ontario — just about an hour away from Detroit — most of my memories are about seeing wrestling in the Motor City. Tonight at WWE Night of Champions, the tradition continued.

I remember going on my first organized bus trip — my friends and I were too young to drive at the time — to see the Hart Foundation take on Davey Boy Smith and Roddy Piper. With heel ref Danny Davis announced as the ref, there was no way the Bulldogs wouldn’t get screwed out of the title. Or so we thought.

Later on, when we had our drivers’ licences, we used to come here more often. PPVs, Monday Night Raw, indy shows, pretty much any and every show in Detroit that we could get to.

One of my favourite nights was coming to the Joe Louis Arena with my dad, his best friend and some of my buddies for a house show. It was the only wrestling show my dad and I ever went to together.

Even after having moved to the Toronto area, I went back when I could. I was there for Austin’s zamboni ride, WrestleMania 23, and various other PPVs and shows. I even ran the first ever SLAM! Wrestling bus trip when TNA held their first PPV in Detroit a few years back.

Tonight, driving into Detroit, all of those memories came flooding back. Then, after climbing up the most famous steps in the world to enter the arena, and smelling the familiar, delicious scent of Little Caesars pizza in the air, they hit me even more.

The crowd was made up of mostly families with kids. Merch table lines were pretty crowded, with an event shirt and a new Daniel Bryan “Yes!” rally towel (a bargain at $5).

Before the show, there were a few kiosks in the concourse where you could buy a photo of yourself on a WWE Magazine cover (using green screen technology). But the best one offered a photo with WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund. For $40, you could get a picture and autograph with the legend. He wouldn’t even make you list the U.S. Presidents in order for the autograph. That was too good of an opportunity for me to pass up, and I’m proud to say I now have a mock WWE Magazine cover with me locked in the Crossface Chicken Wing. Backlund was really nice in person — a lot more subdued than his on-screen persona, and he encouraged all readers to check out to find out more about what he’s up to.

The arena was not full, with the hard camera and the section beside that fairly empty, and some of the top tier sections blocked off. It seemed like the stage area took up about half of the arena floor.

There was no pre-show action, other than what was show on the PPV preview.

During the show, fans were pretty into all of the action. Unlike Toronto audiences sometimes, the Detroit fans pretty much stayed on-script, cheering for heroes and booing the villains. The exception may have been for The Shield, who were quite over.

A good shot of the Joe Louis Arena for Night of Champions. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

Generally, the crowd was enthusiastic and lively for the full show. And mostly well-behaved, except for the three drunk guys a few rows ahead of me, who were literally crawling up and down the stairs. They eventually got thrown out after one of them fell down in front of The Shield when they were trying to get back up the stairs after their entrance.

The show was well received overall, though the fact that Michigan’s own Rob Van Dam walked away without the World Heavyweight Championship was not popular to say the least. But after Daniel Bryan’s win, that was a complete 180.

His win was clearly designed to send the crowd home happy, and it seems to have worked, based on the “Yes!” chants that filled the concourse and tunnel back to the parking garage.

Even though Detroit may be having its problems right now, when the bell rings and the action starts, there’s fewer places I’d rather go to to watch a show. Add Night of Champions to the list of reasons why.