WINNIPEG – Having not been in attendance at at WWE event in Winnipeg in over 20 years — since the days of the old “barn”, the venerated Arena — I was quite curious as to how things have changed in the “house show” game when I went to Saturdays performance at the MTS Centre.

Surprising indeed then that old school was even acknowledged. Yet, almost 42 years after his local debut, the spirit of Nature Boy Ric Flair provided the undercurrent for the entire event.

Starting 20 minutes before (electronic) bell time, as the crowd’s scattered “Whooos” grew to a chorus. and then again, 10 minutes before the show, louder version of the same.

And then in the opener (more whooing by Justin Gabriel against a returning Darren Young), and in the second match with a Flair strut (Adam Rose) and then a mocking of it (Fandango),and in the third match with Curtis Axel bellowing the Flair “Who’s the man!” taunt at Erick Rowan, and in the fourth match — more whooing by an Uso Brother in a pre-match Network plug before squaring off against the Dust brothers — and finally in the semi-main, with the ‘Whooo’ accompanying Seth Rollins’ chops on Ryback.

Remarkable that without coming closer than South Dakota to the venue that night, Ric Flair was on everyone’s mind.

The 3/4 bowl layout was far from full; estimates from regulars put it at 4,500, and the common observation was that compared to their last show, this one was being phoned in. Considering the talent was two days before a Christmas break, I can’t entirely blame them. But for a lot of the crowd, and I mean a lot of the parents with their kids were clearly not well-heeled, the paint-by-numbers approach did not yield enormous value for dollar. Between the lack of star power on the bill, and the superstars stalling before and after almost every single bout (it was like a Larry Zbyszko Tribute Night in there), the WWE Universe never really connected with the in-ring action until the main event between Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose streetfight which they voted for on Twitter.

Although it can be argued, a vote between a 2/3 falls match and something called a Winnipeg streetfight (is striking your opponent with a loaf of rye bread made legal?), is push-polling of the worst sort.

A brief match by match rundown:

1) Justin Gabriel made sure to turn the crowd against him early and unleaded some nice offence on Darren Young, who showed no signs of recent knee surgery. Young rolled away from a top rope dive, tossed Gabriel in the air and let him land guts-first across both knees to earn the pin. His reward was a beat-down and curb stomp by ‘Mr. Money In The Bank’ Seth Rollins who ran in, ran over Young, and then ran down his opponent later on the card, Ryback, telling the crowd he would suffer “the exact same thing.”

2) The “new and improved” Fandango (with Rosa Mendes) downed rival dance-ish act Adam Rose (with a smaller-than usual contingent of Rosebuds). After an obligatory distraction by Rosa, Rose fell victim to a Jimmy Garvin-like brain buster. Very perfunctory match and I hate to say it but Rosa looked both great, and lost, out there at ringside.

3) His grandfather Larry Hennig was in the first main event I ever attended as a kid, and as an adult I saw and met his father Curt. Now Curtis Axel became my first three-generation wrestler, and made Erick Rowan look credible when a series of running squish-em-in-the-corners and a back suplex ended his night.

4) Goldust and Stardust put on their usual solid effort against the Usos but the crowd was not as into this match as I’d expected, perhaps from over-exposure on TV. Four guys who can flat-out go but this was far from full speed. Rhodes the younger was rolled-up by an Uso in a typical four-way finishing spot, then took forever to finally exit the ring.

5) Back from intermission, the Hart Foundation music got a big reaction for our Canadian heroine Natalya, who had a competitive match with the very pasty-skinned Paige until it was sharpshooter time.

6) Seth Rollins used the MITB briefcase and was disqualified against Ryback but the real story was not so much the match but the lack of crowd heat. Ryback has been so cooled off by the WWE braintrust that Rollins had to damn near herniate himself to get the fans behind the babyface even after a post-match comeuppance. Ryback showed some impressive athleticism and was by far the one modern day wrestler who looked like a 1980s wrestler, if you know what I mean. What has been done to him and Axel is really unfair.

7) The Twitter result was 71% for a Winnipeg Streetfight for the main event and luckily, heely-face Dean Ambrose recognized a chant that I thought was for “Mable” was really “We want Tables” and obliged the assembled. The eerie concert-style ring entrance of Bray Wyatt was the singular highlight of the night for atmosphere, and he and Ambrose slugged it out all around the ring as the match unfolded. Wyatt jammed a kendo stick so it stuck out of a turnbuckle into the ring, and flung Ambrose head-first towards it, so impalement appears to be legal in a Winnipeg Streetfight but not fatal, as Ambrose used chairs and tables as part of his victorious onslaught to send the Lunatic Fringe fans home on a positive note after a three count.