BALTIMORE – A little known secret about sports is that they are better watched on a cozy couch in high definition. Live sports being must-see is perhaps the biggest scam ever pulled. Football turns into a game of find the ball, taking away appreciation of the line opening a running lane or the beautiful intricacies of a receiver getting open on a route.
Much of the same happens in baseball, where the best seats in the house (behind the home plate) will make you watch a game through a protective net and the most inexpensive ones turn players into ants on the most unique and maintained ant farm known to man. The person in front of you is a few beers deep and doesn’t quite understand the art of when to stand and when to sit. The person behind you is a living encyclopedia, telling anyone in earshot the facts they didn’t need to know. Groups of fans take opportunities to let you know they are here and they are the biggest fans this team has, despite there being four or five similar groups of these supreme diehards. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was making you pay double figures to sit in the last row of your hometown arena.
There’s just something different about wrestling though. Perhaps it is the combination of sport and art that always provides some level of entertainment to spectators in the arena. Maybe it is the sheer spectacle of so many elements coming together to create the deliciously corny. performance.
Being in the audience at WWE Payback last night in Baltimore, Md. served as a reminder of the highest of highs and lowest of lows pro wrestling live can offer. The show had a little bit of everything, with the preshow appetizers bringing a great match between Stardust and R-Truth and a match that had a fun atmosphere as the faux-Mega Powers fell to The Ascension.
The main card was no different, but perhaps therein lies the problem. Dolph Ziggler captured the love of the audience while Sheamus basked in the boos as the two put on another good match that was aided by lack of silly stipulation (it even featured Ziggler sporting a crimson mask). Perhaps the most heat of the night went to WWE Tag Team Champions New Day, which is astounding to see live. Most often thought of as comic relief, “New Day sucks!” was the chant of the night and they did themselves no favors cheating to win in a tag team clinic against Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. Bray Wyatt and Ryback had a solid match that had the unmistakable atmosphere that only a character as interesting as Wyatt can provide.
It should come as no surprise that the match that shifted the show was brought by the most “polarizing figure” and WWE United States Champion John Cena. Cena (somewhat of an expert in “I Quit” matches) and challenger Rusev went out and had a good bad match, depending on who you ask. The crowd in Baltimore ate up the spectacle, cheering and booing throughout. Even a few laughs were shared at the expense of Cena meeting a table that didn’t cooperate. In the end, the match went with the expected ending where Lana quit for Rusev. The match was live spectacle to behold with explosives and broken weapons, though the match itself was standard fare.
Perhaps the spectacle was a problem. Sports entertainment dictates a certain pacing that can be very draining for viewers. This is perhaps doubly so live. After Cena and Rusev, most of the talk around the section was focused on looking at monitors and general show production while a serviceable Divas tag and decent Neville vs. King Barrett were mostly ignored in comparison to other matches on the show. Wrestling 101 says these matches are “cool downs” for the main event. However, with their daring WWE Network, WWE should know more than anyone that the old handbook needs to be rewritten. In an age of social media and hyper technology, 30 minutes of run of the mill feels like hours, more so to those live. The show came to a halt of sorts as the live wire crowd lost their electricity. As is a similar complaint seen when UFC airs live on television, the pacing of sports entertainment needs a massive reboot. Balancing entertainment value is especially important in the scripted world of wrestling and, with WWE now serving as their own distributor on former pay-per-view shows, this balancing act could take time to perfect.
Their ace was pulled out of their sleeve with a great main event. With the perfect dosage of outside interference from Authority stooges J&J Security and Director of Operations Kane, WWE kingpin Seth Rollins took home the belt once again over Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns. With broken tables and teased reforming of stables, these four gave a masterful effort that brought all of the crowd into it.
Such is the ebb and flow of pro wrestling. Though as much as traditional sports tries to differentiate itself from the “phony” sport, there is an element of sameness in a wrestling crowd. The know-it-alls love to show everyone around them who they know will win and what will come next. Drunken fans still play antagonist. Many fans use participation to quite literally make the show their own with obnoxious chants and screams. There is even the added element of much too prideful fanbases seen at all sporting events, except these groups prefer chanting “let’s go Cena!” or “Cena sucks!” Still, live wrestling provides a different experience as a sport within a show that operates in an entirely different universe of its own. Go to WWE for the bright lights and variety. Support your local indy fed to watch stars form. Live wrestling is kitschy fun that few other athletic endeavors can provide, where most everyone there is in on the inside joke. At its worst, it can be a comedy of errors. At its best, few things can top the anticipation in the seconds before a big moment comes or the reaction of a surprise winner.
There is indeed something different about wrestling.