TORONTO – When you have been to as many wrestling shows as I have through the years, it can be a little onerous to sit through another house show. Even with my nine-year-old son, Quinn, beside me, popping at the right moments, and sarcastically commenting at other spots, the WWE show at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto last night was a trial at times.

This is not to knock the efforts of the wrestlers, most of whom worked their butts off.

Luke Harper needs a shower, apparently. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

Except for The Big Show, but that was by design. It was also an example of the lost art of the stall, evoking images of Larry Zbyszko yelling at each and every fan at ringside on his way to the ring.

The Big Show was scheduled to face Mark Henry for the 8,153rd time — an unofficial count — but took the stall to a new level, and it was over 10 minutes before he finally locked up. In the end, he won too, but that was beside the point, which is that his body didn’t need to take all the big bumps and he got more crowd reaction than only the top names on the card by doing less.

Of course, crowds today take their cues from television, and having seen the hot audiences react (often unfairly) with “boring” chants, that’s what happened.

On the flip side, the “this is awesome” chant for the Dean Ambrose victory over Kevin Owens, retaining his Intercontinental title in the process, was undeserved to these eyes.

But then again, these eyes have seen some greats over the years. My mind drifts back to Detroit’s Cobo Hall, the Great American Bash tour in the summer of 1988. If we had been trained to chant such a thing, then our noise during the bout between the Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, and Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, with JJ Dillon, would have blown the roof off the soon-to-be demolished building.

Wrestling has changed through the years, but I’m not really sure that the fan base has. It is inclusive to everyone, regardless of your background, and always has been.

The amount of money involved has gone way up, though.

There is little doubt that the post-Christmas tour brings in tons of dough for WWE, with Little Jimmy and his buddies getting tickets for Christmas, Hanukkah, or a birthday. Families filled the Ricoh Coliseum last night, and the building gets tons of concession sales dwarfing the AHL Marlies, and WWE moves ungodly amounts of merch. (For me, it was a small victory in parenting when my son balked at paying $75 for a Money in the Bank briefcase, which would have been all of his Christmas money.)

Besides the families, there are the hardcore fans. They would be there regardless, just as they will be at the next SMASH or Destiny or Superkick’d show in town. They are the spine of the sport.

Yet the biggest impression I got was from the “Cool People,” the developmentally disabled fans with challenges well beyond the next T-shirt purchase. It’s a term I got from a book called Short Bus Hero, which I reviewed back in April: Take Short Bus Hero for a ride. Reflecting back on the final day of 2015, it’s a book that stuck with me more than most.

In short, it’s about a few people with Down Syndrome, one of whom wins the lottery and decides to invest in a wrestling promotion. It flew under the radar, but is worth searching for, as it’s funny and heartwarming.

After reading it, I followed up with the author, Shannon Giglio, and we talked about the hold that pro wrestling has on fans with mental and physical difficulties.

“My ex-sister-in-law has Down Syndrome, and she is the biggest wrestling fan that I have ever met in my life. She had the opportunity to meet some semi-pro wrestlers and it was like the best thing she ever had in her life,” Giglio told me for a story. “It just started me thinking about her. Her mom was thinking about trying her to get her on a list for her own apartment, living in a group situation. I just started thinking, ‘You know, that would really make a good story somehow. How can I make this into a story?'”

In a city like Toronto, and a country such as Canada, the developmentally disabled are not ostracized, but welcomed into the mix.

And pro wrestling continues to provide a wonderful blender to mix everyone up: the young, the old, those with visible handicaps, and those where the challenges aren’t seen on the surface, and definitely every colour under the rainbow.

It brings people together, particularly when 6,000-plus people can all agree on the important issue of the day — that Luke Harper of the Wyatt Family really needs to take a shower.

Here’s a quick rundown on the actual matches:

  • Neville beat The Miz. “I haven’t seen The Miz in forever,” says Quinn. The Miz had a blast blasting the timekeeper, who erred off the bat: “You have one job, to ring the bell … you must be from Toronto.” Naturally, it ended with the Red Arrow and a big pop.
  • The Hype Bros. (Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley) teamed with Titus O’Neil to beat Stardust and The Ascension. O’Neil scored the pin for the win.
  • The Big Show beat Mark Henry after a knockout punch. Show responded to the boring chants during the bout by grabbing the microphone: “My ring, my rules. You paid to see me.”
  • They aired a video on Connor’s Cure, which is all well and good, but a donation to an American charity doesn’t get a Canadian a tax receipt. And while talking about videos, the entrance videos sure take up a lot of time.
  • Dean Ambrose beat Kevin Owens to retain the Intercontinental title, hitting Dirty Deeds out of nowhere. Owens had about 75% of the offence, if not more. The bout was the hottest on the card. I had thought that Owens might play the patriotic card, or make reference to his successes in Toronto — it’s where he won the Ring of Honor World title — but he didn’t. Instead, KO, at “266 perfect pounds,” made sure the audience knew that he was from “the place that is better than Ontario in every way, Marieville, Quebec.”
  • After intermission, Charlotte went to the ring with an open challenge for her Divas title. Becky Lynch answered the call, but lost to her. The ambiguous Charlotte has to be by design — she’s a heel so much of the time in the ring and on the microphone, but then leaves the ring shaking hands with fans and hugging others.
  • Goldust and the Usos beat The Wyatt Family, consisting of Luke Harper, Braun Strowman and Erick Rowan. No Bray Wyatt. In the end Goldust flipped Harper over so that the Usos could splash him.
  • The biggest news of the night was that a return was announced for Saturday, March 12th to Ricoh Coliseum, in what will be a WWE Network special only a couple of weeks before WrestleMania.
  • In the main event, Alberto Del Rio beat John Cena by DQ to keep his U.S. title. There were a couple of referee bumps and non-finishes, and chair shots to the back, but it was a low-blow by ADR that resulted in the inconclusive finish. Post-bout, Cena got some shine back by beating up ADR and his music played to end the night.