BUFFALO, NY – In the 1980s it seemed that wrestling magazines were always showcasing dream matches between top wrestlers in rival promotions. In Buffalo, NY, the WWE provided its own version of the dream card. Where else could you see a main event that featured two legendary WWE champions, former Ring of Honor greats, a big star with New Japan, and a former TNA world champion? Friday night the fans witnessed wrestling at its best.
Over the last four years I have covered many shows in Buffalo at the KeyBank Center and the crowd has been a good barometer for the quality of product that the WWE is producing. The lower bowl and second deck of the arena looked to be almost sold out. This house show will spread the gospel of the WWE to the masses as they will regret not being in attendance and missing such an amazing night.
From the beginning of the card to the end the crowd was hot. They cheered and booed and enjoyed the spectacle. What struck me the most was the passion of the fans of all ages. When Roman Reigns came to the ring I expected the boos, but I was surprised by the number of cheers. Children and young women went nutty for Reigns while older, male fans booed the superstar. In fact when people began to chant that “Reigns sucks!” the kids put up loud cheers supporting the former Shield member.
When watching Reigns take on Braun Strowman I was struck by just how much effort Reigns put in to guiding the match. Strowman is still very green and even though he is a physical presence he makes blunders that Reigns covered for. While I will not describe Reigns as a ring general, I will say that on this night he was a hell of a hand. Reigns won by disqualification in a fun bout. Sign of the night said: “Roman Reigns spear no one spear everyone.” I don’t get it.
Two other good matches saw Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox defeat Dana Brookes and Nia Jax. Also, Bayley defeated Charlotte with a belly to belly suplex.
Another match that caught my attention was the three team tag title match. Cesaro and Sheamus against the New Day and Champions Gallows and Anderson was action packed and full of little details. Gallows and Anderson did something that most heels do not do in this era and that is they tried to hide their cheating from the referee. Also, all of the wrestlers who were waiting for the tag looked engaged. They had an air of desperation about them as they reacted to the action in the ring and hoped for their chance in the match. How often have you watched a match where the tag partner on the outside seems to zone out? Not these guys. They are artists and athletes. Anderson won the match for his team when he rolled up Big E and put his feet on the ropes to get the three count.
Brock Lesnar came out and the arena exploded. In a rare break from character Brock smiled, made eye contact and fist bumped little kids on the aisle. The crowd could not believe that Lesnar was not just at the show, but was there to wrestle. Later in the bathroom I overheard one person say, and I quote, “Thems don’t do no house shows that Brock Lesnar.” Well, he did a house show match against The Big Show. I exclaimed to my pals that I saw this same match in Hamilton a decade or so ago. This was not the same match at all. Big Show looked lean, healthy and strong, but he fell to The Beast in about two minutes. Lesnar looked amazing and fierce.
The highlight of the night was the main event. Like I said earlier, it was a dream match for a fan who has watched a lot of wrestling over the years. It was a six-man tag team match that featured the team of Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and the returning Finn Balor taking on Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and Triple H. Six awesome wrestlers gave a match that the fans loved. Sometimes when a wrestler clamps on a headlock for more than 20 seconds the crowd chants boring, but not tonight. Triple H laid in a tight headlock on Jericho and worked it for the better part of a minute. It looked like Hunter might pop off the head of the list taker. Later, Balor used a headlock to subdue Joe. It made sense that the diminutive Balor would go for a headlock and hang on for dear life. The match was like watching wrestling all-star teams collide. It was a mix of talent that gave to each other to make the match special. Each performer bumped, sold and worked hard. I noticed that Triple H did something Hulk Hogan used to do and that is taking a look at not just the crowd, but right to the cheap seats. He was connecting with people. In the end Jericho got the pin on his former best friend Owens.
This is the level of performance that the WWE can and should put on every night. I left the arena with my buddies feeling ecstatic about what we saw. On the drive home we talked non-stop about the matches and how thrilled we were to be a part of such a special night. We can’t wait for WrestleMania!
Caleb Smith wants to thank the big cheese at SLAM! Wrestling, Greg Oliver, for being so patient with him. Thanks for the chance to cover such a great show.