WWE – now for over 70 years the revolutionary force in sports entertainment — is back in touring mode, with the Thunderdome Era, thankfully now in the distant past. Last week, WWE rolled into the Magic City for a doubleheader of events at Miami’s FTX Arena. Being local, Slam asked me to check it out and report back.
For those to whom these types of things matter, here is the “TL/DR” — the basics you’d expect from a live report:
WWE Live Holiday Tour – 12/29/22
FTX Arena in Miami, FL
Attendance: c. 4,000
- Emma, MadCap Moss, & Kofi Kingston d. Legado del Fantasma
- Karion Kross d. Drew Gulak
- Gunther d. Ricochet (Intercontinental Championship match)
- Bray Wyatt d. Jinder Mahal
- Liv Morgan d. Shayna Bayzler (street fight)
- Hit Row d. Maximum Male Models
- Sheamus, Kevin Owens, & Braun Strowman d. The Usos & Sami Zayn
Most Popular: Bray Wyatt, Sami Zayn, Liv Morgan, Usos
Most Hated: Shayna Bayzler
Best Performers: MadCap Moss, Shayna Bayzler, Liv Morgan, Sami Zayn
Worst Performers: Top Dolla (of Hit Row, by a distance almost unfathomable)
Now, on to the show, but first, an admission and an aside: it’s been a while since I last went to a WWE live event. It’s been so long since the company was still WWF at the time. Want to see how long ago it was? Here is that card’s lineup:
- Adam Bomb d. Kwang
- Ted Dibiase’s Undertaker d. Thurman “Sparky” Plugg
- Bob Backlund d. Typhoon
- 1-2-3 Kid b. Owen Hart
- Owen Hart b. 1-2-3 Kid
- Nikolai Volkoff d. Virgil
- The Smoking Gunns d. The Executioners
That show took place at the Warwick Musical Theater – a venue where the WWE would not be seen dead today, but was a core part of the company’s touring schedule through the mid-’90s – on August 12, 1994.
Rhode Island was a safe territory, a WWF-friendly market during a major industry downturn, and close enough to Stamford, CT, to keep travel costs low. Because of this, quite a few “C” shows (or, the lowest rung on the WWF talent ladder) took place at the Warwick Musical Theater — a wrestling show in the round.
I fondly remember that show, as it was my first live wrestling experience. Not only that, but it provided experiences that would shape my feelings towards the Sport of Kings and bring me to where I am today.
These memories include meeting Owen Hart and the British Bulldog, the no-shows of Yokozuna and Earthquake (teaching me about the pecking order of wrestling, and how “C” shows were skippable for bigger talent), and finally, how when the intermission began, 90 per cent of the children stormed the ring, bashing their heads on — and jumping off — turnbuckles until the agents restored order.
That’s not to say I’ve avoided wrestling events since then, and I’ve seen plenty of events in some unique locations. There are the events at the hospital rec center/bar (you read that right) in Lincoln, UK, the state fair in Cumberland, RI, featuring (a) Doink, TNA in Nottingham, and AEW and ROH shows down here in the Miami area.
My family has also been regulars at Florida independent promotions: first, Gangrel’s GCW, based down the street in Dania (he’s a regular sighting near the beach), and later Coastal Championship Wrestling (CCW), where the great vampire warrior currently teaches. Here’s me with local icon ChaCha Charlie.
I really enjoy these shows because they are a great way to bond with family and friends. Professional wrestling live is never “not fun,” and it’s a great, inexpensive way just to kick back, relax, and cheer and boo to your heart’s content.
Each show we attended has revealed unexpected surprises in terms of talent, with Bandito and Rocky Romero stealing the show at ROH, Jacob Fatu, Lance Anoa’i, and the excellent Hollidead at Gangrel’s promotion, and everyone in the opener of AEW’s 2019 Bash at the Beach.
So when my brother Kyle and I checked out the latest WWE live event in Miami, who stood out most? The answer is as emphatic as it is unquestionable: Maximum Male Models.
Maximum Male Models deserve special praise for their characters — and their amazing commitment to them. Having never seen the act before, my brother and I went in without knowing what to expect. But almost instantaneously, I was hooked. Looking at Kyle, his response of, “If they had a shirt, I would buy it!” was enough to know I wasn’t alone.
Yes, they were camp. Very camp. But it was the good kind of camp that endears itself to the audience based solely on its sheer goofiness. If they were the camp, they were the commandant, I was ready to salute — as was Kyle, and it seemed, much of the 4,000-strong crowd.
One thing that’s caused some worry ahead of the event was the fear of writing anything negative, in fear of provoking the endless stream of “Stans” that rally behind the likes of Liv Morgan and Bray Wyatt. Morgan diehards have nothing to worry about, however. Sure, her offense was slow and contrived at the very best of times, but she clearly puts the work in, and has developed tremendously over the last few years.
Wyatt, too, was very popular, but there is very little steak in the beefy wrestler’s performances, and the sizzle of his hocus pocus is essentially turning the lights off. Was he popular? Yes, possibly more so than anyone outside of the main event, but as his last run in the company proved, he just isn’t a difference-maker.
Equally popular, Sheamus is finally enjoying his day in the sun (no pun intended, though it’s pretty good, so I might claim it). Like JBL before him, the “Celtic Warrior” is proof of the time-tested appeal of someone hitting someone else really hard with their fists.
The WWE has always been known for having excellent main events, and the recent Miami show was no different. The match, the Bloodline (Sami Zayn and the Usos) versus Kevin Owens, Shamus, and Braun Strowman, hit all the right notes — as I’m sure it does night after night.
Owens and Zayn are Canadian national treasures. Both men never fail to deliver and provide the violence and laughs in equal measures. The mere tease of the two locking up can still illicit such a thunderous crowd reaction is a testament to their supreme skill and charisma.
Speaking of hard-hitting, WALTER — err, I mean Gunther — was a treat to see live. Once I mentioned his name my brother quickly piped in with, “Oh, the guy with the purple chest,” an illusion to the infamous chop fest between the German and PCO. This wasn’t nearly as violent, but my brother insisted he saw a handprint on Ricochet’s (his opponent for the evening) chest.
The rest of the upper card — the Smackdown Women’s Championship match and the previously mentioned Bray Wyatt vs. Jinder Mahal (yes, this was presented) was, as Dave Meltzer would put it, “just a match” (x2). Wyatt and Rowdy Ronda are both very popular, but personally, I don’t see the appeal.
Actually, the rest of the card was rather blah and uninspired. I realize this was a holiday-themed tour, but I wasn’t expecting a bespoke retelling of A Christmas Carol — complete with The Ghost of NXT Past.
The current retread of WWE into the NXT brand in the early 2010s is in full effect, and frankly, it’s not a good omen. Vince McMahon is no longer at the helm, and the current management has their “guys,” but in some cases, this show felt badly dated.
And that thought brings me back to 1994 and how 2022 differed. Admittedly, I was young in 1994 — just about to turn 11, actually — but my memories are confirmed by my father, the unlucky soul who was tasked to be our chaperone that day. The crowd of 1994 was kid-heavy in attendance, with forlorn parents (like my dad) at their sides. Miami in 2022 had plenty of kids, but the demographics were skewed towards a much older clientele.
Yes, this is a well-known fact. And yes, those aging demographics spend money in large quantities. But what comes next? Will those patrons be replaced in large enough quantities to ensure the very long-term survival of WWE? I’m not convinced.
Overall, the WWE live event was mostly an enjoyable experience. The fun was very fun, the bad was very sloppy and lazy, and the rest was just there. While the tickets were complimentary, the face value, $20, was more than reasonable enough to justify a family-friendly night out.
The WWE product is slick, stylish, and saccharin-sweet. It’s flashy, loud, and in your face. But if you want my opinion, skip the big brands and check out your local wrestling promotions and schools. Those shows are family-friendly and economical and feature a decent mix of young, local wrestlers, old veterans, and independent standouts. Sure, it might not be as slick, but it’s wrestling at its most basic, with much of the ballyhoo stripped away — and that’s when it’s the most fun.