MONTREAL – The moment when I recognized that the city of Montréal was truly all-in for WWE’s Elimination Chamber, and Sami Zayn in particular, was upon hearing his theme song playing on a loop in the hotel lobby where my son Gavin and I were staying for the night.
That, my friends, is when you know you’ve made it big.
While the fairy tale story didn’t quite have the ending that Zayn and his many, many fans were hoping for, that barely created a blip in a day-long party for the city and one of its favorite wrestling sons. In fact, it was a two-day party, as it started on SmackDown the night before we arrived in town.
On a personal note, it had been a while — nearly four years — since I’d last travelled to Québec, and before that it had been a fairly regular destination. That meant there were a few stops to make in the time between our arrival and the beginning of Elimination Chamber, and the first of those was Schwartz’s Deli.
With smoked meat sandwiches in hand (and bracing ourselves for the oncoming meat sweats), Gavin and I instantly felt the buzz for the event as multiple people lining up at Schwartz’s were sporting WWE merch and were eager to share their thoughts on how the evening might play out.
Three friends coming in from Ontario — Stu from Milton, Tyler from Mississauga, and Gary from Brampton — weren’t afraid to show support for Roman Reigns and The Bloodline in the pro-Sami Zayn environment, and even suggested that Reigns has more fans here than one might expect. “A lot of people love Roman, but obviously they love Sami more,” Stu says, wearing his red Bloodline on black cap. “It’s fake hate. They’ll be throwing up the ones tonight while booing.”
The three friends all stuck together when it came to predictions for the main event, too. “Roman is going to retain,” Stu begins, with Tyler in agreement and Gary adding that he agrees “frustratingly — I would love to see Sami take it.”
Another stop was the WWE Superstore set up in Place Ville Marie, a mall not far from the Bell Centre where the event would take place. Among many Montréal-focused shirts (lots of Canadiens logos and fleurs-de-lis on display), there was a shirt featuring a vintage promo design for the 1997 Survivor Series in Montréal.
In truth, it’s a curious shirt to sell, but I suppose it’s long past time to recognize (acknowledge, even?) that Montréal will be tied to that show’s legacy for a very long time, if not for as long as wrestling is being reported on. In any case, a quick scan showed that it was the only shirt selling out of sizes, so it had struck a nerve and had people picking it up (if you’re curious to see it, it’s also available on the WWE shop).
BOB KAPUR’S PHOTOS OF SOME OF THE MERCH
Once in the arena for the show itself, there were a few things I was keeping an eye out for. First: how many signs would feature some variation on “If Roman wins we riot”: four that I saw. Second: I wanted some French signs! There actually weren’t that many, but the “Acknowledge Roman Jamais” had a nice bilingual touch.
The crowd was in an interesting state all night, as the undercard had promise (and, in fact, delivered high marks for entertainment in every case) but there was no question that everyone was just biding their time until the main event. Every mention or image of Sami brought out cheers and renditions of “Olé”, while every mention or image of Roman encouraged boos or chants of “F— you, Roman.” I’m sure you heard the muted versions through the broadcast.
In truth, it wasn’t only when the fans saw or heard from Sami or Roman, it was anytime they felt like it. The crowd never disrespected any wrestlers in the ring by chanting for someone else, but if there were a few moments of silence you could count on someone starting an “Olé” or an “FU” and it got everybody all riled up again.
It was also telling on this night that Natalya and Edge, used to receiving heroes’ welcomes in Canada, received enthusiastic but almost politely subdued reactions. It was as if the fans knew instinctively that they had to save a level for later on with Sami (where they proceeded to turn it up to 11).
Here’s a boo and a cheer for the hard-working staff during the show: boo for striking the pre-show set while the Women’s Elimination Chamber match was happening, blocking the view of some fans during the match. Cheers for the Solo Cup Squad, who did a quick and bang-up job of gathering the cups after Montez Ford’s entrance.
Out of everyone not named Sami and not Canadian, Brock Lesnar received the most love from the crowd. Of course, he is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, so after him it would be Seth Rollins. For those not named Roman Reigns, Dominik Mysterio received the lustiest boos from the fans — although Logan Paul gave him a run for his money with his cameo appearance.
Due to Kevin Owens creating a more upbeat ending than a “Sami lost, go home” conclusion would have offered, the crowd was still in a largely upbeat mood outside of the arena. Once again Gavin and I sought to catch up with some fans to get a sense of their reactions after the show, so we spoke with Tommy and Alexander from Montréal, and George who hails from Parts Unknown.
All three were disappointed in the result, but still recognized what a special night it was with Zayn going for the title in his home area. “If it wasn’t here, there wouldn’t have been the same electricity in the place,” suggested Tommy. And as for whether the dream is over for Sami, George had some inspiring words: “In wrestling, you never say never.”
It’s an optimistic appraisal for a night that was magical, but, not to be greedy, could have been something beyond that entirely. In the sad words of one fan’s sign, perhaps the biggest hope was “Don’t screw us again.” Time will tell as Zayn’s story evolves whether this was another punch to the gut for WWE fans here in Montréal, or if his day of victory still lies ahead.
TOP PHOTO: Sami Zayn heads to the ring. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, www.photography514.com
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