WWE are nearing the end of their UK and European tour which saw them tape two shows for TV - Raw and Smackdown - at the O2 arena in London. The Royal Ramblings team was lucky enough to attend both shows and to review them for you.
First, it is worth noting the fervour that surrounds a WWE live show. Thousands of fans of all ages - some as young as five and six - arrived at the O2, some in glorious costume as WWE legends such as Jake 'the Snake' Roberts or Shawn Michaels whilst others came dressed as newer performers such as 'The Shield'.
Whatever one's view of WWE, you can't dispute they know what they're doing and they do it well. There were queues 20 rows deep at the merchandise stall and fans were chanting in the arena for a long time before the show kicked off. Particularly for Raw, the crowd was (to coin a wrestling term) hot!
When the show did start, fans got what they paid for and more. Both nights ran to over three hours of entertainment. On the first night, there was a short taping for the WWE Superstars programme and on the second night Main Event was filmed first. Superstars saw the 7-foot Big Show take on the athletic Titus O'Neil and Jack Swagger (whom we interviewed last week) face Cody Rhodes of the Rhodes family wrestling dynasty. Main Event featured plenty of action from WWE's bright new star Cesaro and the 'World's Strongest Man' Mark Henry.
Following the initial taping, the stage was set for WWE's Raw and Smackdown recordings. It is rare to be able to see WWE record for TV in the UK and the three hour show is a real treat for fans, demonstrating the depth in the company's roster and enabling devotees to see the drama of their show play out in real time. You'll see the results for Smackdown on TV later this week but Raw has screened, so this won't be a spoiler for avid followers.
Of course, it being London, there were plenty of British references on Raw. In typical crowd-baiting fashion, wrestling manager and legend Paul Heyman mocked the Queen before leaving his talented protégé Cesaro to face Irishman Sheamus. The British fans weren't in a collegiate mood on Monday night though, booing Sheamus out of the building (he fared better with the Tuesday crowd). Having seen him be flung from the ring twice, they chanted for Cesaro to throw the 'Celtic Warrior' out once more for good measure.
Heyman wasn't the only one to draw the ire of the crowd though. There was further taunting by Lana, the Russian dominatrix when she introduced her client Rusev - who in reality is the first Bulgarian wrestler the WWE has employed... and a colossus. He easily defeated Heath Slater of the 3-Man-Band group, who for the night were dressed in British Flags and named the 'Union Jacks'.
It was a mixed night for the British stars. Paige, the 21-year-old Divas' Champion from Norwich, came out to a huge reaction but was beaten in a non-title match by Alicia Fox. However, Wade 'Bad News' Barrett consistently delivered good news for the crowd. A 'Beat the Clock' competition resulted in Rob Van Dam (RVD) winning the chance to face Barrett at the next WWE Pay-Per-View, Payback. Having attacked him from behind, Barrett insisted that whilst RVD may have set the best time on the night, it was the UK which set the time for the world - amazingly this led to a huge 'GMT' chant from the crowd. Probably the first time a Global Time Standard has received its own chant!
Barrett came out again once the taping had finished and sent the crowd home in great style, subjecting his own boss Triple H to the Bull Hammer finisher for good measure. Before leaving, Barrett paid tribute to the other British talents in WWE including developmental show NXT's Adrian Neville whom together with up-and-comer Sami Zayn performed a jaw-dropping, spectacular 'dark' (non-televised) match on the Tuesday night. Neville is worth paying to see and we hope there'll be more of him on WWE TV in future weeks.
Other than the British talent though, there was plenty to enjoy. The spooky Wyatt family leader, Bray Wyatt, opened the show with an exceptional promo only to receive an 'Attitude Adjustment' from WWE's marmite man, John Cena. The crowd couldn't stop singing along to recent NXT graduate Adam Rose's theme song (on both nights), they laughed at divas Summer Rae and Layla quarrelling over dance supremo Fandango's attentions and they were solidly supportive of The Shield, WWE's young, hugely impressive and versatile group comprising Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and breakout star Roman Reigns. In two high-profile singles matches, Rollins faced Dave 'The Animal' Batista and John Cena faced the under-rated Luke Harper. In particular, the former match impressed, with out-of-the-ring action including tables, chairs and leaps from the barricade.
Smackdown airs on Friday and we promised not to give any spoilers but suffice to say it was equally impressive. Special mention however must go to the appearance from Hulk Hogan. After all these years, there is little better than sitting in an arena, hearing Hogan's music start and watching the legend ignite a crowd. Together with 'The Mouth of the South' Jimmy Hart, Hogan started off the Smackdown tapings by teasing UK fans with an announcement that the WWE Network will be coming to the UK "soon".
The WWE live experience is something to behold. For now, we'll be boxing up our Hogan wigs and feather boas but we'll be back to see them during the next Euro-tour in November when Liverpudlians will be lucky enough to experience Raw and Smackdown for themselves. We heard countless chants of 'this is awesome' over the two nights. The crowd wasn't wrong. That was awesome.