At the end of April I broke my live wrestling virginity with a trip to London's O2 Arena for the taping of WWE's Smackdown. My brother, who came along too, had been to a few live events before but for me, despite years of watching wrestling on TV, this was my first! It was great fan but instead of a review of the night (there's plenty of them) here's the five things I learned from my first live event.
It's great value for money
When broadcast, Smackdown lasts two hours with ad-breaks. So, with a start time of 7pm I'd expected the night to be finished a little after 9pm. I was wrong. Making use of having the O2 to themselves all night the WWE managed to squeeze in the taping of Saturday Morning Slam (half an hour) and Main Event (an hour). With dark matches included we got a solid three-and-a-half hours of entertainment. With the likes of Randy Orton, Sheamus and Mark Henry working multiple shows we really got our money's worth.
The fans make the difference
Although I knew prior to the Smackdown taping that commentary isn't played out in the arena, I didn't know how odd it would be and how much it made the crowd much more important. Even if the audience isn't enjoying the action in the ring they still sing and chant. In our case that meant that the Sheamus and Big Show match was accompanied by chants of 'boring', sing-a-longs to Fandago's theme music and a few Mexican waves. If there's anyone from the WWE reading this, Mexican waves don't mean the crowd is having a good time; it means they're making their own fun. Thankfully such chants were in the minority and choruses of 'this is awesome' were much more frequent.
Another positive from the lack of commentary is that you really got to appreciate the skills of those in the ring, with no announcer to distract you with talk about WWE apps and off-screen chat.
A word of advice: if you can choose your seats pick them in the middle of a group, being surrounded by other fans is much more fun than being on the fringes or on the back row.
Dark matches rule!
Dark matches are bouts that occur in the arena but are never broadcast on TV or affect storylines. For us the evening started and finished dark matches. The first was between Primo (or Epico, I always get those two confused) in a match with Alex Riley. Few people were that bothered and when the match started the arena wasn't even half full - it's the equivalent of the opening act at a concert.
But our final dark match, that was a different story. As far as viewers would be concerned Smackdown ended with The Shield power-bombing The Undertaker through the announcers' table - a worthy end to any edition of the WWE's blue show. But then came the dark match climax. As 'Taker lay on the floor fireworks went off by the entrance ramp and 'oh, you didn't know!' blasted through the speakers as Billy Gunn and Road Dogg appeared; the crowd went nuts! The New Age Outlaws were here to save the day. The hardcore fans loved it and what kids don't love the New Age Outlaws? But that wasn't all. Before running towards the ring Gunn and Dogg pointed towards the curtains; there was a pause as the audience looked around for clues to who was coming out. Then HHH's music hit and the trio ran towards the ring to clean house. The audience completely lost it. It was a mini-reunion for DX!
It's not just for kids
It's easy to say that wrestling is for kids, looking at the audience on TV and at the O2 you'd find plenty to back that up; but it really is a family event. While some of the adults were obviously parents many, like my brother and I, were fans who have been following the WWE since before many of the younger audience members were born. But although the smaller fans, the majority sporting John Cena t-shirts, clearly enjoyed their night out it's the mature fans that controlled the atmosphere. Chants for Cena may have been plentiful but they were easily drowned out chants of 'Under-Taker', 'CM Punk' and 'RVD ' - The RVD chants drawing much confusing from the children near me.
The Undertaker still has it!
In the middle of Smackdown the WWE treated us Brits to an Englishman Vs. Englishman match as semi-retired William Regal took on current Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett. The match was over in minutes and although the crowd clearly loved it, Regal, now 44 years-of-age, is a shadow of his former self. However, The Undertaker, four years Regal's senior, might be bigger than he used to be but he's still a tremendous talent. From his signature entrance to being driven through the announcers' table 'Taker was a joy to watch. It's just a shame this was probably the final time he'll be seen this side of the pond.