While I have been to plenty of WWE events in the last few years, both house shows and pay-per-view events, I hadn't actually been to a WWE TV taping in over 15 years. My last Raw was the "Crapper 3:16" show at the Nassau Coliseum, headlined by Shawn Michaels vs Owen Hart and also featuring Terry Funk's debut as Chainsaw Charlie. I subscribed to CM Punk's stance that, aside from pay-per-view events, house shows were the most enjoyable WWE shows.
Well, to some degree, that changed for me last night for several reasons. Some reasons speak to the quality of the show and some don't. For starters, WWE has done a great job getting rid of the dead spots during commercial breaks. If it's not the middle of a long match (and that's part of it, since there have been more long matches on Raw lately), then there's an entertaining video on the TitanTron, an entrance for the next match and/or Justin Roberts showing off the "best" signs in the building. So don't be worried about Raw tapings being full of dead spots because they're not anymore.
As I just alluded to, Raw now features a fair amount of long matches. Even without taking commercial breaks into account, the show is no longer an endless stream of segments which don't get enough time to register. On top of that, the matches that get time tend to be really good, often pay-per-view quality.
Major markets like New York will get better Raws than some other cities, especially the night after a pay-per-view event, but it's safe to say that the average experience has improved dramatically.
But enough about that.
Last night was a really great episode of Monday Night Raw, and as well as it came off on TV, it was incredible live. The crowd was hot all night, even during the Superstars tapings, and never really let up. While this would have been a really good show just about anywhere, the fans in Brooklyn made it a memorable one.
The show featured two great, pay-per-view quality matches in Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho and Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler, as well as Barclay's Center exploding for Daniel Bryan in the closing segment. The absolute highlight, however, was the angle with CM Punk, Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar at the top of the third hour.
I've been to WWE and other wrestling events with loud, passionate crowds, including some fairly famous matches, but I have never experienced anything like last night at a modern wrestling show.
As snarky as the crowd could be at times last night, like doing the wave during bad matches, they turned all of that off when Punk came out. Everyone had a real emotional investment in what was going on: Paul Heyman was loathed, CM Punk was beloved and while everyone wanted to see Brock Lesnar, they wanted Punk to dominate him even more.
While New York crowds (the Nassau Coliseum excluded) are always hot, I've never seen tension and emotion like this before. It was unlike anything I've ever seen in modern WWE, picking up once Heyman went for the jugular by saying Punk had nobody but the fans because he's estranged from his family. There were audible gasps throughout the arena, which turned into anger, followed by fans straining their voices to make it clear to Punk that they genuinely love and care about him.
Being there live for the moment that The Rock became a superstar at SummerSlam '98, Punk's title win that started his 434 day title reign, Kenta Kobashi treating a hotel ballroom like Budokan Hall for his Ring of Honor match with Samoa Joe and so on were all special, amazing moments for me as a wrestling fan and I'll never forget them.
I never had the "you can cut the tension in this building with a knife" feeling I had last night. When Punk talks about wishing he was born 20 years too late for the type of wrestling he wants to be a part of, this is what he's talking about.
It says a lot about that segment that it was the most memorable thing on a show ending with Daniel Bryan getting picked for the SummerSlam WWE Title shot as the whole arena erupted in "YES!" chants. The word out of some recent shows is that fans are a lot more into chanting "YES!" than they are into Daniel Bryan.
That certainly wasn't the case last night.
While the loud "YES!" chants started during the opening segment and New York was absolutely the right city to have the fans "choose Cena's challenger" when WWE had Bryan in mind, there was a little bit of luck involved. Apparently, a Bryan vs. Wade Barrett match had been scheduled for last night's Raw, but the Punk/Heyman/Lesnar segment ran long.
In lieu of shortening both Bryan vs. Barrett and Jericho vs. Van Dam, Bryan vs. Barrett was cut entirely. It was the right move, as the crowd not seeing Bryan all night made them even more rabid for him to come out.
- I know she's wrestled on Superstars, but having also been at TLC, it felt like Naomi only wrestles at Barclay's Center. She had that match at TLC that seemed like the start of a push, only for it to never be followed up on, and then had no matches of note until last night.
- Fandango's pyro silhouette was above the ring, but never used. I expected him to beat Randy Orton and celebrate with it, but, well, I was wrong. Speaking of which...
- I'm convinced they booked Fandango vs. Orton with the idea that the crowd would react in an interesting manner. Orton was in the match that the crowd turned on at the last Raw in the market (the night after WrestleMania), which was also the night that started the whole "Fandangoing" thing. Everyone sang and danced during Fandango's entrance, the match died and the crowd entertained themselves until exploding for the finish.
- Bray Wyatt's first live promo came off great, as he shut down the "WHAT?" chants by being so creepy.
- Someone needs to explain to me why WWE changes the ring apron so often during televised events.
- A fan could get their photo taken with Bob Backlund for $30. Seeing him scream at fans and procure the crossface chickenwing on them was fantastic.
- Rob Van Dam does the pointing thing a lot more when his name is chanted louder. Maybe we shouldn't encourage him.
All in all, a great night of WWE action and drama.