At least one of the fans standing in the lines leading into Houston's Toyota Center on Monday night had never seen WWE Raw live before—my four-year-old daughter LJ.
Her hands clutched the straps of her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. She stared up in awe at the arena. A smile glowed on her face.
The electricity of the experience was already hitting her.
This may have been her first WWE event, but she wasted no time in trying to become part of this group of pro wrestling enthusiasts. LJ belted a "Hello!" to the security guards, to the fans carrying around replica WWE Championships, to anyone who would listen.
I was curious to see how she would react to seeing WWE action unfold.
Which of the roster's larger-than-life figures would most resonate with her? How would WWE's recent focus on showcasing its women's division impact her view of the show? Would I be transported to my own childhood by seeing her absorb this colorful, over-the-top world?
With a pair of tickets in hand, we were about to answer those questions.
Alexa Bliss was set to step into the Toyota Center after taking the coward's way out in her Raw Women's Championship match against Sasha Banks at the Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view on Sunday. The Hardy Boyz would have wounds to lick after losing a hard-hitting Iron Man bout to Cesaro and Sheamus.
And Big Cass would be fresh off devouring his former friend Enzo Amore live on PPV.
My little girl was only vaguely familiar with that menagerie of warriors and villains, but she was pumped nonetheless.
Before the event, even more so than "seeing the girls fight," the aspect that most appealed to LJ was the prospect of being loud while inside. She has spent her entire young life being told about the virtues of the inside voice and was soon going to be able to break that rule with no consequence.
After an escalator ride, we slipped into our section to find our seats. WWE promos played on the big screen as we scooted down the aisle past fans talking about Sunday's Great Balls of Fire event.
"This is like when Peppa Pig went to see Mr. Potato," LJ said.
Much of the early experience for her was attempting to learn the rhythms and rituals of the pro wrestling experience. Fans gave each babyface a rousing welcome complete with hooting and clapping. The heels earned jeers instead.
LJ hesitantly joined in, her restrained cheering lost in the rumble of the crowd.
Mickie James and Emma clashed in the first match of the night, a bout taped for Main Event before Raw went on the air. When Emma grounded the former women's champ and squeezed her in a chinlock, the audience urged James on by clapping. The spectators sounded a familiar beat as a unit.
When James charged back, her bright yellow tights a blur with each dropkick, I wondered if my daughter would expect every match to be between women.
Cruiserweights TJP and Lince Dorado soon stepped out to disprove that.
It became clear as the masked Dorado flipped and flew inside the ring that LJ most enjoyed the high-flying side of wrestling. Sophisticated fans can appreciate a smooth transition from hold to hold. Wrestling aficionados delight in a heel manipulating the referee, a wrestler using a move to make a tribute to late wrestler or a good callback to an earlier part of the match.
Kids aren't likely to pick up on all of that.
A dynamo in a leopard-inspired mask leaping from the top rope and somersaulting in the air, though, is another matter. That kind of action is immediate and exciting.
For LJ, clapping for the moves and Superstars may have been even been more fun than watching them. She even gave oft-criticized announcer Michael Cole a rousing round of applause when he took his spot at the commentary desk.
The Big, Bad Guy
A WWE event is a sensory overload.
Lights flash. Music booms. Pyrotechnics explode from the entrance ramp.
LJ sported a pair of noise-canceling headphones to muffle some of that clamor.
Still, it unnerved her at times. Seeing superheroes smash each other in the heart of the city on a tablet was one thing, but getting this close to wrestlers slamming each other was more visceral. Even the popular Finn Balor scared her some.
The gladiator with the GQ smile strode through a smoke as his entrance music blared and the lights went on and off to the beat of the pulsing music.
Nothing she saw all night had her as uneasy as Big Cass, though.
The 6'11", 276-pound powerhouse kicked off Raw by grabbing a mic and delivering a rage-filled rant in the center of the ring. He gleefully described demolishing his longtime friend Enzo Amore, barking and bragging in typical wrestling heel fashion.
"He shouldn't be here. He's too mean," LJ said of him.
Heels are supposed to frighten kids. They should be so nasty and belligerent that a first-time viewer instantly wants to boo them.
Big Cass is clearly doing his job.
Even on the car ride home, my daughter had the behemoth on her mind. "He's terrible. He hates me," she said of him.
For the past two years, WWE has made a clear and concerted effort to highlight its female wrestlers. Women have headlined shows and battled in violent gimmick matches previously off-limits for them.
I saw proof of that move paying dividends from up close.
As much as LJ enjoyed The Hardy Boyz speeding across the mat or Dorado defying gravity, her eyes widened especially big for WWE's women.
When Maryse sauntered out next to her husband The Miz, my little girl pointed at her excitedly. She asked if she was a queen.
That's understandable considering a crew had just laid out a red carpet for the couple and placed a series of trophies on a podium.
Maryse didn't get involved in any action. Instead, The Miz handed out awards to her and his entourage. That clearly left LJ disappointed.
She's used to seeing Owlette of PJ Masks wrangle bad guys and Wonder Woman show off super powers. Those characters don't stand around and smile like Maryse.
It didn't take long, however, for some female superheroes of the squared circle to emerge. Bayley and Banks took on Bliss and Nia Jax in a tag team match.
LJ didn't take her cues from the audience on this one.
Fans cheered the duo of Banks and Bayley. She chose to instead root for the underhanded egotist who holds the Raw women's title—Bliss.
She marveled at Banks' offense. "She moves like a snake," LJ said. But it was Bliss who ensnared her attention.
Bliss' pigtails, the pink tips of her hair and the fact that her ring gear is sometimes inspired by Harley Quinn have always made her the wrestler my daughter will stop buzzing around the room to watch on TV. And now here she was in person, stomping away on her rivals.
Screaming in a public place may have begun as her favorite part of this experience, but Bliss kicking ass supplanted it. She buzzed about her the same way she does about the likes of Wonder Woman.
Tapped Out Early
Raw is a marathon even for an adult diehard fan.
It's a three-hour show plus about a 10-minute runoff. Even the most ardent audience member can start to fade during it all.
I knew LJ wouldn't make it the whole way through, hence the nosebleed tickets.
After the opening segment, where Big Cass and Big Show brought each other to the canvas in a brawl, she turned to me and asked, "Is it over now?" It wasn't. A whole host of matches and talking segments awaited with a succession of commercial breaks squeezed in.
A bucket of popcorn bigger than her head and trips to the merchandise stand, concession stands and the restroom weren't enough to stave off restlessness forever.
We left before Samoa Joe got in Brock Lesnar's face, monster staring down monster. We left before Dean Ambrose chased off The Miz and his goons with a steel chair in hand.
The weekly breakdowns of Raw's ratings on USA Network show that LJ is not the only one to not sit through Raw in its entirety.
Truncated and all, her first taste of WWE was fun. And that's an element fans sometimes forget when they overanalyze the art form, letting every win or loss irk them.
Pro wrestling is theater so straightforward that even a kid unfamiliar with its ins and out can catch on quickly.
It's a magical trip to an alternate reality. It's a world brimming with giants and goddesses. And there is nothing quite like sitting among your fellow fans to take it all in, cheering and chanting at full volume.
As LJ explained, "Everybody likes screaming."