I went to my first WWE show tonight in Raleigh, just a year and a couple of weeks after attending my first live wrestling match of any kind. I enjoyed it because I went with supportive and fun-loving friends and because I got to be within twenty feet of some of the wrestlers I have long adored--Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler, and Zack Ryder--and saw a few others in action I was curious about--David Otunga, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, and Cody Rhodes. On the whole, though, I am mostly thankful that this was not the first live wrestling show I ever saw because I have no interest in seeing another WWE event ever, and probably if I had seen this first, I would have been convinced--since supposedly WWE is the top of the heap--that live wrestling was just not worth the gas money to get to the show, much less the (high) cost of the entrance ticket. Happily I now know there's much more satisfying live wrestling to be seen, three times the creativity and excitement at one tenth the cost, so my interest in the sport is undiminished. But, despite a few high points, of all the live shows I have seen over the past 13 months, this one was definitely the weakest.

I did come to realize a few things about wrestling entertainment. One, the kind of intense mat work that appeals to me and which awakened my interest in TV wrestling back in the 1970s is all but nonexistent in WWE mainly because its gestures are not exaggerated enough to catch and hold the attention of a hockey stadium audience. The grunt work of a scissors hold or a figure-four leglock would be lost at the 188th row. Therefore, everything in WWE is broad and hammy, like miming clowns at the circus. Daniel Bryan, whom I've seen perform beautiful and intricate submission holds in the past, as complicated as Chantilly lace, was reduced to stooging for the cheap seats. Yet even with third row seats and TV monitors amplifying the action overhead, I missed most of the details of the fights. So it might have been worse had the wrestlers performed actual wrestling moves, instead of handsprings and kabuki-like grimaces that can be read hundreds of feet away.

On a similar note, I realized that the wrestlers must have catch phrases because it's impossible to make out what they are saying, even when they are miked, so it's all for the best that everything they are likely to say is already printed on the T-shirts you bought at the merchandise booths. The communication between the audience and the wrestlers and refs was reduced to a form of toggling. A wrestler would say something, which would then prompt a predictable chant or outcry from the crowd. In an earlier draft of this post I questioned the intelligence of the assembled fans. I probably still do question that intelligence, but it was perhaps an unkind thing to put into print. The WWE audience's articulations were clipped and packaged (similarly, in post-literate America many people's treasured values, positions, and even life philosophies can fit, in their entirety, on a typical bumper sticker). The crowds at previously attended, small-venue shows were the Algonquin Round Table by comparison. In the same vein, I was also bothered by the constant appeal to us audience members to go online on our smart phones to give feedback on this, that, or the other--when Ryder handily defeated Tensai, Vickie Guerrero urged us fans to tweet which Christmas song the loser would have to sing: "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (The majority wanted "Rudolph.") That--and the fact that the streaming videos presented rapidly edited versions of the stars performing moves better than they were performing them live--gave the whole show a robotic, production-line feel.

Because security would not let me bring my good camera with a detachable lens into the stadium, I had to use my five-year-old iPhone instead, so I did not even get good shots of Rollins, Ziggler, and Ryder, just a bunch of over-exposed and smeared images that do little more than prove that I was actually there. (See the representative examples below.) I was hoping to get at least one good shot of Seth Rollins' shoulders or Dolph Ziggler's thighs. Disappointing. The beer and pretzels were tasty--that much was not disappointing. The full-color glossy program I bought has pictures of Kofi Kingston, Antonio Cesaro, and Ted DiBiase (none of them on tonight's card) that I figure I can masturbate to later tonight. Yet, honestly, I'm happy to have felt a little of the heat my favorite wrestlers were able to generate despite being hamstrung by severely limiting formulae which have typified "WWE product" for decades now. Given that I had low expectations of WWE, any falling short of those low expectations is something of a catastrophe. Overall, WWE offered the wrestling equivalent of McNuggets, while charging coq au vin prices. Never before had I felt convinced that, as some acquaintances have said to my face, wrestling is an interest suitable only for eight year olds. It's certainly true of WWE's RAW Holiday Tour, anyway.

Overdressed, Seth Rollins gesticulates madly on the ring apron while his partners  Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns and he battle Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Ryback. (Still, even overdressed, with bad hair, and WWE's humiliating waste of his talents, Seth exudes unmistakable hotness.)

WWE Raw's Ginza-like centerpience, one part Blade Runner and one part Pedro's South of the Border on I-95

Cody Rhodes looking squeezable while partner Damien Sandow attempts a showdown with either Jesse James or Billy Gunn.

Dolph Ziggler and John Cena battle it out atop the steel cage in the main event, the most engrossing match of the evening.


  1. Thank you, Joe. You've actually made me feel better about my only wrestling event (a RAW house show) getting canceled due to snow a few years ago. And actually, the thing I was most worried about was the audience. (My LEAST favorite part of wrestling.)


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