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Thursday, 1 May 2008

Rob’s diary of the London WWE Tour pt 1

Once again it was time for WWE to tour the UK, this week, and I type this travelling back on a train from London having spent two days in the capital taking in the Live tapings of Raw, Smackdown and the other one (don’t tell me, it’ll come to me) at the O2 Arena in London’s fashionable.......well, scrubland near Greenwich really, but it’s a bloody nice looking arena.

This is my third little trip to take in the UK tapings of the three shows (ECW, that’s it. Got there in the end) and I’ll be honest the one I’ve been looking forward to least. Mainly because I think the novelty has worn off a bit.

Last year at this sort of time it was destination Earl’s Court for my first UK show in 11 years, and my first as a wrestling journalist. I was, of course, psyched to be attending, and my excitement paid off when we were treated to a sterling John Cena v Shawn Michaels Wrestlemania rematch which went nearly and hour, and was a cracking match.

My second trip was England’s second city of Birmingham, and while the trip itself was fun, and although it was nice to get some interview time with a few wrestlers, the shows were poor.

(You can read my diaries from both previous trips by checking the archive on this blog. I’m not going to link it, there’s an archive page on the right, look. Find it yourself. Lazy sod.)

Since the last set of shows in this country were hardly ground-breaking, and with many wrestlers surely burnt out from a major Pay Per View like Wrestlemania followed by a exhausting tour, I wasn’t expecting fireworks. (Just like those people who got burned at the Citrus Bowl. Ouch)

However, I was heartened by the call that I should get myself from my base in Devon (for those outside the UK or those in it with no sense of geography, Devon is about 200 miles from London) to the O2 arena by 2pm on the Monday when Raw was in town. Interviews? You betcha. Chris Jericho, Beth Phoenix and possibly Ken Kennedy were lined up to speak to me. Now that was more like it

Boarding the train with a renewed sense of optimism, my mood grew brighter as I took in the gorgeous South Devon coast scenery and trundled towards London thinking about the kind of questipns I could ask the Women’s champion and The Ayatollah, of Rock and Rolla, whose book I have recently read and reviewed. Me and Chris would get on like a house on fire. I knew it.

The journey was a decent one, brought to life on this sleepy Monday by the staggering posh, almost caricatured , couple who drifted along the carriage, much to the amusement of all. Mr Poshman decided he’d grab the only seat which was free in the carriage, meaning his wife (mind you, he probably calls her ‘Memsahib’ or some other posh term) had to settle for a standing berth near the loos.

Now you may well be rebuking me for not giving up my seat to a lady on a train. I would like to point out that I had the foresight to book in advance, secure myself a reserved seat and actually sit in my designated, allocated place. I believe that a combination of punctuality, efficiency and organisation is the cornerstone of this great country of ours, and I should not be punished for being having a structured life.

Plus the girl a sitting opposite me was fit as you like. Bada-bada-bada-bada-bing!

Arriving at Paddington on time was a bonus, as I had timings to work to. Now, I’m not a fan of the tube network, not because I’m scared of terrorism or being mugged or anything, but because I am very claustrophobic, and don’t particularly enjoy being encased in a metal container unearth the Earth’s surface with a businessman’s armpit in my face and his briefcase slamming into my leg.

Taxi it was, and gratifyingly the massive queue for one of London’s black cabs that greeted me on my last visit to the smoke was non-existent, and a miniscule number of people lay between me an no doubt a chirpy (maybe too chirpy) cock-er-ney geezer.

So I got my cab pretty sharpish, and as predicted got a chirpy cock-er-ney geezer, but he actually turned out to be a cracking bloke. I wish I’d caught his name. He told me it would be quite a way, but I asked him to proceed, and off we ambled across that there London place.

Only a few minutes in I felt obliged to explain the purpose of my visit, and although he wasn’t exactly a connoisseur of the Pro Wrestlng business (I wasn’t really expecting “Awight, saan, those Laadaan and Kendwick, they oughta ‘ave more TV time, innit. Annat Layla bird, he’s from raand ‘ere – she’s luvverly!”) I did get the standard line about which people in that field he had picked up: “I ‘ad that Jackie Pallo and Mick McManus in the back of my cab once.” Said he. Nice one.

He did tell me some other sporting names he had escorted to their destination of choice, but if I say to you that 1980’s Welsh snooker legend Terry Griffiths headed the list, you’ll forgive not detailing all the names concisely, I’m sure.

In all seriousness (I wonder how long that will last) the guy was a delight, and as I confessed to being a country boy who visits London very sporadically, he took great pleasure in driving me past Buck House, down the Mall to Trafalgar square, and past various other London landmarks, pointing them out and giving a brief history lesson. He wasn’t Simon Scharma, but he as he pointed out the site of the start of Great Fire of London and a statue of Brunel (I love old Isambard, but he was started to get a bit random now, the old driver) I was grateful for someone enthusiastic and friendly.

Then the first snag happened. Driver had explained to me that the O2 was not the easiest to get to, and as the large Dome structure loomed into the horizon, he informed me that it was close, but would still be a little while before we got there. The words had barely left his mouth as we saw and heard police sirens. Then Fire engine sirens. Then a policeman directing us in the opposite direction.

The Blackwall tunnel, a major thoroughfare to get south of the River Thames, was closed, meaning logjam traffic and a major diversion. My 2pm schedule meeting time for interviews was looming, and looking a forlorn hope.

I asked my driver where the nearest underground station was, and decided the Claustrophobia 3:16 said I just had to face it. I was dropped by the driver, still friendly and chirpy, although my mood now did not mirror this state of mind, at Bromley-by-Bow, and as I walked in a big sign said “GOING TO THE O2?”

Indeed I was. The instructions were oh-so-helpful. “TAKE BUS ROUTE BLAH BLAH BLAH....” Bus? If a Taxi couldn’t hack the traffic, a bus was no good. So a study of the map (it was now teeming with rain, I should point out) showed me I needed to take a short journey to Mile End, another to Stratford and a final one to North Greenwich for the short walk to the O2 complex. Three train journeys to get to a building that I could actually see with my own eyes.

I made it, even after a helpful automated ticket machine decided I was not worthy of dispensing a ticket to, despite me deeming it suitable for depositing money within. Use of walkie talkies to allow me to allow me to avoid ticket gates ensued, and I was on my way. However, by this my mood was foul, as I was 30 minutes late, Jericho, Beth and Kennedy were off the table. Instead we had Maria & Cade and Murdoch lined up as alleged replacements.

I arrived wet, late and slightly annoyed at the deterioration in the day’s fortunes, and when ushered backstage at the arena, was met with the news that Maria had dropped out. My heart rose as I saw Chris Jericho merrily chatting to a female journalist (who I later found out was from the Daily Mail.) Y2J was here, junior!

But not to speak to me.

I could sight of Richard Parr, Sky Sports’ Wrestling Expert (I know that, because it was in the Observer) who I’d met at the last two sets of tapings. Rich was interrogating Cade and Murdoch with sharp, hard-hitting questions and observations. Or he was falling asleep, I couldn’t tell.

Anyway, our WWE PR team soon advised me that Mr Jericho would be departing after his chat with the lady from everyone’s favourite middle-class, xenophobic daily rag, so it was simply the Redneck Wrecking crew for me.

Rich finished up, and I sat down with Trevor and Garrison Lance to talk about.........what the hell would I talk about? This was the Wrestlemania revenge tour, and rather than getting participants in Money in the Bank Ladder match, or even Bunny-freaking-mania, we got two guys who weren’t even on the card for WM24.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Cade and Murdoch, and think they are much underutilised. They were really nice guys too, but not particularly a major scoop for me. I saw a minor ray of light when, after asking they guys if they were in action on the card that evening, was told that Trevor would be in singles action against JTG of Cryme Tyme.

I decided to pursue the line of enquiry about the rumours of Cryme Tyme being released several months ago, and that Cade and Murdoch were chiefly responsible for this. Trevor came back in character, stating that they hated Cryme Tyme, but then they hate every tag team.

Lance looked more anxious to let off steam, but seemed restrained, possibly by the presence of a WWE official, so I got a line about how there was an issue but it will stay between themselves, and that he thinks Cryme Tyme are a talented team who are liked by the fans, so they deserved to be rehired.

Ironically, Murdoch would go on to lose his match against JTG in short order, with Cade looking like he was annoyed with him post-match, perhaps sowing the seeds of a break-up.

I say this is ironic, as all Cade could talk about for the second half of the interview was how he and Trevor were the only tag team that were truly a team, on and off camera. I took his comments to be out of character, and I still do, but they lost a bit of credibility after the events on camera.

So that was it for Interviews. Worth the hassle of Trains, Taxis and Tubes for, I think you’ll agree.

Fortunately, our WWE host organising interviews kindly offered to buy us lunch. Richard declined, and instead simply nursed a beer. I, however, decided that if I wasn’t getting Y2J, I would take a free meal. Even then, though, my day continued to hit low points, as our first destination, Nandos, was full. I bloody love Nandos, but instead we opted for a specialist Burger joint, which I forget the name of. (It was like Gourmet Burger Kitchen, but it wasn’t Gourmet Burger Kitchen) Anyway, it was crap. Fitting, since I’d been fed crap all day. (Just kidding HJ, the gesture was much appreciated)

As our hosts departed, with work to do before the night started in earnest, Rich and I quenched our thirst in the Slug and Lettuce. I’ll say for the O2 complex, it’s choice of bars, cafes, and restaurants is extremely good and very varied.

Richard’s brother joined us, the World Brighton renowned magician, who since he said he reads this blog, I shall give another plug to. Check out www.mattparro.com. While you are at it, you should go and see the new WWE section of www.skysports.com which Richard contributes to. And just in case you forget, and so I ask in the interests of fairness, as Vince once said, you must also see www.thesun.co.uk/wrestling.

Shilling over, Matt was followed by Rich’s housemate Mike, and then by my colleague Simon Rothstein’s two mates Stuart and Gareth.

Simon was unable to attend this show having been in the States for TNA Lockdown. He actually missed a good event.

The show began at 7.30pm with the usual series of non-televised encounters including a surprise appearance (fighting Hardcore Holly) of Chad Collyer. We also got to see Snitsky destroy Val Venis (well, I didn’t I chose it as a toilet break), Cody Rhodes besting Charlie Haas (still doing the bizarre luchador mask gimmick) The Canadian Bulldog DH Smith, with no mention to the live crowd of his link to father Davey Boy, but this was probably since he was facing Super Crazy. Harry didn’t show any heelish tendencies though.

There was one final match, as Maria and Ashley took on Jillian and Melina in a shockingly bad contest, which really highlighted the lack of depth to the WWE Women’s division. As I would later discuss with Simon who had been immersed in TNA the previous weekend, the TNA Knockout division is so superior to the Divas of WWE that it isn’t funny. Seriously, if they start booking more wrestling, more logic, and get the X division going again, TNA really could make it. They have a lot of upsides which the WWE don’t.

This is a good point, having detailed the pre-show and heat matches, to let you know of some of the signs which abounded over the two days. My favourites were:
“Maria – cook my dinner”“I saw Lillian Garcia in Sainsburys”“Mania 26 = Villa Park”“Cena fears Lee Trundle”“Regal for London Mayor”

There were other good ones, but those were my particular favourites.

After a fantastic, and pleasingly well-received, rendition of our national anthem by ring announcer Lillian Garcia, the show opened with a very strong segment. Shawn Michaels talked about Ric Flair and Batista, before the crowd (including me) jumped up to welcome the music of the Nature Boy.

It was not to be. Instead of Naitch, we were treated to the sight, after a lengthy pause, of Chris Jericho. He got in the face of HBK and drew gasps from the crowd for suggesting that Shawn enjoyed retiring Ric Flair, just like he enjoyed screwing Bret Hart and throwing Marty Jannetty through a window. Jericho is a genius on the stick.

For his troubles, though, he got superkicked by HBK. Ouch.

It wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Y2J, but this isn’t a full review. You can see that on the Sun wrestling page.

Next up was Santino and Carlito beating Londrick to gain the number one contendership. Santino was probably the heaviest cheer of all in this match. Britain clearly loves this guy, and so do I, although it was disappointing that he didn’t have his usual comic head one. A ‘wiener’ joke was lost on the English crowd (including yours truly) and a mix up of names between the two men fared little better. I still love you though Santino. Actually, it’s a little unfair that Carlito is a little overlooked, because the guy is a solid hand in the ring and also does his bit vocally. This could well be a team to watch.

The reason why Beth was pulled from interviews may well have been revealed next, as we saw Mickie James wrest away the Women’s Championship in a good contest with the Glamazon. Mickie was very over, and the reception that greeted her title win was possibly the loudest on the show proper. It was frustrating that this wasn’t built up a little more, but it’s nice to see Mickie featured more prominently. In fact, it’s always nice to see Mickie.

Earlier in the show Regal had faced off with JBL on the screen, with a big cheer going up for the English GM. More followed as Jericho’s character continued to develop heelish and perhaps tweener characteristics, and confronted Regal in the back. Nice to see Regal over, but at this point I’m worried about Jericho.

Hooray, chalk one up for petty thuggery as we are all told to cheer for Cryme Tyme. Their usual “Money, money, yeah, yeah” gets the crowd going, but the follow up “euros, euros,yeah, yeah” doesn’t do the trick. We are only a mile or so from Canary Wharf, boys, with all those banking headquarters. Don’t bring up the bloody Euro, if you don’t mind. The short match that I mentioned previously between JTG and Murdoch then takes place. Nothing to see here, move along. Oh, except the tag team that I interviewed earlier on during the day had expressed to me that the reason they had done well was that they are more of a team in and out of the ring. And then they teased a break-up. I think I’ve already mentioned this –can’t tell I’m bitter can you?

At this point I hear Matt’s voice and turn to see him having joined the lively crew just behind him as they begin a quest to start a Mexican wave. This would continue for much of the evening, with limited success, but fair play to them for getting the atmosphere going and getting a wave going at one point which went round the arena at least twice.

The familiar music of the WWE champion Randy Orton resounds through the arena as he is out for his match with our very own William Regal. To be fair, the match doesn’t last particularly long, but for what it was it was pretty good, and the crowd were as into this as anything else over the two days.

The match was predictably won by Orton, and built his RKO a little more as a devastating finisher out of nowhere. I loved hearing the “Eng-er-land” chant that met the Raw GM. Speaking of England, the WWE’s usual stage get-up for coming over here has been the Union Jack Titantron and, for Smackdown, the bus, taxi and phone box. This time we had a throne and beefeaters (that doesn’t quite work because the Beefeaters are at the Tower of London. I think WWE were thinking of the Queen’s guards. They are the one with the Black Marge Simpson hat on).

We thought this was a tip of the hat to the British Royal family, but it turned out to be a reference to...........KING OF THE RING??? That was news, but when they played a vignette stating that King of the Ring was “The biggest honour of them all”. That statement is flawed on so many levels, but I’ll simply say two words: “Billy Gunn”.

Next up some ultra-LOUD pyro for Y2J, back out once again, but this time to a huge ovation. I was expecting a bit of a crowd split here, but not such split occurred. The crowd were all Y2J.

Just to confuse everyone that little bit further, Y2J won the match, but he did so with his feet on the ropes, retaining his Intercontinental title with a distinctly heelish manoeuvre. Hmm.

More Britishness next, but Paul Burchill is a heel, so no big fanfare for him and the beautiful Katie Lea, and in fact because he was facing Hacksaw Jim Duggan, some morons – who had only 10 minutes ago been chanting “England” for Regal, started backing Duggan with ‘USA’ chants. Bizarre.

Burchill wins quickly, and if I may, right here, a petty annoyance I have. Paul Burchill was announced as being from “England”. Not “Blackpool, England” like Regal. Why is there no consistency in these announcements? Sometimes there is there is no weight mentioned, sometime no place, sometimes both. If this is going to be done, why can it not be done consistently? That probably doesn’t matter to anyone apart from me, but I had to get it off my chest!

In the main event, Triple H v JBL was ticking along before Randy Orton got involved. To the TV audience the show ended when JBL was standing tall, although in the arena we saw Orton go for another RKO on Trips, and have it reversed into a Pedigree. Triple H then spent the best part of 5-10 minutes posing for the crowd, building them up in to a frenzy, then not only circling the ring but going to basically every accessible part of the arena to greet fans.

He ended the evening by climbing into the throne, after saluting each Beefeater – and throwing them a DX crotch chop. How elegant.

It was a good night all round, and except for waiting for a tube station to allow thousands of fans in, while we were waiting in the pouring rain, it would have almost faultless.

A quick note on standing waiting outside North Greenwich Underground – the noises in the air were Ric Flair “Wooo”s and Hacksaw Duggan “hooooo”s.

It doesn’t matter how many new superstars you bring through – the old boys still have their pullinh power and attraction. And when ever you question why Hacksaw is still on the roster. You get a far bigger reception for him than a great deal of others.

1 comment:

coolguy9912 said...

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