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Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Rob's diary of the UK Tour - part two

Those that work or live near the O2 arena could be forgiven for thinking that the 14th & 15th of April brought two similar shows to London. But that wasn’t really the case.

For although it said WWE on the banner each night, the contrast between the Monday Night Raw show and the Tuesday night Smackdown/ECW taping was extremely marked.

We brought you a Raw Report straight after Monday’s show, and we were very positive about it. The live WWE show really is very different to the armchair experience, and Raw was a good example about the live crowd being hot, and caught up in the show’s action.

Tuesday was slightly different though. Smackdown’s target audience is different to Raw, and the demographic disparity was clear to see inside the arena from one night to another.

Monday’s crowd was noticeably older on average, with more groups of men and more couples on hand to watch major stars like Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton.

On Tuesday, it was more of a family night, with definitely more kids in attendance, and looking at the Smackdown and ECW rosters you definitely find more evidence of child-friendly acts – Kofi Kingston (very impressive and very over in London) Jesse & Festus and Rey Mysterio all obvious examples of this.

To us, the Smackdown and ECW tapings were nowhere near as exciting as Raw. There certainly was less star power. OK, the main event of Smackdown featured such marquee names and indeed a marquee match in Undertaker v Batista, but three other major names failed to excite. CM Punk, possessor of the Money in the Bank briefcase, was buried in an 8-man tag match on ECW. Big Show took part in a snoozefest with Mark Henry which will likely be a precursor for a similarly lumbering match with Great Khali at Backlash, while the brilliant Edge simply took a seat at ringside alongside his Edgeheads to watch the main event.

Elsewhere it was left to Raw’s Chris Jericho to add some spice to the Batista/HBK feud again by hosting a Highlight Reel with The Animal, while MVP will surely hit the big time soon, but here he just had a standard outing with Tommy Dreamer.

But for all the matches, the stars and the build up to a Pay Per View, one segment elicited a far bigger reaction than anything else. It wasn’t the Wrestlemania rematch, it wasn’t the Highlight Reel.

It was a leprechaun.

Hornswoggle, accompanied by his ‘father’ Finlay, came to the ring to take on Matt Striker, and a comedy match ensued. Your very own Sun Wrestling team were watching from a hospitality box at this point, and found it very difficult to inform those in close attendance, many of whom had not before seen a WWE show, exactly what was going on.

When we struggled, though, we simply pointed to the crowd. The WWE’s marketing department would have been proud of us as we said that no matter what you say about pro wrestling, this was bringing the smiles to the faces of thousands.

Hornswoggle used the age-old Greco-Roman SuperSquirter move to good effect, as well as the Tennis-Ball-Throw-to-the-Crotch first utilised by Frank Gotch on George Hackenschmidt in 1910. Classic stuff.

Depending on your age and your outlook on wrestling is was either hugely entertaining or seriously embarrassing. WWE, however, are trying to recruit more younger viewers to a show like Smackdown, and it was no coincidence that on the TV show when it aired on Friday that this match was the backdrop for Michael Cole advertising the new WWE Kids Magazine.

Back in the box, we watched as Jamie Noble took on Chavo Guerrero. The crowd had fallen virtually silent by this point, as Chavo and Jamie, two very talented and underrated individuals, actually tried some chain wrestling. One of our non-wrestling companions commented that this match was the most real-looking of the evening. And the crowd was probably the quietest. We couldn’t help but wonder what this audience would make of a Ring of Honor show.

But this wasn’t ROH, it was WWE, and an example that could thrust two fingers at all the purists and marks who scoff at the alleged lack of class and lack of wrestling purveyed by Vince McMahon’s media juggernaut.

This tour is rumoured to be on course to be WWE’s most profitable ever, and although we would indisputably rather be at a Raw show than Smackdown/ECW any day of the week, perhaps we are not the audience WWE is now looking for on Friday nights.

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