by Nathan Dean Dimit
I had the privilege of attending WWE’s Christmas edition of Monday Night Raw this past Monday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Personally, I’ve been kind of down on the WWE’s product after the TLC pay per view earlier this month, but live pro wrestling shows are always incredibly entertaining. It also helps that WWE usually treats their Christmas shows as more of a non-canonical one off, where feuds and plot points take the backseat in order to put on a more straightforward episode of sports entertainment. I’ve said before that the holiday season substantially slows down for WWE, and business won’t be picking up again for several more weeks until the buildup to the Royal Rumble pay per view begins. It’s also nice for the performers, who get to take the rest of the week off to go home and be with their friends and families for the holidays, instead of touring and putting on shows every weekend.
A couple of weeks prior, WWE announced that the legendary Hulk Hogan would be hosting the show as “Ho Ho Hogan”, the Hulkster as Santa Claus. This premise is ridiculous, but enough to peak my excitement and interest in going to the show. Hulk Hogan is pro wrestling. He’s a name synonymous with the sport and one of the biggest pro wrestling stars of all time. I’ve been a Hulkamaniac since I was a young kid watching WCW, but had never seen him live in person. Even though Hogan is getting older and can’t perform his signature leg drop, a chance to see him live and in person comes rarely and this was an opportunity I had to take.
I arrived at the arena and got to my seats while they were filming Superstars, the half hour pre-show that serves to pump up the crowd and have something happening in the ring while people get situated. Ring announcer Lillian Garcia announces that RAW will be going live in 30 seconds and you could feel the excitement building within the crowd.
The RAW intro played and Hulk Hogan’s anthemic theme song “Real American” hit - the crowd blew the roof off of the building. Out of around 10,000 people in attendance, I’d guess that 90% of the audience was on their feet for a standing ovation. To put it in simpler terms, they were losing their shit. Hogan hasn’t been at a Minneapolis show in over a decade and this crowd was uproarious for his return, myself included. Hogan (in full Santa Claus gear) walked down the entrance ramp and into the ring and played to the crowd by amplifying his reactions. Our hero had returned.
I’d like to take a moment and mention that Minneapolis has always been a hotbed for professional (and even collegiate amateur) wrestling. Stars like Brock Lesnar, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and X Pac have all called Minnesota home at some point. Vern Gagne’s AWA territory of the 70’s and 80’s was also a very popular promotion which helped launch names like Hulk Hogan and The Road Warriors into superstardom. Minneapolis has deep roots with pro wrestling, and this is something I think makes our crowds more appreciative and lively.
Hogan introduced the show, wished us a Merry Christmas, said his catchphrases followed by a run down of a few matches scheduled for later in the evening. The Hulkster also announced that WWE Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper was scheduled for a segment later on, which received another huge reaction from the live crowd. John Cena’s theme music hit and he came down to the ring to challenge his current rival, Seth Rollins, to a rematch from last week’s show.
John Cena is essentially the modern day Hulk Hogan, but without the universal approval of the audience. Younger children tend to enjoy John Cena the most, while adult men and “smart” fans tend not to. It’s definitely a demographic thing where his character appeals to younger kids looking for a superhero to cheer for, but adult fans who have watched the product longer can get tired of his shtick and his character. When Cena’s music hit it was a mix of higher pitched cheers from the kids and lower pitched boos from the men. Now, I don’t care for John Cena much myself, but I can’t deny that children love him and he is the WWE’s #1 star. Cena can put on quality, entertaining matches, but sometimes his work on the microphone can be embarrassing. The Rock, he is not. Cena talked for a while longer and began to sing his own rendition of “Let it Go” from Frozen. I thought this was cringe worthy but the families in my section enjoyed it. The WWE tries to appeal to a wide demographic. I’m sure the things I like about the product probably don’t appeal to a 6 year old.
Seth Rollins came out and they all talked some more. Wrestling promos are great when they’re good and hilarious when they’re bad, but this time they rambled on to help kill time. Hogan left the ring and unfortunately, we wouldn’t see him for the rest of the night.
Cena and Rollins had a very solid match that probably went about fifteen minutes. Seth Rollins’ character comes to the ring with two goons, J&J Security, who exist to get some extra heat onto Seth since he’s the villain of this story. J&J tried to interfere in the match and cost Cena the victory. Cena and Rollins have great chemistry in the ring put on good to great matches every time. However, I’m ready for their feud to end so they can both move on to other things. Cena got the win to open up the show and make the crowd happy.
After a break Fandango is in the ring for a match with Jack Swagger. Since this was a filler match with nothing on the line, I took this opportunity to use the restroom and get a beer.
I came back to a backstage promo with Dolph Ziggler, a wrestler I’ve mentioned I like a lot. It’s announced that his Intercontinental Championship will be on the line tonight against Luke Harper, his current rival. Most of the WWE roster have been stuck in the same feuds since Survivor Series last month, and probably won’t get shuffled around until the Royal Rumble.
Adam Rose vs. R Truth was up next. Obviously this spot was meant to continue the story of Adam Rose and his bunny costume wearing compatriot and the tension between them. R Truth gets the win and the live crowd doesn’t care much. Rose attacks the bunny after the match and the crowd chants “one more time!” His attack is meant to build sympathy for the mascot, yet the crowd sides with the villain this time.
Roman Reigns vs The Big Show was up next. The Big Show is gigantic in person, legitimately weighing over 400 pounds and is at least 7 feet tall. I’ve seen him live a few times before so I knew what to expect, but for newcomers his live presence is always astonishing. Roman Reigns is penciled in to be the WWE’s new John Cena. Internet rumors say he will be the one to win the Royal Rumble match and go on to dethrone Brock Lesnar’s WWE championship at Wrestlemania next year. I’m all for new talent being pushed into main events and becoming top guys, but Roman does not seem ready to me quite yet. I think another year or two of training and practice could help put him into that upper echelon, but strapping a rocket to him over the next 3 months could potentially be overkill. Sometimes in wrestling, this can cause the crowds to turn on characters. Their match happened but unfortunately turned out to be a stinker. Reins has just returned from an injury and is still working off some ring rust, while The Big Show is getting up there in age and starting to move sluggishly. The crowd chanted "boring" at some points during the match which isn’t a good sign for someone they want to main event their biggest show of the year. Roman hits his signature moves and the crowd slightly wakes up until the finish of the match when Roman Reigns wins by a count out victory, where he kept the Big Show out of the ring for a count of 10.
We go backstage to an interview with Dean Ambrose. He is scheduled for a “Miracle on 34th Street Fight” later in the evening against his enemy Bray Wyatt. Since I’ve seen Christmas episodes of Raw before, I know what to expect. In previous years, wrestlers have fought with Christmas presents, cookie sheets and mistletoe. Bray and Dean will deliver something entertaining tonight, and I am excited to see these two go at it.
The next match was a divas match featuring Brie Bella (with her sister Nikki) against Natalya (with husband Tyson Kidd). I have nothing against the divas, but I did pick this time to get a refill and check out merchandise. I came back to end of the match with Natayla getting the win.
Goldust and Stardust came out next to a mixed reaction. People love these two as performers, but their characters are intended to be villains. This was also during the middle of the show during a lull period. The live crowd was starting to lost interest in the show and I saw many people playing on their phones or leaving to get snacks. Their opponents were Los Matadores, a bullfighting luchador tag team with a little person dressed up as a bull. Although tonight, the bull had adorned reindeer antlers and a red nose. The match was quickly over and the bull pinned Goldust with a backflip off the ropes. A 45 year old man in full face paint got defeated by a little person wearing a bull outfit in a professional wrestling match. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Lillian Garcia announces that up next is the Intercontinental Championship match. Dolph Ziggler comes out first to a boisterous crowd. His opponent Luke Harper is about 6’4’’ and looks like his character lives in a swamp. At the moment, Dolph is probably closer to the #2 good guy behind John Cena, with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose not far behind. Dolph was the sole survivor in the epic main event from Survivor Series, and it seems like the fans are more behind him now than ever before. These two had a hellacious, brutal match where they kicked out of each others finishing moves and pulled out all of the stops to put on a good show for the crowd. Nobody wanted to see Dolph lose the title he had fought so hard to win, so every time they teased that Harper might have him, Dolph would just barely escape pinfalls in time to keep the crowd on their toes. Ziggler’s relentless, never say die character is endearing wherein he can take a lot of punishment but continues to get back up and keep fighting. Ziggler gets the win after about 15 minutes to cheers from the audience. Commentator Jerry Lawler joins the ring afterwards for an interview with Dolph where he thanks the people in the crowd for helping him win the match. I watch this program to turn my brain off for a while, and it’s great to have a hero that the fans and I want to root for.
Up next was Piper’s Pit with Rowdy Roddy Piper and his guest, the villainous Rusev with his valet Lana. Roddy Piper main evented the very first Wrestlemania against Hulk Hogan, and while he never quite reached the levels of the Macho Man Randy Savage or Ric Flair, wrestling fans still respect Roddy Piper a lot and still see him as a legendary character. His music hit and the crowd woke up again. It was going to be hard to follow the match with Dolph and Harper, but Roddy Piper could certainly do it. Rusev and Lana came out to boos. Their gimmick is easy for the fans to hate, since they’re nationalistic Russians who hate the USA. Roddy tried to interview the two while Lana bashed the USA some more. Their war of words is cut short when Ryback’s music hits and he comes down to the ring. Piper had promised Rusev and Lana a Christmas present and Ryback shows up wearing a Christmas bow. Ryback and Rusev immediately brawl while the crowd chants for Ryback, until Rusev escapes and chickens out of a fight.
We’re nearing the end of the show and the following match is a six woman “Santa’s Little Helper” tag match. It’s 3 on 3 - Alicia Fox, Emma and Naomi versus Paige, Cameron and Summer Rae - and all of the girls come out wearing Santa hats and skimpy outfits. Think Mean Girls. These are basically all of the female wrestlers not involved with the Diva’s championship title. The match is inoffensive and basically eye candy for the audience. The live crowd is mostly dead; however, the only time they got vocal was to cheer for Paige, a villain. The babyfaces get the win.
We’re onto our 9th match which was The Miz (with Damien Mizdow) versus Jimmy Uso (with Jey Uso). More of the same here, with the crowd cheering for the stunt double Mizdow, while The Miz draws more heat for not letting him get involved in the match. The crowd wants Mizdow, The Miz denies them. The Miz wins the match to further his feud with the Uso brother.
Finally our Main Event is next. Bray Wyatt comes out first and his entrance is quite the experience in person. The arena goes dark while the crowd lights up their cellphones.
Wyatt cuts a promo before the match about Christmas and how there is no Santa. He’s ready to go to war with Ambrose. There are no count outs or disqualifications in a Miracle on 34th Street Fight.
Dean Ambrose comes out next to one of the biggest reactions of the evening. We’re over 2 hours into the show yet almost the entire crowd is still here to see this match. The two brawl and eventually start to fight all over the arena. From under the ring, Dean pulls out a table with bow wrapped around it. They head up the ramp and hit each other with Christmas presents until Bray pushes Dean off of the stage through a table. THIS is what the crowd was here to see. Ambrose gets up soon enough and opens a present containing a steel chair with another bow on it. Ambrose hits Bray with the chair and sends him crashing into a Christmas tree outside the ring. There’s not a whole lot of psychology needed to put on a street fight. The two basically take turns hitting each other with ridiculous objects until they decide to relocate to do it some more. Eventually Wyatt finds a kendo stick (wrapped up to look like a candy cane, of course) and positions it to jut out from a corner turnbuckle. Wyatt gets the win after throwing Dean into the kendo stick and hitting his finishing maneuver.
After the match, Dean gets his revenge by getting up and then launching a surprise attack on Bray by spraying a fire extinguisher. Dean sets him up on the gift wrapped table from earlier, climbs a ladder and drops an elbow drop on Bray to end the show and send the fans home happy. Bray may have won the match, but Dean got the last laugh.
Overall this was a fun and amusing show, I’d give it something around a 7 out of 10. Seeing legends like Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper was well worth the trip, in addition to seeing some enjoyable matches. Live wrestling is a completely different atmosphere than watching at home, and I highly recommend going to a show at least once in your lifetime. Say your prayers and take your vitamins. Merry Christmas, everyone.