Niche Please: WWE’s Limited Marketing Hurts (Part 1: The Cruiserweight Division)

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Niche Please: WWE’s Limited Marketing Hurts

Part 1: The Cruiserweight Division

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Over the years WWE has clearly done something right in terms of marketing and brand expansion. They’re often seen as the number one wrestling program (excuse me, sports entertainment) sheerly for their dominance over professional wrestling in the entertainment world. WWE breeds star power, with forces such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Dave ‘The Animal’ Batista, and now John ‘U Can’t C Me’ Cena. Are there other, very successful wrestling programs? Of course, but for today we’ll focus on WWE programming. More specifically, how formulaic their shows can be, and how that hinders them; while competitors seem to flourish without said formula.

It seems silly to decree how an entertainment titan such as WWE should run their show. Yet one can’t help but to notice that WWE seems to dig themselves into a hole with supposedly good intentions ,yet at the same time buries all of their talent alive in it. This refers to the Cruiserweight Division. What started as an incredible tournament on the WWE Network has now led to a subpar division with usually mediocre segments on Monday Night Raw.

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Now why might that be? Why would some of the contenders from such a widely well received tournament be stuck in this rut on WWE television? One would assume that their matches and segments would be pure fire, given the level of talent these wrestlers have garnered while on the independent circuit. Yet it seems that whenever such segments air live on the show, they’re met with silence, or the occasional beach ball party. So how does something that was once so incredibly popular which had viewers foaming at the mouth, become the new designated restroom break?

Quite simply, WWE places their performers in these little niches and keeps them there, without any possibility of escape. With the induction of the specialized division and a championship belt, one thought that meant we were going to see the new signees go toe to toe with some of the main event staples of Monday Night Raw. In contrast, what we saw was complete isolation. By being a cruiserweight, that meant that you didn’t interact with anyone outside of the division, save for the short-term stint of Alicia Fox as a manager to Cedric Alexander, then Noam Dar. It’s as though the division has a deadly plague, and having them interact with other superstars would leave to the complete decimation of the show. It’s a very odd tactic to do, to isolate the cruiserweight division from everyone and keep them completely self-involved; especially when that wasn’t always the case.

Sure, one could see this as WWE trying to make things fair and equal: guys going against similar weight classes so as not to provide an unfair advantage. Yet doesn’t WWE thrive on such feuds built upon this? It’s a classic David and Goliath scenario, one that does well for the likes of people like Braun Strowman and Sami Zayn: yet somehow can’t be used for the cruiserweight division. In addition to that, they’re doing this to competitors who have never been relegated to competing against only one type of opponent before stepping into WWE. Take for example: Kalisto and Neville. Even before this division, such competitors were competing amongst everyone else in WWE. Much like their independent circuit friends, there was no weight limit that classified who they could and could not wrestle against. Size was just an element of the story, meant to play up the hero’s hopeful triumph or heartbreaking downfall.  It did not indicate their skill level or capability to defeat a large opponent.

It never stopped people like Rey Mysterio.

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Yet WWE continues to have the cruiserweight division in this niche. Story evolution is at a halt, for they show two, maybe four competitors per week on Monday Night Raw. Of course, there’s 205 live, but for the casual fan that’s not willing to, or doesn’t have, the Network: they’re at a complete loss. Usually it’s just a throwaway match for them to hit the concessions or evacuate their bowels.

If you’re going to have a division isolated by itself with a generous amount of athletes (see also: Women’s Division); then you may as well go all the way with it. Why not add a secondary belt? Something for the other, forgotten members to fight for seeing as how all anything has ever been about is the chase for the purple belt. Wrestlers that were esteemed and revered for their talent now look like complete and utter jokes (sorry, TJP). Almost as though someone doesn’t want them to be seen as a top tier talent that can take away from the big guys.

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After all, if we look at this from a more cynical level: it’s pretty disheartening. Signing the cruiserweight could be seen as a money trap where all the favor goes to Vince McMahon. These wrestlers being signed means that they’re not wrestling for any other promotion; likely drawing their fans to watch WWE instead. That of course, means more viewers, which usually means more money in some capacity, no? It also keeps from the program’s competitors from making their shows as entertaining as possible. Losing some talent can be a big blow to suffer, and it’s a way for McMahon to keep the control and the eyes on his product. Why worry about other promotions when you’re snatching up and signing all the best that there are out there? These performers weren’t cruiserweight outside of WWE, they were just incredible and talented.

Yet now they’re brushed off to the side. They’re signed, they’re not out there performing incredible stunts and drawing attention away from the WWE with their highly publicized and talked about matches. They’re no longer a threat; not only to the company as a whole, but to those that Vince has deemed to be top tier talent as well. Having the cruiserweight in this niche that they cannot escape only hurts them as performers, and makes it all the more likely that the division could fall from sheer lack of morale, hope, and intentional neglect.

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The Big Dog of The Franchise

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To be the franchise, the big …er… dawg of RAW (I know I’m sorry); one has to go above and beyond the call of duty. One has to be so incredibly in tune with the audience and Vince McMahon’s needs, that it seems like the new shoulders the company rests on can’t possibly falter.

Yes I’m aware there’s a plethora of viewers that don’t want Roman Reigns to be the Big Dawg (of RAW, haha), but it may be inevitable. It might be a fixed point in time that can’t be avoided no matter how much you hate him. Now for Vince’s plan to go into fruition, Roman has got to execute the plans laid out for him by John Cena. To be frank–he’s almost there, ready to usurp the throne that the Franchise is getting ready to vacate.

Now to be the Franchise, your time has to be now. Is it? If so– you are well on your way! First thing’s first–you need to have an incredible understanding and use of filthy undertones. In summary, you need to be a filthy pervert and execute it well. John Cena has done a perfectly fine job in showing this. Remember that time he spanked Stephanie McMahon? Or nearly every single interaction he has with women and or their significant others on live television? You do? Great, then you already know what Cena’s capable of. If not…sorry.

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Roman’s definitely been a pervert once or twice…somewhat. There was that one time with Rusev and Lana and I’m pretty sure he hinted Rusev wasn’t a man… okay. You know what maybe not, as much as Cena but he has definitely shown a few derogatory statements towards ladies. Okay it was only to Lana, but it still happened. Maybe Roman hasn’t hit full pervert status, gee what a crime against humanity. The man’s less volatile to women than Cena has been in his career, and I think we’re all okay if we let that one slide.

Next up–ya gotta be big. Considering the former paragraph, take that how you will. You can’t be five feet tall and scrawny. We all know Vince doesn’t love that. Ya gotta be big. Ya gotta be thick. You gotta be veiny and–oh my. I think we all know now what Vince looks for in a man. I mean–er, what he looks for in a show runner. Not in men, that is not what I’m getting at here.. .

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Don’t forget to make sure that kids love you. Not in the same way that Vince does, obviously. That would be absolutely horrifying and we don’t need a Jared Fogle scandal. Rather, you need to be a superhero to these kids. An icon, an symbol of hope, justice, and the American way. We’ve got super Cena, and we can even refer to Roman Reigns as the most beautiful Thor in all the lands. Sorry Chris Hemsworth.

On the subject of kids: ya gotta be marketable. Can you sell merchandise? If your face was on the stupidest of paper plates–would they sell out? Would people like to eat hot steamy pizza off of your face and/or possibly your abs? Perfect. You’re doing well. Now if you can somehow turn your wrestling gear into a sort of costume that’s easy to replicate, you are golden.

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Ya gotta be able to wrestle. You don’t have to be a wrestling god, but you have to be able to go and have a good match. Sure, Cena had a time where his matches were boring- but you can’t say he wasn’t on fire during the US Open Challenge. You also can’t say that the only reason his matches were good was because of his opponents completely carrying him. Sure, wrestlers frequently say they can have a good match with a broomstick, but even the broomstick has to put some sort of work in to add the excitement.

Though if a broomstick was physically moving, we’d have a real Sorcerer’s Apprentice situation going on.

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Roman Reigns whether, you want to admit it or not, puts on good matches. He isn’t some clumsy green giant many want him to be. The man can go and makes sure to pull his weight in the ring. He’s no Brock Lesnar pulling out two moves and ending the match after executing only the two countless times. Hell, look at your favorites like Big Cass or Braun Strowman, or my personal favorite: Brock Lesnar. Errr they consistently the top tier of talent? Nah, they’re not perfect either.

You must be able to make sure that you can talk the talk. Cena can do it, he’s done it for years, and he does it well. Granted, he has a formula of something something America, derogatory against women, have hope, and repeat–his words still manage to hype people and draw a reaction no matter what it is. Roman hasn’t perfected it, but has he gotten better? Absolutely. Is he The Rock? No, he definitely isn’t, but things can change. It’s not as though he’s been wrestling for 20 years and all hope is lost at this point,

No one wrestling titan was an overnight phenomena, not Cena, not Rock, and certainly not Brock.

But….Roman’s on his way, believe that.

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Lucha Underground: Crossing the Border

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I swear that title isn’t me making a racist crack, that’s genuinely the name of the third episode of season one. Poor Donald Trump wouldn’t be able to watch this episode. Actually he probably couldn’t even watch this show–you know what? Let’s focus on the program.

Let’s start off with our first match of the night: Mascarita Sagrada versus El Mariachi Loco. Right off the bat you can see a very noticeable height difference between Mariachi and Mascarita: the latter being on the shorter side.

Just goes to show, even if your opponent is too short to ride on Space Mountain: they can still kick your butt in the ring. It’s the type of match you probably wouldn’t see on other more mainstream forms of entertainment like WWE: but it provides different fights and storylines to follow. That’s not true, you’d probably see it on WWE, but it would more than likely be a pitiful squash match that’s downright cringe-worthy.

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I mean hell, this is basically a classic David versus Goliath with way more flippy shit and a comedic twist that doesn’t take away from the match itself.

In the end, Mascarita Sagrada wins his match amd is met by Chavo Gueerrero coming down to the ring. Classic Chavo attacks and beats the happiness right out of him; establishing that he’s a bully with an inferiority complex. Or htat he’s a complete scrub, however you want to look at it.

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Now we pause our writing in order for a fashion break. Today’s fashion victim is once again: Mil Muertes. He’s here to bring you the latest in pajama couture. His bottoms belong to the ‘probably would be found in a haunted mansion on the murder victim from 1896‘ line.

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Now Johnny Mundo has a scene which screams classic action movie protagonist. His hallway fight trying to get to Dario Cueto (those poor bodyguards) is a quintessential action movie brawl and fit far too perfectly.

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Aside from Catrina escorting Mil Muertes to the ring, there were no female competitors featured on the program. Does this sadden me? Yes, yes it does. However, I do get it. It’s only a one hour program that’s heavily based on storylines. Perhaps featuring someone like Sexy Star or Ivelisse here would not have fit right in regards to pacing. Perhaps the next episode will show some of these ladies kicking more ass than a donkey.

 

Lucha Underground: Los Demonios

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Lucha Underground: Season 1 Episode 2: Los Demonios

I must say, in binging this show I know simply summarizing what happens in each episode would become boring and redundant for me. That’s not a reflection of the show, I simply have the attention span of a goldfish. Therefore I’ve decided we’re going to look at moments from episode two of the first season which caught my attention.

I’d like to start by saying that the opening promo was short, sweet, and to the point. It was an introduction for Cortez, Cisco, and Big Rick: but wasn’t overwhelmingly long and boring. Now this is likely because they don’t have a three hour time slot to fill with nonsense, but it worked out quite nicely.

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Obviously Big Rick caught my attention here. The man looks like a douchebag version of Luke Cage; except he smokes a cigar and has an incredibly sad color palette for his wardrobe.  Plus he has Cisco and Cortez fight for him, and I mean…come on. How could I not call him a Bizzaro Luke Cage?

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To quote Matt Striker: “It’s almost like Dario is the Beyonder from Secret Wars.”

Well HELL YES I’m here for some comic book references thrown into the mix. These performers are practically walking comic book characters to begin with, may as well drive the point home.

Seriously though. Keep it coming, the nerd in me giggles with glee each time.

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The debut of Mil Muertes and Catrina makes me giggle (not the nerd in me, just the general me).

Not that I don’t take them seriously or find them intimidating….but the outfits are so unexpected compared to what I’ve seen of them when I started watching during season 3. Which of course makes me view them just a little differently.

I mean, Mil just looks very much like a lovely feathered friend. Dare I say even Catrina seems less sinister and manipulative. To be frank, she gives me the impression of a very skilled, seasoned professional dancer.

Though I suppose I can say she dances her way over the graves of their opponents. Ha!

I’ll go home now.

Lucha Underground: The Very First Episode

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When it comes to Lucha Underground I am far behind in what’s going on. Sure, I caught a few episodes of the most recent season and I’ve seen some random clips thanks to the Tube of You; but I’ve neglected the wave of awesome which is: Lucha Underground. Now thanks to Netflix, I can tend to an all new addiction!

YAY!

That brings us to this series, where I start at the very first season of Lucha Underground and work my way to the present.

Let the violence begin!

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Right away the show begins to establish and identify itself as just the kind of entity that it is: which is not your standard WWE programming in the slightest. The pilot weaves together the history and culture behind lucha libre in order to educate viewers; whether they’re seasoned fans or brand new to that style of wrestling.  Hell one of the ways it does this is by having the first ever match on the show feature two legacies/legends of wrestling: Chavo Guerrero Jr and Blue Demon Jr. They too are used to further the history and storytelling aspect Lucha Underground is trying to establish right off the bat.

The entire premise of this program seems simple and is outlined in the very beginning. The point is to be an alternative to what’s out there. They’re unapologetically violent and utilizing a style all their own.

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The first episode also establishes how women are used in their programming. It’s simple: they’re used as fighters that are just as valued as their male counterparts. Through using an intergender match on their very first episode it establishes how different the program is from others, which is incredible. It’s boldly making a statement: that no matter their sex, talent will be used equally and it isn’t using genitalia or gendered stereotypes to depict it (unless of course, you have your occasional misogynistic d-bag, but that’s just a character type, not a booking standard).

From the start it’s making sure the viewers know that female competitors are equal to (or even better) than their male counterparts by having the first intergender match be Son of Havoc vs. Sexy Star. Sure, Sexy Star lost, but not for a lack of trying, and she wasn’t depicted as a woman afraid to go in and fight. She was shown as strong and relentless, and that’s the type of portrayal and representation I can get behind.

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Yes,  the programming is brutal but, it does not try to pretend that it’s not vicious or hide what it’s like.

I’d also like to point out the commentary team, which really is the equivalent of ‘mood music’ for the show. The duo of Vampiro and Matt Striker are holding down the commentary table. I must say–I’m into it. It’s very comfortable, and relaxed. Nothing feels forced, and in fact, it feels like you’re watching the programming with two incredibly knowledgeable friends just shooting the breeze. Their commentary style meshes well with the overall tone of the programming, something which I think is incredibly hard to achieve.

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So far, I’m very pleased with starting this show from the very beginning.

Damn It, Roman!

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Ah man….Roman Reigns. I know, I know. I talk about this guy a lot. But I mean, how can I not? Everyone talks about him!

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His fans? They talk about him. There’s social media accounts dedicated to him because of how much they love him. His haters? Hell they can’t stop talking about him. They too have social media accounts dedicated to getting Roman fired. There’s petitions about it, about him, people boo him out of the building. Good grief, Roman Reigns is forever a trending topic in the online world of professional wrestling/sports entertainment.

Right now we seem to be at a sour spot for countless fans out there. So far, it’s been said that The Undertaker’s last match was in fact his match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33. This is seen as a problem for many. Yes, a lot of it has to do with the fact that none of us can fathom the fact or are willing to accept that The Undertaker is retired. Instead he should quite literally be immortal and wrestle for all eternity, but that’s a whole other issue.

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The issue is that the person that was his final opponent was Roman Reigns. Now while this is seen as going out in a classic way: passing the torch to the younger guy to carry the company; the issue is who the torch was passed to. The fact that it’s Roman bothers many, but personally? I’m not completely bothered by it. Mostly because the match itself was horrifying. It’s clear that Taker should in no way have been wrestling, and he clearly cannot go anymore. The man’s body is in no physical condition to do this, hence the absolute slaughter that we witnessed.

To be frank, his last match should have been with Brock Lesnar when the streak ended. He should not have wrestled after that, as he clearly hasn’t been the same. It’s been like watching your grandfather try to fight a spry young man in the prime of his life while he himself is on his last leg. It’s awful, and it’s downright painful to my soul.

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Now, should his last match have been Brock? Nope. Again, that’s something that could have gone to a younger talent to pass the torch along. Maybe if Bray was in all his creepy prime, he could have done it. Or hell, it could have been Finn Balor if timelines were different. But Brock? To end the streak? Come on… If there was no possible way to pass the torch to a younger talent, I’d have gone with Kane, or bring back the Legend Killer to finally do the greatest job of all time, kill Taker.

Unfortunately time doesn’t work like that. We don’t have our own TARDIS’ lying around for us to fix these grave mistakes. Instead, we make do with what we’ve got, and as fans, we can choose to enjoy it or choose to change the channel. When you choose to stick with the product, you’ve got to face the facts. This isn’t your show, and you can’t manipulate it any way you want it, even if it’s that’s the way you need it, most of the time it’s just not going to happen.

Take for example, turning Roman heel, as though that is the be all end all to save the day. Now, I remember this being said about a certain John Cena. Would it have been great to see? Hell yeah? Will it happen? Nah. Yet look at Roman, the man killed the Undertaker (though I would still technically give that to Brock Lesnar), and he’s been booed out of the building ever since. That sounds like a pretty solid heel, or at the very least if they’re not willing to fully embrace it: an antihero. Though I suppose it depends on the day and the crowd he’s playing to. He’s already treated like a heel by the fans and every opponent he has is cheered as a face. So what does it matter whether or not he makes a full fledged heel turn?

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We’re at a very confusing time right now in wrestling. Heels are cheered and babyfaces are booed whether that’s out of boredom or just because they’re stale. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re a jaded audience these days that relates far more to a cynical heel than a hopeful babyface. Whatever the reason is, the lines between good and evil are clearly blurred especially with WWE’s writing as of late. While we seem to firmly believe the recipe for success is a classic good versus evil fight, it’s very rare we can achieve these classic archetypes in a time where being the antihero or the bad guy is all the rage.

So where does that leave us? The fuck are we to do with Roman Reigns being booed out the building and this rocket strapped to his ass, knowing that everyone hates it?

Change the channel, honestly. The same people that whine about his push and other superstars being buried are the same people that swear that indy wrestling is better. So…go watch it. There’s other programs to watch, why must something be destroyed just because you don’t like it, knowing that you can’t control anything that happens? Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and countless others that I’m missing are all available for you to watch. So support them, help them grow, so you can someday see the types of storylines and wrestling that you want to see. Come back to WWE when things have changed or you’re drawn to something that’ll grab your attention more than your painful hatred and disgust of Roman Reigns. I know, it’s hard to get rid of such an addiction, but I mean….why put yourself through that hate?

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Seeing Monday Night Raw: LIVE! (3/20/17)

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Yes that’s right, I in fact saw Monday Night Raw, live, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on March 20, 2017.

So let’s get down to it: what was it like?

First of all: it’s kind of amazing. When you finally get through security and spend twenty to thirty minutes looking for your seat because every single usher tells you to go to the next staircase: you finally land in your section. I myself had floor seats, section f5. Just about ten or eleven rows back from the barricade, a little before the WrestleMania sign.

The seats were okay. To be frank it was hard to see any of the action over anyone’s heads. To top it all off, the screen showing the fight was blocked by the lights and was basically far too vertical to watch comfortably. In addition to that people decided they were going to stand on their stupid chairs to get the perfect picture. Yes, thank you assholes who needed to do that; because everyone behind you is clearly seven feet tall and can see over you.

And you can’t teach that. Sorry. Moving on!

It felt like a mediocre episode of RAW. I anticipated crazy twists and turns because it’s two weeks to WrestleMania but I didn’t get any of that. I was also hoping I’d see Seth Rollins (even though people swore he was in the crowd at one point before retreating). However, I got to see my queen Stephanie McMahon live; as well as Triple H, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, and Chris Jericho. The Undertaker’s great, but there’s just something about seeing Chris Jericho live that really feels magical and makes me think “holy shit, am I really here”?

By the way, I mostly went because I really, really wanted to see Cesaro (he’s my favorite wrestler if you somehow haven’t gotten that) and his match ended far too quick for my liking. So…very disappointed.

Let’s talk about the chants.

Yes, there was a scandal recently, and of course Brooklyn had to start their charm. Before the show even began they shouted “We want Paige!” to the tune of “New Day Rocks”. Every single time she or Xavier Woods was on the screen they screamed. They also requested the presence of Brad Maddox, and typically CM Punk. Which still, to this day, is extremely pathetic and makes no sense.

CM Punk is not coming back, and if he is it’s going to be a Bret Hart situation twenty or so years from now where it’s just for a paycheck. Then he’ll probably critique a really great young talent horribly.

Then the sections began to fight. Above me the sides were chanting “That side sucks” at each other. My section retorted with “We got floor seats!”, which prompted them to say “floor seats suck!” in return.

It was super juvenile. During a match no less. Great, but yeah, go women’s wrestling right?

Also the children are probably the worst little smarks I’ve ever seen. Yes, I frequently come in contact with smarks that make me sigh heavily and ever regret joining social media platforms and dabbling into the wrestling fandom but I digress. The child behind me was saying just about every single match sucked, said Roman Reigns couldn’t wrestle (really kid?), and other shitty things I typically see adults say on twitter like Nia being fat or Alicia Fox having a busted face. Way to go, preteen. Already an asshole.

Oh, and on an unrelated note: A Bayley fan sat in front of me. Adorable little girl, really sobbed to hell when Bayley lost.

I laughed, I know it’s cruel but….yeah I cackled.

Something I thought was VERY interesting was the reception to Roman. It was very John Cena like, half the arena loved him, half hated him. At some points, the crowd unanimously booed. However, when Roman geared up for that spear and went for his classic “ooaahhh”, every single person belted it out with him in unison; something I frequently confused with boos while watching at home.

So you can’t ever say that Roman doesn’t connect with the fans.

I also didn’t have an experience with persistent males trying to strike up a conversation with me or ask for my number, unlike the last time I went to a WWE show. I’m not sure if it was because I went with a male, or because my exhausted face screamed “look at me and I will ruin your life”; but it was great.

The show was okay, the atmosphere felt like the stupid part of Twitter coming to life…but, it was nice. I just really need to see SmackDown live or stick to house shows.