Review written by Joe Burd
The WWE SmackDown! Tour made its highly anticipated inaugural stop at Sarnia’s RBC Centre this past weekend and did exactly what it promised – it brought a raucous melee of physical hijinks and comedy relief akin to what fans see each week on the televised pre-recorded show.
Saturday’s wrestling extravaganza marks yet another successful outing for the RBC Centre, a local venue that’s brought a myriad of high-profile acts to Sarnia this year alone – Jerry Seinfeld, Gordon Lightfoot and Elton John – even rivaling the pomp, circumstance and glitter of the area’s preeminent summer music festival Rogers Bayfest.
The excitement of the near-capacity crowd was evident well before the gates opened with hundreds of people standing in line waiting to get inside the venue while hundreds more perched themselves outside the arena’s lower-level external service entrance. Those fans eagerly awaited each WWE superstar's arrival hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite superstar and show their appreciation with robust cheers and deafening applause.
The local demographic of professional wrestling fans was well represented with a heartening mix of young and old – people who grew up watching the sports-entertainment phenomena in the 80s and 90s as well as a brand new generation of younger fans that can’t get enough of WWE Raw and WWE SmackDown! each week – all under the common banner of family.
While patiently waiting in line for the gates to open, WWE fan and London resident Ryan Henderson remarked, “I’ve been a wrestling fan for as long as I can remember,” then added, “my wife’s a fan and now my kids are fans too.”
Once the doors opened shortly after 7 p.m. the venue quickly filled up with thousands of fans inundating concession and souvenir stands, purchasing food and beverages and anxiously finding their seats before the lights dimmed and excitement officially got underway.
Without any adieu, the show started on time precisely at 7:30 p.m. with the venue lighting and noticeably charged ambience – albeit quite familiar to wrestling fans who watch SmackDown! every week – reminiscent of Circ de Soleil.
The raucous action got underway moments after the event’s opening music video played upon the giant screens inside the venue and customary singing of the Canadian national anthem.
First up for the night was WWE heel – heels are proverbial bad guys while faces are good guys – Dolph Ziggler who wasted no time in taunting the audience and getting the crowd pumped up for one heck of a night.
The match between Ziggler and “a jobber” – a term used to describe relatively unknown wrestlers who are in it to lose to prop up the more established superstar – featured an entertaining blend of acrobatic athleticism and physicality mixed with some good ol’ fashioned comedy relief.
Ziggler knew his audience well and proved why he’s on television every week with his charismatic personality and propensity to raise the energy of the crowd and keep them wanting more. After all was said and done and once the theatrics and comedy had played out, Ziggler won the match handily by pinning his opponent.
The next match signaled a change to the original card as fans had been anticipating a highly charged rematch between the tag team of R-Truth and Kofi Kingston against the current WWE Tag Team champions Kane and Daniel Bryan.
It turned out that Ron “R-Truth” Killings couldn’t be at the show this past weekend and, accordingly, his partner Kingston squared off in a singles match against another jobber.
That said, Kingston put on an outstanding show in his partner’s absence that highlighted his athletic talent and evidenced why he’s held several of the company’s championship titles such as Intercontinental and both tag team championships.
Next up was a WWE Divas match between Canadian sweetheart Natalya and Kaitlyn who hails from the good ol’ U.S. of A. The crowd responded heartily to both divas as they strut their stuff and demonstrated that they’re every bit as entertaining and talented in the squared-circle as their male counterparts.
Once the match was underway, Kaitlyn taunted the crowd inflaming their patriotic passions with chants of “U.S.A.” to which she got the response she was looking for and prompted her opponent to start chanting Canada! After some tussling back and forth, Canadian favorite Natalya pinned Kaitlyn for the win.
A highlight of the night for those longtime fans in attendance was easily the appearance of a matchup that included “The Big Red Machine” Kane who is currently one half of the WWE Tag Team champions along with his partner Daniel Bryan.
On Saturday, the tag team champions faced the Prime Time Players, comprised of Titus O’Neil and Darren Young, with the championship titles up for grabs. The match itself was highlighted by a subplot between Kane and Bryan who appeared to be not getting along and taunting each other.
When the smoke settled and the match was over, Kane and Bryan retained their championship and continued to taunt and get physical with each other. Eventually and clearly a break from what you would normally see on television, Kane and Bryan made up with each other both saying they were sorry and hugging in the middle of the ring.
This was the only instance all evening that the crowd booed to which Bryan responded by grabbing Kane’s title belt out of his hands and running off into the back with both belts.
The second last match of the night between heel Jinder Mahal and crowd favorite Ryback was probably one of the most physical, but was cut short because Ryback cut his forehead open forcing the referee to end it in a draw. The crowd liked what they got while it lasted, but were discernibly disappointed when the match finished noticeably earlier than what was expected.
At last, it was time for Saturday night’s main event of the evening – a rematch between WWE World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus and former champion Alberto Del Rio who dropped the title at Night of Champions PPV on September 16.
The crowd was pumped and ready to see what would be the most entertaining, high-octane match of the night. There was no question that those in attendance loved to hate the bad guy Del Rio as much as they couldn’t get enough of the champion Sheamus. Both performers had the fans eating out of the palm of their hands with plenty of jeers and cheers to go around.
The match style for these two titans was determined by the fans via social media during the course of the show and resulted in a no-holds-barred “Street Fight” matchup – this means that the performers could leave the ring and use foreign objects such as chairs and sticks. As you might expect, the match went on for about 15 minutes before Sheamus defeated his opponent for the win and retained the championship.
Sheamus remained at ringside posing, showboating and signing autographs for another 10 minutes after his match ended, demonstrating his dedication and love for his fans young and old. The crowd loved it and couldn’t get enough.
Local longtime fan Ian Nickels remarked after the show, “I loved it – it was worth every penny.”
“You got your money’s worth and more,” said Nickels.