After all the hype, we reckon the WWE troupe didn’t give their best effort in front of Aussie fans last weekend, in their first venture down under since the 80s.
56,754 rabid rasslin fans (or parents thereof, dragged along by the incessant nagging of their kiddies) descended on the flatly-roofed Telstra “Dome” on Saturday night for the WWE’s first live event in Melbourne since the Junkyard Dog, the Iron Sheik and their contemporaries donned the lycra trunks at Festival Hall back in 1989.

As a sports entertainment nut, your correspondent thought the evening was a bare pass, but could have been a heck of a lot better. I wasn’t screaming for a refund, but was pretty glad that I’d chosen the $100 ticket and not the $200 option. (The $750 ticket was never an option for this indigene internet hack.)

Crullers was fortunate enough to attend a couple of WWF (as it then was) live events in the US in 1998, probably around the time when the WWF was at the peak or thereabouts of its popularity, not to mention creative brilliance. (Non-wrestling fans will scoff at that oxymoron, but it’s true. Oh, it’s true.)

Believe me, the WWE can do it a heck of a lot better than what they did in Melbourne on Saturday.

House shows suck

The underlying problem was that the event was a “house show” – that is, it was not made for broadcast, or so it seemed. It may turn up on video some day, but given that no titles changed hands, it seems that this one was for the sole benefit of the house audience.

It became patently obvious early on – in fact, right from the opening pyrotechnic display – that this wouldn’t be the WWE’s best effort.

Aussie wrestling fans who watch the WWE’s product on pay TV would be well accustomed to the traditional opening pyrotechnics display of at least a minute or so, with all the bells and whistles of a product that is by its nature short on substance but over the top rope and then some on style.

But either the WWE’s pyromaniacs didn’t make the trip, their fireworks got held up in Customs and Immigration, or they just plain didn’t care. The great pyro show that our ring announcer had promised us was more like a teenager at his first horizontal folk dance – all over in 10 seconds and a cringe-worthy disappointment.

Then there was the problem of continual “flat spots” through the night.

When the WWE does its live events which are broadcast to TV viewers, the live audience gets the benefit of many backstage video vignettes during the night.

Not the Melbourne crowd.

We had a couple of retrospective videos before the live rasslin started, which were good for the “old timers” to see their old faves such as Gorilla Monsoon, Honky Tonk Man, Ted Di Biase, Jake the Snake Roberts and company – not to mention totally confusing for the youngsters.

In the absence of any video vignettes to set up story lines, provide a bit of comic relief and cover these breaks in play, a few more nostalgia videos would have been a good idea.

But no, Vince left the archive footage at home too.

And there was bugger all microphone work in the ring either, which is so much a part of the appeal of rasslin these days.

One of those useless university studies criticising wrestling a few years back concluded that your average two hour of wrestling on TV contains more in-ring trash talk than actual wrestling.

Let’s hope the WWE hasn’t been taking their advice from these pinheaded geeks, but it might be the case if Saturday’s experience is anything to go by.

Canadian Test, playing the “heel” (that’s a “bad guy”, for the uninitiated), did some nice microphone work, but it barely rose above the sophistication of an RSL club wrestling night – sledgehammer subtle sledging along the lines of “You Australian convicts are all jerks”.

His opponent Kurt Angle then came up with a predictable pro-Aussie retort and hence won over most of the crowd. (Who continued the popular chant of “Angle sucks”, notwithstanding that he was supposed to be the crowd favourite.)

The bright spot was the very Australian chant of “you are a wanker” directed at various bad guys through the night – “heel” Chris Jericho objected because he “didn’t even know what a wanker is”.

But that microphone work was a rarity. The only others that Crullers can remember was the WWE’s resident “adult film star” Val Venis making a predictable crack about “going down under” and The Rock at the end giving a cursory “you Orrsees are great” spray.

And of course, we had the obligatory piece of teenage titillation with a “bra and panties match”, where two surgically enhanced WWE “Divas” compete, the winner being the one who strips their opponent down to their bra and panties first.

Crullers couldn’t care less for women’s wrestling – it really is a manifestly inferior product – and this rubbish really is targeted at the WWE’s pre-pubescent audience who haven’t got the gumption or the necessary facial hair to pass as an 18 year old and pick up a stroke mag from the newsagent.

And there were no novelty matches either (if you exclude the opening “kiss may ass” match, where the 350 pound Samoan Rikishi stuck his amply proportioned but in the face of his vanquished opponent).

No tables were broken (there wasn’t an English announce table, let alone Spanish, for God’s sake), there were no ladder matches, and no trash cans / street signs / sledgehammers stored away under the ring.

Crikey, there wasn’t even a fire extinguisher sprayed in an opponent’s face in anger!

And to add to the disappointments, we had the non-appearance of the WWE’s impresario, the great man, Vince McMahon.

As one of Crullers’ mates who attended but doesn’t care much for sports entertainment pointed out, Vince was all over this country like a cheap suit when he was trying to flog tickets to the event, but once they sold out, his job was done.

Instead, he left it to his daughter, the completely uninspiring Stephanie, to bring us our night’s entertainment on behalf of the McMahon family.

The increasingly invisible (if that’s possible) Shane o’ Mac would have been a vast improvement on his little sister, who really did pick up her mother’s sports entertainment genes (or lack thereof), despite her father’s best efforts over a good 5 years or so to make a personality (not to mention a buxom wench) out of her.

Crullers doesn’t like to tell a billionaire how to do business, but, 05

All week we have had WWE executives telling us what an important “expansion market” Australia is, yet they turn up and give this important market a show which is quite clearly not their best effort.

The WWE have been talking about coming back in a year or so, but would anyone who was there on Saturday night bother turning up again?

It was so significantly less attractive a spectacle than the TV product that Crullers reckons most fans who attended would say “I’ve seen it once, there’s no point seeing it again – it’s much better on the idiot box”.

Certainly there are many who are more fanatical about their wrestling than Crullers who will show up again, but Vince and Co have done nothing to woo the fence-sitters out there.

Having said that, from the limited grabs that Crullers saw on the idiot box over the weekend, it did scrub up pretty well as a television spectacle. Although if you watch closely, you’ll see plenty of excitement in the ring-side seats but not much animation from those seated in the bleachers.

But would your somewhat indifferent punter be prepared to again shell out $100 for halfway decent seats, or $30 for seats in the nosebleed section where in effect you spend your night watching a giant video screen from 100 metres away?

Crullers thinks not.

The WWE has ridden a wave for the past 6 years or so – a period of success that is unparalleled in its history – and is now in the middle of a worrying trough, with business down and – more importantly – the “creative element” of the organisation seemingly lost for ideas.

So it is puzzling that they would venture into a supposed “expansion market” and give a half-arsed effort.

Anyway, Vince McMahon is worth a good billion dollars (US dollars that is – make that 2 billion Aussie dollars) more than Crullers, so here endeth the sermon on business development.

Why was Melbourne Major Events sponsoring this?

Another puzzling aspect of the night is why would the Melbourne Major Events Company sponsor the night?

What synergies could this event possibly provide the good burghers of Melbourne or the state of Victoria?

Let Crullers make this clear – he’s all for pro-wrestling in Australia. Crullers is also in favour of Melbourne Major Events luring KISS out of retirement to play a concert tour down under.

But Crullers wouldn’t for a minute suggest that either are money well spent.

It’s impossible to accurately generalise about the wrestling crowd (other than to say that a great many in attendance could adhere to a more salubrious dietary regime), but that won’t stop Crullers.

Crullers reckons that a great slab of the crowd would be young kiddies / teenagers who drag the olds along, buy their tickets, buy their junk food, and splash out great wads of cash on tee shirts and $25 programs. (Yes, yes, there is also your high-income earning, university-educated crowd too, but Crullers is just basing his generalisations on what he saw, not what the WWE’s advertising sales department tells us about the WWE’s demographic.)

What do these people contribute to the Victorian economy by attending the rasslin?

Not a heck of a lot, in my view.

Compare that to, say, the Grand Prix, or the Rugby World Cup, where a much greater case can be made out for MME sponsorship.

In those instances, you can guarantee a hefty contingent of interstate / overseas guests, booking hotel rooms, spending up big at restaurants / pubs / tourist attractions et al and providing a boost to the economy. (The nebulous economic benefits that such events provide might not necessarily be in excess of the cost to the taxpayer, but they are significant in any event and probably justifiable.)

In the case of the wrestling, aside from employing the kiddies at the food outlets and the shift crew who had to patch up the Telstra Dome’s much-maligned turf, there aren’t really that many positive externalities arising out of MME’s sponsorship of the wrestling.

We’d love Steve Vizard to justify this one for us.

Your say

While the tone of this piece has been mostly negative, Crullers would again say that the event gets a pass mark (only just), he is just severely disappointed that it could have been done a whole lot better.

If anyone has a different view, we’d love to hear from you.

Peter Fray

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