Okay first things first (insert Nicki Minaj rap here) I crowd-source these blog posts. If you follow me on Twitter, there’s a 75% chance you’ll end up in here, so make sure you follow me to get in on whatever ridiculous conversation I dream up on a Wednesday morning.
This morning’s open Twitter discussion was about surprises – big, shocking, can’t-believe-it moments of recent memory. Not just in WWE, either, I’m talking about moments when the live crowd and those of us watching at home have gone bonkers: the illusive, true pop. I asked everyone to tell me about those moments that blew them away, and then took a step back to look at the whole picture.
My girl Willow kicked us off with a really great moment: after Owens showed up on Monday Night RAW with the NXT Championship looking for a PPV match against the US Champion, we all thought we were in for another LOLCENAWINS moment – boy, were we wrong! The pop from all of us when the ref hit three was unreal. We were finally getting what we wanted!
This is likely to go down in history as one of the greatest heel turns of all time. Part of it was EXCELLENT story-telling by WWE by telegraphing that Dean Ambrose was the most unstable (and therefore unpredictable) member of The Shield, so when it turned out that Seth Rollins was the one to destroy the beloved stable, we couldn’t believe our eyes. I wasn’t watching this one live (what a night to pick to go to the movies, huh?) but watching the clip back, the crowd response was unbelievable. For a split second, there is silence. Then they tear the place down.
NXT: REvolution had one hell of a finish. After Sami Zayn defeated Neville for the NXT Championship, his best friend from the indies, Kevin Owens shows up to congratulate him – and powerbomb him to death. The way he knocks the air out of the crowd as well as the new champ hurts to watch, and then is met with a hailstorm of boos. Kevin Owens made an indelible impact on NXT – and WWE – forever that night.
I wasn’t even watching Monday Night RAW on February 22nd when Shane McMahon made his return to WWE. I was cooking dinner when suddenly my phone blew up with people messaging me to get in front of my TV, ASAP. And when I did, I just began to laugh until tears were streaming down my face. What a joyous feeling to listen to Shane cut the promo the entire IWC has been cutting on Vince for months on live TV. Re-watching his entrance doesn’t take away anything from the moment – the entire WWE Universe has been waiting for a savior like Shane O’Mac and gave him a hero’s welcome.
Not all pops necessarily involve live crowds. This in particular was nuts on a whole different level. While Chikara doesn’t necessarily have as massive of a following as WWE does, it and Kimber Lee certainly made a tremendous impact on the IWC when she successfully cashed in her Golden Opportunity on Hallowicked at Top Banana back in December. I watched the news roll in on Twitter, slowly at first, before my entire feed was aflame with talk of how she had just changed the game for women in pro-wrestling.
This is superbly “on brand” for The Lady J. The story of Pentagon Jr. sacrificing arms to his master, only to have his master revealed to be current Lucha Underground commentator Vampiro blew my mind. It’s so easy to get completely engrossed in the LU story arcs, and therefore all the more easy to be worked. The Believers inside the Temple were with me, too, as all eyes grew wide at the sight before them.
This was back around the time WWE was giving us a mad rash of PPV matches that had no opponents or surprise entrants right up until the weekend or day-of. When John Cena’s open challenge was answered by the returning Alberto Del Rio, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When he managed to take Cena out with seemingly no trouble at all, we were all floored.
This was probably the best pop of all. When a music we’d never heard before hit, and Roman Reigns (along with everyone in the Amway Center) looked up at the number 3 entrant to the Royal Rumble match, there was the Phenomenal One – AJ Styles. We all knew it was coming – it had been discussed for weeks prior. But now here he was, and the crowd response (as well as those of us screaming in our living rooms) was earth-shaking.
These beautiful moments inside wrestling are the perfect marriage of a few things. First of all, you need great performers at the top of their game who understanding timing and working the crowd. Second, you need an invested audience – the greater the hive mind the better, too. If you can get an entire room full of people looking in one direction, they won’t believe what hits them from behind. Third, you need the element of surprise, whether it be an unexpected appearance or a shocking shift in the story, you have to really bring things out of left field to drive the masses wild. Finally, the biggest pops come from a catharsis or release – the end of something, the culmination of something, good or bad – to allow the audience a chance to catch their breath, before you begin building to the next great pop.
Sounds easy when you break it down, no? But it’s not that simple. Maybe next time we break down a solid pop and see what makes it combustible.
One final word: I would like to take a moment and point out something that maybe some of you haven’t considered, as it’s just occurred to me. When I was living with my parents and taking care of my Mom, there was a dark cloud living in my brain that I couldn’t shake, and I used pro-wrestling as an escape from the emotional trauma of living with my Mom’s dementia disease. But that doesn’t mean that wrestling is always going to be able to fix me. In fact, over the past couple of months (perhaps due to the lack of sunlight associated with the winter in North America) I have been feeling pretty down, and found myself getting easily pissed off at WWE in particular. But my mood has changed dramatically this month, and I’m not enjoying not just WWE more, but wrestling (and the associated community) in general. Sometimes things are booked badly, sometimes they are written badly, sometimes people are shitty – but sometimes what’s going on with you is sucking all of the color out of the things you usually enjoy. So here’s a reminder: take care of yourself. Let the good stuff come back, because it will. You’re what’s making everything technicolor. I promise.