Taking the NXT step into Toronto

I’ve been moonlighting as a pro wrestler for over half my life. I turn twenty-seven on December 20th and have been taking bumps since a week after my thirteenth birthday. I came around at a fantastic time because pro wrestling is currently in the midst of a renaissance like never before.

Believe it or not, just because World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) might not seem to have the same mainstream popularity it did when Stone Cold, The Rock and Hulk Hogan were around, doesn’t mean “professional wrestling” is in bad shape. You see, there are many other avenues of pro wrestling around the world on the independent scene. All involved striving and some feeling the success that they have been seeking for years.

It’s like WWE was secretly watching; becoming more and more jealous of all this underground wrestling. Desperate for something fresh, they decided not only did they want to conquer mainstream wrestling but target the audience of the independent scene as well. This wise, though some say restricting, move created the platform that is NXT.

Now being a resident of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and hearing WWE would be bringing their NXT product along with Survivor Series and Monday Night RAW to “TakeOver” a weekend in November had the already hot Toronto wrestling crowd drooling in anticipation for this potentially once in a lifetime weekend.

With this stacked weekend for fans, most local independent promoters vowed to not run for fear of risking competition with the biggest wrestling company in the world. This gave most of the Ontario pro wrestling roster a rare weekend off so they too could be fans once again and attend.

This is where my excitement peaked. Contrary to what some in the business might say, being a pro wrestler purely means they are some of the biggest fans out there and I am no exception. I’m at a pro wrestling show multiple times a week but being involved on the shows, I rarely get to actually watch and enjoy. When NXT TakeOver Toronto came on November 19th, I got to go hit up the Air Canada Centre and watch wrestling live as a fan; falling in love all over again.

The show couldn’t have started any hotter with not only two Canadians, but locals that I saw on the scene many years ago: Bobby Roode and Tye Dillinger. Both men are masters at their craft. They demonstrated that that by using creativity, character and storytelling, basic fundamental wrestling can still excel. Hard to believe but true and wrestling is a constantly evolving, fast paced style which fans have grown accustomed too and demand more. There’s a true “art” to having a match this beautiful and hard hitting, yet leaving both men healthy enough to do it again night after night. It was “Glorious!”

“When NXT TakeOver Toronto came on November 19th, I got to go hit up the Air Canada Centre and watch wrestling live as a fan; falling in love all over again.”

Second match was TM-61 versus The Authors of Pain with their manager, Paul Ellering, hanging above the ring in a shark cage. This was a fun match too with each guy having their moment in the spotlight and every one of their opponents taking full advantage right after. A highlight example was when Shane Thorne did a flipping senton off the cage-crane rig. Speaking of that “crane”, I noticed it was totally useless. While it was being assembled during a video package, the cage was actually lowered from the ceiling (ala Hell in a Cell). The crane base was built purely to advertise the newest “Hanging Shark Tank” playset WWE is releasing this Christmas. AND GODDAMN DID I EVER LOVE IT!

Next up was another tag match that saw Team DIY challenging The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championships. Having two tag team matches back to back makes it incredibly difficult for the second one to stand out. However these two teams put on a masterpiece that not only was match of the night but many people are saying it was a possibly match of the year. Both teams displayed a “perfected match formula”; many of us have been trying to achieve this for years. This formula, in my opinion, being old school pro wrestling psychology mixed with modern moves and genuine storytelling sequences. This was just an absolutely beautiful, drama filled fight, which could make any naysayer or stubborn MMA meathead get 100% invested in.

The semi-main event was former WWE Women’s Champion Mickey James returning to challenge Asuka, who is without doubt, possibly the best female pro wrestler in the world. The stigma of what women’s wrestling is has been terrible over the past few years – gone are the days of Madusa, Sherri Martel and Luna Vachon. Only recently, with the emergence of Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks, has the opinion changed. This new crop of female pro wrestlers made it their mission to not only show they are as good as the men, but better. NXT has been so influential in this battle and matches like this only continue to strengthen the case. There are too many words to describe the magic that both ladies had; their ability to blend the lines of beauty and brutality – giving more credibility to the NXT Women’s Championship.

The Main Event

Finally we reach the crescendo of the night. The Main Event. It was for the NXT World Championship. Samoa Joe challenged reigning and defending champion Shinsuke Nakamura. With the pomp and circumstance from both men’s entrances, along with the big fight feel, this was exactly the kind of main event a show like this needed. Bringing strong style to the North American audience, these guys painted a picture of beautiful violence spanned across that 20×20 ring. Look at these two guys and you will see two of the absolute best in the world. Two guys that make you forget every preconceived notion you had about “sports entertainment”.

I left the arena that night feeling elated. I experienced the entire event with no pressure of my own. I was a kid again in that seat and I’m not afraid to admit it. Live pro wrestling is incredible. No other entertainment medium do you, the audience member, get to be so actively involved. Your voice can actually change the performance!  I often wonder why so many couples will seek out going to concerts, stand-up comedy or dramatic theatre for date nights, yet rarely come out to a pro wrestling show. Whether it is WWE or the independent level, I’ve never met someone who, after experiencing their first pro wrestling show, didn’t have an absolute blast.

Support your local independent pro wrestlers

I get that unless you are looking for them, independent wrestling shows are hard to find. Advice: a quick Google search will usually tell you when and where your local wrestling shows run. I encourage everyone to spend the time to enjoy a live performance during this renaissance era. If you still don’t like it, that’s fine but I appreciate knowing you supported this magical business because as a fan, as a wrestler, as anybody involved, pro wrestling is magical.

Photo courtesy of Bill Chase

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