An interesting thing happened on Monday, WWE debuted Sami Zayn on Raw in his hometown of Montreal. The response was deafening. It was the biggest response an NXT star has ever received in their “first” match. It was monumental but it wasn’t unprecedented. Fifteen years ago at the Royal Rumble the WWE debuted former ECW star Taz, rechristened under the super original Tazz, in his hometown of New York City. The pop was enormous, the match against Kurt Angle was everything it needed to be (mucho suplexo) and it looked like the Ent had a future main eventer on their hands. What happened next was classic WWE; they let the talent languish in meaningless feuds before abandoning him as an in-ring competitor completely. The issue I want to focus on is not what WWE did wrong but what they did right.
Hometowns for wrestlers are super important and should be seen as a major advantage for promotions, especially the WWE, but like squashes the company has only used them sparingly in recent years. You, of course, know all the majors ones: CM Punk in Chicago, Bret Hart in ALL of Canada and that’s about it. They’ve flirted with others in the past like Daniel Bryan in Seattle and all the British wrestlers in England but they’ve never really committed like they did with Punk.
Hopefully Monday was the start of something new. A match between John Cena and a debuting Zayn would’ve been special regardless but that crowd made it AWESOME. And I’m not talking about awesome in the way that trigger happy crowds use it during ANY marginal match. I’m talking AWESOME. It didn’t matter that Cena won (LOL), that Zayn botched the AA counter or that there may or may not have been a shoulder injury during the match. It was special because of the emotion pouring out of the Montreal faithful.
The audience is always the key to turning a good match into a great one. For years I could never understand how people put stock into Dave Meltzer’s rating system where he used some complex algorithm to determine the ratio of rest holds to work rate. Who gives a f***? The things I look for in determining how I feel about a match are how I connect about the characters, whether or not I’m invested in the conflict, did the action ever take me out of the story and was the match paced appropriately in that it had a beginning, middle and end? I don’t give a s*** whether or not someone moonsaults or how long Wrestler A has had a headlock cinched in, I care about the story and the audience is a key reason in how much that story matters.
I’m not the first person to say this and I won’t be the last but wrestlers need to be from somewhere. Some of the greatest moments in the history of wrestling have occurred because of the audience getting that extra connection to a performer. Money in the Bank 2011, the Montreal Screwjob, the hijacking of Raw during the championship ascension ceremony, these were all moments where the wrestler’s hometown inspired the crowd in ways they might not have otherwise. Think of the possibilities! Remember when RAW was in Las Vegas last year and the crowd went nuts for Ryback even though he had done nothing for a year and a half because he was THEIR guy? That can add so many different layers to feuds!
The announcers can push this WAY more than they do. Mention that Dean Ambrose is from Cincinnati as much as Michael Cole mentioned that Sin Cara had a f***ing comic book and the guy will get a Punk-esque reaction every time they go there. Push Ziggler as the Cleveland guy, Orton as St. Louis, Slater from West Virginia and Sandow from Boston and you can replicate that “Nuclear heat for Shawn Michaels in Canada” feeling every week! WWE has so many bullets in their gun that they don’t use, to quote the Chicago guy “Vince is a millionaire that should be a billionaire.”