By Goose Mahler, Associate Editor
One thing I’ve learned since the roar of the crowd disappeared from wrestling rings around the world is just how big of a part we play in the game. Whether its cheering or booing, the crowd interaction can make or break a big match. Without the crowd wrestling just doesn’t have the same vibe at all.
I get that AEW and the WWE are trying to make good out of a bad situation. It just isn’t working at this point. Look at the ratings sliding. The shows don’t have the same feel or importance of a show that is meant to give you a break from reality.
The superstars are giving their all so the fans turning their backs on wrestling is a little shocking. But watching the product it isn’t as shocking as it might seem. Wrestling is not essential to living. Some of the storylines are God awful and couldn’t hold the attention of even the most die-hard fans.
Out of curiosity, I went back and found some old school photos and ticket stubs to events I’ve been at. I remember going to No Mercy with my wife and kids and telling them, if you aren’t enjoying the action, watch the reaction of the crowd. Case in point, people were baffled by the stupidity of the Punjabi Prison Match to the point we were having more fun chanting, “We can’t see shit!” because WE COULDN’T SEE JACK SHIT!
Watching one match led to watching another and then finally chatting with my buddy Jordan about crowd reaction and who was the best on the mic. Instead of having time to watch ever promo, interview or match, I’m going off what I’ve seen personally. I’ve been to matches at the Rosemont Horizon, All State Arena, United Center, name it. Here are a couple of the best crowd reactions to wrestling events I’ve seen.
1. Y2J Debuts on Raw. August 9th, 1999. I’ve been to many Raws but this was without a doubt the best because the crowd knew Jericho was going to be there. Even then the millennium clock hit the screen as the Rock started a promo and it was on. Jericho declaring himself the savior of the WWF and the Rock turning it around and laying the smackdown on Jericho’s debuting ass. The crowd pop when Jericho turned was about as deafening as it gets.
2. Nitro at the United Center March 30th, 1998. Here’s where things get weird. The biggest pop of the night didn’t come from a match. It came for an announcer. The Nitro Girls lead into the second hour and the announce crew changes and out comes one Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Anyone that doubts Chicago’s loyalty doesn’t know my city very well, because Heenan started his wrestling venture in Chicago and the fans at the UC didn’t let him forget it. The massive pop “The Brain” received that night was awesome.
3. Backlash at the Allstate Arena, April 29th, 2001, Shane McMahon jumps off the Titan Tron through the Big Show on the tables. The crowd lost it when Test came out to help Shane and then when he started to climb, the big gasp. Shane looked down, sign of the cross and boom, we have the birth of the leap of faith. The best part of this story is I had 7 friends with me and we got tickets right behind the entrance where the Titan Tron is and the WWF moved us to camera side section 5 right before the show started because they were setting up for this insane dive by Shane.
4. Wrestlemania 22 at the All State Arena, April 2nd, 2006, In a night where you might be able to pick the best pops, the one that will always stick out to me is Edge w/Lita vs Mick Foley in a hardcore match. Mick looking for that one big WrestleMania moment and Edge becoming a hardcore legend himself. One spot took the crowd by storm. Edge spears Mick Foley through a flaming table that Lita just set on fire. Edge’s face sold everything, but the crowd pop was amazing. Edge was the heel, but the pop was very babyface like.
5. Wrestlemania 13 at the Rosemont Horizon, March 23rd, 1997. The night of turns. In arguably Stone Cold Steve Austin best WrestleMania match and moment, the crowd turned on Bret “The Hitman” Hart and was cheering for Stone Cold Steve Austin. The more brutal the match got the more the crowd was into it. With the iconic shot of Austin in the Sharpshooter, blood trickling down his face, the crowd was completely into the match to the point most of us were not sitting down. It was the beginning of the Stone Cold Era where Bret Hart passed the babyface torch. And that is what was best for business.
6. Raw at the All State Arena, August 13th, 2001. Chris Jericho and the Rock exchange pleasantries with Stephanie McMahon, Rhyno, and Booker T. There were so many one liners from this verbal spat I lost track trying to count them and I was too busy laughing my ass off. Some of the best in no particular order from Jericho, “Let the bodies hit the floor, more like let the boobies hit the floor.” Or “You’re the breast…I mean best.” In regards to Stephanie new found friends. The Rock hit Booker T with the short bus comment and “meep meep.” The crowd was so lively everything said was gold and the crowd never died down.
7. Smackdown at the All State Arena, January 13th, 2000. 2 Words: Cactus Jack. Triple H and Stephanie were making fun of Mankind with Mideon dressed as a fake Mankind and the music hits. The crowd gave a nice pop to Mrs. Foley’s baby boy. But when he took off the mask, then the blood shirt, to reveal his Wanted shirt the crowd erupted. To say Chicago has a love affair with Mick Foley is an understatement. When people were hurt or making movies or whatever. Mick was a constant when the WWF came to Chicago and the fans appreciate him.
My list didn’t even include Stone Cold sitting at ringside to begin a Raw calling out the NWO or the Rock challenging Hollywood Hogan to a Wrestlemania match on the same show. It also does not include the night Angle called for a challenge and a green John Cena answered with Ruthless Aggression. I left the pop the Undertaker got after pinning Sid Vicious in the main event at Wrestlemania 13 while winning the WWF Championship, and Shelton Benjamin scaling a ladder on the ropes to try and get the Money in the Bank briefcase. Matt Hardy turning on Jeff to help Edge in a World Title match had the audience dead silence.
All the above could have easily made this list. The crowd popped immensely for those moments, but trust me, they were louder for the ones on the list. I should know because I was there.
Whether you agree with my list or not, one thing is for sure. Wrestling needs the fans. Unless they fix the product, the fans don’t need wrestling right now because it just isn’t the same without an audience.
Until next week, be safe.