WWE Live @Newcastle Utilita Arena, May 12 2019
When growling anti-hero Elias began dissing Newcastle, during a decidedly ropey cover of Oasis’s Wonderwall, the sense of pantomime was acute. But anyone pitching up at the city’s arena for anything less than pure entertainment, delivered with a refreshing sense of irony and a riotous disregard for convention, had surely mistaken the WWE for something far more cerebral. As an annual celebration of muscle-bound silliness, underpinned by seriously influential role models, this special night is difficult to beat.
Wrestling might struggle to shake off its reputation for favouring theatre over sport but at the top level its heady fusion of keen athleticism, cute storytelling and unashamed razzamatazz is utterly compelling. A near full house reflected the brand’s enduring global appeal and a star-studded roster of self-styled ‘Superstars’ rolled off signature move after signature move to thrill thousands of starry-eyed kids, their parents and more.
Top of the bill – and it’s no coincidence that a woman rules the WWE roost in 2019 – was Becky ‘The Man’ Lynch. The firebrand, flame-haired Irishwoman arrived on Tyneside with two coveted championship belts and made short work of contenders Lacey ‘Southern Belle’ Evans and the imposing Tamina.
Even a post-match ambush by Evans, Tamina and fellow baddies Riott Squad failed to rain on Lynch’s party and the queen of Wrestlemania looks set to retain her role model status among millions of young female fans for years to come.
On a night when the towering buffoon Walter (those who felt a pang of sympathy for his decidedly dull ring name were in the majority) defeated ‘Bruiserweight’ Pete Dunne in the WWE United Kingdom Championship match there was a sense that British wrestling could do better…given the chance.
And that feeling was never keener than when six of the biggest blokes on the planet piled into the ring for the thrill-a-minute finale. The six-man tag team showcased the WWE at its beefy, bullish best as the giant Braun Strowman flexed every available muscle to play a key role in a classic encounter. Part of a winning team that included ‘Beast Slayer’ Seth Rollins and fit-again Roman Reigns (back to his best following a battle with leukaemia), the actor and former strongman inadvertently stole the show.
The haters will keep on hating but for as long as the WWE showcases the age-old battle between good and evil – and does it with stellar light shows, pounding anthems and walls of truly tempting merchandise – this media-savvy organisation is going nowhere fast. A quick straw poll of the beaming lads and their dads and mums with their daughters confirmed that’s something well worth celebrating.