Last week, the WWE returned to the UK for two special house shows in Newcastle and London, and we were ringside for the latter as Roman Reigns, Drew McIntyre, Randy Orton, Ronda Rousey and many more took over the O2 for a night of wrasslin' shenanigans in the capital.
From suplexes to special announcements, here are our main takeaways from a fun-as-hell Friday night with the world's biggest wrestling (sorry, sports entertainment) company.
There's nothing quite like a big ol' wrestling show
It's hard to explain the atmosphere of a big wrestling show to anyone that hasn't yet had the experience, but imagine something pitched somewhere in the middle of the venn diagram of an FA Cup final, a rock 'n' roll gig and the lairiest panto you've seen and you're about halfway there. Basically, there's nothing quite like it, and few companies anywhere know how to put on a big wrestling event like WWE.
There are thousands of fans ambling around North Greenwich tube station hours before the show even starts, gobbling up merch, starting chants and waving their replica championship belts around (and that's just the grown-ups). Maybe it's the fact that we went so long without shows like these recently, but there is something more than a little emotional about feeling the buzz and excitement of a live wrestling crowd again.
Roman Reigns is the biggest thing in wrestling in 2022
Love him or hate him (and those in the latter camp are rarely shy of letting themselves known), you will acknowledge him. After a bumpy few years where Roman struggled to get over with fans cynical of his enduring push in WWE, the Tribal Chief has finally fulfilled his potential as one of the most engaging and all-conquering heels of his generation; the anticipation around his appearance on tonight's card is another level to that of anyone else on the show
It speaks volumes that despite there being a good few boos in the mix (which, to be fair, it's his job to get right now), Roman gets an even bigger reception than his opponent, Scottish superstar Drew McIntyre, a man who became the first British wrestler ever to win a WWE world title in 2020 and who remains one of the company's most beloved faces today. You just can't buy that kinda star power, and Roman has it in spades.
Randy Orton is a living legend
Last month, Randy Orton celebrated 20 years with WWE - an astonishing achievement when you consider the fact that the likes of John Cena, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan never had anything like that kind of a run with a single company (at least, in the case of Cena, without some significant, Hollywood-chasing breaks towards the latter part of his career).
Still only 42, there's no reason to think Randy couldn't add another decade to that run, and on the evidence of tonight, he remains as on it as ever. Two decades in, The Viper is still one of the most over superstars going, getting a rapturous reception alongside tag team partner Riddle as they take on the Usos in a fast-paced, voraciously-received match-up. Plus, the RKO remains firmly on the podium of all-time great wrestling finishers.
Please keep the IC title on Ricochet for ages
Whenever a beloved indie darling graduates into WWE's big leagues (usually via a run in NXT), there are nerves within the wrestling community over whether they'll be quickly lost in the shuffle. Zero danger of that when you're as good as Ricochet, whose high-flying madness steals the show at the O2, beating out Sami Zayn and Butch to retain his Intercontinental Championship. The IC belt has a history of athletic, fighting champions, and there are few better poised to carry that legacy forward than Ricochet. Long may he reign.
Pete Dunne's gimmick is not the one
And speaking of 'Butch'...it's time to let this gimmick go. When he came to NXT, Pete Dunne had a reputation as one of the most talented, hard-hitting British wrestlers of his generation, and the stage seemed set for the self-proclaimed Bruiserweight to go onto big things. Since getting the call-up to WWE, however, Dunne has been saddled with a corny gimmick ripped straight from Peaky Blinders (suspenders: seriously?), and the relative crowd ambivalence afforded to the Englishman on home soil is disheartening tonight. Drop the flat cap, bring back the Bruiserweight and let's move on.
Clash At The Castle is going to be huge
Ignore the daft name - this is going to be the single biggest wrestling show to hit the UK in 30 years. On a great card that also included a ring-shaking Bobby Lashley/Sheamus bout, a close-fought Smackdown Women's Championship match between Charlotte and Ronda Rousey and a hard-hitting encounter between Shinsuke Nakamura and Gunther, the biggest talking point of the whole night was the announcement that Clash At The Castle, the first major WWE UK PPV since 1992, will be coming to the 77,000-capacity Principality Stadium in Cardiff this coming September.
It marks the first time WWE has hosted an outdoor event on these shores since the legendary Summerslam 1992 show at Wembley Stadium, and with wrestling fans across Europe surely set to make the pilgrimage, it'll likely go down as one of the most memorable shows of 2022. If tonight's festivities at the O2 served as a taster, the main course is coming in fourth months' time, and it's going to be epic.
WWE Clash At The Castle takes place September 3 in Cardiff, Wales. Tickets go on sale Friday May 20. For more information, head to WWE.com
BREAKING: WWE Clash at the Castle takes place LIVE from @principalitysta in Cardiff, Wales, on Saturday, Sept. 3, and tickets will be available Friday, May 20! #WWECastle @visitwales Details 🇬🇧 https://t.co/H3kwCjTZ4dRegister for May 18 presale 🎟 https://t.co/O0q3o1ZPj4 pic.twitter.com/QeWMsdb8G3April 29, 2022