WWE returned tonight to Madison Square Garden for their annual post-Christmas live event, a tradition that has been running for decades. In fact, 12/26 was the 30th anniversary of Bob Backlund losing the WWF title to the Iron Sheik and Backlund was there tonight, taking photos with fans in front of a green screen in the newly renovated lobby of the Garden for $30 a pop.
Before the show began, WWE had fans texting and Tweeting messages about their excitement over the show, which were flashed on the new digital screen hanging above MSG. They also showed photos from fans in attendance and in a new wrinkle, had roaming cameramen shooting the crowd before the show, sort of like Major League Baseball would at a game. They also had fans text voting over the stipulations of the Divas segment, which led to the crowd cheering and booing as they received updates on the screens about where the percentages of their votes were.
Justin Roberts was the ring announcer and while he does a fair job, I'll parrot what I write about every time WWE runs MSG - Howard Finkel is the voice of MSG and should be ring announcing at least the main event, but in a perfect world, the entire show.
The show opened with Rey Mysterio defeating Alberto Del Rio, who was obviously cleared to return to the ring from his concussion. Mysterio looks much heavier these days and in keeping with the NYC theme of the show, wore a red and blue Spider-Man inspired mask and outfit. This was a good opener with some nice back and forth wrestling, although Rey was obviously steps behind where he used to be and at one point, was limping early. They did a nice job teasing the 619 before finally getting there and Rey nailed a splash off the top for the pin.
Zack Ryder pinned Brodus Clay. Clay came out to his usual music then had it stopped. When the music stopped, so did the fans' attention span. The match was pretty much Clay working over Ryder with Ryder getting some offense in before being taken out again and then Ryder caught him out of the corner with a rollup and scored the clean pin. Ryder was nowhere near the level of popularity as he was just a few years ago, even in MSG, a venue that once chanted for him as The Rock of all people was cutting a promo on the house mic. Clay losing so quickly after being turned heel can't be seen as a strong start for his new direction.
They aired a Randy Orton promo from backstage knocking MSG.
Big Show pinned Kane with Booker T as the guest referee. Booker was advertised for the WWE World title match but that was changed obviously. Show was limping even coming down to the ring, but was hiding whatever pain he was in by playing the jolly giant. Show got one of the biggest reactions of the night coming out. He and Kane went back and forth and at one point, there was a belly to back suplex that looked like it was completely out of tune, but the crowd was into seeing Show. Kane worked in his usual outfit, just without the mask. Kane got a two count after catching Show climbing the ropes and chokeslamming him off and into the ring. He and Booker T argued and Kane went to nail him. Booker blocked and nailed a right hand, then hit a pump kick, sending Kane into a Show KO punch for the win.
They did a Divas dance-off with Naomi, Cameron and The Bellas against the makeshift quartet of Kaitlyn, AliciaFox, Rosa Mendes and Aksana. Everyone was dressed as sexy Santa helpers. The non-Total Divas were terrible dancers on purpose. The Total Divas were much better. This led to the Total Divas being attacked but making their own save. The others were on the outside when Brad Maddox (no reaction to him at all) came out and made it an eight-woman tag match. The women went back and forth until one of the Bellas hit a X-Factor on Fox. Not strong.
Curtis Axel came out and cut a promo saying he was the son of Perfect and unlike all the losers in MSG, he could not and would not lose. Out came Sin Cara V2.0 (Hunico). They had an OK match and of course, Cara won with the Swanton. The crowd wasn't into the slow build and was giving them "boring" chants pretty quickly.
Axel took the mic and said he would not end his year with a loss. He challenged the next man that came out to fight him...and it was Great Khali. The gift that keeps on giving. Khali quickly dispatched him with the giant Mongolian chop. It was, well, a Khali match.
In a great steel cage match, WWE Tag Team champions Goldust & Cody Rhodes defeated The Real Americans. Zeb Colter worked The Americans' corner. This felt like an old school Jim Crockett Promotions tag match as they worked a traditional tag bout. Goldust played the role of Ricky Morton and started off strong but eventually was worked over and sold for the majority of the bout. He was awesome in his role. This led to Cody Rhodes as Robert Gibson making the hot tag and getting a huge pop for his save of his brother. Cesaro got the big swing in on Dust but was nailed with the Cross Rhodes by Cody for a two count. In the end, Cody went to the top and hit a standing moonsault into the arms of Cesaro, who caught him and was pinned. An excellent bout.
Brad Maddox came out and introduced "Three Reindeer Men", which was 3MB with Ricardo Rodriguez substituting for Heath Slater (and acting far too happy to be there) coming out wearing reindeer antlers.
Los Matadores & El Torito defeated 3MB. This was much better than you'd expect, although a little long. They did a lot of comedy spots early with 3MB getting outclassed. They eventually builf up to Torito whipping out all these Lucha Libre springboard spots on Ricardo Rodriguez to eventually score the pin on him. The crowd was into the Lucha spots. Not much of a reaction for Los Matadores' entrance. This was Torito's MSG debut.
After the match, Booker T teased doing the Spinaroonie on the mic but said they needed help. He called out "New York Yankee Fan and a man that sold out this building dozens of times...." Michael Hayes. The Fabulous Freebirds wrestling in MSG once, by the way. Hayes, in a white pinstripe suit came out and tripped over the ropes as he got into the ring, which I think was a comedy spot done on purpose. Booker had him do the old Moonwalk and Hayes, looking far too old to do his old "P.S." strut, nailed the move perfectly. They did Spinaroonies. The crowd loved Booker's mic work but I got the impression the majority of the crowd was totally confused as to who Hayes was, since it was such a young audience. But, it was a random and silly cameo that was cool for those of us who were fans of Hayes' work.
John Cena defeated WWE World champion Randy Orton in a great back and forth main event that had the building buzzing, especially with a ton of great near falls towards the end, until an uninspired ending where Orton just lowblowed Cena. It was pretty much the Daniel Bryan finish from Raw a few weeks ago. Cena had far and away the biggest reaction of anyone for their entrance. Before they got there, Orton did a lot of stalling early and spent a good amount of time working over Cena's ankle and leg, doing the Ron Garvin inspired stomps. Cena made a comeback and even tossed some new offense in, doing a full nelson slam-lift into a neckbreaker that looked great. The timing on the near falls at the end was pretty much impeccable, After the DQ, Orton teased the punt kick but Cena escaped and hit the AA to save himself and send the crowd home happy with a Pro-MSG promo and Cena theme music celebration.
Notes: The show was close to, if not a legitimate sellout, although some of those tickets (at least 600 seats) were part of a LivingSocial.com promotion that marked down pairs of tickets and came with a signed item and some other goodies....NXT talent Brandi Runnels (Cody's wife) was backstage....They heavily pushed a 3/9 return to the venue for a house show with Batista headlining, plus Cena, Daniel Bryan and the Wyatt Family advertised. There is already a pre-sale using code WWEMSG....One entire side of ringside was made up of the WWE VIP Experience ticketholders, who took home a specialized WWE chair similar to those given away to WWE PPV ringside seat patrons....In a change for MSG, they aired a video stream from a hard camera shot of the entire show on every screen in the venue. At times, it was hard to look at the ring and not be distracted by the massive screen showing the same thing right above you....They had a holiday themed stage with a blow-up snowman and Christmas tree....Rap legend DMC was in attendance with his family. He's a regular at the NYC area events.