Sport Writer Dan Smith talks about his time at WWE Birmingham, describing the feast of entertainment he witnessed live

Written by Dan Smith

Just ten days removed from the WWE’s record-shattering spectacle, Wrestlemania 40, they were back on the road and kicking off their sold-out UK tour in Birmingham. This year’s showcase of the immortals felt symbolic of the company moving into a new era with it being Triple H’s first as head of creative and many long-standing championship reigns coming to an end over the two-night extravaganza. The Birmingham show served as the first opportunity for these new champions to defend their titles. As a result, an immense feeling of excitement and anticipation was palpable in the arena as the crowd limbered up for what was sure to be a night packed full of high-energy action.

An immense feeling of excitement and anticipation was palpable in the arena

The opening match of the night was a star-studded fatal 4-way for the Intercontinental Championship featuring the newly crowned champion Sami Zayn, the hard-hitting former champ Gunther, Finn Balor of the judgement day and Chad Gable who was met with deafening boos from the crowd following his brutal attack on fan-favourite Sami Zayn this past Monday on Raw. The match itself was an enthralling fast paced affair with Zayn having to fend off attacks from all three men throughout before picking up the victory after hitting Balor with his signature helluva kick. The highlight of the bout for me, however, was the agonising slap of Gunther’s chops, the crowd wincing to the sound whilst the unfortunate recipient’s chest became a dark shade of red. Nonetheless, the atmosphere was electric as Zayn celebrated his win in what was an amazing opener.

Natalya has been a constant in the WWE for well over a decade, continually delivering great matches

There wasn’t much time to catch your breath as we were immediately thrown into some women’s tag team action with the veteran Natalya and Britain’s own Tegan Nox taking on the team of Zoey Stark and Shayna Bayzler. The bout kicked off with some crowd interaction which consisted of Natalya and Bayzler competing to see who could draw the best reaction from the crowd, with Natalya receiving a raucous reception from the fans in attendance. But it was Bayzler and Stark who were on top for the majority of the match, beating down Nox and stopping her many attempts at tagging her partner in. But after absorbing this sustained attack Nox was finally able to get the hot tag and Natalya flew out the gates giving Stark a beat down of her own before making her submit with the iconic sharpshooter. Natalya has been a constant in the WWE for well over a decade, continually delivering great matches and the crowd showed their great appreciation for her following her victory.

A backstage promo from WWE World Heavyweight Champion Damian Priest was then played on the screen where he expressed how he was going to defeat his challenger Kofi Kingston later in the night and retain in his first title defence. It was great to see promos like this throughout the show as they helped the non-televised live event feel even more significant and allowed for an extra layer of immersion for those in attendance.

The notorious shout of ‘USOOO’ instantly sent the crowd into raptures as ‘Main Event’ Jey Uso made his way to the ring to take on ‘The Scottish Psychopath’ Drew McIntyre. Uso is red hot right now and this was made abundantly clear on the night with the fans engaging with Uso and adoringly chanting his new phrase ‘yeet’ throughout the match. The crowd were well into this one, chanting the name of McIntyre’s newest rival CM Punk at regular intervals. This implored McIntyre to pick up the microphone and cut a scathing promo on Punk before the bell rang. Ultimately, it would be these chants that would cost the former world heavyweight champion as when gearing up to strike with his devastating claymore kick he became distracted by the crowd giving Uso enough time to recover and roll up McIntyre to sneak the victory. Evidently unhappy with the result, McIntyre went back onto the mic professing to be a ‘British hero’ and how ‘underappreciated’ he was by the fans before angrily leaving the ring to deafening boos, a stark contrast from the reaction he typically receives from the UK audience.

This was an extremely entertaining match which had the crowd enthralled.

Now was time for the aforementioned World Heavyweight Championship match between Damian Priest and the everpresent, Kofi Kingston. The crowd was hot on Kofi during this matchup with the two competitors having a back-and-forth bout for the majority. Kingston in particular had some very close near falls which had many of the crowd convinced he may actually win the title. But outside interference from Priest’s Judgement Day companion JD McDonagh proved to be the deciding factor, despite Xavier Woods’s attempts to even the playing field after McDonagh struck Kingston when the referee was looking away allowing Priest to hit his finisher, the south of heaven, and retain his title. This was an extremely entertaining match which had the crowd enthralled. I’d like to see Kofi get another shot at the championship following his excellent showing.  

The next contest was between two superstars who are synonymous with their high-flying and gravity-defying style. Ricochet and JD McDonagh facing off was bound to leave fans in awe. The match certainly did not disappoint with jaw-dropping spot after jaw-dropping spot, the most breathtaking of which for me were the Spanish fly and an insanely executed poisoned frankensteiner by Ricochet that left JD in a heap on the mat. The finish of the match happened when Ricochet avoided an audacious moonsault which enabled him to connect with his mesmerising ‘630 senton’ from the top rope to get the win. This was a wholly enthralling spectacle between two superstars who continually push the boundaries of what is possible in a wrestling ring and in my opinion the match of the night.

With the energy of the crowd showing no signs of dwindling we reached the penultimate match of the night with Piper Niven taking on ‘The Man’ Becky Lynch. Delirious is how I would describe the atmosphere when Lynch’s music hit, and ‘The Man’ reciprocated this feeling jumping into the crowd and hugging fans on her way to the ring. She even signed a copy of her new book for one adoring fan. But her entrance was cut short after a cheap shot from Niven which set the tone for the encounter – with Nivens strength and hard hitting offence allowing her to manhandle ‘The Man’ for large periods. Late in the match, the ever-opportunistic Lynch caught a distracted Niven in the ‘disarm-her’ submission hold that she eventually succumbed to, crowning Becky the winner. She took the opportunity to continue what she started before the match by greeting fans, taking pictures and signing autographs. It is always nice to see superstars showing appreciation for the unwavering support of the WWE universe.

The crowd sang his iconic entrance song in unison and the deafening rendition of the ‘whoaaa’ was truly a sight to behold

‘Wrestling has more than one royal family’. The words the whole night had been building up to and when they were spoken the sold-out crowd reached a fever pitch to welcome the newly crowned WWE Universal Champion Cody Rhodes for what was his first match since toppling the ‘Tribal Chief’ Roman Reigns and finally finishing his story. The crowd sang his iconic entrance song in unison and the deafening rendition of the ‘whoaaa’ was truly a sight to behold, this was a moment I had been waiting to be a part of for a long time. But Cody’s first title defence wasn’t going to be a breeze as he took on Shinsuke Nakamura in the main event. Once the match got underway Cody performed a cartwheel as a nod to his former character ‘Stardust’, which was the catalyst for his astounding journey that has led him to becoming ‘undeniable’. The match itself was quite balanced throughout with Cody having to fight back against offence from Nakamura on multiple occasions. Rhodes kicked out after a kinshasa from Nakamura, with the king of strong style himself surviving a Cross Rhodes and Cody Cutter before ‘The American Nightmare’ hit a second Cross Rhodes which was enough to retain his title and an unreal pop from the crowd followed. 

After his victory, Cody proceeded to take to the microphone to thank all the fans for their amazing support throughout the show and for always believing in him. He followed this up by echoing John Cena’s sentiment that the UK deserves a Wrestlemania. This understandably rendered the loudest reaction of the night with the prospect of the ‘grandest stage of them all’ coming to UK soil for the first time being one of incredible excitement for all wrestling fans. 

The crowd were immersed

Having attended WWE live events in the past I went in expecting an electric atmosphere and a night of high-quality sports entertainment. It certainly did not disappoint on either of these fronts, the sold-out Birmingham crowd were on top form throughout and each match delivered something different, whether that be high-flying spot fests or hard-hitting battles, the crowd were immersed. This is testament to not only the talent but the producers too. It has been said by many that the WWE has entered a ‘renaissance era’ and if Triple H and co continue to put on sell-out events to this elite level I can only see this continuing with professional wrestling hopefully once again emerging at the forefront of pop culture.

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