Wrestling with a crowd.
Last week my wife and I attended our second live NXT show in the Boston area. It was a great night out and we had a lot of fun. There were no monumental title changes or storyline shifts, but two things stood out in an otherwise outstanding show. I will, however, only talk about one of them.
I can’t talk at length about the match between Cedric Alexander and Roderick Strong because I cannot hope to convey the excellence of that bout and the intensity of the crowd in a blog post. Their match had us all on the edge of our seats, from high-flying daredevilry to ring-shattering backbreakers, teasing a finish over and over until they finally delivered and we all erupted. Whew. I get the vapors just thinking about it. But yeah. Great match. Wish you could’ve seen it.
The other outstanding moment came from a wrestler I did not think much of. His name is Elias Samson, and he calls himself “The Drifter.” He comes to the ring with an acoustic guitar and sings songs about how he hates his opponents or the city he’s in. The dude’s a decent guitar player and a decent wrestler, but he never really excited me. The crowd, however, hates his guts. They think he’s a dull performer and a bad guitar player, and regularly try to boo him out of the ring. To his credit, he plays to the crowd’s disdain (as every good wrestling villain should) and recognizes it to his apparent frustration. Even so, I was always a bit “meh” when it came to Elias Samson. Until that night.
The Drifter comes to the ring amidst a thundering chorus of boos and jeers. It’s hard to hear him speak, the crowd is booing so loud. He announces he wrote a song about our crappy city and he’s going to play it. The crowd drowns him out before he can start playing, but in a brief lull in the noise someone in the audience shouts “FREEBIRD!” The rest of us join in and begin to chant “Freebird! Freebird! Freebird!” Samson looks around at us and gets this sly grin on his face. “You want to hear Freebird?” he asks. We all cheer in the affirmative. Now I think he’s going to tell us all to go to hell and continue playing his original song, but instead he says, “All right, but you’ve all got to sing along.”
And I’ll be damned, he starts playing freaking Freebird.
And I’ll be damned, the crowd sings along with him.
Hell, I was so impressed I took out my phone and started waving it around with the spotlight on. Lots of other folks did, too. In that moment, The Drifter had finally won the crowd over… and a moment later, he changed the lyrics of Freebird to tell us how crappy Boston was and how he never wants to come back to our dump of a city. As the crowd began to boo him anew, he yells, “I can do this all night!”
And I’ll be damned, I am now a fan of Elias Samson.
I consider professional wrestling to be the theatre’s bastard child. Whether you enjoy staged fighting or not, these men and women are performers and working a crowd is an essential tool in anyone’s theatrical toolbox. Watching Elias Samson work a crowd that hated him into a moment where they enjoyed him, and then stick to his character and promptly tell us all to go to hell in the middle of that moment was, in my opinion, classic bad guy behavior and a great example of Samson’s stage presence and awareness.
Well done, Drifter.