Sports Law: Number of Rings Do Not Matter, The Parades You Were At Do

by Ned Moraghan, special to The North Jersey Nonconformist

Prior to the quarantine, I was watching a Devils game at a sports bar. A Rangers fan made a snide comment on how I could watch a last place team. As someone who rarely backs down from a challenge, I responded with “3 Cups in my lifetime”. His response: “We have 4”. I go, “Wow, you look really good for someone in their eighties. How was the parade in 1940?” I pretty much won the argument right there. I could have gone on further since I was at all three championship parades as well as the banner raisings. The point still exists: How much credit does a fan get for championships they don’t remember or weren’t around for?

Devils fans have a very underrated history especially when you compare them to their rivals. Yes, the Devils have 3 vs the Rangers and Islanders 4 each. However, you must be close to fifty to remember the Islander run. The Rangers fan only remembers 1994. I have 1995, 2000, and 2003. All more recent than all of those titles. It’s even better with the Flyers. Three Cups to two plus I have no memory of the Flyers winning either of theirs.

Being from New Jersey and being a Mets fan is definitely being a second-class sports citizen when it comes to baseball. I was around for the 1986 Mets World Series win. The Mets did own New York then. Sometime in the 1990’s that changed. The Yankees became a mini dynasty. That is why the 2000 World Series really stings. Had the Mets won, I could argue that is doesn’t matter how many World Series the Yankees won, they couldn’t beat the Mets. Of the 27 championships the Yankees have won, only five are really of the recent variety. Just by picking the Yankees doesn’t automatically give you credit for all those championships in the 1920’s-1950’s. In my opinion, a ten-year-old kid who hasn’t seen the Yankees win one title doesn’t get to boast about 27. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle are all time greats, but only someone in their late sixties could have seen Mantle play.

It is in the NFL where most fans already don’t count the titles that happened before the Super Bowl. I have personally used this fact up until recently to torture Eagles fans. Whether it was Lincoln Field was defective since it didn’t have a trophy room or the occasional ‘1960’ chant at Giants-Eagles games, I lost some good material when the Eagles finally won the Super Bowl. Fortunately for me, I’ve seen the Giants win four of their own. I also more than hold my own with the annoying Cowboy fans when I point out I was around for four Giants Super Bowl wins but only three for Dallas.

If you did not witness the Championship in person, do you get credit for it? Did you have the joy of viewing the Championship Parade in person? Did you spend a small fortune on championship pennants/hats/shirts/videos? Were you able to attend the following year’s banner raising? If the answer is no to all these questions you don’t get to brag about those titles. If you do not believe me ask a Maple Leaf fan. They are the second most successful team in the NHL with 13 Stanley Cups but none since 1967. Leaf fans consider themselves cursed not great. They don’t count the 13 they weren’t around for so you really shouldn’t either.

WrestleMania 36 Postscript

Undertaker Boneyard Match

The most unusual WrestleMania ever featured an unforgettable Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles

Vince McMahon and the WWE managed to defy the odds and stage WrestleMania 36, despite overwhelming regulatory pressure across America to avoid unnecessary work and remain socially distant.  The die-hard fan in me says that WrestleMania is necessary and must go on at all costs.  But I’ll leave it up to my readers to decide if it was a wise decision to go ahead with it, given the potential risks to the performers, production staff, anybody they came in contact with, and society as a whole.

The WWE did the best they could under the circumstances, but it is nearly impossible to put on a credible professional wrestling show without a live audience in the stands to react to what they are seeing and hearing in the ring.  Two nights of fan-less WrestleMania started to fall a little flat by Sunday.

It was the most obvious during the final match of Sunday night between Brock Lesnar and Drew McIntire.  This was a championship match in a WrestleMania main event that was made up of almost all finishing moves and not much else.  Under normal circumstances, the fans would have popped for the finishers and each subsequent false finish, finally exploding when the emerging hero Drew McIntire finally got the pin and took home the gold.  But with silence in the building, the match came across as underwhelming and lacked excitement.  That exact same match in front of 80,000 fans would have appeared to be much different.

It wasn’t all a wash, there were some fun moments, and some interesting spots that wouldn’t have happened in front of a live crowd.  You could hear what the wrestlers and their entourage members were saying, like when Paul Heyman said to Lesnar: “He’s good, you have to hit him again!”  And the wrestlers were able to make creative use of the props in the WWE performance center.

If I had to grade the show overall, I’d give it a “B”, but I’d give Saturday night an “A” and Sunday night a “C”.  Saturday night was a bit more compact, and it featured a very good match between Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins.  And of course, the main event Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles stole the show and will go down as one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time.

Sunday was a big more lackluster overall, not just because of the lackluster main event.  It also featured another cinematic match between Bray Wyatt and John Cena which didn’t work as well as the Boneyard Match on Saturday.  In their Firefly Funhouse Match, there wasn’t much of a match at all, but a satirical and bizarre career retrospective of both individuals that ended without much wrestling or fighting at all.  I see what the WWE was trying to do there, but it just didn’t work all that well.

Sunday also featured the Last Man Standing match between Randy Orton and Edge.  The match went way too long, and in fact clocked in at the second longest WrestleMania match ever behind only the sixty-minute Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Brett “The Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania XII.  As Causal Geekery points out, Last Man Standing matches are a creative trap to being with, they are an exercise in very long false finishes which try your patience.  Which is more exciting, a kick out at two and 7/8ths, or someone who barely gets to his feet after an excessively long 9 count and then falls back down again?  These two should have had an emotional and exciting match, instead all they did was hit each other over the head repeatedly and found ways to get up until Edge brained Orton with a Con-Chair-To to put the match out of its misery.

Per the norm, WrestleMania had its share of winners and losers.  Some came out looking very good, others not so much.

Losers

  • Seth Rollins: Seth came into WrestleMania with an impressive 6-1 record, having recorded at least one victory in every WrestleMania he had competed in. Those aren’t exactly Undertaker-like stats, but they were nothing to sneeze at and something he could have used to build interest in future WrestleMania matches.  That angle is now dead.
  • Charlotte Flair: Now that she’s the NXT champion, does that mean she’s demoted from the main brands?  This never made any sense.
  • Brock Lesnar: He sure loses a lot of WrestleMania matches, doesn’t he? At what point does he lose his mystique as The Conqueror?
  • Goldberg: Why was he brought back again?
  • Bobby Lashley: Jobbing to Aelister Black has no upside.
  • Daniel Bryan: Lost a championship match in two straight WrestleMania’s. He needs to regain some momentum if he wants to finish his career out on top.
  • Dolph Ziggler: They finally put him on a WrestleMania card in a singles match, and he loses to Otis? And Otis gets the girl in the end?  Oh man, just put Ziggler out of his misery already!
  • Randy Orton and Edge: Had a chance to put on a much better match than they did. Nobody told these veterans that “less is more”?

Winners

  • Kevin Owens: Seth Rollins’ loss is KO’s gain. He finally had his WrestleMania moment and can build off this.
  • Becky Lynch: Her match sucked, but she has her own Mack Truck!
  • Drew McIntyre: His WrestleMania moment lost a little something with no fans to enjoy it, but he still closed out WrestleMania with a championship win over Brock Lesnar, his journey to the top of the WWE is finally complete.
  • Braun Strowman: Let’s hear it for the guy who couldn’t ever seem to get to the top!  After all these years in WWE, he won his first singles title in 2020, only to lose the Intercontinental Title very quickly.  He had to replace Roman Reigns in a championship match against Goldberg with no buildup, and just like that he had his WrestleMania moment and walked out with the WWE Universal Championship!
  • Sami Zayn: His middling career finally includes a singles championship match victory.
  • Otis: This is the unlikeliest WrestleMania booking of them all. For a guy who is a rookie and a tag team specialist to get a singles win at WrestleMania is nearly unheard of.  And he got the girl in the end, I guess I must admit that the guy has game!
  • AJ Styles and The Undertaker: All I can say about their match is “wow!”  It was a masterpiece of the rarely utilized “Cinematic Wrestling” artform.  The Undertaker has been justifiably criticized for hanging on for too long and putting on sub-par matches.  But the creative editing in this non-traditional match made him look like a million bucks.  AJ Styles was the perfect foil for this match.  The guy knows how to be a heel, he cheats, he talks smack, and he begs for forgiveness right before he gets pummeled by the babyface.  It was a movie and a wrestling clinic all in one, and it will be included in the list of greatest WrestleMania matches of all time.  And it began and ended with “Now That We’re Dead” by the greatest band in the world, Metallica!

Moving forward, it is very hard to say what will happen next.  Not because of the natural unpredictability of WWE storylines, but because the world is still in the throws of the COVID-19 crisis, and that directly impacts how and if the WWE can still generate content.  Now that WrestleMania is over, safety is paramount, and we can only hope that the world returns to normal sometime soon and we can get back to enjoying Raw and Smackdown and WWE pay-per-views in front of packed arenas again.  That would make the world seem normal again!

WrestleMania 36 Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania splash

I hope you weren’t counting on Roman Regins to appear at this pandemic-influenced WrestleMania!

Amid a global pandemic that has shaken our reality to the core, WrestleMania weekend is here.  By all accounts, the entire show was recorded on several closed sets well in advance of the weekend.

Professional wrestling is impossible to be “socially distanced”.  Even a die-hard fan must wonder if the decision to go ahead with WrestleMania was a wise one, even with all the limitations that were placed on the event. Vince McMahon has a pretty shady past to begin with.  In 1983, he helped Jimmy Snuka beat criminal charges for the murder of Nancy Argentino. He proceeded to do business with Saudi Arabia in the face of overwhelming evidence that their royal family had a man tortured and killed.  You can almost hear him in a boardroom at WWE headquarters in Connecticut telling what’s left of his management team: “Dammit, I’m not going to let this coronavirus get in the way of what’s best for business, dammit!”  Whatever you think of Vince or decision, we now have two nights of WrestleMania to watch, and there isn’t much else to do!  Might as well tune in and try to enjoy it.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, WrestleMania 36 had to be adapted radically, and it is going to look much different than what we are used to.  First off, as I mentioned, it had to be stretched into two nights to cover for the loss of the traditional surrounding events such at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and NXT Takeover.  Second, number of competitors in matches has been limited, likely due to social distancing measures.  Gone are the Battle Royals.  Third, there will be no special guest appearances by non-WWE talent like we’ve seen in the past.  No Joan Jett, Flo Rida, or Living Color to play superstar entrance themes.

But the most obvious difference of them all is that there won’t be any fans in attendance.  It is hard to imagine professional wrestling taking place in front of an empty arena.  It is a performance art that completely depends on fan reactions, and it feels empty and meaningless without a live audience to react what is said and done in the ring.  This is going to put extra pressure on the performers themselves to figure out how to entertain a television audience that they can’t see or hear.

The one interesting thread outside of the announced matches is the inclusion of Rob Gronkowski as WrestleMania host.  Gronkowski recently flamed out of the NFL because he was no longer able to perform at an elite level. The WWE saw something in him and signed him to a contract.  I’d presume the original intent of his WrestleMania involvement was to have him get involved in a match leading to his first feud in WWE as a wrestler.  Now he’s on double duty so we’ll see where it leads.

At the time of this writing, there are sixteen (!) matches planned across two nights.  Of course, this means that there are too many active competitors on the WWE main rosters, and there is no way to hold an audience captive for long enough to watch all of them.  I suggest using the women’s matches to get up and stretch.  You won’t miss much, and it will help you concentrate on the better matches.

On to the predictions!

Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins in a singles match

Who is better on WWE programming right now than Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins?  These guys could be in a professional wrestling textbook chapter about how to get a classic good guy versus bad guy feud over with the fans.

The “Monday Night Messiah” cuts one of the best promos in WWE right now.  And he sports an impressive WrestleMania record of 6-1.  His only loss occurred at WrestleMania 31, but he went on to score a win later that same night anyway.  Kevin Owens missed WrestleMania last year due to injury and does not have a signature WrestleMania moment in his career.  He’s going to look to change that this weekend against Rollins.  This match could steal the show, which ever night it’s on.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) (c) vs. Austin Theory and Angel Garza (with Zelina Vega) in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

This should be a decent filler match.  The Street Profits are hot right now, and Austin Theory, who was called up from NXT to replace the unavailable Andrade, are all motivated to put on a good WrestleMania match.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Austin Theory and Angel Garza

Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair in a singles match for the NXT Women’s Championship

After headlining WrestleMania 35 last year, Charlotte Flair finds herself in one of the biggest WrestleMania main event demotions since what happened to King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania III.  She’s competing for the minor league title against a fledgling competitor that isn’t ready for the Raw or Smackdown stage, let alone WrestleMania.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

See the notes about the Charlotte Flair match above, Becky is in the same boat.  It’s hard to understand why this happened to the women’s division year over year, but it probably has something to do with the fact that it is highly overrated and was not ready to headline WrestleMania 35 to begin with.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre in a singles match for the WWE Championship

Drew McIntyre is the feel-good story headed into WrestleMania.  His tale of being fired, re-dedicating himself, and making his way to the top of the WWE card has been told ad nauseum in the run up to this main event.  This may seem like an organic storyline, the underdog that the crowd supported because they recognized his talent and effort, who was rewarded by the WWE with a WrestleMania main event appearance.  But it really isn’t.

Brock Lesnar is the face of the WWE.  He is the special attraction that sells tickets and draws ratings when he appears sparingly on WWE events.  Drew McIntyre is nowhere near Lesnar’s league, and Lesnar is going to make very short work of him on his way to a big WrestleMania win.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar

Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

Talk about COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the WrestleMania card.  First off, the WWE makes the ridiculous decision to have Goldberg come out of nowhere to squash The Fiend Bray Wyatt to set up a WrestleMania match between Goldberg and Roman Reigns.  Never mind that the WWE spent a year building up Wyatt to be an unstoppable force, only to completely undo the whole thing by having him completely job to Goldberg at a match in Saudi Arabia.  I guess they didn’t believe in Wyatt’s ability to sell tickets to WrestleMania, so they had to fall back to an ancient relic with better name recognition to fill that spot.

That match was designed to make Goldberg look strong headed into his WrestleMania main event against Reigns.  There was a brief in-person faceoff between Goldberg and Reigns to set up the feud.  But due to circumstances believed to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reigns backed out of WrestleMania very late in the production cycle.  Therefore, the WWE was forced to substitute Braun Strowman in Reigns’ place with no time to build up any storyline whatsoever.  A situation like this is unprecedented in the WrestleMania era, no main event has ever been changed during WrestleMania weekend.

This is a bit of a curveball which makes the outcome of the match difficult to predict.  It’s hard to believe that the WWE would elevate Strowman to champion out of nowhere.  It’s also hard to believe that Goldberg is going to stick around for long as the champion when it appears that his job was simply to headline WrestleMania, hand the title to Reigns, and then fade away. It’s anyone’s guess, but I’ll make one anyway.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Fun House match

Bray Wyatt was a lost cause in the WWE, having not lived up to his full potential.  The WWE pulled him off television, repackaged him as The Fiend, and a star was born.  He became WWE champion and appeared to be on his way to a WrestleMania main event when he was inexplicably destroyed by Goldberg and lost the strap.

Even more inexplicable than that, the next night instead of challenging Goldberg to a rematch, he challenged John Cena to a WrestleMania match.  This is a rematch of their WrestleMania XXX match that Cena won.  It was a creative misstep to have Cena beat Wyatt at that time, and that sent Wyatt into his spiral of almost always losing big matches.

With the character of The Fiend all but ruined after his loss to Goldberg, it’s hard to care very much about him.  But he is going to continue to be a full timer in the WWE while Cena will likely leave after WrestleMania to return to his acting career.  Logic seems to dictate that Wyatt will take this victory under those circumstances.

Nobody knows exactly what a Firefly Fun House match is, or how someone wins it.  To watch how that unfolds should be an interesting development.

Prediction: Winner, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi vs. Sasha Banks vs. Tamina in a Fatal 5-Way Elimination match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

This match should be outlawed.  Not because it violates social distancing standards, but because it looks terrible on paper, and will probably be even worse in practice.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley (with Lana) in a singles match

I have no idea where this match came from or why I should care.  Bobby Lashley was doing some cool things in his “love triangle” program between himself, Lana, and Rusev.  That program went away, Rusev is gone, and he’s now in a match that with the underwhelming Aleister Black, a guy with a cool entrance and not much else.

Prediction: Winner, Bobby Lashley

The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match

After inexplicably being left off last year’s WrestleMania card, the greatest WrestleMania performer of all time is set to compete against veteran AJ Styles.  The Undertaker made a surprise appearance at WWE Super Showdown in February to win the prestigious Tuwaiq Mountain Trophy, and to set up the feud with Styles for WrestleMania.

The Undertaker dropped his “deadman” gimmick for this feud as Styles called him out by his real name and referenced his wife Michelle McCool.  Paradoxically, this is going to be a Boneyard Match, so you’d have to assume that The Undertaker is going to approach the situation with a hybrid “deadman” and “American Badass” persona.  This should be one of the best matches on the card.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross in a tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

Four of the worst performers on the main roster.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Miz and John Morrison (c) vs. The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) vs. The Usos in a Triple Threat Ladder match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match, right?  These are two of the best tag teams in the game today, along with the Miz and Morrison.  It’s hard to understand why, when the talent roster is so stacked that the WWE brought back the highly overrated Morrison, but there are enough solid competitors in this match to carry him and make it entertaining.  Hard to imagine a ladder match without crowd reactions, though.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Smackdown Champions, The Usos

Elias vs. King Corbin in a singles match

Corbin is coming off one of the best programs of his career with his long-running feud with Roman Reigns.  He’s among the best heels in the company right now and will be a formidable opponent for Elias.  Both guys always carry themselves as if they have something to prove, so expect them to go the extra mile to put on a great match.

Prediction: Winner, King Corbin

Edge vs. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing match

After a nine-year absence from the WWE due to what was thought to be a career ending neck injury, Edge shocked the Houston crowd at the Royal Rumble with his surprise entry into the match.  At the time it was hard to imagine a better feel-good moment.  Well, the even better feel-good moment happened the very next night when Randy Orton attacked his former friend in the ring and attempted to re-break Edge’s neck!  And the best feel-good moment of them all was when Orton explained that he attacked Edge because he loved him and was for his own good!

As far as wrestling storylines go, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Randy Orton is cutting the best promos of his life right now and this is guaranteed to be an emotional, knock-down, drag-out brawl.  This match could stand as one of the main events, it has that kind of potential.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Sami Zayn (c) (with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura) vs. Daniel Bryan (with Drew Gulak) in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

There is a lot happening in this match.  It is a bit overbooked with all the extra faction members that are involved.  Zayn and Bryan are more than capable of carrying this match on their own.  I don’t get where Drew Gulak even came from or who he is.  It is an odd pairing that does nothing for Bryan.  Nakamura and Cesaro are well past their WWE peaks and are running out the clock on their contracts at this point without much to offer anymore.  I’m hoping the focus is just on Zayn and Bryan and they put on an entertaining match.  Bryan always saves his best for WrestleMania and I expect this year to be no different.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Daniel Bryan

Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler (with Mandy Rose) in a Singles match

Otis being booked in a singles match at WrestleMania is as unlikely as it gets.  He is a tag team specialist and doesn’t have any memorable singles matches in the WWE at all.  But the WWE saw something in him when it created the soap opera-like angle with his ill-fated romance with Mandy Rose.  On the go-home Smackdown, a shadowy hacker revealed that Otis’ attempt at a date with Mandy Rose was sabotaged by a conspiracy between Sonya Deville and Dolph Ziggler.

This story is still being told, and its outcome is probably more interesting than the outcome of the match itself.  The real prize isn’t winning the match, it’s Mandy Rose herself.  One must hope that the outcome is for Dolph Ziggler to get her in the end, proving once and for all that nice guys finish last and chicks dig bad guys! Ziggler is a perennial under-achiever, this is a good opportunity for him to shine.

Prediction: Winner, Dolph Ziggler

That’s a lot of wrestling for two nights!  Even a pre-produced and crowd-less WrestleMania is still going to be the best of the WWE.  Enjoy the show and let me know what you think!

Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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The best time of the year to be a professional wrestling fan is WrestleMania season.  The Road to WrestleMania 36 begins this weekend with the Royal Rumble, so it’s time to get excited.

Fans of WWE are outright inundated with content these days between Raw, Smackdown, NXT, monthly pay-per-views, and other WWE Network original programming.  There’s barely time to keep up with it all.  Given there is that much airtime to fill, there was a lot of mediocre storylines and matches on WWE TV in the second half of 2019.  But coming into the Royal Rumble, a lot of wrestlers and their story arcs are heating up at the right time, and this has a chance to be a memorable pay-per-view.  Let’s get right to the predictions:

Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin in a Falls Count Anywhere match

King Corbin is among the best heels on the WWE roster today.  WWE fans boo him at every turn, and that has made him the perfect mark to keep them from booing Roman Reigns.  Their feud has been long running, but it has remained interesting because of the continued layering of the story with antagonists Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler joining the fray, along with protagonists The Usos.  Both competitors in this match will also compete in the Royal Rumble, so expect the aftermath of this bout to carry on for the rest of the night.  The falls count anywhere stipulation should lend it self to some interesting spots in the cavernous Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Prediction: Winner, King Corbin

Shorty G vs. Sheamus

This is a filler match on the card, but it gives both men who didn’t have a chance to win the rumble itself to put on a showcase.  Sheamus is back after a long layoff, and Shorty G is still trying to distinguish himself from the plethora of mid-card talent on the roster.  If G plays his cards right, he can be the next Daniel Bryan underdog-type runaway hit.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Andrade (c) vs. Humberto Carrillo in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is a hot-shot angle match based on this week’s encounter between Andrade and Humberto Carillo on Raw.  Carillo is as cold as ice right now, and this is a directionless feud between the two.  Andrade has showed some promise as a mid-level heel as of late, so he’ll need the win here to continue his momentum.

Prediction: Winner and still United States Champion, Andrade

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Asuka in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

The WWE women’s Division was hot enough early in 2019 to carry it to main event status at WrestleMania.  In hindsight, it was the special attraction of Ronda Rousey that made the all the difference.  Since her abrupt departure after WrestleMania 35, the women’s division is boring and drab.  This match won’t have much consequence in the grand scheme of things.

Prediction: This match will suck

Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans in a singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

My comments about the Becky Lynch match go double for this one.  At least Bayley turned heel and changed up her look, man was she annoying as a babyface.

Prediction: This match will suck

“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Daniel Bryan in a Strap Match for the WWE Universal Championship

Two of the very best in the business today go head-to-head in a strap match.  This should be a clinic in storytelling in wrestling.  “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt is amid a career renaissance since his re-packaging as a multi-personality villain with both his twisted children’s host and horror movie-inspired fiend characters.  He’s finally operating at a level commiserate with his talents and carries the WWE Universal Championship as his reward.

Daniel Bryan regrettably turned babyface in order to feud with Wyatt.  He has done all of his best work in WWE as a maniacal heel and helped carry the match of the year in 2019 against Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania 35 in that capacity.  Even still, he’s one of the best wrestlers on the WWE roster right now and expect him to shine in this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Women’s Royal Rumble Match for a world championship match at WrestleMania 36

At the time of this writing, 24 hours before the Rumble starts, there are only nine women announced for this thirty-woman contest.  That should tell you how many women on the roster right now are even relevant.

Prediction: Extended bathroom and beer break for the live audience in Houston

Men’s Royal Rumble Match for a world championship match at WrestleMania 36

There is a lot to unpack in this match given the complex storylines headed into the rumble match, along with the countless possibilities for how it can go down. This match isn’t just about who wins, it’s going to also set in motion a bunch of angles that will lead to WrestleMania 36.

The winner gets a shot at the title of his choosing at WrestleMania 36, but the wrinkle to that story is that Brock Lesnar volunteered to join the match as the #1 entrant, and he is already carrying a WWE championship. It is unknown what impact that would have on WrestleMania if he were to win.

For the first time in many years, there are a host of hot babyfaces on the show right now that have transitioned from being heels but maintained their edge.  Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe fit that description.  A lot of competitors in the picture have interesting storylines on Raw and Smackdown as of late, especially Erick Rowan, Rey Mysterio, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, Bobby Lashley, Aleister Black, Buddy Murphy, Seth Rollins, and The Miz.

Twenty seven of the thirty competitors have been announced so far for the match, none of them from NXT.  This leaves room for an “alumni” or an NXT up-and-comer such as Keith Lee to make a surprise appearance.

Given all that, I’ll split it into three categories of potential winners and losers.

No Chance in Hell:

  • Rey Mysterio
  • Ricochet
  • Elias
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Otis
  • Tucker
  • Rusev
  • Bobby Lashley
  • Aleister Black
  • Buddy Murphy
  • Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Kofi Kingston
  • Big E
  • R-Truth
  • John Morrison
  • The Miz

Don’t Count ‘em Out:

  • AJ Styles
  • Randy Orton
  • Drew McIntyre
  • King Corbin
  • Kevin Owens
  • Samoa Joe

Odds-on Favorites:

  • Roman Reigns
  • Brock Lesnar
  • Braun Strowman
  • Seth Rollins

I’ll go ahead and pick one, based on my theory that the disruption it would cause if he were to win would cause a ratings spike on the next Monday Night Raw.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

WrestleMania 35 Postscript

IMG_3222

The view from my seats at MetLife Stadium for WrestleMania 35

I was fortunate to be able to attend WrestleMania 35 in person last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.  It certainly was the most unique spectacle I’ve seen at MetLife Stadium, and the excitement in the crowd was high.  Even though the overwhelming consensus among my viewing group was that the show was just too damn long, we all had a great time.  The show exceeded my expectations and I am sad that it is over.

Aside from notable one-off performances by returning veterans no longer on a full-time schedule such as Triple H, Batista, and Beth Phoenix, the content of the show focused on showcasing the vast number of talented performers the WWE has on the active roster.  This WrestleMania did not rely very heavily on featuring aging stars of the past.

Of course, the focus was on the women’s division, which historically participated in the WrestleMania main event for the first time ever.  The crowd was as hot as it could be for that match, considering most of us were in our seats for almost seven hours by the time the bell rang!

Professional wrestling is a story that never ends.  But WrestleMania is both a time of closure of careers and storylines, as well as a launching pad for new ones.  Based on the outcome of yesterday’s results, there is going to be a big shuffle at the top of the card in both the men’s and women’s divisions, centered around who now holds, and who will chase the top championships on both Raw and Smackdown.

Both Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are looking at long hiatuses, with Lesnar possibly making another UFC run, and Rousey having suffered a broken hand during last night’s main event.  The new title holders, Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch should get some clarity relatively soon with who they will be facing in their first title defenses.  The Universal Title picture is wide open right now, any number of Raw superstars are primed to step up and face Rollins for his newly won strap.

The situation with Lynch could simply reduce her feud from a three-way to two-way with just Charlotte Flair.  This would depend on if the Raw and Smackdown titles are united into one, or if she is forced to defend both.  The women’s roster isn’t as deep at the top as the men’s roster is, so the number of compelling competitors for Lynch isn’t nearly as deep as those that Rollins could face.

Kofi Kingston had the best night of his career.  He went from B+ player to A player at WrestleMania when he captured his first WWE Heavyweight Championship after 11 years of toiling in the mid-card.  What remains to be seen now is if WWE believes he can be a long-term “face of the company” or if he is a transitional campion who will drop the belt in short order at an upcoming pay per view.

There is a lot more to dissect from a show that contained sixteen matches.  There were a lot of winners and losers, and not just because of who won or lost their match last night.  A look at some of the losers and winners:

Losers

  • Ronda Rousey: Was on a tear in her first full year in WWE but suffered a badly broken hand during her match last night. She was rumored to be taking a hiatus sometime soon anyway, but this was a tough way to go out.
  • The Cruiserweight Division: If the best this division could do was a short match at the beginning of the pre-show, it is time to decide if the division is needed at all.
  • The Miz: The Miz is out of place as a babyface. Let’s hope that last night’s loss sends him back down the right path.
  • Kevin Owens: They couldn’t find anything for KO on this card? Why did they bring him back from injury before WrestleMania if they weren’t going to use him?  This is very peculiar, and I can only hope that they use this to get some heel heat on him in the immediate timeframe.
  • All participants in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: This match never helped anybody, and it never will. It was a consolation prize for most of the competitors who wouldn’t have been on the show otherwise.  Braun Strowman yet again didn’t get a very good spot at WrestleMania, let’s hope this trend isn’t permanent.
  • Rey Mysterio: Looked like a Barry Horowitz-type jobber on his way to getting squashed. Time to call it a career.
  • Drew McIntyre: Couldn’t pull out the victory in this match, the WWE needs to decide if it wants to get behind him or not.
  • Roman Reigns: Well, he won in life because he beat cancer and that’s what’s important. But he sucks just as bad as ever in the ring, delivering yet another snooze-fest of a WrestleMania match.  At least he didn’t ruin another main event.
  • The Undertaker: What has become of The Deadman? WrestleMania was his show for over two decades.  His WrestleMania win streak ended five years ago, and he appeared to retire two years ago when he lost to Roman Reigns and left his ring gear in the ring to end the night.  Well, he didn’t retire because last year he returned to WrestleMania to plant John Cena.  Then what?  No mention of him at all this year?  Don’t we deserve a little something better than a start-and-stop sendoff if his WrestleMania career is over?  And if it’s not over, why wasn’t he there last night?

Winners

  • Seth Rollins: Four years after he defeated Brock Lesnar for the title at WrestleMania 31, he managed to do it again last night. Look for a lengthy title run from this workhorse.
  • Brock Lesnar: Just because he lost the match doesn’t mean he wasn’t a winner. Another big payday for Brock, and when he wants another check, he’ll come right back to the WWE.  See you in Saudi Arabia, big guy.
  • Becky Lynch: Anytime you get your hand raised in the last match of the night at WrestleMania, you achieve professional wrestling immortality.
  • Elias: He can’t seem to ever get a match at a big show, but his routine of starting a song and being interrupted hasn’t gotten old yet. They will probably keep this up for some time to come.
  • John Cena: He didn’t have a WrestleMania match for the first time since he made his debut at WrestleMania XX, but he stole the show anyway in a surprise appearance in the Elias segment. He should return to his roots as a freestyle rapper more often.
  • Triple H: Returning from injury for the first time since October, The Cerebral Assassin delivered a punishing performance against his long-time friend Batista.
  • Batista: Congratulations to Batista on a great career as he announced his retirement on Twitter after the match. What a way to go out.  See you at a Hall of Fame ceremony very soon!
  • Ric Flair: This cat has nine lives! It was great to see him make a brief but effective run-in during the Batista vs. Triple H match.
  • Kurt Angle: Asking the crowd to serenade you with a “you suck” chant as you walk out of the stadium for the final time as an active performer is a form of retirement celebration that you would only see in the WWE!
  • Baron Corbin: He taunted the crowd that wanted John Cena in this match instead of him and went on to win. This is going to really help his development as a heel and help to move him forward.
  • Shane McMahon: The Best in the World showed yet again why he is WrestleMania’s best stuntman.
  • Samoa Joe: A quick and brutal victory, that was exactly the kind of WrestleMania performance Joe needed. He can build on this.
  • The Usos: Finally, finally, finally, they had a real WrestleMania moment. Any four-way tag team match has the potential for ugliness, but the Usos came through and looked impressive in their victory.
  • Daniel Bryan: This loss was really one of the biggest wins of his career. A year after his improbable return to professional wrestling following a brain injury, he participated in the best match of the night.  In any other year, this could have been the WrestleMania main event.
  • Kofi Kingston: As I said earlier, this was the best night of his career. The WWE handed him the football and he ran it in for a touchdown.IMG_3222

That is a wrap on WrestleMania 35 season, and I already can’t wait for WrestleMania 36 season next year.  In the meantime, there are a lot of potential happenings to come starting tonight.  I’d expect some NXT callups, as well as a “superstar shakeup” between Raw and Smackdown over the next few months.  And maybe The Undertaker comes back for another Saudi Arabia show!

WrestleMania 35 Analysis and Predictions

Me and Daniel Bryan

Myself with WWE Champion, The New Daniel Bryan and WrestleMania Axxess

East Rutherford, New Jersey will be the most important place in the world on Sunday!  WrestleMania week is here!  The excitement is in the air in my home state of New Jersey where WrestleMania 35 will be held at MetLife Stadium.  There is no better tailgating scene in the NFL than at Giants and Jets games, and my crew and I are going to extend our parking lot grilling skills to WrestleMania.

There has almost never been a more peculiar time to be a WWE fan.  Ratings for Raw have been at historic lows, despite the glut in talent from the NXT feeder system.  There has never been a deeper WWE roster, but creatively, the WWE can’t seem to get out of its own way.  In recognition of the low ratings and viewer apathy, Vince McMahon returned to WWE television and promised to shake things up.  The shakeup included firing both general managers of Raw and Smackdown just to insert the McMahon family back as authority figures (because we’ve never seen that movie before), and promising a bunch of NXT call ups that either didn’t show up (what’s with that Lars Sullivan guy?) or completely failed to get over (EC3, I had such high hopes for you!).

But hey, WrestleMania 35 is here and there are at least 15 matches crammed into what will be a six-plus hour show.  Time to get excited!  We have title matches, battle royals, grudge matches, farewell matches, you name it!  The possibilities are endless!  We have no idea if The Undertaker, John Cena, or most oddly Kevin Owens are even going to be on the show.  But if they do or they don’t, this card has all the makings of what can become a top-five-best WrestleMania of all time.

Since there are so many matches, unlike the WWE, I’m going to practice a little brevity with my blog and not take your entire day with it.  But, if you are betting the matches offshore, you’ll want to take my predictions to the bank!

Special Attractions

Alexa Bliss is going to be the WrestleMania host.  The way they’ve been playing things out on TV, she’s been more of a heel commissioner type by creating matches for superstars, rather than being a host.  Either way, this is going to play out somehow, and will likely dictate the direction and finish of at least one match on the card.

Elias is going to put on a special musical performance.  I expect him to insult the crowd and get interrupted, which perhaps will turn things into a spontaneous match.

Triple H. vs. Batista in a No Holds Barred match with Triple H’s career on the line

After having completely botching Batista’s last return to the WWE ahead of WrestleMania XXX, the WWE got this one exactly right.  He’s back on a hot, reality-based, and emotional angle against his former mentor, Triple H.  Of course, Triple H is the perfect foil for this type of angle, always able to get any kind of storyline over.

For the second straight WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium, Triple H’s career is on the line in a match.  Unlike WrestleMania XXIX where he survived to see another day by defeating Brock Lesnar, don’t expect HHH to duplicate that feat.  He has looked older and slower in recent years during his one-off matches, and he suffered a major injury when he last competed at WWE Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia last year.  Time for the Cerebral Assassin, The King of Kings, The Game, whatever you wanna call him, to finally hang up his boots.

Prediction: Winner, Batista

Shane McMahon vs. The Miz in a Falls Count Anywhere match

Grudge matches don’t get much better than this.  The rivalry between these two was built in a slow-burn angle that started with The Miz begging Shane to be his tag team partner so The Miz could make his dad proud of him.  So, when the team failed, it set the stage for a masterfully executed heel turn by Shane when he attacked The Miz from behind in front of The Miz’s father.

The falls count anywhere stipulation was added to this match to accent McMahon’s talents as a stuntman.  There will certainly be some big spot that includes him taking a death-defying leap and exploding through a large object at the bottom of his fall.

Prediction: Winner, Shane McMahon

Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Tony Nese in a singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

This match is a complete waste of time and shouldn’t be on the card.  I wouldn’t know either guy if he bit me on the ass, and I’m betting you wouldn’t, either.  Not gonna bother making a prediction for this match other than I’ll probably ride it out on the nacho stand line in MetLife Stadium.

Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin in Kurt Angle’s farewell match

Kurt Angle finished his career out well after his return to the WWE at WrestleMania 33.  He’s a Hall of Famer and was featured in a high-profile WrestleMania match at WM 34.  He’s going out on a high note with a feature farewell match at WrestleMania 35 against Baron Corbin.

This is a great spot for Baron Corbin, to be featured in Kurt Angle’s last match.  He’s a great heel judging by the fan backlash against him being in this match.  He knows he’s annoying and that people hate him, and he doesn’t care.

Wrestling tradition dictates that when someone leaves town, he puts the new guy over.  It never fails.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton

They’ve spent weeks on television trying to one-up the other on the microphone.  There’s no gimmick, no titles on the line in this match.  Just two of the best veteran professional wrestlers in the world in a heated grudge match.  It will be a treat to watch them trying to one-up the other in the WrestleMania ring.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Ah, the refuge of the damned.  The Sixth annual André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the match that exists to “get all the wrestlers on the card” and hasn’t really produced any memorable moments.  It hasn’t helped any careers either.

It is unfortunate that Braun Strowman is stuck in this match.  This guy never seems to have any luck when it comes to WrestleMania booking.  He’s got some silly feud going with two guys from Saturday Night Live that nobody has ever heard of.  And there are 27 other competitors in the match, none of whom are marquee names.  Boring.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

Samoa Joe (c) vs. Rey Mysterio in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

After a long wait, Samoa Joe finally gets a one-on-one matchup at WrestleMania.  Joe is one the most dependable heels on the roster and he is good at getting any storyline over.  This is a great spot for him to be in, and he should really be able to carry the inferior and undersized Rey Mysterio to an exciting match.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre

Roman Reigns isn’t going to be in a fifth straight WrestleMania main event and that is a good thing.  He wasn’t any good before he went away to get treated for Leukemia.  He didn’t improve during that time, but the human-interest story stemming from his cancer battle seems to have finally gotten him over with the fans.  That’s a long way to go to get over!

Drew McIntyre is believed to be a future WWE champion by many.  This is going to be the biggest match of his life, so expect him to deliver a brutal performance.

Prediction: Winner, Drew McIntyre

The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection (Bayley and Sasha Banks) (c) vs. The Divas of Doom (Beth Phoenix and Natalya) vs. The IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) vs. Nia Jax and Tamina in a fatal four-way tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection is far and away the worst name for a tag team the WWE has ever come up with.  I can’t even think of something that compares.  Bayley has the poorest gimmick in the WWE.  Just no to this whole thing.

Prediction: The team with the dumbest name wins

Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Finn Bálor in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Finn Bálor is a scrawny little twerp who smiles too much.  His Demon King gimmick is lame and illogical.  I don’t get what the big deal with this guy is.  Bobby Lashley is the total package and has already participated in one of the highest profile WrestleMania matches of all time when he represented future WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump.  Bobby won his match, giving them the right to shave Vince McMahon’s head bald.  Expect another big performance out of Lashley this Sunday.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Bobby Lashley

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

I love WrestleMania, but there are way too many matches on this card.  If this match wasn’t on the show, not a single person in the world would think any less of WrestleMania.

The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson) (c) vs. Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Hey, good for Hawkins and Ryder to be featured in a straight-up tag team match in a crowded card.  They haven’t done anything to distinguish themselves lately, but hey, here’s a chance!  Well, they’ll probably get smoked in a quick match, but you never know.

Prediction: Winners and still champions, The Revival

The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso) (c) vs. Ricochet and Aleister Black vs. The Bar (Cesaro and Sheamus) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev in a fatal four-way tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

There’s a lot to unpack in this match.  To summarize the most important things you need to know about it:

  • The Usos: Veteran tag team that only made their first main-card WrestleMania appearance last year, only to get squashed and lose the titles. They want to put on a better show this year.
  • Ricochet and Aleister Black: Recent NXT callups that were randomly made into a tag team. They are hot right now and have a great deal of upside.
  • Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev: Why are these guys a team? In fact, why is Nakamura still in WWE and why is Rusev constantly cooling off every time he gets hot?
  • The Bar: After middling singles careers, these two have turned into one of the best tag teams we’ve ever seen.

Prediction: Winners and new champions, The Bar

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

Big Brock Lesnar continues to dominate the competition on Monday Night Raw.  That is, when he decides to show up!  Much to the chagrin of most fans, a part-timer is WWE Universal Champion.  Of course, none of them realize that there’s money in getting them to hate the guy, no matter what the reason.

As good as Seth Rollins is, expect Vince McMahon to continue to troll you all with a Lesnar win.  He can then go on to defend the title the next time the WWE heads to Saudi Arabia this year.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Brock Lesnar

The New Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Kofi Kingston in a singles match for the WWE Championship

After a three-year layoff due to a brain injury, Daniel Bryan has been firing on all cylinders since his return a year ago.  Questions about his working style or the WWE’s commitment were quickly squashed when he became a heel champion in 2018.  The WWE has never committed to him more than they have right now.  Daniel Bryan is at his best when he works heel and is a breath of fresh air to see him shun his “Yes Chant” and trust in his ability to make the crowd hate him.

Kofi Kingston is playing out a role reversal with Daniel Bryan from Bryan’s lead in to WrestleMania XXX. The fans wanted Bryan to get a title shot so WWE creative asserted the storyline of him being labeled a “B+ player” who was being oppressed by the McMahon Family and had to earn his shot to main event WrestleMania.

Kofi caught lightning in a bottle in a gauntlet match on Smackdown that he wasn’t even supposed to be in. Filling in for the injured Ali, he put in a nearly hour long effort until finally losing to AJ Styles. After 11 years of toiling in the mid-card, Kofi was embraced by the fans who demanded that he get a title shot at WrestleMania. Since WWE creative had some time to kill, and apparently, they were out of new ideas, they replayed the exact same “B+ player who is being screwed by the McMahon Family” angle on Kofi. Of course, Kofi persevered, and now here he is in the biggest match of his life.

This match most certainly should be the best match of the night.  These are two of the best workers on the roster, and for the first time in 11 years, Kofi will go from a B+ player to an A player.  He’s still going to lose, though.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, The New Daniel Bryan

Ronda Rousey (c; Raw) vs. Charlotte Flair (c; SmackDown) vs. Becky Lynch Winner takes all triple threat match for both the WWE Raw Women’s Championship and the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

They said it couldn’t be done, but for the firs time in WWE history, women will headline the show in the main event.  As my faithful readers now, I am no fan of what is formerly known as the “Diva’s Division”, having suffered years of sub-par bra-and-panties matches, and other waste of time segments of the like.

That was then and this is now, and the WWE has fully committed to making the Women’s Division equal to the Men’s Division.   Although I’m still not really a fan of most of the division, I have to say that two of the best they have are in this match, in Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair.

I was convinced Rousey was going to absolutely suck when she burst onto the scene last year and I was surprised at how well she took to the business.  Her promos are raw and personal, and she is a workhorse in the ring.  I was initially interested in Charlotte Flair because she is Ric Flair’s daughter.  But she went on to distinguish herself almost immediately and is an imposing figure in the ring.

I am not sold on Becky Lynch.  She seems to have gotten over in the same manner as Daniel Bryan five years ago, and Kofi Kingston this year.  Her performances aren’t the best, and she is going to be overshadowed by the other two superior performers in this match.

Even I must hand it to these three.  From a division that was lucky to have one match on the WrestleMania card just six years ago, to the division that is in the main event, they certainly earned this opportunity.  I’m not sure what to make of this match, and the crowd is going to be exhausted after sitting through fifteen matches prior to this one.  The are going to have to bring their best in order to win over this crowd.  Expect them to try something special that we won’t forget.

Prediction: Winner, and new double-champion, Charlotte Flair

That’s as brief as I could make it!  I will see you at the show!

 

Guest WrestleMania Spot

by Ned Moraghan, special to The North Jersey Nonconformist

WrestleMania 35 is this weekend.  This will be the fourth time I will be attending in person and the first that I’m taking my kids with me.  I’m very much looking forward to going.  I also am trying to figure out which matches I will remember years from now.  At WrestleMania 18, it was Hogan vs Rock.   Hogan was supposed to be heel but we were going to have none of it.  We nearly willed Hogan to victory but he came up short.  I still remember being exhausted at the end of the match.  Of all the sporting events, concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime, I’ve never been a part of a crowd like that.  For WrestleMania XX, both main events were awesome.  I also vividly remember Lesnar vs Goldberg getting booed out of the building.  Punk vs Taker stole the show at WrestleMania 29.  The irony is that it’s Punk’s last WrestleMania match as well as the last match that Taker won in the Streak.

Now to figure out which matches have a chance of having that WrestleMania moment.

  • Angle vs Corbin – I’m very torn on this.  I’ve following Angle’s career and been at some of his most memorable matches (first title win against the Rock, street fight against Shane, WrestleMania XX against Eddie).  Angle’s matches were always must see.  He was an Olympic gold medalist and picked up pro wrestling so easily.  However, he’s now 50 and has definitely lost a step.  This is his retirement match and he’s facing Baron Corbin.  That is a huge disappointment. Ric Flair got HBK for his final match.  HBK got Taker.  I’m glad that I get to see his last match but I wish it was against a better opponent.  Winner: Corbin.
  • Miz vs Shane – The Miz is right, he is must see TV.  I’m not aware of any current wrestler that is better than the Miz both in the ring and on the mic.  He gets Shane who is now 49.  AJ Styles carried Shane to a decent Wrestlemania match.  I believe that Miz can too.  The falls count anywhere guarantees some crazy spot will happen, hopefully the rest of the match is good too.  Winner: Miz
  • HHH vs Batista – Really don’t see the need for this match.  Winner: HHH
  • Battle Royal(s) – The second year in a row they are wasting Braun Strowman.  Hopefully they move him over to Smackdown to face Daniel Bryan.  As for the women’s side, they have also wasted Asuka who can actually put on a decent match.  Winners:  Strowman and Asuka
  • Bryan vs Kofi – This match could steal the show.  Both are great workers and here is Kofi’s first chance to shine on the grandest stage.  Bryan’s heel turn has rejuvenated his career.  I think Bryan hangs onto the title for a little bit longer.  Winner: Bryan
  • Styles vs Orton – A sleeper pic for match of the night.  Styles has put on some classic matches since joining WWE.  I think Orton has one more classic still in him.  Winner: Styles
  • Reigns vs McIntyre – I’m happy that Reigns has beaten leukemia.  I’m also happy that Reigns is not in the main event this year.  Raw is lacking some top heels.  Hopefully, they let McIntyre become the monster heel.  Winner: McIntyre.
  • Lesnar vs Rollins – Similar to Angle, I also in person for Lesnar’s first title win, also against the Rock.  His part time status hurts more than helps.  The Universal championship should be defended at every ppv and for years now that hasn’t happened.  It’s time to let Rollins run with the title one more time.  Winner: Rollins
  • Rousey vs Flair vs Lynch – the WWE has done a great job booking this match.  The seeds were planted at Summerslam when Lynch beat the crap out of Flair after losing the title match.  That was the spark that pushed this feud into high gear. SummerSlam was also Rousey’s first title win.  I thought that Rousey was going to be the female equivalent of Angle. Unfortunately she is the female equivalent of Lesnar.  One year in and she’s already burnt out.  Lynch is going to win, the question is will it be the match of the night.

The Most Important Night of My Life: Metallica at The Roseland Ballroom

The panic set in the moment I heard the news. The announcement came on 92.3 KROCK in New York that Metallica was going to play The Roseland Ballroom on November 24, 1998. How on earth were we going to get tickets? We had just seen Metallica earlier that year at a nearly-sold out Giant’s Stadium, but the Roseland only held about 3,000. Surely demand for tickets would far outstrip the supply.

There wasn’t ticketmaster.com at that time. Reliable Internet service wasn’t even a guarantee, if you had a 56k dial up connection to a local ISP, you were ahead of the curve. The ticket buying process at Ticketmaster left you with two options that were mostly a crapshoot, and often left you less than satisfied at the end.

The first option was to get a wristband at a local Ticketmaster outlet. That wristband gave you the right to line up outside the same outlet before tickets went on sale. So, you had to wait on line twice, once for the wristband, and then again to buy tickets. The wristband was no guarantee of actually getting tickets. If the line was slow moving, the show could sell out before you made it to the ticket counter.

There was a Ticketmaster outlet at Take One Video in Hoboken, New Jersey where I was living at the time. Take One had a sizable selection of VHS movie rentals, and a much larger section of VHS porn rentals to go along with the Ticketmaster counter. A business in 1998 that specialized in porn and ticket sales must have been a license to print money. Little did the owners know how fated the entire business model was at the time. Our ticket buying experience at the Take One Video was mixed at best.

As I was finishing up my senior year at Stevens Institute of Technology in 1996, Ozzy Osbourne announced he was returning to the road after having had retired four years earlier. One of the stops on the tour was near us in East Rutherford, New Jersey, at what was then known as the Brendan Byrne Arena.

Take One decided to forgo the wristband option for this on-sale, so we had to wait on line outside for tickets. With no other option available, we decided to stay up all night and got on line at about 1 AM so we could be the first ones on line at 9 AM when the tickets went on sale.

The ticket counter at Take One was run by an angry-looking woman who had little regard for politeness and customer service. Perhaps years of working for a company that constantly frustrated customers with a sub-par buying experience, and having to listen to their negative feedback shaped her nasty attitude.

She asked us where we wanted our seats to be. I said “Well, we’re the first on line so we’d like front row, please.” She sold us tickets for the lower bowl on the opposite side of the stage. Ozzy looked like an ant. So much for being first on line.

A few months later, KISS announced that all four original members were going to reunite and they were going to tour one last time and that they were going to play at Madison Square Garden. This time Take One did give out wristbands. However, even with our wristbands, the show sold out while we were on line. Later that day, we were listening to KROCK, and they announced that five more shows were added, but they had already sold out after we left Take One. Such was how things worked back then, the flow of information and the inefficient in-person buying process often left you skunked.

The second option for buying tickets was to call Ticketmaster’s 1-800 number. This option was very risky and fraught with potential problems. You would have to call the number and wait on hold until the operator picked you up and you could order tickets.

There were two problems with the phone option. The first is that the show could sell out while you were on hold. The second problem, more insidiously, was that if the operator picked up too soon, and tickets hadn’t gone on sale yet, he would hang up on you and you’d have to call back.

There was some common advice on how to deal with the problem of being too early that we practiced. Say that tickets for a Nine Inch Nails show went on sale at 10 AM. You’d call Ticketmaster at 9:45 and hope they picked up at 10 on the nose. If they picked up early, you’d have to keep them talking but not buy anything, while watching the time. As soon as it was 10 AM, you’d immediately change the subject and ask for Nine Inch Nails tickets. For example: “Uh, good morning. How are you today. I’d uh…. like to know if there are any New Jersey Devils tickets for sale in the month of November. Could you please read off all of the home dates? Uh… none of those look good for me… and I changed my mind… uh… I’m a New York Knicks fan, do they have any home games in December? What about January?” As soon as the clock struck 10, you’d quickly say “Check that, I’d like 4 tickets for Nine Inch Nails at Madison Square Garden on December first!”.

Sometimes that method would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. Wait times would vary, the operators at Ticketmaster could be dicks and hang up on you anyway, it was a nerve-wracking experience.

I was just starting in my career as a programmer on Wall Street. I didn’t have a great footing at the office and was still trying to prove myself. The Metallica tickets went on sale at 5 PM on a Friday so I didn’t have the option of taking time off of work to wait on line. The only thing I could do was try method #2 and call in.

On the day tickets went on sale, I was probably as nervous as I had been all year. In my mind, I went over the plan of what to say if they answered too soon. I also agonized over the decision about what time to call, such that I could maximize my odds of getting tickets. If I called too late, they could sell out before they picked up my call.

I decided to call at exactly 4:55 and waited on hold, while shaking like a leaf. The seconds ticked by and seemed like centuries. I could feel my chances of getting tickets shrinking by the minute. I should have called earlier and trusted myself to keep the operator busy until 5:00.

The clock struck 5:00 and within a matter of seconds, the hold music went dead and the operator greeted me! Now I had to talk fast so he could punch in the order before tickets sold out! Skipping the pleasantries, I could barely form the words quickly enough: “IneedtwoticketsforMetallicaatTheRoselandBallroomonNovember24!!!!”. No longer just shaking like a leaf, I was outright trembling in my seat. Were they sold out already? Were we going to miss the show?

Another eon went by before the operator said “Yes, we have two tickets for the show. Can I get your credit card number?” I was too stunned to think straight, I just read out my credit card number and gave him my mailing address and hung up.

It was over! We were going to see Metallica play at the Roseland Ballroom! All the worry and anxiety about buying tickets was for naught! This was the luckiest day of my life!

I got a hold of myself and called Bobby and told him we were going to the show. I don’t think he could believe our luck, either. I called my other friend Ed and asked him how he made out in his own quest for tickets. He lived in central Jersey and went to a local Ticketmaster in person to wait on line. Not only did he get a pair of tickets from waiting on line, but there were so few people at his local TM outlet that he got back on line and got two more. Maybe I wasn’t as lucky as I thought I was, but no matter. We had a crew now, this was going to be sweet.

This was going to be a different kind of Metallica show. They were releasing an album that week named “Garage Inc.” and it was a double-disc compilation of cover songs. The mini-tour to support the album was going to be played exclusively in small venues, and the set list was going to be comprised entirely of cover songs from the new album. There wasn’t going to be a single Metallica-penned song performed during the show.

Too add to the excitement, the show was going to be played in a small theater. The band, which normally played in large arenas or stadiums, wanted to use the small theater as an analogy to “Metallica’s Garage”, celebrating their beginnings as a garage band that played cover songs. This would be an extremely rare opportunity to see Metallica in such a small venue.

The Roseland Ballroom was a special place for rock and roll fans. As the name implies, it was originally a ballroom, and it was converted into a multi-purpose venue. If one of your favorite bands played there, you had to be in attendance. We had already seen a number of great shows there for bands such as Anthrax, The Misfits, Ministry, and a nascent Foo Fighters to name a few. It was a much more intimate venue than a large arena, or a cavernous football stadium. You felt like you could reach out and touch the band.

When you walked into the Roseland, there was a bar on the right and the general admission dance floor area was to the left, separated by a railing that looked like it could have belonged to the ice-skating rink that was once there. Along the dance floor, there was an aisle that traveled to the left side of the stage. Along the aisle, there was a built-in upholstered bench. It was sticky from end to end, and smelled like decades of cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke, and stale Budweiser. The room oozed rock and roll.

The acoustics in the Roseland Ballroom were top notch. The music was contained within the room, unlike an arena which could echo and reverberate. Everything was played at ear-splitting decibel levels, and each note was crystal-clear.

Mobile phones were just becoming commercially viable products, and not all of us had them. There was a very high likelihood of getting separated during a show at Roseland and we wouldn’t be able to communicate. So, every time we went to a show, we had to pick a “spot” to find each other when it was over.

On the night of the show, the anticipation was too much to take. I was working in midtown Manhattan at the time, not too far from the Roseland Ballroom on 52nd street. But I’d have to leave work, go home to Hoboken and change into something more appropriate for the show, meet my friends, and come back into the city.

I needed to get out of work early to make this all happen. The only thing I could think of was a complete lie. It was two days before Thanksgiving so I told my boss that I had to pick up my brother from the airport. True, he was coming back from college in Ohio for the weekend, but I wasn’t going to get him. I had big plans!

To add to the uniqueness of the experience, MTV had announced they were going to live broadcast the concert. We’d get a chance to watch it again when it was over! We asked our friend Chris to please make a VHS recording for us before we left town.

We got to the Roseland, bursting with assignment. We walked in and picked our “spot” to meet after the show. It was right at the railing divider between the dance floor and the bar. We headed down the aisle towards stage left. The crowd was densely packed at that point, and it got tighter the closer you got to the stage. We pushed in as close as we could, maybe 6 or7 people from the rail, and held on for the show. While we were waiting, we caught the end of a performance by “Battery”, a Metallica cover band. In a bit of a humorous twist, the only Metallica songs that were going to be played that night were by a band other than Metallica.

We looked up to the balcony above the aisle on the left. Scott Ian from Anthrax was there, waiting along with the rest of us for Metallica to begin.

A normal Metallica show begins with a recording of “Ecstasy of Gold” as the lights go off. Metallica fans are conditioned to go berserk in anticipation of Metallica hitting the stage when this happens. The song ends, Metallica jumps on the stage, and proceeds to launch into one of their heavy songs, and it is game on. Lights, pyro, video, and heavy music take over the venue.

This night would be much different. The production was minimal and the stage was small. It was just going to be the four of them with some standard stage lighting, and no other visual effects. The lights went off and Metallica walked on to the stage. James started to play something that was somewhat unrecognizable at first, until it became apparent that he was playing a modified version of the bridge from “Creeping Death”. The rest of the band joined in, and started a “Die! Die! Die!” chant that was a staple of their live show since the song’s debut on “Ride the Lightning”.

The crowd joined in with the chant when they abruptly stopped and tore into a version of “Die, Die My Darling” by The Misfits! Bobby and I had just seen this song performed by The Misfits themselves to close out the show at The Irving Plaza just a few months prior to this. And Metallica started their show with the same song!

The crowd went apeshit crazy. We started to mosh and to crash into each other and it became apparent we were going to have to defend ourselves to avoid injury. Someone of my 5′ 6″ stature has enough trouble just seeing over people at a general admission concert, but when people much bigger than you are crashing into and landing on your head all night, it becomes an outright hazard to stand so close to the stage.

James Hetfield struck a heroic pose as he stood center stage, playing his low-slung guitar at blistering speeds with what appeared to be minimal effort. The timbre of his voice was in perfect form, every word he formed was like a punch in the face.

Jason Newstead was closest to us, and was his usual ball of energy. He sang harmony with James while playing bass and bouncing across the stage.

Kirk Hammett was on stage right. He had to have his appendix ripped out a week or so before the show and we weren’t sure he could even perform. Whatever happened between then and the show worked, because Kirk was back on his feet and ready to shred.

Lars Ulrich was even more ebullient than usual. Perhaps the departure from the normal Metallica setlist sparked his mood, but you could read the excitement on his face as he hammered away on the drums.

James welcomed the crowd to “Metallica’s Garage” and the band started playing a cover of the eponymous “Blitzkrieg”. The band was gaining energy, and the crowd raised its intensity to match. It was getting rougher and rougher in the crowd. People were pushing me in every direction, and crowd surfers (a dangerous practice that I never understood) kept landing on my head. I was covered in other people’s sweat and hair and had nowhere to put my arms because of the tight quarters.

The next song was “The Small Hours” which was a slower but heavy song. By the time it was over and “The Prince” started, I was gassed. I was yelling and screaming with the band, but becoming increasingly concerned about my own safety. This had never happened at a concert before, I had always been able to battle my way up front and hang on for the whole show. At some point, the crowd surged to the left, and it was as if I got spit out like a watermelon seed and ended up in the aisle again. I retreated to the back of venue near the railing.

I tried to catch my breath and watch the show from in back. A haze hung over the crowd from all the heat and cigarette smoke. James said a few words about how much of an influence Black Sabbath was before beginning to play “Sabra Cadabra”. I was out of harm’s way, but very far away from the band. I started to doubt myself. Was I too old for this kind of thing? I was a week shy of my 24th birthday, after all!

Metallica moved on to a traditional Irish song, once covered by one of their influences, Thin Lizzy. Then James told the crowd they needed to clear out some elbow room for the next one, and launched into their take on Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy”. I could see the crowd moving in every direction, and not slowing down a bit. I started to get angry at myself. What was I doing here? After being so lucky to get tickets for such a special night, why was I standing so far away? Then I answered my own question “No, I’m not too old for this, I’m only 23! What the hell is wrong with me?”

I had to get back up to the front. I marched up the aisle and pushed my way back through the crowd as close to the stage as I could. I found every gap between people I could and filled it in very quickly. Before I knew it, there were only a few people between me and the stage barrier. I found a second wind and hung on for the rest of the show.

It seems like a blur now, but I finished out the evening with a combination of exuberance and defending myself against injury. When I looked up, I couldn’t believe how close I was to James Hetfield and Jason Newstead. My previous two Metallica concerts were seated, so I had never had this perspective with my favorite band before. These were images that were burned into my mind forever.

Metallica blazed through the rest of the set, playing covers of more of their favorites like The Misfits, Budgie, and Motörhead, finishing with their classic “Overkill”.

It was over and Metallica left the stage. The crowd started to separate and head to the exits, and I could walk and breathe again. The exiting crowd revealed a dance floor covered in crushed plastic cups. Completely spent, I headed to the meetup spot to find Bobby and Ed. We were all amazed at what we had seen.

Nothing in my concert viewing past could compare to this show. The combination of the magnitude of the band, the intimate nature of the venue, and the unique set list made it the most special concert I have ever seen. It was the greatest night of my life.

With a hint of sadness, we headed home. While were elated at the performance, we knew that it was over and we might not have an opportunity like this ever again.

The next day, we asked Chris if we could have the tape so we could watch it over the weekend. He said he wanted to watch something else (at the time, you could only tune your cable box to one show at a time, so you couldn’t record something it wasn’t tuned to) so he didn’t record it. Thanks for nothing, dick!

We were somewhat bummed that we wouldn’t get to watch the show on replay and look for ourselves in the crowd. And I would have loved to see Metallica play their set from the comfort of my couch, not being beaten by mosh-pitters from all sides. Ordinary people didn’t carry recording devices with them at the time, and video streaming really didn’t exist on most websites. There didn’t appear to be any way for us to get a hold of the footage.

Looking back on the last two decades, what we didn’t realize at the time was how much the technology curve in the world was going to explode as devices became more connected and mobile, and how Metallica would grow and change along with it. And how the ticket buying process was going to evolve as well, but not to the point that it was would become a stress-free operation!

I don’t recall the exact time that Ticketmaster.com came into existence and started selling tickets on-line, thus obsoleting the awful in-person or over-the-phone methods of buying tickets. On October 31, 1999, I joined the MetClub so I could be eligible for pre-sales for Metallica tickets. I renewed my membership each year until they stopped collecting money to be in the club, and this proved to be one of the more fortuitous decisions I have ever made. We were now able to buy tickets from a computer, and buy them earlier than the general public, so this became a game-changer.

In 1999, Metallica was set to release an album called “S&M” which was double-entendre that stood for “Symphony and Metallica”. It was recorded live with the backing of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It contained a selection of songs from their back catalog, along with two new ones.

They announced a mini-tour to accompany this new album, only consisting of two shows. One was in Berlin, Germany, and the other was on November 23, 1999 at Madison Square Garden, almost a year to the day from the Roseland Ballroom show.

I don’t have a specific recollection of buying tickets for this show. That leads me to believe that it was a successful Ticketmaster.com purchase with my fan club credentials. For a short while, it became easier to buy tickets for shows. We ended up in the upper level at Madison Square Garden on the left side of the stage. It would be yet another unique Metallica show as they had an entire orchestra back them up!

Unfortunately, the acoustics for this show were all out of whack due to the orchestra having to be heard in the mix. They turned the core four Metallica members down in the mix, and it was hard to hear them. The loudest sound in the building was the crowd singing along with every word! At one point, we started a “Turn it up!” chant, but that didn’t help much.

After intermission (an intermission at a Metallica show?), the sound seemed to improve, someone must have made some adjustments to the mix and the show finished out strongly. This wasn’t the same as Roseland, but it was another memorable Metallica night. KROCK had broadcast the show live and replayed it several times over the next week. We were able to listen back to parts of it several times.

Ticketmaster online ticket purchases started to pick up steam. We saw a reunited Iron Maiden in 2000 on their Brave New World tour, and had heard that their show at Madison Square Garden set a record for the highest percentage of tickets sold online in ticketmaster.com history. Just two years after having to sweat out the Roseland ticket buying process, the old paradigm was effectively dead. You could easily buy tickets from home as long as you had a PC and an Internet connection.

The ticket buying process wasn’t the only thing that was rapidly changing around us. FM radio and physically copies of recorded media had competition from digital music. Digital music became very easy to steal over peer-to-peer networks that allowed you to pay to download copies of songs from other users on the network.

Metallica was horrified at this practice. They weren’t upset at the fact that people were listening to their music without paying for it. They were angered by the fact that some companies took away their control of how their music was being distributed and sold, and that they were profiting from it with no redistribution of funds to the recording artists.

Their complaints were misunderstood by the fans following the actions they took against the most visible of the peer-to-peer companies, Napster. Lars Ulrich testified against file sharing companies to the United States Senate. Metallica sued Napster, providing them a list of every single user who ever downloaded a Metallica song and demanding that they be banned from the service.

Other artists would eventually follow suit and also take action against file sharing firms. But Metallica was vilified by many because they “sued their own fans”. These allegations would dog the band for years, especially after Napster shut down under legal pressure.

This was the beginning of a tumultuous time for the band, but they were still road warriors, traveling the world and putting on the best show in heavy metal. We used our MetClub privileges to easily purchase tickets to see them on the Tattoo the Earth tour at Giants Stadium on July 20, 2000. Unlike the Giants Stadium show in 1998, this one had general admission on the field level. We were able to fight our way to the front of the stage. It didn’t have the intimate feel of the Roseland Ballroom, but we were close enough when the band members wandered towards where we were standing. In a nod to the success of “Garage Inc.”, four of the final five songs on the set list were covers. The final one was “Die, Die My Darling”!

What we didn’t know at the time, was this was the last time we were going to see Jason Newstead perform with Metallica. On January 17, 2001, they released a statement on metallica.com that he was leaving the band for personal reasons. I first heard about it listening to KROCK and rushed to a computer to read the statement on their website.

I couldn’t believe it at the time. What kind of idiot quits the best band ever? What, was he going to find a better gig somewhere else? His entry into the band was born out of tragedy, following the untimely death of 24-year-old Cliff Burton. But he and the band had made the most out of the situation and had achieved an amazing amount of recording and touring success together. How could they let this happen?

Shortly thereafter, Playboy published an article based on four separate interviews done with the band members. The article revealed a fractured band, who’s members took shots at each other and seemed to want to be apart from each other. It was also revealed that the reason Jason left because he had become fed up with James and just wanted to get away. James wasn’t going to budge, it was his band and he wanted to be in charge. So, after fourteen years with Metallica, Jason was gone and the band was left without a bass player.

Things got worse from there. On July 19, 2001, James Hetfield left the band to enter rehab. He stayed away from the band and his family until December that year. All Metallica operations ground to a halt, and they didn’t know if they were even going to continue.

Fortunately for everybody involved, James returned to the band and they began to record a new album in 2002. We would find out later what had really happened. But in the meantime, with long time producer Bob Rock on bass, Metallica recorded “St. Anger” and got ready to get back on the road.

St. Anger was a huge departure for Metallica, it didn’t sound anything like any of their previous albums. Most notably, there were no guitar solos in any of the songs. It wasn’t received well by critics and most fans believe it does not age well. I might be in the minority, but I enjoyed it. I gave them credit for trying something different. I always felt that if people didn’t compare it to Metallica’s earlier works and looked at it in isolation, they’d think it was an interesting record.

Either way, the band needed a bass player so it could resume touring. They held tryouts for experienced bass players. They chose former Ozzy Osbourne sold band member, Robert Trujillo to join the band, the best living bass player in the world. Metallica was whole again and ready to go.

Metallica announced a Summer Sanitarium tour, and once again, there was a stop at Giants Stadium. I was still dutifully paying my MetClub dues and we got tickets for the July 8, 2003 show. It would be our first Metallica concert in three years and our first with Robert on the bass.

After their long hiatus from the road, and all the internal and external strife, we weren’t sure what to expect from this new lineup. As usual, we fought our way to the front of the stage and waited for the band to hit. By the time they tore into “Battery”, we knew they were back and ready to kick ass again. They played only two songs from St. Anger and stuck mainly to their back catalog for the 16-song set they played that night. It was a hot and sticky New Jersey summer night in the mosh pit for an unforgettable Metallica show.

I went on to see them twice more on this touring cycle. In 2004 they played a few shows in the area as part of the Madly in Anger With The World Tour. I brought my brother to see them play at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY on April 20, 2004. I was working at Banco Sandander in midtown Manhattan and had him drive into the city to pick me up after work and drive us to the show. After sitting in over two hours of traffic to get there, I vowed to never go to a show at Nassau Coliseum again.

But it was no matter when we got there. It was my first time seeing Metallica in an arena show with a center-stage setup. The center stage experience felt more immersive and intimate than an end stage. There were more ways to get to the front (of course, again using my MetClub privileges to get general admission tickets) and to get close to the band.

I remember specifically my brother being fascinated with Kirk’s guitar solo, which he played right in front of us. My brother is a guitar player and it was his first Metallica show. It was pretty cool for us to watch the second-best guitar player of all time go to work, just a dozen or so feet away from us.

On this tour, Metallica offered a new innovation to their fans. They started selling digital downloads of their concerts on their website. You could now own a permanent copy of the show you attended for a nominal fee. From this show on, I purchased the recording of every Metallica show I’ve been to.

On October 22, 2004, a number of us saw Metallica play at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. This was the first concert I attended with a digital camera. It was still a novelty to have a portable digital camera in your pocket (the smartphone with a good camera was still a few years away), but it was another way to make some permanent memories of the show.

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October 22, 2004: First time bringing a camera to a Metallica concert

The popularity of Metallica was still increasing, and with several of my friends getting tickets through the fan club, we were able to bring a sizeable crew together for this one. This was the stuff memories were made of, getting to see Metallica play with your friends.

This show was fourteen years ago, and just the other day, we were telling stories of what it was like to try to grab guitar picks that the band showered the crowd with after the show. Ned was particularly adept at diving for them as they landed on the ground. I also joked with Ed (a Philadelphia Eagles fan) about how that was the day he showed off his new Terrell Owens tattoo, which didn’t go over very well in Giants country.

Also, in 2004, we finally got a glimpse into what really happened to the band when Jason quit and James entered rehab. The band had been followed by a film crew during that time, and they filmed a feature release movie “Some Kind of Monster”. The producers originally thought they were going to capture a band during the creative process of writing and recording an album. Instead, they had a gripping perspective of a fractured band that was on the brink of demise.

The documentary gave us all of the details following the infamous Playboy interview of what the band was doing during its recording and touring hiatus. Things were so bad that when James came back from rehab, their management company hired a therapist to help repair their relationships with each other. Ultimately, they were able to finish the album, hire Robert Trujillo, and get back on the road. It was an inspirational tale of triumph in the face of adversity. It would ultimately go on to be the second greatest movie ever made.

The business of popular music and the recording and touring industry were undergoing a rapid metamorphosis in the 2000’s. Despite Napster’s demise, there were plenty of other options to illegally download music. People were generally no longer buying recorded music, preferring to steal it. At the same time, the technology that made it possible to buy tickets online was now being exploited by ticket resellers using automated bots to snap up tickets. Ticket prices began to soar in the aftermarket. Concert promoters and sports team owners started to see how much people were willing to pay in the aftermarket for live events and started to raise the price of tickets in the primary market. It was getting more expensive to go to shows, and harder to get tickets to them.

I kept paying my MetClub dues each year so I wouldn’t get shut out of good seats for their next tour. Unfortunately, Metallica didn’t tour anywhere near us for five years following the October 2004 show. Year after year would go by while they would just do a summer tour in Europe and nothing, or very little, in the US. My consolation prize was the cool t-shirt the MetClub sent me every year. I still have all of them.

The wait for any new music, or a tour announcement was becoming agonizing. We still went to see all of our other favorite bands play when they toured, and were regulars at Ozzfest every year when it came to New Jersey, but the best of the best was nowhere nearby.

Finally, in 2009, word came down that they Metallica was going to release a new album, produced by Rick Rubin. Information was vague and spotty, but Rubin made it be known that he wanted to bring the band back to its roots as a thrash metal band. This was a much different direction than Bob Rock had taken them during his tenure as Metallica’s producer.

We rented a house near the beach in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, during the summer, and spent our weekends and days off of work there. The best way to listen to music at the beach at the time was to bring a boom box that played CDs full of MP3 files, or to tune it to FM radio. The local rock station, WRAT, announced they were going to debut a new Metallica song!

We waited patiently at the beach for it to come on, not knowing what to expect. Was it going to be another let down like the songs from “Load” and “Reload” from the mid 90’s? The band hadn’t turned out much original music since then, and what they had didn’t sound much like their classics.

When “The Day That Never Comes” hit the airwaves, we were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was their best original song since the eponymous “Metallica” was released in 1991. It sounded exactly what a Metallica song should sound like. A foreboding intro, layered guitars and bass, punishing drums, time changes, and angry lyrics. And of course, it finished off with a blistering guitar solo. James Hetfield’s voice was at its prime. The greatest singer of all time never sounded better.

This would turn out to be the last time for me that FM radio was the first place I heard a new Metallica song. From then on streaming services would take over.

Now that the release date for the “Death Magnetic” album was set, we knew that a tour announcement was imminent. All those years of paying those MetClub dues would finally pay off and we’d be set for tickets. Unfortunately, this was where technology completely boned me.

I heard on the radio that Metallica had announced two dates as part of the World Magnetic Tour at the Prudential Center in Newark and that tickets were about to go on sale to the general public. Why hadn’t I gotten an e-mail from the MetClub with the pre-sale information? I went to metallica.com and saw that the fan club presale had already started! What the hell?

I went to my junk e-mail folder, and there it was. In an effort to combat spam, Yahoo mail implemented an AI filter to separate out all the messages it thought I didn’t want to see into a folder I never monitored. It decided that the e-mail that I had waited FOUR YEARS for should be classified as spam and filed it away for me. Dagnabit! I never had these problems when I had to wait on line outside the old Take One Video!

We had to scramble. There was still some time left to buy tickets before the general public could buy theirs. Luckily, the MetClub didn’t come close to selling out the Prudential Center. We bought tickets to two shows on January 31 and February 1, 2009. We decided on general admission for the first show, and seats for the second one, in the 19th row in the center of the stage.

But prior to these shows, after it was already sold out, some of the guys wanted to hit the show at the Wahcovia Center in Philadelphia on January 17. Had I gotten my MetClub e-mail on time, I could have gotten choice tickets, but we were left to fend for ourselves in the aftermarket. Miraculously, I managed to pick up a pair of seats in the lower bowl for cheap, apparently some girl just wanted to unload them, but she wasn’t a savvy ticket scalper. But there was a catch, they were will call and in her boyfriend’s name. I had to pay her and then hope it wasn’t a scam! The night of the show, I had no idea if I was actually going to have tickets or not until I got there. But it worked out, my tickets were waiting for me at the window and I was in! The rest of the crew was scattered around the arena, and I sat with a friend of mine from college I hadn’t seen in quite some time who lived in the area.

My nearly five year wait to see Metallica was over. I thought my head was going to explode. I was every bit as anxious and excited as I was waiting for the show to begin at the Roseland Ballroom 10 years prior. Ecstasy of Gold finished and the band took over. They began their set with “That Was Just Your Life” and it was on! Five years is a long time to wait to see Metallica, and I let a lot of energy out early with all the yelling and screaming!

The third song of the set was “Creeping Death”, one of my all-time favorite songs. I lost my mind and ran down the aisle towards the stage. Thinking better of it right away, I turned around and headed back up to my seat, only to realize that security was chasing me! Guess it was good that I smartened up and went back to where I belonged before they gave me any trouble.

The rest of the show was a great mix of new and old songs, culminating in “Seek and Destroy” from their first album “Kill ‘Em All”. This song would go on to be the final song of the night for many concerts to follow. It became bitter-sweet for me to hear it play from then on. It was an awesome song, but it meant the end of the show!

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January 17, 2009: The long wait to see Metallica is over

The big New Jersey shows were next. Once again, we put a big crew together for them. For the Saturday night show, we found a good spot near the front of the stage and hunkered in for the rest of the evening. The Philly show was fun, but my preference was always to be in general admission. The setlist was twelve songs we had seen in Philly two weeks prior, but with six different ones mixed in. Metallica was very good about mixing up their set lists day-over-day on their arena tours to keep each one special.

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January 31, 2009: Metallica returns to New Jersey

Oddly enough, the Sunday show was scheduled at the same time as Super Bowl XLIII was being played in Tampa. I could only assume that this was a major screw up on the part of the promoter. Fortunately, I’m a Jets fan and there was no chance of having to choose between watching them in a Super Bowl or watching Metallica. We had seats for this show, so there was no rush to get there to get a good spot. We went to Ned’s annual Super Bowl party, and left in the second quarter to head to the show. While the rest of New Jersey was glued to their TV to see Bruce Springsteen and The East Street band perform at halftime, we were getting ready to see Metallica for the second night in a row!

Having seats for Metallica always feels a little strange. But we were close enough to feel like we were part of the show anyway. And they played “Die, Die My Darling” as part of the encore!

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February 1, 2009: Skipping the Super Bowl to watch Metallica

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February 1, 2009: Got seats for this show

This was the last show of this leg of the tour. Before the stage, Lars told us that they were going to announce a second leg in the fall starting in Memphis, and it would include a stop at Madison Square Garden! YES!

The on-sale e-mail came from Metallica to my inbox this time (thanks Yahoo for improving your filter to let me have this message), and we got planned to buy tickets for the show, aiming for general admission. We had our MetClub pre-sale codes ready to go, logged in to ticketmaster.com and started to have trouble right away. Those of us buying tickets for the show were on a conference call to track progress and we were reporting all kinds of issues to each other. Most of us were being told that the show was sold out. Others were slowly getting through, but getting tickets that were very far away from the stage in the seated section. What was going on? This was the second time our high-tech ticket buying tools had boned us on this tour!

We had to settle, and each of us got a pair of tickets, scattered throughout the arena. I was completely dejected and deflated and went to complain on the message forum on the MetClub website. Miraculously, I saw a response from a fan who had the same problem, but had contact information for the promoter. I e-mailed the promoter and he responded that there was a problem with the Ticketmaster website and that they would exchange our tickets for general admission tickets. I e-mailed everyone else and told them to send the same e-mail to the promoter. We didn’t hear back from him for a while but he said he’d take care of it.

Several days went by and I didn’t hear back from the guy. I looked up his office and found the address was in Manhattan. I had a day off of work so I got on the bus and planned to just show up and ask for him at reception. While I was on the way in, I got an e-mail from him saying that he’d take care of me and my friends by upgrading us to general admission, but he was now out of tickets so please stop asking him for help! It was a miracle! Screw you, Ticketmaster!

The added a second show for the following night. We decided on seats for this one and had little trouble this time around. We got 4th row in the lower section.

The weekend of November 14, 2009 was another double-Metallica weekend! We had it down to a science at this point, getting there early enough to get a spot at the front of the stage. I still carried my digital camera because of the superior picture quality, but we all had smartphones are were now on social media. We checked in together on Facebook from the floor and started posting pics in real-time from the show. This is common place today, but was the first time that I really got to brag about being at Metallica while the concert was still happening.

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November 14, 2009: Best dressed crew at MSG

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November 14, 2009: Up close and personal with Kirk

Seeing Metallica multiple times on the same tour really gives you a chance to notice the nuance and detail of their performances. The center stage show is amazing. With no back drop, and the band centrally located, it feels a bit like a family gathering. The band attacks each song with both ferocity and joy, you can tell they really are enjoying themselves playing with each other and for their fans. And the production value is incredible, featuring lights, explosions, and fire!

We settled into our seats on Sunday night for our final show on the World Magnetic tour. I was bummed knowing that this would be the last time seeing them for a while, but was blown away by the show as always. They snuck in “The Judas Kiss” off of the new album, and the older “Trapped Under Ice” and “Dyers Eve” on to the set list, all three of which were live rarities. In fact, that was the only time I’ve ever seen them play “Dyers Eve” live, making it a memorable show.

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November 15, 2009: Our view from the fourth row at MSG

The World Magnetic tour was also special to me because early in 2009, Metallica had been selected for induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The HOF had previously shunned most heavy metal acts, only begrudgingly inducting Black Sabbath a few years prior. But Metallica, the band who started from very humble roots, that couldn’t get played on the radio, but exploded into the main stream in the early 1990’s, and became the best band in the world, finally got the respect they deserved from the Rock and Roll establishment. We weren’t just seeing any ordinary band, we were seeing veritable Hall of Famers!

We settled into another Metallica slow period. There were no shows planned for the area, and no new music was forthcoming. But this time it wouldn’t be another five year wait in between shows.

Metallica surprised many by announcing a European tour featuring “The Big 4” of American thrash metal. They would headline and be supported by Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer on the tour. It would culminate with a show in Sofia, Bulgaria on June 22, 2010 that would be recorded and played in movie theaters all around the world just a few days later.

In a shock to the world, during this show, Metallica was joined on stage by members of all four bands to play a cover of “Am I Evil?”. The lineup included Dave Mustaine, the original lead guitar player for Metallica who was famously fired before they recorded their first album and had gone on to found Megadeth. Hard rock and heavy metal fans assumed that hell had frozen over. All was forgiven and they were on stage together again.

I bought the live album and DVD of the show and loved it. It was all well and good, but kind of annoying that they only toured in Europe with this lineup.

A few of us took a road trip to Richmond to watch NASCAR. On April 29, 2011, as I was watching Denny Hamlin cruse to victory in the Nationwide Series Bubba Burger 250, my phone lit up like a Christmas tree with text messages from Lefty. “Dude, The Big 4 is playing Yankee Stadium in September!” Metallica had decided to bring the show to America for two stops, one of which was right near home. Most of the race was a blur from that point on, my attention suddenly diverted to texting everyone I could think of that we were going to get to see The Big 4!

The ticket buying process this time was a breeze. In fact, we bought so many tickets that I had to scramble to sell the last two. We were going to get to stand in center field of the most storied stadium in all of sports, to watch the greatest concert lineup ever assembled!

You probably guessed the running theme of this story, but as usual, I was teeming with excitement in the run up to the concert. We put a huge group together, and most everyone took a half or a full day off of work to be at the show in time for Anthrax who went on at 4 PM. The Bronx borough president declared September 14, 2011 to be “Anthrax Day” in the Bronx in honor of their native band.

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September 14, 2011: I wanted to look good for The Big 4

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September 14, 2011: Some of the Big 4 Crew

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September 14, 2011: Ready to rock for The Big 4!

Anthrax took the stage and started what would be a seven-hour barrage of the senses by the four best heavy metal bands in American music history. Anthrax was clearly enthusiastic about being featured in their home stadium. Megadeth played with a bit of chip on their shoulder as Dave Mustaine was playing the show against doctor’s advice due to concerns over a neck injury. He told the crowd that wasn’t going to stop them and they blazed through their set. As the sun started to set, Slayer figuratively smacked all of Yankee Stadium in the face with their brutally heavy music. We were completely spent before Metallica even came on.

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September 14, 2011: First up, Anthrax

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September 14, 2011: Next on the bill, Megadeth

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September 14, 2011: The final warmup for Metallica, Slayer

One of the most interesting things about a Metallica concert is the people you see there. I often wonder where these people congregate when they aren’t at a concert, because I’d like to go there. We saw this one guy in a Jets jersey numbered 00 with “Hardcore” on the nameplate. He appeared to be with his son who we guessed was about 10. Hardcore put a pair of goggles on, told his kid to wait there, and jumped into the mosh pit during Anthrax while randomly kicking his feet up in the air. It was pretty cool!

Finally, it was time for the main event. Metallica took over center field at Yankee Stadium and launched right into “Creeping Death” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to start the night! It was going to be that kind of Metallica concert.

Metallica called the members of the other bands on stage to play a song, but this time Mustaine didn’t join them, likely due to the neck injury. We gave a hearty “We want Dave!” chant, but it went unanswered. No matter, the rest of the guys on stage covered the Motörhead classic “Overkill”. It was a live Metallica moment –in what was becoming a lifetime of memorable Metallica moments– like none I had ever seen.

15 Big 4 9-14-11

September 14, 2011: Members of all four bands take the stage to cover Motörhead

I use a lot of hyperbole when speaking and writing about Metallica. It’s impossible for me not to, I’m completely obsessed with the band and can’t get enough of them. But it is not a stretch to say that The Big 4 at Yankee Stadium was the best concert in the history of New York City. As far as I’m concerned, it was The Best Concert Ever!

We got lucky with this one-off Metallica show that wasn’t part of a big tour. We got even luckier the following year when Metallica announced The Orion Festival would take place at Bader Field in Atlantic City, New Jersey on the weekend of June 23, 2012. The Orion Festival would have four stages with various acts culled by Metallica, as well as other features such as a skateboarding ramp, a Metallica exhibition, and a classic car and motorcycle display. It was to be a celebration of all things Metallica and some of their favorite things, music, cars, and skateboarding. But most importantly, it would be headlined by a Metallica show on both Saturday and Sunday. They were going to play “Ride the Lightning” in its entirety on Saturday and “Metallica” in its entirety on Sunday.

Once again, I died and went to heaven. My friends and I were Atlantic City regulars at the time, making several trips there per year. Lefty and I rented a Vodka Locker at The Red Square in the Tropicana Casino. Our favorite band was going to play two shows in the summertime in our home away from home.

At this point, I decided that joining the MetClub was pretty much the best decision I had ever made in my life. Without a hint of trouble this time, we scored all the two-day VIP passes we needed for the weekend. We had carte blanche to roam the field for both days, and had access to the VIP general admission section right in front of the stage. We booked some rooms at the old Trump Plaza and planned a big weekend in AC!

The Orion festival was a very unique setup for a Metallica show, we had never seen them host their own festival before. We wandered around most of the day Saturday and Sunday, checking out the various shows and exhibits. Lefty briefly met Robert Trujillo and shook his hand. Bobby did the same with Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies.

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June 23, 2012: Best dressed crew at the Orion Festival

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June 23, 2012: The Classic Bike and Car Show at the Orion Festival

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June 23, 2012: Posing in front of Metallica’s guitars

The band lineup was somewhat unusual for a Metallica show, it was a very eclectic mix of genres. We watched Sepultura and Suicidal Tendencies play. The latter featured Robert Trujillo joining his former band on stage for a song. We saw our friend Hardcore from the Big 4 running around the mosh pit. Some guy attached a suction cup-mounted Go Pro to his bald head, put his son on his shoulders who couldn’t have been more than four years old, and jumped into the mosh pit. Someone just beat out Hardcore as Father of The Year!

Saturday night was time for Metallica and we went to the VIP section to get close to the main stage. The Ham and Eggers who were too cheap to cash up for VIP passes were fenced off behind us. A few of them started a “VIP sucks” chant which was both hilarious and pathetic at the same time! In a few minutes, we wouldn’t be able to hear them over the band anyway.

I was very excited to see Metallica play “Ride the Lightning” in its entirety. They played the album in reverse order, starting with the instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” and working their way backwards to “Fight Fire With Fire”. Along the way, they played “Escape” for the first and only time in their career! Apparently, James Hetfield wasn’t too proud of the song so it was never included in a live set. I never understood what the problem was, I always thought “Ride the Lighting” was the perfect front-to-back heavy metal album.

After the show, we partied at the Tropicana casino and crashed hard! We had to get back to Bader Field the next day for more Metallica!

19 Orion

June 23, 2012: After the show, we drink vodka at The Red Square

On Sunday, Metallica was going to play “Metallica” in reverse order and I couldn’t wait. This was the first album that cemented me as a Metallica fan. I had some friends as a kid who were into them after “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All”, but I really started to get into the band when this album was released. I bought it the day it was released on cassette tape and blasted it in my mother’s Ford Taurus, blowing out the front speakers in the process. She listened mainly to classical music, I don’t think she noticed.

Metallica played an unusually long set list that night, totaling 20 songs. During “My Friend of Misery”, James got both halves of the crowd to sing different “whoa oh whoa” harmonies with each other and with the band. During “Enter Sandman”, James led the crowd in a sing-along about the Orion Festival and the Metallica Family, his affectionate term for Metallica fans.

If I thought I was too old for this kind of excitement in 1998, that sentiment went double in 2012! I was shot after two days of this. At breakfast the next day, I had no voice at all. We drove back north to our shore house in Spring Lake so we could spend a relaxing day on the beach and unwind. I didn’t make it off the couch!

The exhaustion was a small price to pay. Two unique Metallica concerts in Atlantic City wrapped around a Metallica themed festival was an incredible experience. If The Big 4 was the best concert ever, this was The Best Weekend Ever.

Unfortunately, this was going to be the start of yet another long hiatus from Metallica. We were lucky to have these one-offs in 2011 and 2012, but there were no more US tours for quite some time.

The best thing we had in the interim was the release of “Metallica: Through the Never” as a feature length film in 2013. It was filmed at a series of live concerts in Vancouver, and had a running storyline throughout about one of their roadies who was on an important mission for the band. It was essentially an extended music video with some excellent live concert footage. It was like a look back at the last eight Metallica concerts we had seen since 2009. I loved every minute of it and consider it to be The Best Movie Ever Made.

And that was all we saw from Metallica here for quite some time. No New York or New Jersey concerts that were open to the public (don’t get me started on the shows they did in New York City that were just for the employees of The Howard Stern Show), and no new music for years. Our crew kept busy, going to see a number of other concerts together when we could.

It was during this time that Metallica announced they were going to obsolete the paid membership tier of the MetClub and make it free for anybody to join. Great, all these years paying for my membership so I could jump to the head of the line to buy tickets, and now I would be at the mercy of Ticketmaster, fighting against bots and scalpers to try to get decent tickets. For the first time in a very long time, I was genuinely pissed at Metallica!

It was eight full years since “Death Magnetic” was released, it was certainly time for them to head back to the studio. The tease started in 2016 that Metallica would release a new album late in the year.

Instead of hearing any of the songs debut on the radio (which I didn’t listen to anymore at that point) I was introduced to new Metallica music in a different way. In August, 2016, I was commuting home to Hoboken from my job on Wall Street in Manhattan and had some time to kill at the World Trade Center PATH station while I was waiting for my train. I did what everybody else always does, I started scrolling through my phone when I came to a Facebook post by Metallica with a link to a video for a new song titled “Hardwired”. This was a pretty spectacular surprise during my ordinarily mundane evening commute!

I cranked the volume on my phone as high as it could go as I watched the video for “Hardwired” and was blown away by its simple ferocity. I was rocking out right there on the platform, without a care of who was watching me or what they thought of the weird guy headbanging to himself.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a very slick marketing campaign for their new album, “Hardwired… To Self Destruct”. Some weeks later, they released the video for “Moth Into Flame” in the same surprise manner. The day of the album release approached (which was a Friday) and I invited all of my friends over to a Metallica listening party. I figured I could just download or stream the album and be ready for when my guests arrived.

What I didn’t know was that Metallica had produced videos for the rest of the songs on the album, and released them one-by-one on music news websites throughout the twenty-four hour lead up to the album release. The band that was once chastised by the music community for fighting back against peer-to-peer file sharing networks who were giving away their music, just gave away their entire new album on YouTube.

This was a pretty cool development as instead of it being a listening party, it became a watching party! This album was an instant hit with us, we enjoyed every song. It sounded like classic Metallica, just hard and heavy and pissed! My favorite song on the album is “Halo on Fire”. It reminded me of “Fade to Black” with a slow build, a heavy chorus, time changes, James singing “goodbye” over the outro, and a killer guitar solo to cap it off. The video was really neat, too, featuring a fictitious fight league.

I read an article that interviewed Lars and he said that the band was planning a “proper” United States tour in 2017. Another five-year gap in Metallica concerts was about to come to an end! Now, how to get tickets?

They announced the tour, and there were three shows that we could drive to from Hoboken, two stadium shows at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, and an arena show at NYCB Live (the old Nassau Coliseum) in Uniondale, NY. Better yet, they announced that legacy fan club members (those that had paid for the old MetClub at least twice) were eligible for the first pre-sale. All that anger for naught, Metallica took care of us!

Better yet, Metallica used a different website than ticketmaster.com, switching to a site called ticketsnow.com instead. Between the new provider and the legacy fan club pre-sale, we were able to snap up large chunks of tickets for the stadium shows, and Noah and I got tickets for the arena show. All of them were general admission. I was going to see Metallica three times in six days in May of 2017!

First up was the Philly show. We left work early and headed down south and, of course, the traffic was a nightmare. We stopped to get a cheesesteak at the NBC Sports Arena next door to the stadium and went in to the show. There were thousands of people ahead of us, crammed up front of the catwalks that jutted out from the front of the stage. We waited for the lights to go off, I yelled “Go!” and Noah plowed forward like a fullback and we followed his lead. We got right in front of the cat walk, maybe two or three people from the rail. Metallica hit the stage with “Hardwired” and another five year wait to see Metallica was over!

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May 12, 2017: It was a long five year wait, but we were at Metallica in Philadelphia

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May 12, 2017: Up close and personal with Metallica at Lincoln Financial Field

Two days later, we went to MetLife stadium to see them again. This time it was Mother’s Day. I had to explain to mom that we needed to do brunch instead of our traditional dinner because I had Metallica tickets and she understood. This was a home game for us north-Jersey folk and we put together a large number of us for the show. It was the first time Metallica had played the Meadowlands Sports Complex in 13 years, and we couldn’t be happier to have them home again.

May 14, 2017: Metallica returns to the Meadowlands, so we have a huge crew for the show

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May 14, 2017: Up front again at MetLife Stadium

On Wednesday night, I broke the vow I made in 2004 to never drive to Uniondale, NY again to see Metallica for the third time in six days. I had Noah pick me up after work in midtown Manhattan. Once we crossed into Queens, I immediately remembered why I never wanted to deal with this traffic again. We got to the show maybe 30 minutes before it started, but for some reason, one of the four corners of the stage had virtually nobody in front of it so we stood there and had the perfect view of the indoor stage. Out of the three shows I had seen this week, this was the golden ticket.

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May 17, 2017: Can’t beat the view at NYCB Live in Uniondale, NY

I thought that was it for this leg of the tour. Until one day in July when Pooch sent me a text message. He had entered the contest to win Snakepit passes (the enclosed area between the v-shaped catwalks in front of the stage) for the upcoming show at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal and asked if anybody wanted to go with him. Technically, you were supposed to have tickets to the show to be eligible for the contest, but he tried his Philly ticket code and that worked. I guess the system had a bug that totally worked in our favor!

My first thought was “Man, I have to work that Wednesday, I can’t do it.”. My second thought was “What is wrong with me? I have plenty of vacation days saved up and I’ve always wanted to do a Metallica road trip!”. Unlike 1998 where I had to lie my way out of the office to see Metallica play the Roseland Ballroom, I had come far enough in my career to say to my boss that I wanted two days off to go see Metallica. Approved!

This wasn’t going to be any ordinary road trip, we were going to a foreign country! Off we went to Montreal on the day of the show. Pooch had gotten the cheapest tickets he could find for the show, and we went to a tent to show them our Snakepit passes. They gave us wristbands and a paper with a set of rules on it. One of the rules was to “not grab the band”.

We walked to the front of the guard rail, flashed our wristbands, and they let us in to the Snakepit. We were going to be completely surrounded by Metallica! There was no guard rail inside the Snakepit to separate us from the stage. This was as close as I had ever been to the Metallica.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was, middle aged at this point, and still just as thrilled as I was in 1998 to be up close and personal with my favorite band.

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July 19, 2017: In the Snakepit (and a little soaked from the rain) at Parc Jean-Drapeau

Late in the show, Metallica would play “Seek and Destroy” from the front of the Snakepit, even using a secondary drum kit so Lars could play there, too. We knew it was coming so right before they moved up, Pooch grabbed me and we pushed our way to the back of the Snakepit.

As the band approached us, I noticed Lars was drinking something out of a cup. I flashed back to Metallica’s old “Cunning Stunts” DVD from the late ’90s that I had watched a million times. Lars started off the show by squirting whatever he was drinking on the fans against the guard rail. I screamed “Lars, spit on me!” With a nod and a smile, he spit out whatever was in the cup on us! LARS ULRICH JUST SPIT ON ME!!!!!!

In my euphoric state, I stood right behind the band as they played their song. I was right behind the best drummer in the world as he went to work.

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July 19, 2017: View of the band from inside the Snakepit

The next day, on the long drive back from Montreal, we got stuck in some nasty traffic on I-87. There were two accidents along the way, making the trip agonizingly long. Without much else to do, Pooch was reading through the news on his phone when exclaimed that Chester Bennington from Linkin Park had died. Turns out, he had committed suicide. It was an immediate reminder of how fragile these bands could be, and I was thankful that Metallica was still on the road and still touring.

We had tickets for Iron Maiden at the Barcalys Center the next day. I fought my way up to the front and was enjoying their set. I exclaimed to everyone nearby that could hear me “This is the second-best concert I’ve been to this week!”

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July 21, 2017: Hey, you gotta mix it up once in a while.  I took this picture of Iron Maiden at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.  It was the second best concert I saw that week!

Early in 2018, Metallica announced another US leg of the tour, this time inside of arenas. They were offering a “Black Pass” to legacy fan club members which was essentially a season pass to any of the shows on the tour. They weren’t playing anywhere near home so I passed it up, but Bobby picked one up and is going to see them seven or eight times on this leg of the tour. Did I mention that Bobby is my hero?

We settled on the State College, PA show since it was on a Saturday and was within driving distance of Hoboken. Once again, the we used the legacy fan club pre-sale and got four general admission tickets. After that, they announced they were adding a Philadelphia show on a Thursday night so we grabbed tickets for that one, too. I was going to get to see Metallica twice more on the WorldWired tour!

The band was still making memories and reaching new highs. Their show at the Bryce Jordan center in State College set an attendance record for the venue. And in Philadelphia, they played “Phantom Lord” for the first time live in over five years. It was one of my favorite songs that I’ve never seen them play live, and my wish to see it came true.

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October 20, 2018: Metallica setting attendance records at the Bryce Jordan Center

 

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October 20, 2018: Always be sure to not wear the same bands to the show!

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October 25, 2018: Metallica bringing down the house in Philadelphia.  I’ll never get tired of being so close to the band from general admission.

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October 25, 2018: I’ve been wearing that Misfits shirt to concerts for 22 years now.  It still looks good in the group photo!

I have a great life. I have a great family and a great bunch of friends and we enjoy doing things together. I got to thinking about the 20-year anniversary of the Roseland show and needed to write something about it. But it needed to be more than just constant gushing about how much I love Metallica. I wanted it to be about how much things have changed, and how much I enjoyed seeing Metallica with my friends over all of these years.

Bands no longer make money from selling recorded music, they make their living by touring. The ticket buying process has changed drastically since 1998, but not necessarily for the better. The mediums for which we consume music have changed, I never buy CDs anymore and I don’t listen to the radio. I have a bunch of MP3 files, and I now have an unlimited streaming account on Amazon. There is a virtually unlimited amount of content on YouTube that you can watch from any Internet connected device from anywhere in the world.

It took many years, but someone posted the MTV footage of the Roseland show on YouTube. We finally got to watch it back. All is forgiven, Chris!

The old Take One Video store in Hoboken is long gone. All of its revenue streams collapsed at once. People stopped renting VHS and DVD and started to stream their movies and porn online. And most certainly, nobody waits on line at Ticketmaster to buy tickets anymore!

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November 23, 2018: This is the site of the old Take One Video.  You can’t rent VHS movies or porn here, nor can you buy tickets anymore.  They are a wax center so they serve the community in a slightly different way now.  There are no lines to get in anymore for some reason.

I’m very lucky to have had so many friends that have come seen Metallica with me over the years. A lot of things have changed in the past two decades since Roseland. Guys have gotten married and had kids. Or they got married. Or they had kids. Or they got divorced or were widowed. People moved away, then came back. But we still spend as much time together as possible, and we congregate at concerts all the time.

When Metallica performs these days, James makes a point of saying that they are happy to be alive and with us. He really means it! They tragically lost Cliff Burton, and James often says that he struggled with addiction so much that he thought he wasn’t going to make it without his music.

But looking past Metallica, we’ve lost a lot of our favorite rock stars and bands for one reason or another. Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Vinnie Paul, Dimebag Darrell, and John Entwhistle (just to name a few) have all died in the past two decades. They were all irreplaceable. Bruce Dickinson and Tony Iommi both barely survived cancer scares.

Bands like Mötley Crüe, Mötorhead, Black Sabbath, KISS, and Slayer have all either called it quits, or are about to retire. These bands themselves are also irreplaceable. Putting it in this context, we are so lucky that we still get to see Metallica in the year 2018. Hopefully they keep it together and stay on the road for many years to come.

My friends from church, Jerome and Matt brought me to my first Metallica concert when I was seventeen at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford in April, 1992. The memories of that first show are burned into my brain.

But nothing will ever compare to my third show. I had a pretty good idea at the time that I’d never have a Metallica experience like that ever again. Twenty years have gone by, and that proved to be the case. I’ve gone on to see Metallica nineteen more times since then, and have been blown away by them every time. But nothing was the same as seeing Metallica perform seventeen cover songs at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. It was the most important night of my life.

The story ends there, but I have a little appendix below. In researching this story, I went through all 22 Metallica shows I’ve been to, and aggregated the set lists. I’ve included the totals below. I’ve seen a total of 92 different songs and medleys played live.

Shows

Date Venue City
4/8/1992 Brendan Byrne Arena East Rutherford, NJ
7/17/1998 Giants Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
11/24/1998 Roseland Ballroom New York, NY
11/23/1999 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
7/20/2000 Giants Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
7/8/2003 Giants Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
4/20/2004 Nassau Coliseum Uniondale, NY
10/22/2004 Continental Airlines Arena East Rutherford, NJ
1/17/2009 Wachovia Center Philadelphia, PA
1/31/2009 Prudential Center Newark, NJ
2/1/2009 Prudential Center Newark, NJ
11/14/2009 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
11/15/2009 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
9/14/2011 Yankee Stadium New York, NY
6/23/2012 Bader Field Atlantic City, NJ
6/24/2012 Bader Field Atlantic City, NJ
5/12/2017 Lincoln Financial Field Philadelphia, PA
5/14/2017 MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
5/17/2017 The New Colesium Presented by NYCB Uniondale, NY
7/19/2017 Parc Jean-Drapeau Montreal, QC
10/20/2018 Bryce Jordan Center State College, PA
10/25/2018 Wells Fargo Center Philadelphia, PA

Songs/Medleys

Song Times I’ve seen it
Enter Sandman 21
Nothing Else Matters 21
One 21
Sad But True 21
Master of Puppets 20
Seek and Destroy 18
For Whom the Bell Tolls 15
Creeping Death 13
Fade to Black 12
Fuel 11
Blackened 9
Battery 8
The Unforgiven 8
Wherever I May Roam 8
Atlas, Rise! 6
Fight Fire With Fire 6
Hardwired 6
Moth Into Flame 6
Now That We’re Dead 6
The Day That Never Comes 6
Welcome Home (Sanitarium) 6
All Nightmare Long 5
Broken, Beat And Scarred 5
Cyanide 5
Harvester of Sorrow 5
Ride The Lightning 5
That Was Just Your Life 5
The End Of The Line 5
The Four Horsemen 5
Whiplash 5
Breadfan 4
Halo On Fire 4
Hit The Lights 4
Holier Than Thou 4
Last Caress 4
Of Wolf and Man 4
The Memory Remains 4
King Nothing 3
No Leaf Clover 3
St. Anger 3
Turn The Page 3
Am I Evil? 2
Bleeding Me 2
Blitzkrieg 2
Die, Die My Darling 2
Frantic 2
I Disappear 2
Last Caress/Green Hell 2
Motorbreath 2
Overkill 2
The Call of Ktulu 2
The God That Failed 2
The Shortest Straw 2
The Thing That Should Not Be 2
Through the Never 2
Trapped Under Ice 2
Until It Sleeps 2
– Human 1
…And Justice For All 1
Damage Inc. 1
Devil’s Dance 1
Disposable Heroes 1
Don’t Tread On Me 1
Dyers Eve 1
Escape 1
Hell And Back 1
Helpless 1
Hero of the Day 1
Jump In The Fire 1
Justice Medley 1
Killing Time 1
Last Caress/So What/Die, Die My Darling 1
Low Man’s Lyric 1
Mastertarium 1
Mercyful Fate 1
Metal Militia 1
My Apocalypse 1
My Friend Of Misery 1
No Remorse 1
Orion 1
Phantom Lord 1
Sabbra Cadabra 1
Small Hours 1
So What 1
Spit Out The Bone 1
Stone Cold Crazy 1
The Judas Kiss 1
The Outlaw Torn 1
The Prince 1
The Struggle Within 1
The Wait 1
Whiskey In The Jar 1

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The Hottest Show of The Summer invades the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York this Sunday and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’ll be there in person and it will be the third SummerSlam I’ve attended.  The first one was in 1989 at the old Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The highlight of the card for me was when The Ultimate Warrior defeated Ravishing Rick Rude for the Intercontinental Championship due to a distraction from Rowdy Roddy Piper.  I was sitting next to future WCW superstar Crowbar and we both popped huge for the pinfall! I’m hoping for the same level of excitement this year in Brooklyn.

Interestingly enough, 1989 was the last year that SummerSlam didn’t feature either John Cena or The Undertaker, so this year represents a bit of a changing of the guard.  The card is stacked with matches with everybody who is hot on the WWE roster right now, except for Elias!  What’s up with that?  Anyway, on to the match analysis and predictions.

AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe in a singles match for the WWE Championship

AJ Styles and Samoa Joe are both enjoying a late-career resurgence as members of the WWE roster, after having spent most of their earlier years toiling in the lesser promotions.  This match is every wrestling fan’s dream, whether you followed them their entire careers, or if you only know them from their WWE work.  Two of the absolute best in-ring talents in the world right now, and also two of the best storytellers.  This is one of the several matches on the card that can potentially be match of the year eligible.

Samoa Joe.jpg

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Champion, Samoa Joe

The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper and Rowan) (c) vs. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and/or Xavier Woods)     Tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

The New Day sure does have a persistence about them that I didn’t see coming.  When they formed as a babyface trio, they absolutely sucked and I expected them to get released in a few months.  When they turned heel and became tag team champions using the Freebird Rule, I couldn’t have been happier for them.  When they eventually turned babyface again because they were so good they started go get cheers, I even had to hang on as a fan because they were still pretty funny.  Now when I see them flinging pancakes to the crowd, I want to throw my TV out the window.  It’s time for Big E to turn on the other two and go on a monster heel run.  Kingston and Woods can go back to being jobbers.  They’ll be remembered well when their careers are over.

The Bludgeon Brothers are at a career peak right now.  I never understood why they weren’t dominant tag champions when they were in The Wyatt Family, but there is no time like the present for these two talented veterans to show what they can do.  Nobody lays down a vicious beating like Harper and Rowan, and I’m hoping they leave The New Day lying in a heap in the middle of the ring.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions, The Bludgeon Brothers

Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Drew Gulak Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Prediction: I’ll be finishing off my dinner at The Shake Shack on Flatbush Avenue while this pre-show match is taking place.  Do you care anymore than I do about it?  I don’t think so.

Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Jeff Hardy in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

Nakamura saved a disappointing WrestleMania match against AJ Styles by turning heel with a surprise low blow.  With that one nut-shot, he turned around a floundering babyface run and turned his fortunes around as a diabolical ethnic heel.  You can never have too many ethnic heels in the WWE, and of course, one of them always has to be the United States Champion to really get on our nerves.

Jeff Hardy is performing well despite his advanced age and the wear and tear on his body that he’s suffered from absorbing so many high-impact bumps over the course of his career.  Even if he is somewhat bland as a character (his face paint is kinda cool), he is usually entertaining as a wrestler, and he’s fun to watch lose.

Randy Orton is a potential wildcard in this match.  He is not booked to compete as a wrester, but he has been stalking and regularly beating Jeff up lately.  It’s good to have the heel Randy Orton back, he is a new man and should factor into the finish of this match somehow.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura

Carmella (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair in a triple threat match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Prediction: This match is going to suck.  Maybe I’ll sneak back out to Shake Shack for desert while it’s on.

Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz

An old-fashioned one-on-one blood feud match with no stipulations or championship on the line?  Do my eyes deceive me?  How great is this?

The Miz/Bryan feud is typical of modern day storytelling in the WWE.  With kayfabe dead and gone, a great way to get characters over as babyfaces or heels is to use a reality angle.  This feud is a great example of that playing out.  You get the sense that these guys truly hate each other.  The intersections of their real-life events such as the both becoming fathers and Bryan having to take an extended time off due to brain damage enhance the intrigue behind their conflict.

Daniel Bryan is one of the most overrated wrestlers in the world, but this is a good spot for him.  Somewhere on the mid-card with a top-notch heel that can carry him in a match is the best thing for him right now.  This is another one of the matches on the card that has match of the year potential.

Prediction: Winner, The Miz

Dolph Ziggler (c) (with Drew McIntyre) vs. Seth Rollins (with Dean Ambrose) in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Interesting pairing of Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre as a mini-heel faction.  It’s hard to quite understand why they are together, but what they are doing works.  Ziggler is a great heel champ, always bragging about how good he is only to cheat to win every time with the help of his heater.

Seth Rollins did a good job of carrying the IC title before losing it to Ziggler.  The feud between the two has made the title seem very important and sought after.  With the re-emergence of Dean Ambrose who is coming off of a lengthy recovery from injury, there could be enough excitement and intrigue in this match to rival that of the Warrior/Rude match for the same title that I witnessed in ’89!

Keep an eye on things here, this match is ripe for a swerve.  Either McIntyre or Ambrose could be likely to turn on his partner during the match match, or at least play some sort of role in the finish.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Ronda Rousey in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Yes, Ronda Rousey is the best thing going in the Women’s division.  That’s not saying very much, she has a low bar to clear.  I guess I better get used to seeing her, there is a strong rumor that she and Charlotte Flair are going to main event WrestleMania 35 in East Rutherford next April, and I plan to be there live.  What fun.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Finn Bálor vs. Baron Corbin

I feel like I’m missing the point with both of these competitors.  I don’t get why Bálor isn’t in the 205 division, and I don’t get why he walks around smiling all the time.  He couldn’t be less interesting to me.

Corbin looks and sounds like the worst actor in the high school play.  His promos are forced and contrived, and he doesn’t feel like he means what he says.  He is over-matched in his segments with WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle as his “constable”.

Even still, these two could put on a surprisingly good match.  The size disparity between the two men will certainly come into play, and if they sell for each other, it will look like an evenly matched fight.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

Braun Strowman (MITB holder) vs. Kevin Owens in a singles match for the Money in the Bank contract. Should Strowman lose by disqualification or count out, he will lose the contract

The best feud in the WWE is on display in this match.  These two wrestlers are playing their roles to perfection, and they are the most fun to watch on Raw right now.

Braun Strowman feels like he is just a few months away from breaking out as the face of the WWE.  He is better working as a heel, but the fans realize how good his is and won’t let him be one.  He improves with every single promo and match.  In regards to this match, his constant tormenting of Kevin Owens is nothing short of hilarious.

Kevin Owens has carried his end of the hilarity in this feud as well.  His cowardice is usually met with some sort of brutal looking physical punishment from the larger Strowman.  His fall off the top of the steel cage at Extreme Rules came with a great twist as he technically won the match, earning him this opportunity to seal the MITB contract by bellyaching to Stephanie McMahon.

I have to wonder if the winner of this match will go on to cash in later in the evening during or after the main event.  The MITB contract is always a wild-card, you never know when it will be cashed in.

Prediction: Winner and new MITB holder, Kevin Owens

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

Anybody know how many times we’ve seen this match already?  It seems like it’s been a lot!  I’m not sure what they can do to make it more interesting this time around.

Brock Lesnar’s real-life contract situation with WWE, along with his frequent appearances in UFC work well for generating heat from the fans.  Every single person who believes that Lesnar doesn’t care about the WWE and is just in it for the money is a mark.  He is one of the all-time-greats, and that doesn’t happen without hard work, dedication, and passion for his craft.  The fact that he wants to diversify his career by dabbling in high-level MMA doesn’t make him a bad person.  But the majority of us WWE fans are very gullible and are eating this narrative up!

Roman Reigns continues to suck.  He will never get better, and this storyline isn’t doing him any favors.  Let’s just hope that he doesn’t headline a fifth straight WrestleMania in 2019!

Prediction: Winner and still, WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar.  Kevin Owens then cashes in his MITB contract on a prone Lesnar, and wins the Universal Championship!

If you are going to the show, come find me at the Shake Shack beforehand!

A Virtual Fourth Look

For those of you who prefer video to reading a blog post, here is the latest walk through of the house.  This one details the walls, ducts, and a few other carpentry items.