Last week, both RAW and Smackdown were Year-in-Review clip shows, and there were no WWE Premium Live Events to speak of. But I’m not taking the week off from reviewing WWE, far from it. The WWE’s Holiday Tour hit my hometown of Montreal last Thursday night, January 28, 2023. Specifically just north of it, at Place Bell in Laval. But all the messaging online, and most of it at the show, said Montreal, plus that’s where I travelled from, by Metro in 35 minutes, so I’ll go with that.

This was the second live WWE event I attended this year, the first being the Smackdown right before the Elimination Chamber, at the Bell Centre downtown. A live event, aka house show, tailored exclusively for the live crowd in attendance is a different animal than a live TV broadcast. The former is all about the matches, and crowd interaction, and features much more of both. The latter is part of the continuing narrative, and it’s possible for titles to change hands, but it’s also a TV show, and you’re the studio audience.

The Holiday Tour got quite a bit of buzz online, what with featuring CM Punk’s first WWE match in a decade at the Madison Square Garden show on Boxing Day. This show definitely had its moments, too.

Instead of my usual bullet point approach to my wrestling reviews, I’ll just tell the story of the night.

The big hanging screen at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

We started off strong, with Becky Lynch, no less. The Man’s music was the first we heard. While the Titantron was significantly smaller than it normally is on TV, and there was no pyro, WWE clearly wasn’t skimping on stars.

Lynch made her way to the ring, interacting with fans, taking selfies, and, in general, working the crowd, as she, and other babyfaces, would also do after the match. Sonneting you don’t get to do with live TV timing in place.

Becky was facing Zoey Stark. Despite a recent, ongoing, and so far not all that successful, babyface push for Stark on TV, it was like we were a few months ago, when Zoey was still aligned with Trish Stratus against Becky. She was clearly the heel here. It was a good match, with some high spots, and eventually Lynch won it, keeping the audience in a good mood.

Next up was Ludwig Kaiser versus Kofi Kingston, no doubt as to who we would cheer for. Yes, Montreal has cheered Gunther in the past, at the Smackdown show I attended, to be specific, but no such luck for his Imperium stooge. Kaiser did some great heel work posing for the audience, but Kingston got the victory.

Then, the illustrious Chelsea Green and Piper Niven graced us with their presence. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I still do love this team’s antics and attitude. They were fighting to regain the Undisputed WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships from Kayden Carter and Katana Chance, who had just beat them for the titles on the previous RAW.

Kayden Carter tries to pin Chelsea Green at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

Carter and Chance were still growing on the crowd, as it seemed we were largely Main Roster viewers, so didn’t know them that well from their time in NXT. They did put on a good show, and retained (of course they did, it’s a house show). They won with their finisher, the After Party, executed on Piper this time, which was quite impressive. We did warm to them by the end, but we were largely split, with some cheering, perhaps ironically, for the heels, who were arguably much bigger stars (Chelsea in particular).

At this point, I was starting to wonder if only the babyfaces won at house shows, but then the next match made it clear that that wasn’t the case. Omos showed up! Clearly WWE is now treating him as an attraction, not an every week TV performer. MVP came out with him, and was quick to diss Montreal, and make it clear that we weren’t supposed to cheer for the Ugandan Giant. He even offered anyone $10K if they could knock Omos off his feet.

R-Truth accepts MVP’s challenge to knock Omos off his feet at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

It was R-Truth who took him up on the challenge, and really got the crowd on his side in the process. He was at his comedic best, and while he didn’t win (due to MVP cheating, among other more obvious factors), Truth did get applause, and a hero’s exit, after the match.

Next up was a Triple Threat Match for the Women’s World Championship. And while the two challengers, Shayna Baszler, and Ivy Nile, were both babyfaces, there was no way we were going to cheer for them. We were excited to see the Champ Rhea Ripley. If you thought trying to get crowds to boo Rhea when she isn’t with the rest of Judgement Day, and cheer her opponents was an uphill challenge on TV, at a house show, with a famously independently minded Montreal crowd, it was a real non-starter.

Rhea Ripley (on the screen) after winning, with one of her opponents, Shayna Baszler still in the ring, at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

Ripley got a huge pop for her entrance, and even when she won with a surprise rollup. She got a bit of heat when she rolled out of the ring to let her opponents fight it out, but she still got “Mami!” chants throughout. I hope they pit Rhea against Becky soon, so she can actually be the heel in the ring, like she is when standing with her crew, but for now I’m glad I got to see Rhea Ripley wrestle in her prime.

So far Judgement Day is two for two with the cheers (Rhea, and R-Truth, I kid, I kid), but that trend would most definitely not continue into the next match. Finn Bálor came out to a chorus of boos, and the crowd already had an idea of who his opponent would be. I wasn’t sure, as the match hadn’t been announced, but it made perfect sense.

Sami Zayn’s music hit, and our hometown hero returned! The match was your classic “Yeay! Boo!” back-and-forth, until Dominik Mysterio showed up. It was clear where this was headed, but it was still fun to watch it unfold. Dirty Dom caused a disqualification, and then both he and Finn started beating on Sami. And who would come in for the save? Kevin Owens, that’s who!

Yes, I knew he was coning out the moment I saw Dom, but while predictable, it was still very exciting, and a massive hometown pop. This was, after all, the WrestleMania Main-Eventing former Tag Team Champs reunited for the first time in months

After chasing the Judgement Day members out of the ring, KO took the mic, and, in French, told us that he was headed to the Smackdown roster house show in Houston, but when he got off the plane, he realized he wasn’t in Texas, but “chez nous”, and there was a show tonight in Laval. Gotta love KO.

Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens hug at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

Zayn and Owens got the win, of course, but it was far from a squash. In fact, it was a really competitive match, full of hot tags, false finishes, a Blue Thunderbomb, a 619, a Stunner, you name it. Owens was even still selling the hand he injured on Smackdown (making me think it’s either a shoot injury, or he’s just aware that there are cameras everywhere).

Finn and Dom were at the top of their game, too, both in-ring, and as heels. Dom didn’t try and talk on the mic, which would have been hilarious, but it wasn’t needed.

After the match, we got the sweetest moment of the night, as Sami introduced us to his wife and very young son who was seeing his dad wrestle for the first time ever. He also said that every time he returns to Montreal with the WWE, it just gets better. A really nice sentiment, and a really nice high to send us to intermission on.

When we returned, there were just three matches left, two of them we knew about. First up was Cody Rhodes. arguably the biggest babyface in the company, and maybe the industry as a whole, over 2023. At our show, Sami may have been the hometown favourite for people like me, but Cody was, by far, most over with the kids, especially those at, or near, ringside.

The American Nightmare was facing Damian Priest in a Last Man Standing Match. That meant kendo sticks, chairs, and, yes, tables. Priest almost pulled out the first table, but put it back to really piss off the chanting crowd. Cody obliged us, but ended up going through the table himself, managing to make it to his feet at the last moment and avoid being counted down.

Cody Rhodes versus Damian Priest in a Last Man Standing Match at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

Cody hit Damian with a Cross Rhodes, and went for the pin, forgetting what type of match it was. So he hit Priest with a few more, and won, to the delight of the crowd. This was a PLE-calibre match (one that we pretty much had on a PLE), with top stars, at a house show. Great stuff.

Then, it was the match that wasn’t advertised. Big Bronson Reed versus Ricochet. Or should I say Fast Ricochet. Like Tall Omos, Lanky Sami Zayn, or Average Build Kevin Owens. Seriously, I kid, but you get my point. Reed started off more heelish than usual, attacking Ricochet as he was still playing to the crowd.

It was a short, but good match, and then it was time for the Main Event. Well, almost. First we heard that this was the highest grossing non-televised WWE show at Place Bell, and in the Montreal market, ever! This definitely felt like the capacity crowd that it was. And WWE is coming back to town, to the Bell Centre, with RAW, a week after WrestleMania (not the “RAW After WrestleMania, that’s still in Philly).

The Main Event tonight was a Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Championship. Seth “Freakin” Rollins was defending against Shinsuke Nakamura and Drew McIntyre. They didn’t skimp on the theatrics for this one. The entrances were as-seen-on-TV. \Shinsuke did his modern dance routine, Drew had Angela the sword (“Why doesn’t he use the sword when it’s a no DQ match?” “Because it’s not a no arrest match, Joe.”), and Seth had everyone singing.

Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance at the 2023 WWE Holiday Tour in Montreal

They also cut the screens and turned down the house lights for the duration of the match, really giving it a big fight feel. A nice touch that also hid the wrestler who was out of the ring as the other two fought, something you don’t get at a brightly lit WWE TV or PLE event. There, the cameras don’t spot them, but the audience can. But this was a show just for us.

It was a quality triple threat match, replete with false finishes, saves, and power moves. Of course Seth retained, but he did so by pinning Shinsuke, the opponent he wasn’t defending the same title against on TV on Monday. Still, he did so after a Stomp, which he walked over Drew first to hit. Another nice touch.

Earlier in the match, when Drew was in control, he grabbed the mic, and in his current heel-ish character, chastised the crowd. To which we responded by chanting that he was sexy. He heard it, and Seth did, too. And after the match, Rollins wanted to clarify what he had heard:

Rollins eventually started feeling sexy, and then we all started singing his song. So all was good as we headed to the metro, or wherever we were going.

It was a nine hour show, with nine full, solid matches (ten if you count Sami versus Finn as a separate match). That’s more than you get at a RAW or Smackdown broadcast. Sure, no title changes, and no new angles, unless Drew is Sexy becomes a thing. But every match told a story. It was a show just for us. The televised WWE content has been compared to cinema, and it is. This was theatre.

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