WWE takes stars on tour for TV tapings in Asia
TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun
Overseas flights aren't a whole lot of fun when you're 7-ft. tall and weigh 500 lb. But the Big Show -- and his fellow WWE wrestling stars -- sucked it up this week as the WWE embarked on its most ambitious overseas tour ever.
It kicked off after the Royal Rumble last Sunday, with the Raw and Smackdown crews travelling together to San Jose for a marathon Monday night TV taping.
Each of WWE's flagship shows are usually recorded on different nights but, with a full-day flight to the Far East ahead of them, the company taped an entire week of television in a single evening at the HP Pavilion (a.k.a. the Shark Tank).
Figuring the crowd would get burnt out by four-plus hours of non-stop wrestling, there were no dark matches before the show, except for a brief tryout bout for former WCW star Psicosis.
At 6 p.m. local time, Monday Night Raw was beamed out live, followed by a full two-hour Smackdown taping which would air three days later.
Then, with this week's TV completely taken care of, the accumulation of frequent flyer miles really kicked into gear.
By the time the production crew in Connecticut started editing Smackdown, the wrestlers were already on a plane to Hawaii.
WWE rarely stops on the island but since the wrestlers were headed across the Pacific anyway, Honolulu was treated to a five-star house show, marred only by a pre-Wrestlemania practice run of the awful Gene Snitsky and Heidenreich vs. Undertaker and Kane match.
Then it was time for the lengthy flight to Japan for the first TV tapings to take place in the Far East.
(Note: The remainder of this article contains spoilers for the next edition of Raw. If you don't want to know what happens in advance of Monday's show, now would be a really good time to stop reading this.)
The WWE stars arrived in Japan Thursday to a media frenzy they're unlikely to experience in North America anytime soon. Wrestling in Japan may not be booming anymore but it's still treated as a credible sport by the Japanese media, so the tapings were big news.
WWE sold out two consecutive nights at the Saitama Super Arena, a spectacular entertainment venue in suburban Tokyo which can convert from a 5,000-seat concert hall to a 35,000-seat stadium in a matter of minutes.
The Japanese crowd was extremely receptive to the Raw shoot Friday night, which was headlined by a successful world title defence by Triple H against Edge.
The show opened with a solid 10-minute submissions match between Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.
Both wrestlers have extensive Japanese wrestling backgrounds and worked that style into the match to get the audience into the show. Benoit got the win via tap out.
Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels also gave a solid performance in their one-on-one collision and the Japanese fans were even treated to a title change, as William Regal and Tajiri beat La Resistance to lift the WWE tag team championships.
Other matches included Randy Orton besting Tyson Tomko, Batista steamrolling through Maven and Muhammad Hassan going over Rhyno in a Heat match.
On Saturday night, it was Smackdown's turn to take over the Saitama arena, while the Raw crew ran a sold-out house show in Seoul, Korea.
Due to the 16-hour time difference, neither event had taken place at press time.
Tonight, both rosters will take to the skies once again, flying to Alaska for a combined house show in Anchorage. Then it's home sweet home for some jet-lag recovery -- but only for a few days.
The wrestlers are back on the road in Ohio and Michigan next Saturday.
The Raw event from Tokyo will air in Canada at 7 p.m. Monday night on TSN. Smackdown from Saitama will go out Thursday at 5 p.m. on The Score.