The following report is by Mike Johnson at pwinsider.com, who attended this house show:
*They opened with the national anthem.
*Finn Balor defeated Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler in a strong, athletic opener with some good ten minutes of bell to bell action. McIntyre had been knocked from the ring after drilling Ziggler, allowing Balor to come off the top with Coup de Grace on Ziggler for the pin. McIntyre immediately nailed him with The Claymore Kick, laying out Balor. He took the mic and cut a great promo saying that he was the personification of what a WWE Superstar is supposed to be, ticking off everything on the list that made him great before finishing up that he was “sexy to boot” which got a laugh from the crowd. McIntyre said he should be on the fast track for the WWE Universal Championship, but something keeps getting in his way – Ziggler and Balor. He promised Balor he was a marked man and told Ziggler he was going to finish him off this Monday in their steel cage match on Raw (being taped on 12/28) before turning around and knocking NYC. He complained about it being cold and that New Yorkers have no manners. Ziggler attacked him and nailed a Zig Zag leading to Balor nailing a Coup de Grace off the top on Drew. This was a perfectly put together opening match and segment, getting everyone over, getting the crowd into the show and showcasing all three.
*Apollo Crews won a Battle Royal, knocking out Jinder Mahal, who was on the apron, with a leaping enziguri that came nowhere near Manhattan, much less Mahal. The match included Curt Hawkins (attacked and tossed out first, naturally), Rhyno (wasn’t he “fired?”), Heath Slater, Titus O’Neil, Zack Ryder, The Ascension and No Way Jose. Pretty standard stuff here.
*Elias defeated Bobby Lashley (with Lio Rush) in a Guitar on a Pole match. The stipulation was never advertised in advance. Elias cut a good babyface promo and played his guitar with the entire Garden clapping along. He then set up another song, but instead out came Lashley and Lio. Match wasn’t as good as the promo. In the end, Elias retrieved the guitar and won. He brandished it as if he was going to hit Lashley with it. Lashley cowered in the corner and Lio came from behind Elias, who caught him. He turned towards Rush. Lashley went to spear him but Elias evaded it and Rush ate the full force of the spear. Elias then broke the guitar over Lashley’s back. The match went about six minutes.
*Natasha and Ember Moon defeated Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott (with Sarah Logan) in a very good, athletic tag team match that told a strong story and was a lot of fun live. Moon nailed an awesome looking Eclipse on Riott, allowing Natalya to lock the Sharpshooter on Morgan for the submission.
*In an excellent bout, NXT stars Matt Riddle & NXT North American Champion Ricochet & Velveteen Dream & UK Champion Pete Dunne & defeated WWE NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano & Undisputed Era members Adam Cole & Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly (with Bobby Fish). This was EVERYONE’s official debut in MSG. Undisputed Era and Riddle got the biggest reactions coming out. No one was booed during the match, but you got a sense that live, the audience didn’t know much about who they were watching. As the match went on, they got more and more into it and eventually got a big ‘NXT’ chant after a big sequence. They teased Ciampa and Gargano working together at one point, but it didn’t happen. Ricochet nailed a 720 splash off the top rope on Cole for the pin. At this point, this was easily the most spectacular thing on the show.
*WWE Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose defeated Seth Rollins to escape and win a Steel Cage Match to retain the title after Rollins had the match won, but Baron Corbin, his identity obscured in a New York Knicks Hoodie, ran down to ringside and slammed the cage door in Rollins’ face. Ambrose went for the door. Rollins grabbed him but was kicked off and the Champion pulled himself out and to the floor. The last half of this was very entertaining, including Rollins doing a superplex into the ring from the top of the cage, then popping up to hit a Falcon’s Arrow. They brawled on top of the cage and at one point, a Singapore Cane came into play as well. Once they turned the intensity on and began really slugging it out, the match kicked into second gear and ended up being an entertaining 16 minute match.
*After intermission, WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions Bobby Roode & Chad Gable won a Triple Threat match over The AOP (with Drake Maverick) and The Revival in about 12 minutes. Well worked match but the crowd was still coming back from intermission and that kept them from pulling the audience in for much of it. Gabe is ridiculously good at everything when it comes to the physical aspect of performing. At one point, Roode was sent to the floor and Gable teamed with The Revival to execute the Shatter Machine at Rezar. Maverick got involved and was nailed a took a bump off the top to the apron. Solid.
*Bayley and Sasha Banks defeated Alicia Fox and Mickie James with Dana Brooke. Big reactions for Banks and Bayley, especially when Bayley returned to the stage for the unveiling of the Bayley Buddies. This was short but fine. James really shined here as a heel.
*Baron Corbin was slated to face Braun Strowman. He announced Strowman would not be there and informed the referee he had to count Strowman out. The ref began to do so, but at eight, “No Way in Hell” played and out came Vince McMahon to a huge reaction.
*Vince told everyone he wanted to wish them a belated Merry Christmas on behalf of everyone in WWE. He then led the referee in counting out Strowman, so Corbin wins by count out. Vince heard the fans booing that and chanting at Strowman that he sucks. Vince said that on this night, especially since they were in Madison Square Garden, he wanted to give Corbin another opponent, someone who has had more big memories in Madison Square Garden than “Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin” combined. Yep, he said that. It was John Cena….
*John Cena pinned Baron Corbin with an Attitude Adjustment and his new Lightning Elbow. Cena got, by far, the biggest and most sustained reaction of the night, especially among kids in the crowd. He hugged Vince when he came to the ring. He looked like he had leaned out in terms of muscle and with the longer hair, looked a hell of a lot like JBL facially. This was ten minutes of Cena’s greatest hits and the crowd loved it, doing the back and forth Cena chants as Cena went back and forth with Corbin. Corbin escaped the STF at one point. After the match, Cena took the mic and said he wanted to spend his holidays with his loved ones and he was so happy to have shared tonight with everyone in the audience and told them to enjoy the rest of the show. He spent a long time on the entrance stage saluting the fans before leaving. In terms of the audience being engaged and reacting, they live crowd was far more into this than anything else on the show. WWE turned off the video screens above the ring for this match (as they always do for Cena bouts in MSG) and this match only and it may be that helped lead to the more interactive responses from the crowd, as opposed to the upper decks passively watching the video screens.
*WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey forced Nia Jax to tap out, winning the first women’s wrestling match to ever close a WWE in MSG live event in the main event position. Jax was accompanied by Tamina. This was a little rough at times, but also very physical. Jax nailed Rousey, on her shoulders, with an Electric Chair. She built up to a big spot with an attempted knockout punch, but Rousey grabbed her arm, kissed her hand and came off the ropes with an armbar takedown. She then transitioned Jax into the armbar for the submission.
*After the match, The Riott Squad hit the ring and attacked Rousey, and everyone beat on her. Natalya and Ember Moon made the save but were attacked by Alicia and Mickie and Dana. Sasha and Bayley made the save and there was a huge brawl with the women that ended with Rousey dropping down and sending Nia over the top to the floor, then Rousey hitting a flying bodypress off the top onto everyone on the floor. A chaotic scene to close the show. They closed out with the other women putting Rousey on their shoulders.
Notes: The show ran about three and a half hours, including intermission, so it was longer than your traditional WWE live event…There was no return date to Madison Square Garden announced, which given that MSG will host the ROH New Japan G1 Classic event Wrestlemania weekend, isn’t the least bit surprising…There was a heavy push for the WWE Network all night, including the main event being “sponsored” by the Network…Michael Hayes was at the event and was likely the person who wrote and put the show together….Dasha Fuentes handled ring announcements while Vic Joseph worked as a live host for the show….They were selling signed photos of John Cena and Seth Rollins at the merchandise stands as well as a Holiday Live tour t-shirt….It was great to see everyone I ran into at the show and to spend time with…Brandon Easton, the comic book and TV series writer (Marvel’s Agent Carter) was in attendance at the event. He’s working on the forthcoming Jim Cornette history of pro wrestling-themed comic book series coming from IDW….Former WWE star Enzo Amore was outside of the Garden milling about with fans before the show.