Zayn and Owens: Re-Connecting the WWE and Montreal (Part 2)

This is the second part to a two-part article, read part one here.

Pat Laprade, co-author of the book “Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw-Jobs”, is a well-known figure, both in the Quebec wrestling scene, and around the world in the independent market. He has written for SLAM! Wrestling, The Wrestling Observer and Reseau Des Sports (RDS).

Laprade weighed in on some of the ins and outs of what the rise of Sami Zayne and Kevin Owens means to Montreal and its indy scene, and to all of the students hoping to someday reach their level.


Zayn and Owens: Re-Connecting the WWE and Montreal (Part 2)

Shawn Wilken: From 2001 to 2006, the WWE has done 11 televised shows. Since then, 3 shows in 5 years. Why the sudden drop?

Pat Laprade: “Besides Survivor Series in 1997, WWE had never done a TV taping in Montreal before 2001, and it worked so much that they did come back quite often. After 2006, I do believe the crowds were not that great anymore, or at least, the house show crowds. When WWE came back to Montreal with a house show in March of 2012, it was more than a year since the last time they had come. In fact, they didn’t come at all in 2011, the first year (of absence) since they started coming to town in 1984. That house show, the crowd was just going nuts. They reacted to anything and everything. I got out of there, and I was sure that next time, they were coming back with a TV taping, and they did. September 2012, the Raw with Bret, and Jerry Lawler’s heart attack.

Sometimes, it’s not always the numbers, but the way people react to the product. Don’t forget that in 2009, they came with a very bad PPV, Breaking Point. That doesn’t help getting the fans back.”

SW: Is the lack of Montreal-born wrestlers in the WWE a sign of reluctance on the WWE’s part to bring in local men and women, or is the talent pool too thin?

PL: “To be honest, WWE doesn’t care where the talent comes from. It’s a matter of getting the best talent out there, and no one in Quebec could touch Steen (Owens) and Generico (Zayn) in years. No one. And it shows too. They were the only two who were able to work the indies in the United States on a regular basis for so many years. They got booked everywhere. Zayn worked in 29 different countries before even getting in the WWE.

I mean, it has nothing to do with WWE not willing to hire Montreal guys. It’s not about the talent pool being too thin. It’s about having talent, having potential, and making sure that the right people see it.

Unfortunately, you won’t get scouted if you stay here. You need to work for promotions that are scouted, the PWGs and the ROHs. Some local promotions here will help you get there though, but it won’t directly help you get signed.”

SW: In your opinion, do Zayn’s and Owens’s graduation to the WWE bring new hope to Montreal hopefuls, and can it bring more circulation to the schools in the city?

PL: “It will surely give some hope to a new generation of fans, but also to a bunch of current young wrestlers. Unlike Sylvain Grenier and Maryse Ouellet, Steen (Owens) and Zayn went through all the process of indy wrestling and performing all over (the world), in front sometimes of 30 or 40 people, for not a lot of money. They have done it the traditional way, so it will give hope to the current scene.

Of course, it could mean that some kids will look at them and think they’d like to be like them one day. That being said, what would help even more is if WWE was (televised) in French in the province. That’s what I believe is missing for WWE to be even more popular here. It’s been close to 15 years now since WWE is only (televised) in English. Even then, there’s a lot less people watching it on The Score/Sportsnet 360 than when it was on TSN, years ago.

WWE on a French station is THE thing that could make numbers move a lot. That, or a local product on TV, like ToW is trying to do. That too could put more people in the schools. Steen and Zayn might help, but TV is still TV.”

SW: Jorge Morillas shed some light on how the WWE has shunned Quebec-based talent over the years, despite some notables getting try-outs. He gave us the “how”, can you give us the “why” this happens?

PL: “Ok. Well it’s way more complicated than that. And I kind of answered it in one of my other answers.

Not giving guys from here a shot is just a baloney reason. They will give a shot to whoever they feel deserves a shot, and to whoever makes enough of a case for himself that he will be under their radar.

Franky the Mobster has had many try-outs, but the problem was that he only tries to get in one way. Directly to the WWE. He didn’t do all the indies like Steen and Zayn, nor getting to TNA first, to get noticed. Steen and Zayn got invited to try-outs, which is different than going to a try-out when WWE is in town. Why did they get invited? Because they wrestled where they needed to in order to get noticed. And sorry if I hurt someone with this, but these places are not NCW, IWS, NSPW, TOW, or any of them for that matter.

They are important to get experience. Some can be a good stepping stone to work in bigger indies in the US, but they will not get you to WWE.

That being said, when Franky got his try-out, it was another era, where Johnny Ace was in charge, and when the PC was not invented yet. Maybe today it would work for him better the way he tried to.

From Onyx, Silva, and Prophet, Darkko was actually the closest, as he was handed a contract in front of him, but he would’ve not passed the physicals at the time, and he never got another chance.

Timing is everything, you know.

Again, WWE has a limited number of wrestlers they can hire, and they have the whole world to scout. I mean, who are we to say that they are looking over Montreal? Do you know how many big cities could actually say that?

If WWE does not sign any other Quebec guys in the next year, there will be a reason for that, and the main one I see right now is that nobody is working the promotions they should be working in order to get noticed. I’m more concerned right now about not having any Quebec guys ready to step up and work regularly at ROH, PWG, England, Japan etc. than not having another one signed by WWE.

Steen and Zayn are two of a kind. We might not see two guys with that kind of talent blooming on the Quebec scene at the same time for many, many years.

In the end, it has nothing to do with WWE not giving the guys here a shot. It’s about the guys here doing what they should do to be there.

Don’t forget that 5 years ago, Steen and Zayn might not have been signed, because of their size and look. With Triple H in charge and the PC down in Orlando, signing prospects is something that has totally changed, but not just for Montreal. For everyone. There was a time when WWE was not hiring indy talent, but guys like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins helped the case of the indies by performing at a high level and delivering.”

On Numbers Involving the WWE and Montreal:

“So, the first TV taping was Smackdown in October of 2001 and it drew 14,068. Then, Raw after Wrestlemania, with Hogan and The Rock, 13,000. Smackdown in May 2002, the crowd wasn’t disclosed. Raw in October 2002, 10,000. No Way Out PPV The Rock vs Hogan, 15,114. Raw in July 2003, no crowd announced, but it must have not been that good, because they broke the tapings streak, and came back with a house show in November 2003. They only came back in May 2004 for Raw, when La Résistance won the belts. I don’t have a number, but I was there, and there was a lot of reaction from the crowd. They came back with a matinee show in October, in front of 4,000. Then, January 2005, SmackDown drew only 3,500. Raw in August 2005 drew 12,000, but that was with Hogan, who was always a big draw here. They only came back a year later, with a super show, and drew 13,500. Two things here. First, the crowd was due, because it was more than a year since they came, and second, because it was a double tapings, the first time in the city.

Then, they came back with one house show in 2007, and one house show in 2008 – that show was their comeback to Canada after Benoit killed his family and himself. That put the breaks on WWE in Canada, and even then, Montreal was where they came back first. Both shows drew around 7,000. Breaking Point PPV in 2009 drew 12,000.

The house show I was telling you about from March 2012 drew 8,000, which is very good for a house show. The Raw in September drew 11,000 which is good too.

Montreal is a market of tapings, like many other cities now. House shows is where WWE drew the least, except when they are overseas or in Mexico

I would say that the two shows at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005 scared them a lot, and they might have realized that without a Hogan or The Rock, they were not able to draw that much (of a crowd). The fact that they didn’t have a strong local start didn’t help either. The only time they portrayed Grenier as a star was when he and Conway beat Benoit and Edge in Montreal in May 2004, and the crowd reacted accordingly with a major pop for him.

They need to think differently for Montreal. At first, they were not to put Bret Hart on the actual show (live, I mean) when he came back to Montreal after 15 years in September 2012. Bret had to convince them, and they didn’t regret it.

They did put Zayn kinda strong at the last house show. That’s a good idea. But they need to do that again when Zayn will be on Raw. There are not enough people watching NXT among the ones going to the house shows.”

The sky is now the limit for both Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, and where they go in the WWE beyond NXT is up to them. Zayn is to the point where either winning the NXT Championship or jumping up to the main roster is the next step. For Owens, all he wants to do is impress. “When I start somewhere, I want to make my time there count and I want to make memories there. I want to make moments that people will remember.”

With the insight provided today, one has to wonder if Quebec can ever again produce two generational talents like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.

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