I know, I've usually got something stuck up my ass regarding the state of the industry in North America today, the lack of workrate, the elevation of inferior talent, the tarnishing of a once-enjoyable athletic event. Was I upset with Jushin "Thunder" Lyger's treatment on last night's Nitro? You're damned right I was. Did I find anything worthy of TV time during the Test / Stephanie fiasco? Hell no. However, what I did see was several worthwhile matches on both Nitro and Raw, with the Benoit / Jarrett / Sting three-way on Nitro (accompanied by Bret Hart's discovery of a watchable match in Meng) and a pretty enjoyable (if short) Matt Hardy / Edge contest on Raw. In short, there was plenty to enjoy, along with the usual meaty chunk of suck for old time's sake. There was something for everybody to complain about. Let's start it off with:
On paper it looked watchable, as the poor workers were for the most part paired off with a decent or better counterpart. The evening wouldn't be housing any 5* matches, but it could give us another step up from the pits of the last few months. A tasteful salute to Hiro Matsuda, though I'm sure none of the fans watching knew who in god's name he was. In short, he's responsible for training the strongest and most popular workers of the 80's and early 90's in Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorf and Lex Luger. Not an exceptional listing of workrate machines (well.. Orndorff was damned good), but definately an impressive collection of physical specimens.. which was Matsuda's bread and butter.
As Goldberg's gentle touch calmed and soothed a microphone, he managed to spit out a couple soothing phrases, including "Tonight, you won't be entertaining the fans". Not especially a phrase I'd incorporate on a program that seems to be shooting more for the 'entertainment' crowd than the 'sports' anymore. Still, the big man's vocal improvement is notable and he's playing with the idea of audience participation as well. Enter: the Outsiders and Sid, and the segment nears crowded. WCW Security took care of that, in the inimitable fashion only the men in the yellow.. er... black shirts can.
I wonder if the "Powers" noticed Buff's blown finisher last night, or his near-complete lack of... well.. anything redeemable. Probably not. In order for a move to be credibly assigned as your finisher, you need to demonstrate a mastery of it, as though you've been doing it for years. Missing your opponent entirely doesn't exactly enhance the image. Also of note; Booker T was taken out of the match by... his own axe kick? He nailed one member of the Blu Twins with a signature move of his own, but then feigned injury until after the match's finish. "Hey, don't look at me.. I just book this."
I think the bellow of happiness that emanated from my apartment around the 8:30 hour was loud enough to be heard 'round the world. This was around the time my roommate and I discovered Jushin Lyger would be facing Juventud Guerrera in a potential epic later in the program, rather than a silly Lyger/Evan Karagias blow-fest, which is what I was expecting.
I think Matt Spence and I are among the half-dozen vocal fans of Fit Finlay in North America. What the man has achieved is phenominal, and rivals the Bulldog's injury in its severity. Yet, he's come back (with a mean-assed scar, to boot) as strong as ever in half the time it took Davey Boy. A couple months ago doctors doubted his ability to walk again. To be even near the ring, let alone inside of it.. kicking, punching and all around dominating... is worthy of respect, if nothing else. And hey! He erased what may have been the ugliest man in WCW. Quoth Knobbs (who was graciously taken from our view for the rest of the night); "I am a hardcore soldier.... of war." Folks, the mic doesn't get much better play than that.
I'm still in shock from the mockery that was the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight championship match last night. You have, arguably, two of the most spectacular workers ever to step between the ropes in Juventud Guerrera and Jushin Lyger. You have the most coveted Jr. belt in the world. You have a TV audience of several million. How does one steer wrong with such a flawless recipe? Throw in "buzzkill", the latest waste-of-a-gimmick on Brad Armstrong (whose name is ironically appropriate). Not only does he steal the camera's attention during the most anticipated segment of the evening (well, for me anyway).. but he ruins the match by "calling" it in tripped-out hippie fashion, diverts the attention of the easily-amused announcers away from the action at hand, and 'distracts' Lyger into hands-down the most disgraceful moment in the history of the IWGP Jr. division. To see a belt so rich in tradition change hands in such a manner.. well, I'm really glad it wasn't Karagias. At least this way we've the potential of good match within the next month, when Lyger regains the belt.
Well, let's see if I can't pick up again.. this was the point at which I had last saved before my computer up and erased the rest of the Nitro review I'd written.. technology is such a blast.
Chavo Guerrero, Jr. was enjoyable in his role as the new backstage interviewer.. as a worker with a historical problem getting over, Chavo may finally start to go somewhere if this catches on, as comedy is truly his forte. Especially entertaining was his segment with the Nitro Girls backstage, nonchelant until the end. Perhaps this time he can see elevation without Pepe, his wooden horse.
Honestly, I'm still not sure if the Revolution was serious about their new names. The segment was just starting to garner some heat when Malenko wandered onto that. Saturn tried to save the segment with his "moron" gimmick, and did fairly well before Duggan made an appearance in the role he was born to play. I loathe the thought of seeing him back in the ring, but he received the pop of his career last night, and it's still nice to see him healthy.
Scott Hall surprised me by lifting Sid into the Outsider's Edge, with no help from the big man whatsoever. Afterwards, Sid hit one of his gentle chokeslams.. which sent my mind on a journey into the past. Remember when Sid's chokeslams looked like they could kill an African Elephant? It's a long time ago, I know, but pre-Wrestlemania VIII, they were devestating. Just an observation, I suppose. Meanwhile, backstage, Juventud moved forward the angle I really hope we don't see...
If nothing else, last night proved we haven't seen the last of the old Bret Hart, as he carried "The 'fro that lives", Meng to a nice little match. It's nice to see the fire lit back under the Hitman, which we haven't seen since his arrival 2 years ago. Despite the prerequisite of overbooking, I could swallow this one.. especially after watching Nash cower off in a hurry after several stiff as hell Benoit kendo stick shots.
The three-way for the #1 contendership was quite good, as well. Benoit came out and took one of the nastiest Stinger Splashes ever, Jarrett held his tremendous recent form, and Sting was... Sting. Even though I didn't recognize him, I was pleasantly surprised to see Dustin Rhodes' interference, giving Chris Benoit another chance at the world title. Though several have complained Benoit's match quality is dropping while his rank raises, all I need is a match like this one every week to keep me happy. Plus, even after he loses the inevitable World Title shot, there are several notable feuds on the horizon. He's barely scratched the surface with Jarrett and Hart.. another run with Hall or Eddy Guerrero would be worthwhile.. Booker T could jump start a renewal of their old TV strap feud.. Hey, even another series with Malenko is worth shouting about. I'm pleased to see where he is today.
While his interviews have taken steps in the past months, Goldberg's selling has gone more the other way. Hall and Nash pounded on him for several minutes, and during the moment's rest Big Bill came out almost refreshed. That's not intensity, nor is it toughness. That's just stupid. Post-match, I was awaiting the Bret Hart turn that seemed destined to happen at some point in the evening. Hart was holding a chair, unopposed in the ring as Goldberg finished off Nash. Could they set the table any more obviously? Yet still, Hart remains face.. I was surprised again.
I don't have much to say about the mud match, except there were fewer rolls on my Thanksgiving dinner table than there were in the kiddie pool here..
When I first caught a glimpse of Curt Hennig, I thought about what a nice angle this could turn out to be. His turn was done quite well, though I would've left him face a bit longer, and definitely had the audience's attention. I'd already thought of a role similar to that of the late Rick Rude, an enforcer outside the ring that everybody would love to see active back between the ropes.. but I guess that would involve too much development, as we deal with a 2 week "retirement" in its stead. During his match with Midnight, he occupied himself by slapping her breast... multiple times.. as Stevie Ray was slow on his run in. That's an awful long way to fall in one night.
Back into the mud, we go.. I guess a mud match is like the slip-n-slide in a way, since it's only broken out once a year and we make the most of it when it's available? It was fun watching Liz eat the entryway... hard.. on her way out, but otherwise I could live without it.
If there were maybe one fewer participant in the main event, things wouldn't have been such a mess. As is, it suffered from the same affliction that traditionally struck the former "World War III" PPV.. too much action, not enough space to provide a competant report. The only hope was to have a spotty, well paced match that would allow cameras enough time to segue between the spots freely. However, with Goldberg, Nash and Sid in the picture, you can throw that right out the window. Jarrett came out looking strong again, while keeping his name in the hat for a main event slot. He took some nice bumps, to boot. Meanwhile, Benoit pulled out his second pinfall victory of the night (!), as well as another giganta balls-like headbutt from the cage. Unbelievable.
Overall Grade: C+
I just couldn't bring myself to giving this one a 'B', thanks in large part to the mock boiler room match. Sure there was plenty of Campbell's Chunky Suck on Nitro but there was also an equally, if not greater, section filled with tasty morsels. And hey, any card that sees Benoit pushed through the stratosphere and Bret Hart as champion can't be all bad, right? The important thing now is to cut back on the damned gimmick matches... if I saw one more last night I'd have projectile-vomited onto the set. I actually expected good old Russo to come out with "Juvi, we've got the perfect match for you... a flaming aborted fetus match! It'll be great, there'll be dead babies en flambe, hanging from the ropes and stuff... RATINGS! RATINGS! That's draw." Or... maybe not.
A couple weeks ago, I wasn't sure The Big Show would be holding on to the belt beyond the next PPV.. now, I'm not even sure he'll be holding on to it for another week. His audience reaction was pitiful, a world apart from the monstrous pop he managed only one month ago. Honestly, looking back, was this angle with the Bossman as helpful as anticipated, and worth the tongue lashings in the press, internet and competition? I'd be led to believe not.. At any rate, this was a less than suitable opener for Raw and the only time we'd be seeing the quickly-alienated WWF champion in the evening.. though Tori sold the backspin kick like a champ.
HHH is worthwhile on the mic, but nobody.. allow me to repeat.. nobody needs a 20-minute lead off interview. The leader of DX floudered along after several minutes, and stuck to the same point.. though the random insertion of "disco music" was appreciated (what was that all about, anyway?). My roommate was quick to point out that a 'Temporary Order Of Protection' spells "TOOP", not "TOP". He then followed up that "backwards, it would be POOT!" This is a prime example of the discussions that go on in the apartment hereabouts..
Having just watched another highlight reel from the Hardys/Edge and Christian ladder match (the salvagable section of that "WWF's Best" program that just aired), I move on to the Matt Hardy / Edge matchup from last night, which.. wasn't comparable. Seeing as how I had to compare it to a definite match of the year candidate in order to cut it down to size should give you some inclination as to how good this one was. As opposed to the X-Pac / Jeff letdown last week, this came closer to a good delivery and was given ample time to develop as its own match. No matter how often I'm told and shown that Jeff is the good one, I'm always equally as impressed with his brother. The bump he took over the top rope into the camera was sweet, and the spear finish looked good from its initial angle. Easily the best match on Raw, and the audience was into it. You can't ask for much more than that.
I'd thought JR had announced a Chyna / Jericho match for Raw, later in the program. Apparantly I misinterpreted him, as instead we're treated to this little shindig. I wonder; could Jericho look much weaker?
If you'd like to know the truth, the Godfather character is a complete abuse of everything you can get away with on cable TV. Call me old fashioned, but if I were a parent, and my child were watching a pimp with whores, promoting the lifestyle and the use of illegal drugs, I might question the show's content as well.. Throw in the fact that he's anything but a decent worker, and you have prime material for the cutting room floor.
True conversations from the Muncie, Indiana telephone lines:
Caller 1: "Hello?"
Caller 2: "Did I just see what I think I saw?"
1: "I think so, yes."
2: "I just saw Mae Young doing crotch chops.. on national television."
1: "Yes. I think I'm in love."
2: "Oh, there's no doubt. I love Mae Young"
Caller #1 was my buddy from the dorms, Big Cheez.. Caller 2, myself. Thank you.
Well, the Too Cool / Hollys match was about as short as they come.. I was looking forward to a nice tag match between two of the reasons the WWF's tag scene is so good today.. yet, Bob was never even in action.
Test hit his beautiful gut-wrench suplex, and completely schooled whoever attempted it on Nitro. Call me a hypocrite, but your arsenal could consist of those two moves and I'd come back for an encore. Near the end of the match, my predictions as to who was behind the Vince mask were blown all to hell, as Shane came down the rampway. Perhaps a little GTV action is in order to clear up the identity of our masked referee?
Barbara Bush, huh? I don't really have a comment on that selection.
After a bit of getting used to, I've finally come around to respecting Kurt Angle. He wasn't much to look at when I was first introduced to him in a dark match at the live Heat I attended this summer, but he's certainly come a long way in the months since. Give him another couple weeks to get used to the microphone and ad-libbing for a live audience, and he'll find some real potential.
Easily the most interesting feud of the big 2 in the next few weeks looks to be the ongoing dispute between Al Snow and The Rock. One of the basic rules of writing a good story is to make the villain easy to empathize with, thus creating something of a split inside the viewers. They know who to pull for, but they can understand why the other guy's doing what he is. Unlike a DX run-in or a Val Venis random turn, the WWF writers have achieved this difficult feat with Rocky and Al.. let's hope they don't screw it up. In all honesty, I find more truth in Snow's words than I do entertainment in Rock's catchphrases, so I'm pulling for the misunderstood man with the Head.
Up until the wedding itself, both programs were running dead even in my book, and I was looking forward to marking down equal scores for the first time in the history of Ringside Shadows.. 20 minutes of utter shite and a Benoit cage dive changed all that for me. I flipped back over to Raw for the infamous "If anyone should oppose this marriage" line, where everybody knew something was going down... and nothing. The sound crew fucked up, as DX's music didn't hit until the pastor had moved on with the ceremony. Maybe they were jamming out to that disco music we were treated with earlier in the evening. At any rate, the end result was an unseen swerve. No tie to Austin's "accident", no run-ins. Just a calm demonstration of a video and some vocal threadings. Later in the night, Bill Lupo compared Helmsley's performance to HBK.. which is out of line in my book. The wedding segment was reminiscent, however vaguely, but lacked the fire and believability of a good Michaels segment. It should be interesting to see where things go from here, barring a "Loser divorces" match, with a special "Burning Fetus" gimmick.
Overall Grade: C
That should do it for me.. My girlfriend waits impatiently for me to complete this, so you'll excuse me if I'm brief as I wrap things up. I'm trying a couple different things with the format of Ringside Shadows, in an attempt to liken it to a more professional column, so let me know what you think of the slight cosmetic changes. A new banner's on the way for #100 in the next few weeks, and I should be back once more this week with a look at what makes a good heel.
until then, i remain