Friday, July 14, 2000

The World's Greatest ECW Heatwave 2000 Preview

At the beginning of the year, it appeared 2000 would be among ECW's best. They were building a strong champion in Mike Awesome, working towards an anticipated feud with main event-bound Rob Van Dam. They'd imported the right men, and worked them into the storylines relatively easily with Yoshihiro Tajiri and Masato Tanaka. They were available to a large audience with their running ECW on TNN program, and interest was climbing by the day. Unfortunately, things have gone anything but up since then.

Sabu attempted to jump promotions, only to be shot down by Heyman. Chris Candido and Tammy Lynn Sytch successfully made a presence in WCW, as did Mike Awesome.. still carrying the ECW gold. Former TV Champion Super Crazy is having difficulties even entering the country. TNN has signed big name the WWF, and quickly shoveled the ECW program off their network. On top of that, things have been in steadily declining in the financial department.. weak promotion has hurt house show attendance, and workers weren't being paid. Raven is biding time before a big jump to the WWF, and the Sandman's problems with the ECW owner appear to be worsening by the hour. If things don't pick up soon for the little promotion that could soon, I fear the repercussions. What ECW needs to do now is almost reinvent themselves. Fan support is one thing they've never lacked, and I wholeheartedly believe they're catering to the crowd that's remained loyal for years with this card. There's truly something for everybody, with Tajiri, Guido and Psycho treating the purists, Rhino and Sandman lending their talents to the spot fans, and Credible / Dreamer lending their blood for the Hardcore enthusiast. If Heyman can pick up the carelessly tossed pieces of WCW (and in that, i mean Blitzkrieg, La Parka, Psychosis and others..), he could rebuild the promotion in a new image. An image I'd be proud to watch religiously.

Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Psychosis vs. Little Guido

Ho. Ly. Shit. Here are three men that can tear up like nobody's business. Here's one of the greatest mat wrestlers in the game, Guido, one of the top three luchas in the world, Psycho, and one of the stiffest, most inventive guys around, Tajiri. To see any combination of two here would be a match of the year candidate.. but tossing all three in at once? Yikes. It's great to see Psychosis back home, where I'm hoping a fire will be lit underneath him once again. When inspired, he ranks among the top ten workers in North America. Without question. My praises of Tajiri haven't exactly been few and far between, either. Though I don't like him as much in the face role, I've accepted it.. so long as I still see him on my TV every Friday night. Guido's in a class all his own when it comes to putting together a dynamic match on the mat. Imagine if Malenko had gone to ECW instead of the WWF. What a clinic these two could've put on together. At any rate, it's common knowledge that ECW's lined up some spectacular openers in the past that have failed to deliver as strong a match as expected (several Super Crazy / Tajiri / Guido brawls early in the year.. while more than enjoyable.. weren't all they could've been). I'd be willing to bet that isn't the case here.. and it's just what the promotion needs. For a winner.. I'll go with Tajiri, taking the surprise win over the obvious favorite, Psychosis. Somebody get a mop.
Winner: Yoshihiro Tajiri

Jerry Lynn vs. Steve Corino

Allriiiight. Steve Corino on a PPV... wrestling, not managing, and he isn't taking on Dusty Rhodes. There is a god. Here's hoping Lynn and Steve-o get something like 20 minutes (which isn't that outrageous here in ECW), so I won't have to tell you why they each kick several degrees of ass. See, this is the kind of match that gives me hope in ECW. This is the kind of match that makes me sit up and take notice. Hell, this is the kind of match that makes me.. smile. Lynn and Van Dam had arguably the best series of matches a year past now, and I stand confident that, given the opportunity, Lynn and Corino could leave those in the dust. Here's to building a long feud with these two.. as for the winner, it's a tough call. I'll try my dice with Corino this time, with Lynn evening the odds later on.
Winner: Steve Corino

Rob Van Dam vs. "The U.S. Male" Scotty Anton

I haven't been keeping up with this feud, so I'll let explain: "When Mr. PPV made his initial return from a broken leg, he knew that he would be vulnerable to attack. He trusted his best friend, Scotty Anton, to accompany him and watch his back until he was ready for active competition. In return, Anton was able to sign with ECW, and wrestle his way out of the shadow of his past ridiculous personas. Whether through the prodding of the Network, or his own insecurity, Anton felt it was Van Dam's shadow he needed to escape, and turned on his friend at Hardcore Heaven." Now that we're in the know.. I'll go with RVD. Because he smokes pot, and that makes him popular.
Winner: Rob Van Dam

Rhino vs. The Sandman
ECW Television Title Match

Another match that isn't exactly the ham and eggs in my continental breakfast. Though I'll acknowledge his physical ability, Rhino just doesn't appear to be the "phenom" Joey Styles would like us to think he is. To be honest, I'm surprised McMahon hasn't plucked him up yet, with his much-publicized love of the big man. I'll give credit where credit is due, however, Rhino is a valuable asset to the company and is really putting his heart into his work. He's a deserving TV champion, but wasn't my first choice for a replacement when RVD went down. Sandman, on the other hand, has little redeeming values left in him. His wad was blown during his initial, pre-WCW run with the promotion. Aside from the big moment when he made an unscheduled return to the promotion that had led him to fame, Sandman's new run has been something of a flop. Bearing that in mind, I'll go with the Rhino victory, after spearing a naked Sandman, his mother in law, his father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate, and his penis through a table or two.
Winner: Rhino

Justin Credible vs. Tommy Dreamer
ECW Heavyweight Title "Stairway to Hell" Match

I'll be blunt: I'm not the biggest fan of either man in this main event. Credible's feud with Lance Storm was set to launch him as a full blown heel.. possibly deserving of a World Title push.. but with the exit stage left of his former Impact Players partner, so went his chances as a credible world champion. Many are having a difficult time accepting him in main events, a disease that admittedly afflicted Jarrett, HHH and Rocky during each of their respective rises to the top. Where Rocky had Austin, HHH had The Rock and Jarrett had Sid to establish their individual names at the top, Credible only has Tommy Dreamer, an aging veteran who never really received the push he probably should have. The 'stairway to hell' match has historically been a vicious gimmick, and I'm sure this Sunday will be no exception. It doesn't float my boat, but for what it is, I'll admit it should be good. I'll take Credible to retain for another month, maybe two before Dreamer finally captures the gold.
Winner: Justin Credible

In Closing...

Despite a bogged down upper card, this looks to be a really healthy PPV lineup. Heyman will certainly throw in a couple new matches at the last moment, and here's hoping those keep up with the strong undercard.. rather than the main event. It's a shame that ECW's in the trouble it is, because we won't be seeing action like this anywhere else in 2000.
until next time, i remain

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Ringside Shadows #137: Two Former TV Champions... Where Are They Now?

It was just over two years ago now, mid-1998, when many would argue WCW really dropped the ball with their midcard. The time had come to shift the balance of power from the veterans that had dominated the scene for so long to the rookies that were capturing the attention of the fanbase. Case in point: Booker T and Chris Benoit. The two were about to embark on a wild series of bouts over Booker's recently acquired TV title, one which should have guaranteed their elevation to the upper crust of the card. While both men faced a negative reaction in their first few months with the company, they'd each managed to build a dynasty all their own through the years (Booker with Harlem Heat, Benoit with the Horsemen), and the audience had grown to respect them for that. Now, instead of booing upon their arrival, fans were giving them a chance to show us what they had, and weren't being let down.

Benoit's realistic selling, combined with Booker's kick-intensive offense, was giving fans something they'd never seen before. With Hogan, Goldberg and Nash at the top recycling the same old kick / punch / suplex / finisher / pin formula in the main event, an actual series of reversals in the middle of the match was something revolutionary, let alone from two no-names buried in the ranks of the TV Title. Though neither was scheduled for much of a push, crowd interest for the feud they'd put together was so solid, Eric Bischoff started putting them higher and higher on the card. If Goldberg was main eventing a Nitro against Glacier, he was often following a tough act in Benoit / Booker.

While they'd met on more than one occasion in the early parts of the feud (including the oft-referenced house show title changes that saw Benoit an unrecognized 2 time champion), the smack didn't really hit the fan until Fit Finlay came into the mix. During a regularly scheduled title defense on Nitro, T put his belt on the line against the Irishman and everyone wrote the match off as a piece of cake victory for the champion. Sure enough, Booker had fought through a strong series of submissions to hit the axe kick of doom, but before he could put that last nail in the coffin, Benoit had marched down the ramp to watch the action firsthand. His presence distracted the champ long enough to cost him a rollup... and the title. In the weeks after, Finlay did his job and defended the belt on a regular basis, while Benoit and Booker T tore each other to pieces. When their personal problems started to spill out of the locker rooms, interfering in unrelated matches, Bischoff laid down the law in a couple of the best-ruled decisions of his first reign. The two would meet on Nitro, with the winner acting as the number one contender at the upcoming PPV. When Benoit acquired the title shot, only to lose the PPV match cleanly, Booker figured it was time for his shot. The Crippler disputed this claim, and Bischoff gave us a decision I'm thankful for to this day. They'd attempt to follow in the boots of Magnum TA and Nikita Koloff in a best of seven series, with the winner laying claim to the next title shot.

As if that weren't reason enough to celebrate, the first match of the series set a blistering pace, with each successive meeting maintaining that status quo and then some. After working over the arm and neck throughout the first match, Benoit had lost the advantage when a series of reversals didn't go his way. Booker hit a lightning fast axe kick and sidewalk slam, then went up top for the finisher he hadn't used in months, a forward flip-into guillotine legdrop combination, titled the Harlem Hangover. It missed, which believably kept both men on the ground for nine of the referee's standing ten count. The Wolverine draped an arm over his opponent, but Booker kicked out after the long two count and teased another momentum shift. He hit the ropes and swung for the fences with a wild clothesline, but Benoit was waiting for it. A crossface came out of the blue, and Booker tapped.

Off to Thunder we went, where things went much the same way. Midway through match two, the effects of the epic they'd battled on Nitro were beginning to show in both men, but then quickly vanished once the action hit the boiling point. Near the end, it seemed to be almost a replay of the finish of their Nitro match, as Booker took a late advantage with a sidewalk slam and climbed the ropes. Instead of attempting the hangover, however, he hit a missle dropkick. Benoit couldn't kick out and the series was tied at one apiece.

WCW Saturday Night was the scene of match number 3, and again the Crippler pounded out an early advantage. When Booker started to blow the winds of change, Chris high tailed it to the floor, killing the momentum. Once back in, Booker took the advantage anyway and broke out a couple new, Benoit-esque power moves of his own. That was enough for Chris, and he drilled a snap suplex and backbreaker in an effort to show Booker how to correctly do things. Another sweet series of reversals and counters wrapped this one up, as Benoit hit the rolling suplexes and looked for the headbutt, which he missed. Booker stood and tried that same clothesline, which Benoit attempted to drag into that same crossface... unsuccessfully. Though the submission didn't land, Chris still had time to pull a go-behind and counter. A bridged German suplex was enough to take home the 'V' in this instance, making the score 2-1 Benoit.

Match four was back on Nitro, and T finally took a decisive early advantage. Three minutes later, the big man was proving to us that when given an opportunity, he won't let go. It was becoming a back and forth affair, when Fit Finlay stepped out to "scout" the action. Both men found themselves laid out for an eight count, following a Benoit German release suplex, but the Crippler eventually went right back to the offense, kicking his opponent in the head and nailing a short clothesline. Still, Booker managed a reversal and an axe kick, followed by an uncharacteristic belly to back suplex. Running with the momentum, he picked up the series leader for a slam, but wasn't watching the position of his arm. Benoit, however, most certainly was paying attention, and he exploited it by slamming Booker to the mat, directly into the crossface. Inches from the ropes, Booker gave in after nearly nine solid minutes.

Part five of the series took place on Thunder, and saw another early advantage by Booker T. Benoit stood tall after taking nearly everything Booker had, and promptly landed his rolling german suplexes, a snap suplex and a hard elbow for two. Chris hit the diving headbutt that wasn't his finisher at the time, and Booker's brother, Stevie Ray, found his way to ringside for "encouragement". The moment Benoit took to look away from the action cost him in the end, as Booker blocked the Crippler Crossface that Benoit had planned, and turned things around with the spin kick and a sidewalk slam. The former champ did the "spinaroonie" breakdance to his feet, and Benoit viciously clotheslined him right back to the ground. Talk about instant heat. The Crippler then uncharacteristically confronted Stevie Ray from the apron, giving Booker the chance to hit a missle dropkick and stretch the series to six.

WCW Saturday Night was skipped in the rotation this go round, and Benoit attempted to avoid a seventh match with a victory on Nitro. Neither man seemed willing to make the first mistake, and it led to a couple minutes of match time with very little to show. Benoit took a break on the floor, and the action finally picked up. The Winnepeg native took it to his opponent, a run that culminated with several nearfalls and a diving headbutt that sucked the wind out of both men. When that only netted him a two count, Stevie Ray took the opportunity to deposit himself at ringside once again. Booker took control with a strong series of focused attacks, but Benoit reversed the breakdance spin yet again again and was looking for the kill. With all the momentum on his side, the rabid wolverine whipped his opponent into the ropes, but Booker hurtled him, performing a bizarre pinning combination utilizing his legs, that grabbed the three count. Post match, a furious Benoit assaulted Booker's leg until Stevie Ray finally broke it all it up.

Match seven would go down on Thunder, and would decide who the better man really was in the long run. In the moments before the opening bell, Bret Hart and Eric Bischoff marched their way into the ring, announcing that they were betting on Benoit. The Crippler wasn't sure what to think of this vote of confidence, as he stared from across the ring, and the Hart / Bischoff coalition found themselves a little surprised by his response. Stevie Ray accompanied his brother to the ring this week, but was asked to head back, as Booker wanted to do this one by himself.

The two tore into each other with everything they had, predictably so, as this was the final match of the series. Benoit went for the legs, (a strategy he should've employed earlier, since Booker focuses so heavily on them for his offense) as the viewing audience cut to a commercial. Returning from the break, the two traded turns on offense, with Benoit continuing his attack on the legs. He stretched Booker's long frame into one of the meanest surfboards you'll ever see, and it was suddenly time for another commercial. Returning yet again, Booker had taken the offense. Benoit made a quick comeback, drilling his rolling suplexes for two, before landing the diving headbutt for another two count. Bret Hart, outside the ring, felt he had seen enough and clocked Booker with a chair while the ref's back was turned. As Hart encourages his fellow Canadian to cover his downed opponent, Benoit instead stood, deep in thought, as the ref administered a ten count. At eight, Benoit informed the official of what had happened, and gets himself disqualified. Booker had taken the series, but it was tainted.

After the series of seven was through, JJ Dillon looked at the evidence, at the competitors and at the poor way things had ended, and made the decision to book Booker / Benoit VIII at the Great American Bash, with the winner receiving a title shot later that very night. The match was hard fought from bell to bell, and when the dust settled, Booker was looking forward to a title match while Benoit sat and thought about the opportunity he'd given up in match seven. T took the title that night, and the feud had effectively blown off.

Shoot back to the present, two years later. Booker T has just won the WCW World Title on an evening that many believe to be the big turnaround the federation's needed for years, while Benoit is over in the WWF, main eventing in a World Title match with the Rock. It's taken longer than any of us ever expected, but the rewards are just as sweet as we'd hoped. These two proved to us all that they could carry a program over two years ago in the mindless ranks of WCW, and now they're getting their chance to run with that ball in the big game.

It's often been debated how the WWF's World Champion would stack up with WCW's in the ring. You'll have folks claiming one has grown from his days in the other federation, or one had lost his touch. Sometimes the two had never even stepped into the same ring together, or most of the times they had the results were less than memorable. With Booker and Benoit, there's little question. They were extraordinary. You couldn't ask for a better champion in either man. In the end, though, it's just two former TV champions. Where are they now, and where are they going...? That's for fate to decide. Best of luck, boys, and cheers. I'll enjoy watching both of you give it your best shots.
until then, i remain

Friday, July 7, 2000

The World's Greatest WCW Bash at the Beach 2000 Preview

What a card this is. I've done my best to maintain an optimistic opinion throughout this preview, but ran out of hope midway through the card. Lineups like this are what got WCW into the pit it's been in for years now, and continuing along the same path isn't going to change things. Viewers aren't going to "come around" to this. To believe so would be like assuming the average McDonald's patron would "come around" to eating a sandwich comprised of two slices of bread, sandwiching a pile of human feces. They could call it the "McShit". The wave of the future. No, WCW needs to take a cue from the recent WWF expansion and get with the times. Where's the Billy Kidman / Lance Storm team? Don't tell me anyone would rather see "The Perfect Event" in action..? Russo and Bischoff have some serious issues that need immediate solutions.

Lt. Loco vs. Juventud Guerrera
Cruiserweight Title Match

Holy hell, the cruisers are jerking the curtain again! It's good to see Juvi back, but 'The Juice' persona isn't cute anymore. Perhaps if he makes the big jump to the WWF and picks up a quick feud with the Rock over it, I'll be pleased.. but until then, enough's enough. It's painfully obvious how much he hates his current role with WCW, and I hope a good PPV matchup isn't too much to ask of him these days. If we get more than 5 here, with as little mention of the rest of the card as possible along the way, it'll be enough to make me smile. Even though he's leaving the fed rather soon, another reign as cruiserweight champ isn't totally out of line for Guerrera at this point. It's the logical way to continue the silly little Filthy Animals / Misfits feud, so I'll go with the upset title change.
Winner: Juventud

Big Vito vs. Terry Funk (Replacing Johnny The Bull)
Hardcore Title Match

We'll see a garbage can somewhere in this match. Big Vito and Johnny the Bull have, surprisingly, built a small little empire all to themselves in the hardcore division. Their matches have been really pretty good, especially when contrasted with the arse they've been surrounded with. Both will bump to the level that fans demand in such a division (Vito's tornado DDT through a table a couple weeks back was absolutely vicious), and have more than a little athletic talent of their own. I'll go ahead and don this the sleeper match of the show, since expectations are already up for Booker / Kanyon and, to a lesser extent, Juvi / Lash. Keep your eyes on these guys.
Winner: Big Vito

Ms. Hancock vs. Daffney
Wedding Gown Match

Back in 1997, my first year in the dorms, one man defined a sort of tradition that would hold strong every weekday for the rest of the year. Sometime between 8 and 9 am every morning, he'd rise from his slumber, throw his windows open and scream "Poop and booooobs!!". It was great. Give these two some poop to wrestle in, and you'll have one satisfied customer. You've gotta start somewhere.
Winner: Daphne, because I find her strangely cuter than Ms. Hancock

Vampiro vs. The Demon
Graveyard Match

Hoooo boy. As if the stank of the Demon wasn't bad enough, they go ahead and toss Ass-yuh into the mix. It could be worse; the Black Scorpion could make a surprise appearance, with Yellow Dog and the Midnight Rider by his side. I can't blame Vamp for signing a recording contract this past week, because his future in the ring doesn't quite look as bright as it did only months ago. I'm taking the Demon. Because WCW is stupid.
Winner: The Demon

The Perfect Event vs. Kronic
Tag Team Title Match

You know, nothing embodies WCW's woes quite like their tag team champions. Here stand two rookies, green as can be, that should be paying their dues early and learning the fundamentals of the business from the old pros. Instead, the elders are more concerned with their own re-elevation, and have taught the new crop all the wrong lessons. WCW officials, instead of putting a stop to the problems before they start, have rewarded the new kids for this kind of behavior with golden belts. Is it really that difficult to realize from where the problems are emanating? Yikes. I'll take the champs to retain, as half of Kronik is rumored to be headed out for back surgery soon.
Winners: The Perfect Event

Buff Bagwell vs. "The Franchise" Shane Douglas

Apparently, in the eyes of WCW officials, Buff Bagwell will never go too far. You'll excuse me, but if someone as talentless as Bagwell were under my watch.. stroking the ego, publicly bashing the product and attacking and / or threatening the men and women who make him look good from behind the curtains, well.. he'd be jobbed out so fast nobody would remember his name. Tell me the WWF has interest in this clown, and I'll tell you how full of shit the notion is. In the modern regime of WCW, however, he's near the top of the card only days after a confrontation with Terry Taylor backstage. What a wonderful life he must lead. While Douglas isn't much cleaner game, he's earned my respect after showing a willingness to improve WCW as a whole takes precedence over a desire to boost his own career. Where the end result's concerned, I really don't care. They were a tag team, they split, hoo hah. I'll go with Douglas, because that's the way things should be..
Winner: Shane Douglas

"Positively" Kanyon vs. Booker T

I don't really have much to say about this one. The end result will be nice to look at, and the crowd will most likely dig it. Here's hoping both go on to bigger and better things in the next year, because they both deserve it. Booker's my pick here, continuing the tear he's been on of late.
Winner: Booker T

Scott Steiner vs. Mike Awesome
United States Championship Match

With proper motivation and a younger Scott Steiner, this could've been one to look out for. As is, it should be respectable enough. Awesome hasn't completely given up yet, and I'm confident he can drag something not altogether wretched from Big Poppa Pump. Of course, Steiner won't be willing to bump nearly as sharply as it's taken to make Awesome look... well, awesome.. in the past, but they should be able to tell an interesting story limiting itself to the mat between them. I've been looking for Scotty to drop the title for months now, after infrequent defenses have rendered the gold useless once more. Perhaps this is the stepping stone Awesome needs to build a name for him in the big town.
Winner: Mike Awesome

Kevin Nash vs. Goldberg
Scott Hall's contract is on the line

Let's cover this one more time.. Goldberg's heel turn was tremendous. In a company full of tweeners, afraid to damage their image by playing a bad guy, Goldberg reveled in the hatred of the crowd. I hesitate to compare him to HHH, but the similarities are there. The reporters on the net would have you believe he's uncomfortable with his new role and wants to drop it immediately.. but if you've been paying attention, it's fairly obvious. He's jumped into the role feet first, and is thoroughly enjoying himself. Unlike his stablemates, Goldberg won't back down from the challenge of the faces. He even bloodied Kevin Nash on Nitro a couple weeks back, rendering him unconscious. While I'd rather not see the big sloth this high on the card, the storyline development has made it acceptable. The end result is actually pretty unpredictable.. Goldberg looks to have the upper hand, which would point to a Nash victory.. but Big Bill's record is still an issue. There's little doubt this one will be a schmozz, to make up for what I hope goes down at the top of the card. The ref's final decision..? Let's say Goldberg, because this one isn't ready to blow off yet.
Winner: Goldberg

Jeff Jarrett vs. Hollywood Hogan
World Heavyweight Championship

Again, the rumors have been floating about for some time now, claiming Hogan's refused to lay down for the current champ.. and while it doesn't sound too out of character for the balding star of classic films such as No Holds Barred and Mr. Nanny, I'm willing to dismiss it as pure speculation at this point. Not that it would surprise me, seeing a DQ Jarrett win or a clean Hogan 'V'. If Ol' Terry's still up to the task of leading by example, this would be about as perfect an opportunity as he's gonna get. Laying down clean might not be the safest thing for Hogan's career, but it would give WCW a tremendous boost.. which is about all Hogan can offer these days. With Jarrett already a four time champion, I figure it's about time he picks up a clean title defense. This match will not be pretty. This match will not intrigue. This match will not attract buyers. The best thing to do here is to give Jarrett his FIRST clean title defense, while picking up the scattered pieces of the World Title belt. It's a completely unlikely scenario, and I'm giving Russo a lot more credit than he deserves here, but I'm gonna go with Jeff. Could be this whole "I don't wanna job.. I don't like Russo.. wahh" thing Hogan's got going on is nothing more than a work. Unlikely, unlikely, but it's their only hope. Jeff retains.
Winner: Jeff Jarrett

In Closing...

Let's hope it doesn't turn out any uglier in the execution than it looks on paper. I'm tired of talking about a one sided war.
until next time, i remain