Friday, September 22, 2000

The World's Greatest WWF Unforgiven 2000 Preview

Despite my immeasurable pleasure over HBK's rediscovery of his smile, I've gotta lay it on you, John.. I've got ya beat. See, not only do I hold a soft spot in my heart for the legend of the Skinner (fondly remembered from multiple televised matches in the early 90's), but I've had the distinct honor of watching him work live and in person. as he pinned Owen Hart at Wrestlemania VIII. That's a memory that not even Maurice can tarnish. At any rate, it's no secret that the WWF has been a house on fire throughout the 2000 PPV lineup, providing us with one can't miss card after another and generally delivering the goods every step of the way. Whether it be Mick Foley's final match(es), HHH's string of incredibly built matches or The Rock's fifth title reign, it's been quite a sight to see and well worth the price of admission. With that said, the provided card for Unforgiven shows no signs of slowing down the streak. We've got Eddie Guerrero and Rikishi duking it out over the constantly fluctuating IC title, Benoit's second shot at the World Title and a Tag Title match that's almost guaranteed to bring the house down. On top of it all, the last missing piece of the WWF's main event puzzle will be making what looks to be a full time return this Sunday night. Of course, I'm talking about the Rattlesnake, Steve Austin. Where I stand on that issue has more to do with his physical well being than how much the WWF needs to see him back. His appearance at Backlash wasn't all it should have been, especially considering the trouble he had sliding under the ropes. Perhaps it would've been best if he'd taken the Dynamite Kid's recent advice and gotten out while he still had the chance? We'll see this Sunday night..

Steve Blackman vs. Al Snow vs. Test vs. Funaki vs. Saturn vs. Crash
Hardcore Open Invitational for the Hardcore Title

There isn't much that can be said here that we didn't say in our Wrestlemania preview. The numbers have slimmed down a bit since the last hardcore open, as Tazz has moved on to a feud with the broadcast team, Taka has faded off into nothingness and Hardcore Holly is just.. gone. Blackman's done an almost admirable job as Hardcore champion, bringing his own style into things beautifully and actually gaining quite a bit of respect from the fans for it. We won't be seeing any bumps from the Titan tron here (more of a trash brawl, I'd assume), but things will likely get just as chaotic. There really is no way to preview one of these things. At least we won't be seeing any shamelessly large Surge bins, right? A TNN bin, perhaps, but no Surge. I'm going for Funaki here, because his name rhymes with sake.
Winner: Funaki

Tazz vs. Jerry "The King" Lawler
Leather Strap Match

Easily the match I'm least looking forward to on the card. In my opinion, they should've wrapped this feud up last month with a clean Tazz victory. While it could be argued that he did cleanly put the King away before JR intervened with his glass jar of doom and therefore gained some credibility with the common fan, I lost a little faith in Tazz's spot with the WWF at the same time. If he's ever going to find acceptance as the bad ass he was born to play, he's got to simply pummel Lawler from post to post in this one. It needs to be no contest whatsoever, proving he isn't afraid to stomp a beloved icon's teeth all the way down his throat before ending his suffering with a Tazzmission. The crowd will hate him for it, but isn't that what we're aiming for anyway..? Give Lawler a kick, a punch and maybe a bodyslam in the early goings, and then make it ugly. Fast.
Winner: Tazz

Eddy Guerrero vs. Rikishi
Intercontinental Championship

Good build for this, with Chyna used in the role she should've been reserved for in the first place.. a valet that can get physical if the situation warrants. Eddie's been in solid form throughout this big turn, and the glare he shot the crowd when that first "Eddie sucks" chant floated around the arena gave me renewed interest in him. I'd almost forgotten how completely bitchin' of a heel Guerrero could be, and I'm almost giddy as the WWF prepares him for a monster push to the top as a vicious bad guy character. As I've stated many times in the past, Rikishi is far from the worst big man you could pick up. He's surprisingly agile for a man of his size, works well enough with the smaller guys, and seems to be willing to do what it takes to keep his style in the ring fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, the higher ups in the WWF haven't yet mentioned how old his 'back that ass up', dancin fat man gimmick has become. Thought somewhat unsuccessful, his Intercontinental title reign earlier this summer was pretty strong, and he pulled out some gems with Val Venis that highlighted his ability to take flight.. something that's almost sacrilege considering how monstrous he is. Think about it.. you'd never see Andre the Giant near the top of a cage, much less sailing off of it. Granted, just as much credit for that feud goes to Venis, but Rikishi certainly carried his weight as well (no pun intended). To put it simply, I think these two could have a nice match once they've felt each other out and know their limits. This won't be all it could be, but it's bound to be good all the same. As for a victor, I'm taking Guerrero. His run with the title hasn't yet begun, and he needs a couple defenses to solidify his rise to high midcard.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero

Edge & Christian ? vs. The Hardy Boyz w/Lita
Steel Cage Match for the Tag Team Championship

Man, here's a storied rivalry. These two teams have been meeting each other for years now, through exchanged gimmicks, title runs and ladder matches. It's pretty much a no brainer, and about time the Hardys take their second title run. We're bound to see spots that will blow your mind here, and I'm gonna keep holding out for that insane OMEGA Jeff Hardy Shooting Star Press, the first on prominent WWF tv in.. well, ever. It's really just a mathematical
equation here. Hardys + Blondes + gimmick match = ingenuity, crowd heat and a match worthy of the Tag Team Titles.
Winners: The Hardy Boyz

Chris Jericho vs. X-Pac

A nice build for this one, as X-Pac came from out of nowhere during Jericho's belittlement of Steven Regal on Raw. The shot he delivered with the 'chucks was beauty, though he pretty much killed the moment by fucking up the finish of his twirling stick exhibition afterwards. It's nice to see Waltman motivated again, and now that he's been cut from the dead weight of DX I think he may finally be ready to fly. A feud with HHH might be on the horizon, though I think Road Dogg's much more likely to pop his head into the mix this Sunday than the Game. While a clean finish might be asking too much, these two have had classics in the past and I don't think it would hurt anyone to let them rehash one of those old formulas for a good ten minutes before the run-ins flow. X-Pac delivered the pot shot on Raw, so Jericho's walking away with this one. Amazing how quickly Y2J got lost in the shuffle of the main event, isn't it? I was talking to John on AIM the other day, when I mentioned I never thought Benoit would make the World Title scene before Jericho in the WWF. What about you, John? Agree, disagree..?
Winner: Chris Jericho

Kurt Angle vs. Triple H
Special Referee is Commissioner Mick Foley

Simply put, the best feud I've seen in years. The way these two click, the way their glares at one another send shivers down your spine...that's history, telling you this is the stuff upon which legends are built. The internet as a whole has been anticipating this for months on end, with the WWF dangling that carrot in front of our faces all the way through subtle backstage vignettes, personality shifts and coincidental bookings. When it all boiled over in the nights after Summerslam, the response was overwhelming. Everything Kurt Angle does seems to compliment HHH's arsenal, and vice versa. Their styles mesh, their personalities clash and that extra little something to push everything over the edge, in this case one Stephanie McMahon, is positioned directly between them. While Foley's job as special referee might make things more complicated than they should be, it's only a minor glitch in one massive, functional machine. No matter who comes out on top here, you'd best be sure the war has only begun. Here's one of those rare instances where I won't mind a feud running 3 or 4 months, maybe a little more. And for my dollar, Kurt Angle needs the victory to establish himself as a formidable threat.
Winner: Kurt Angle

The Rock vs. Kane vs. Undertaker vs. Chris Benoit
Fatal Fourway Match for the World Wrestling Federation Championship

Not the three men I'd most like to see opposing Benoit in a World Title match, but it'll do. What the WWF is trying to do here is, in effect, raise Chris Benoit's stock based solely on association. I've got no problem with it, though I think Matt Spence's idea of a worked "Benoit breaks Rocky's neck" angle would get things done faster and much more effectively (speaking of which, our little triad just isn't as interesting without the resident lush around.. anybody seen him lately??). To say the Crippler will carry this match would discredit the combined abilities of the other three involved, so I won't speak that exact phrase.. though I will be looking to see him involved with a lot of the match. With the Taker and Kane in the midst of a rejuvenated feud of their own, it would be easy to narrow the call down to either Benoit or Rocky here..perhaps a little too easy. Don't think that same feud wouldn't be more than a little bit enhanced with the addition of a World Title to the picture, and with the Undertaker's clean victory over Rocky this past Monday night, it's rather obvious he's being primped for another reign as the WWF champion. I don't see it taking place Sunday night, though I do have a feeling the title will be changing hands. I'm going out on a limb with this one, but I see the Oratory's messiah, Chris Benoit, sneaking off into the night with the gold around his waist. He may end up losing it only one night later, but that's the kind of intrigue the WWF would simply devour, as they head into their first night on a new network. Benoit nabs it through underhanded means.
Winner: Chris Benoit

In Closing...

Just about something for everyone here, aside from the T&A oversight that I'm sure will be corrected by the time this gets posted. I mentioned it in the introduction, but I think I really need to drive home how impressed I am with the WWF's run of PPVs in the year 2000. Sure, they've had one or two that weren't quite what they could've been (Wrestlemania most notably), but can you honestly remember a year that's seen so many great matches running back to back, month after month, PPV after PPV? Because I can't. Austin or no, this is a great card and the short list of matches means they'll be handing out plenty of time to the workers, upon which to build a strong match.
until next time, i remain

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Ringside Shadows #145: The Dream Match

It's one of the most heavily debated subjects in our sport, one that has never been granted a definitive answer and one that never shall. It's an argument that's trickled in from every aspect of society itself, a dream cast for television.. a dream script for film.. a dream fight for boxing. Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good card tick, what matchups would ignite any flammable crowd and who would draw the big bucks going over. The idea of a dream card isn't new, but it's far from old... and I seriously doubt it ever will be.

I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to the possibilities when the Radicals made their big jump to the WWF. Be it Benoit / Jericho (a matchup that escaped us after both hit it big in WCW) or Guerrero / D'Lo, I could not wait to see these guys matched up with the opponents that had been denied them in the past due to political issues. Several dream matches of my own were finally about to be fulfilled. Unfortunately, this was where the reality of the situation kicked in... my expectations were way too high, as always. The Benoit / Jericho series I'd been looking forward to for years wasn't quite the five star string of matches I'd hoped it would be, and that clouded my enjoyment of the feud for what it was. It's a sad thing, but a fact, when you're speaking hypothetically, (as I thought I was when I mentioned a Jericho/Benoit feud) it's easy to make believe things would go flawlessly. In truth, they rarely ever do.

But in this case we're speaking hypothetically again, and I'm gonna let my imagination go wild. My mission for today is to line up five matches featuring athletes in different promotions, men who cannot contractually meet anywhere but a special occasion like the Pillman or Hildebrandt memorial show. I'll be nabbing my favorite stars from the WWF, WCW and ECW, explaining why I chose them, what kind of match they'll have, providing a little background information and letting them maul each other for your entertainment. There's little tact, rhyme or reason to my decision making... this is purely a self-indulgent piece of drivel. Something I should've done a long time ago. So now, before I spoil all my fun with a much longer introduction, let's get on with the show.

3 Count vs. The Hardy Boyz v. The Jung Dragons v. Kaientai

This is basically me throwing the proverbial crap against the wall and watching to see what sticks. These are four of my favorite teams, every one of them willing to almost kill themselves for a pop, every one of them deserving of much, much more. To even the sides up, Evan Karagias would be unceremoniously dumped from Three Count before the opening bell has rung (because, as everyone knows, Evan's the reason these guys aren't going anywhere) and Kaientai would enter the ring alongside a last-second addition to the match... Billy Kidman!

The Competitors: Up first, 3 Count. Lords of the WCW unknown, Shane and Shannon have "big time star" written all over them, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them handled in the same fashion as Benoit and Jericho; ignored until they head elsewhere and make Turner sorry. They're still quite green but show tremendous potential in the ring, as well as before a crowd. I'll admit I wasn't looking forward to seeing a Backstreet Boys gimmick on WCW television when rumors were first circulating of their birth, but now that it's been running for a while I can really understand what Jimmy Hart (the man behind the mouth) was thinking. Take a look at wrestling's target audience; young to middle-aged boys. Now look at the Backstreet Boys' target audience; young to teenage girls. Tell me you wouldn't like to have seen Danny or Donny taking a pounding in the ring when New Kids on the Block were the hot thing on the radio... ok, now translate it to today. With the right wheels, packaging, members and promotion, these guys could be IT.

The Hardy Boyz; bar none, the breakthrough team of the last five years. In a world that thrives on catchphrases, two minute matches and merchandising, the Hardys have done the unthinkable. They've gotten themselves over with little or no mic time, based on their physical charisma and ringwork alone. While many are calling Jeff the obvious star of the two, I find that a bit unfair. Both are worth more than many of the WWF's current singles stars on their own, and while Jeff's swanton bomb makes for one hell of a visual, it's Matt's work with pacing and psychology that gets them there in the first place. They work perfectly as a tag team, and will do fine as singles once they round their game out a bit more.

The Jung Dragons are next on the list, and are bringing up the rear in terms of both talent and exposure. Greener than Three Count, (with the exception of Kaz, who is simply stupendous) these guys need a bit more time before accepting prominent spots on any sort of program. But once they do gain that extra experience, they could be a force to be reckoned with. The name is great, and each has already developed a distinct personality both in and out of the ring, which is a must when none speak fluent English. It's a shame we aren't seeing more of these guys, but I can understand a relegation to Saturday Morning TV until they space out their work experience a bit more.

Finally, Kaientai and Billy Kidman jump into the mess. I chose Kidman because he's the only guy I could really think of that would make this match fly any higher than it already would without. The first two I considered, Shinjiro Ohtani and the Great Sasuke, were both rejected because of stylistic differences (Sasuke would only slow things down and Ohtani is more of a ground-based worker) and the visual of Kidman pulling out the shooting star press again is worth his inclusion alone. Nevermind the possibility of a double shooting star, alongside one of the only other men in the US who can perform it, Jeff Hardy. Taka and Funaki are currently playing the part Three Count fills over in WCW. Exceptionally talented, but never given the chance to prove it. Working with the others involved in this match, though, I think they'd prove why internet personalities like myself consider them such an impressive duo.

The Match: Imagine the ladder match the Hardys enjoyed against Edge and Christian several months back. Now multiply that by two, throw in a shooting star press from the twenty foot ladder and give the crowd somebody to hate. That's what I thought, too. Unlike Monday's low-hanging tag team belts, the gold for this match would be much higher... barely high enough to reach with the twenty footers. Hey, if this is a fantasy match, we don't have to worry about anyone getting hurt, right? It would be booked as a train wreck of sorts, with the more experienced, well-rounded Kaientai and Kidman team carrying a lot of the load between big spots. Think the Three Count / Dragons ladder match was inventive and original? Throw in the equally decisive minds of the Hardys. These guys would come up with spots that haven't even been imagined yet, leaving the crowd in a sort of awe throughout. When the dust clears, I've got the Hardys and Three Count fighting their way up adjacent ladders, scrambling for that first touch of gold while Kaientai and the Dragons try to collect themselves on the floor. Kidman climbs into the ring, drawing the attention of Shane and Jeff, who promptly go off balance and collapse the ladder in a heap on top of him. Matt and Shannon brawl all the way to the top of the other ladder, before Matt suddenly hits the twist of fate from the very top! He pulls himself to his feet, the only one physically able to do so, climbs the ladder and nabs the belts just as Taka takes the ladder out from underneath him. A continuing champ, Matt pays the price for retaining his glory as he falls the frightening height to the mat.

Steve Corino v. Chris Jericho

The real fun here wouldn't be the match itself, but the buildup to the event. Two of the fastest, most entertaining talkers in the business, Corino and Jericho could play off each other infinitely, and the crowd would never grow tired of it. They could make any angle work, as each proved in their earlier work with Dusty Rhodes and Dean Malenko, respectively, and when they finally got into the ring, the results would be gold. Not only can they talk the talk, but they can walk the walk like few others. Surely, if there ever were a feud born in heaven, it would be this one.

The Competitors: Steve Corino has been called "the real savior of ECW" on more than one occasion. Trying to escape the gigantic shadow cast by monster name Rob Van Dam, Corino has actually turned the tables on his competitor by accepting World Title shots and ascending to the main event scene first. Corino used his head and waited out silly gimmicks, cowardly heel runs and a feud with "Duthtay" himself before finally arriving as a legitimate force in the ECW scene. As I mentioned in the introduction, Steve can both talk the talk and walk the walk, after helming several successful heel factions of his own, acting as a mouthpiece for Yoshihiro Tajiri and putting on exceptional performances with Jerry Lynn and Justin Credible in recent weeks on ECW's televised programming. His most recent role (and, so far, most successful) is that of an "old school" grappler, meeting every challenger head on and often donning the crimson mask. He wins some, he loses some, but he never backs down. While Corino was a bitchin' heel, if this face turn is all it takes to make him a main eventer for good, then I'm all for it.

Chris Jericho, on the other hand, has fallen into something of a rut lately. After long, high profile feuds with both HHH and Chris Benoit garnered critical acclaim for Y2J, things really slowed down for him. While Benoit and Kurt Angle have moved up to permanent main event slots, Jericho was somehow left behind and remains a step or two behind the World Title picture. And, barring a big heel turn, I don't see that changing so long as the Rock lofts the belt above his head every Monday night. Much like Corino did early in his career, though, Jericho is taking it all in stride. He's confident, as am I, that his day is coming soon. Why push it? Chris is brilliant on the stick, able to get most anyone over with very little effort, and inventive to the end (though he's lost a bit of direction as a face.) He's the one who gave us "Bore-us Malenko," "Baby Huey" Konnan and the "Jerichoholic Ninja." Once things get physical, though, he's a changed man. Comical on the mic, Jericho is all business when we get into the ring. Despite a style alteration in the last year and a half, he's still among the stronger workers on the proud WWF roster, and retains much of what made him so explosive in WCW.

The Match: Not so short and not so sweet. By the time this one comes to blows, I'd expect both men would be ready to tear the other to pieces, driven there by the constant taunting from his opponent. By the time the second bell rings, both would be juicing something awful and only one would be left standing. I see this one in the same vein as many of the "old school" matches Corino references time and again in his promos, sort of a Flair / Rhodes for 2000. The work would be very much contained to the ring itself, with both just pounding the life out of each other through brawling, submissions and some very limited aerial maneuvers. A steel chair or chain might come into play late, resulting in the gushers spouting from both, and the big visual image would be that of two aged gladiators, exhausted and swinging at one another until Jericho pulls a diving takedown from out of nowhere. Before he knows what's hit him, Corino finds himself buried deep into the mat while Jericho tries to tear him in half at the mid-section. He's stuck in the liontamer, right in the middle of the ring. Broken, Corino passes out and the match is awarded to Jericho, with both men swearing this one isn't over yet.

Yoshihiro Tajiri v. Eddy Guerrero

An international extravaganza of style here, with Guerrero bringing his refined lucha libre / puro blend to the thick of things and Tajiri delivering the stiff-as-hell and tough-as-nails Japanese hardcore without hesitation. We wouldn't get much of a buildup here, and I wouldn't have it any other way... just another case of the irresistable force meeting the immovable object in the middle of the road and neither having the willpower to go around the other.

The Competitors: In a way, he reminds me of an amalgamated young and old Great Muta. One of the internet's favorite sons, Yoshihiro Tajiri remains a name that's whispered in corners of the wrestling world, never breaking through to the big name recognition that's been awarded to ECW mates Jerry Lynn, The Sandman and Rob Van Dam. Though he very rarely speaks, Tajiri's actions and body language speak more than enough to fill his vocabulary. Whether it's his hilarious personality, (after dizzying Super Crazy with kicks in a match, Tajiri mocked and imitated his opponent while Crazy attempted to gain his bearings) his incredible moveset (Case in point: the tarantula) or his straight up realism, (His kicks to the head are just brutal) the man knows how to convey his thoughts, and ECW fans are listening.

Eddy Guerrero made his commute to the WWF alongside Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn in the biggest news item of last year. Since that time he's gone through a period of stagnation before erupting onto the scene as Chyna's suitor, "Latino Heat" Eddy Guerrero. The two took part in some sticky sweet and overly silly moments for some time before Guerrero made that big transition from babyface lover to the role he was born to play; a heel's heel. Seriously, if I had to choose a list of three men as the top potential heels in the industry, Guerrero would top the list without question. The way he shifts his glare to the crowd, like he might spring into them at any moment to stop that "Eddy sucks" chant, the way he makes us hate him the hard way, by soundly beating our favorites, everything about him is overflowing with classic heel mannerisms. Add to that his status as one of the top talents on the planet, and you've got a big time player. It's really quite surprising that he's taken as long as he has to rise to the top, but it's like they say, the cream always finds its way up there. Guerrero's talent in the ring is undeniably good, as he delivers the meanest frog splash you'll ever see and builds his way toward it with great pacing, psychology and methods. His European uppercut is the stuff of legends. Whichever way you look at it, Eddy's a future World Champion.

The Match: Do I really need to do any booking here? These two are the kind that should be let go, free to do what they're paid for without the extra hassle of unnecessary spots and unusual bookings. Just letting these guys go for about twenty minutes should be enough to satisfy any fan's appetite, with many coming back for more. Tajiri would hit the kicks, Guerrero would reverse the tarantula in a way nobody's really considered before. They'd work a little submissions, a little extreme, a lot of the good stuff. I see Eddy just dismantling the leg, which would eliminate Tajiri's strong kick offense, as well as his leaping moves. From there it would be purely elementary. When the younger star's leg won't support his own weight, Guerrero dizzies him with that European uppercut, heads to the top and lands a beautiful frog splash, cradling Tajiri's good leg for the one, two, three. Experience wins out this time.

Jeff Jarrett v. Triple H

Two men that found themselves in virtually the same position one year ago, yet ended up with completely different outcomes as their roles progressed. Much of that is due to their booking and handling with the company, but some of it has to be attributed to the workers as well. I mean, exactly how much can one blame on Vince Russo? How much credit does McMahon deserve? These were two good workers, on the verge of great runs for the main event scene and months away from their first World Title reigns. So, angles and gimmicks aside, how did these two turn out? Let's take a peek.

The Competitors: Jeff Jarrett's jump to WCW last year came as something of a surprise to me, something that's difficult to do in this information age. Apparently, through all the rumors of Shawn Michaels's return, D'Lo Brown's jump to WCW or whatever big surprise Russo was promising us then, somebody overlooked the fact that Jeff Jarrett's contract had expired. Thus, his appearance wielding the guitar that made him famous was quite a shock. Since then he's been pushed right to the top, losing multiple character-building title shots against Sid before suddenly being handed the belt on a silver platter weeks later. Booked as a lame duck champion, Jarrett had no choice but to drop the belt and then regain it again... four times. The man had about two clean title defenses throughout those reigns, and is paying the price for that now as fans still won't accept him at any level above US Heavyweight. Not surprisingly, that's the last belt he was in contention for before his breakneck jolt to the main event. Jarrett is now building his foundations before making another move for the World Title, something that should've been done long ago. In the ring, he's amazing if allowed to be. He relies on his guitar too heavily for interference, but when it all comes down to it, he knows what he's doing and knows how to make it look good. He'd make a great champion, if only he'd arrive on the right path.

Meanwhile, Triple H has been leading a straight up banner year for the WWF. He's participated in one of the most memorable string of important and superb matchups in all of history, and has built a name that's likely to end up in bold face in the history books. A less than adequate worker and character with DX, it was when he embraced his new run as a heel that HHH really found his wings. To be honest, I had more doubts about Triple H than I did about Jarrett in the main event. He relied much too heavily on a knee-based offense, rarely gave it his all and often relied on his opponent or stablemates to make him look good. When he got his chance, though, he really grabbed the ball and ran with it. He developed a personality that was more concerned with being a heel (read: doing his job) than being cool, and a ring style that was much more diverse and entertaining to watch. He's more sculpted. He's his own man now, no longer hiding behind the shadow of Shawn Michaels. HHH is here to stay.

The Match: If anywhere, you're likely to see your heavy duty chair-shotting, table-breaking, guitar-smashing action right here, as both have been known to use props more than sparingly in the past. This is also where you're most likely to see the men leave the ring and use the crowd, ramp and entryway to their advantage. Basically, we'd see a somewhat technical brawl here. No garbage fare, mind you, as I haven't included New Jack or Brian Knobs in this lineup, (nor do I intend to) but strictly "smart" street fighting. They'd swing chairs with a predetermined aim and precision, not randomly. They'd attack a different part of the body (Jarrett likely the knee, HHH the neck, to set up for their respective finishers, the figure four and the pedigree.) When the action made its way back into the ring, these two would pick up the technical assault. They'd continue their punishment on the body part of choice, landing us some nice reversals and counters in sequence. If nothing else, this would be a quiet, beautiful wrestling clinic between the ropes and a dirty, ugly brawl on the floor. In the end, we've got Jarrett up top with the guitar and a stumbling HHH. He leaps, but Helmsley was waiting for him. HHH goes for a Rock Bottom / Book End, but Jarrett's too quick and turns it into "the stroke". Helmsley ducks his head and Jarrett goes off balance, nearly to the floor, and Triple H scoops up his arms, puts his head in the position and nails the pedigree. A three count is all that's left.

Lance Storm v. Chris Benoit

Hell yeah. This is the match I wrote the column about, the one I'd give just about anything to see. Technical brilliance, pure and simple. The minute I saw Lance Storm's first WCW match, I thought "these guys just found their Benoit replacement." He's got that much potential. Both are ECW grads, both hail from Canadian roots, both rely on submission holds for their finishers. They're among the very best in the world today, and I don't think they'd have any problem with cutting into each other and giving us a match for all ages.

The Competitors: I suppose we should start this one with Lance Storm, as one year ago I wouldn't have included him on this list. That's not because he's improved that much as a worker, it's especially not because he's become superb on the mic. Exposure and a good gimmick can go a long way, and never has it been so obvious as with Lance Storm. In ECW he was "the guy who said Calgary... Alberta, Canada." In WCW he's very nearly their top heel, adopting a rampagingly successful gimmick that never hit its possible heights in the WWF. He's had to adjust his style for the condensed matches over at Turner, but seems to be really getting the swing of it after a stellar match against Mike Awesome several weeks back to win the US title and another great match against Sting this past Monday night. If Lance Storm is the future, you can count me in for the whole ride.

Finally, we come to Chris Benoit. And you didn't think it would happen any other way, did you? Benoit is it. The go-to guy of the entire industry, blending just about every style under the sun into one massive collection of grappling knowledge. Watching Chris Benoit in Japan or Mexico is like watching a completely different person, he just delivers his snap suplex similarly. Like Storm, Benoit is lacking when it comes to mic skills, but lets his body language shout for him. He's been trying with the stick lately, and seems to be improving, but I would not build this feud around that aspect of either of their characters. The Crippler built his career in Japan and Stampede, coming to the United States to work in ECW for a short while before finding his place at WCW during their great rise to popularity. He was almost instantly initiated into the Four Horsemen, wrestling's most elite stable, and ran with three incarnations of the group before defecting for the WWF alongside Guerrero, Malenko and Saturn. Once there, he hit off a big feud with Chris Jericho and stepped right into the limelight, accepting multiple title shots against the Rock. Benoit has arrived, and the audience is aware of it. His pops and recognition have been steadily growing, making him among the top three or four heels in the federation. He's almost there, and he's done it all with his hands and not his mouth.

The Match: If you'd like to see the best technical wizardry in the world, I don't think you'd need to look much farther. The sheer number of combinations, reversals, strings and series these two could produce simply boggles the mind. I'd likely dry my mouth out, sitting with it open for so long. Given a week's rest and time to build this match, these two would be well conditioned, prepared and healthy, and the match would most certainly reach five stars. The rolling Germans would hit, as would Storm's superkick and the diving headbutt. We'd get suplexes upon suplexes, reversed out of suplexes. We'd see what psychology is all about. We'd see history, and I can't begin to imagine what sort of combo they'd find to finish this thing off. It would, naturally, have to include a reversal of both men's finishers, but I wouldn't want to see either end in submission right away. Both would fight their way out of their opponent's finisher in a unique way. Benoit might whup out the top-rope tombstone or powerbomb, and Storm would most definately hit that nasty springboard missle dropkick. This would be power wrestling, style, technique and execution to the Nth degree... and this would see Chris Benoit staggering out of the dust with his hand raised in victory.

So there you have it, my dream lineup. Sure, there are several faces missing from this picture; no card would be complete without Booker T, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Raven or multiple others, but I wasn't out to write a book here. I wanted to prove a point. Predictable or no, this booking, this lineup and these outcomes are what would make a PPV absolutely unmissable (is that even a word? yikes.) Do your opinions differ from mine? I'd bet anything on it... and that's what makes this concept so very cool to me. No matter who you talk to, who you choose as your target audience, you're always gonna end up with another lineup of five.
until then, i remain

Sunday, September 17, 2000

Ringside Shadows #144: A "Better Late Than Never" WCW Fall Brawl 2000 Preview

I think the title says it all on this one... Fall Brawl has certainly crept right up on me, and with the actual event taking place in just a few hours, this preview lands as among the latest I've ever published. For that, I'll apologize, as will I for my lack of a partner in crime. John sends his regards, but he's been called away to work for this one. Seeing as how what I've got to say isn't deserving of the title World's Greatest, I've gone back to the old school formula here, which basically consisted of posting it as a regular RS column. Pretty exciting stuff. Anyway, let's take a look at what we've got this month from our friends over at WCW.

Despite a piss-poor series of Nitros, the big boys in Atlanta have actually pieced together something of a watchable PPV lineup here. For the most part, the inspired and / or rising workers are paired off with each other early on, with Skipper vs. Kwee Wee & Douglas vs. Kidman, and a large amount of the suck that just keeps hanging on to the top of the scene has been countered by a damn solid couple of new additions in Booker T and Mike Awesome. There are a several potential gems in this mix, but it wouldn't be fair to say so without mentioning the stinkers that contrast them. Another Russo "shoot" could be in order here, making it, what, three PPVs in a row now? If only he'd quit spitting into the wind long enough to notice those gems, just waiting to get five minutes of storyline-free matwork and a clean finish.

But methinks I complain too much. Let's just get to the match-by-match specifics, shall we?

"Prime Time" Elix Skipper vs. Kwee Wee with Paisley
100 Kilos and Under Title Match

Honestly, I had no idea there was any kind of feud here. While Skipper is the only member of Lance Storm's Canadian brigade that I'll applaud, (aside from Storm himself, obviously) the poor fellow hasn't been given much of a chance to showcase his skills on the big stage of Nitro. I'm not a religious watcher of Thunder or Smackdown by any means, and if that's where this feud was developed, some sort of video package that brings Nitro's viewers up to speed is certainly in order.

Technically, Skipper and Kwee Wee (how do you address this man in a formal environment? Mr. Wee?) are both quite sound, though neither has found their niche in the industry and the champion is greener than grass. They're both a breath of fresh air to the business as a whole, especially the man in pink, and it's a shame they aren't being given enough time to develop as definitive workers. I'll say this goes about three minutes before Russo whups out the "overbookin" stick and sends The Artist out to slap Kwee Wee around, ending the thing in a disqualification.
Winner: Kwee Wee (Skipper retains)

The Filthy Animals and Big Vito vs. Natural Born Thrillers
10-Man Tag Team Elimination Match

Ugh. I'll never be a fan of the fumblebuck, and that's what this will regress to, without a doubt. A ten man tag is an open invitation for sloppiness, especially if half involved aren't interested in much more than delivering their finisher and looking cool. The Thrillers haven't done anything to interest me in them thus far, aside from providing consistant fodder for Russo's swerve patrol victims, and the Animals haven't been booked as anything more than flukes since winning the tag team belts several weeks ago. While Juvy, Rey and Vito will all try to make this thing worthwhile, the numbers are against them in the end. It won't be worth watching.

As for a finish, the Animals and Big Vito need the win desperately, but Russo's mark is all over the Thrillers. As a sign of good faith I'm going with the Filthy ones, though a slaughter in the favor of their opponents (and accompanying ritualistic beatdown) won't be completely out of order.
Winners: The Filthy Animals

Sting vs. The Great Muta vs. Vampiro
3-Way Dance

Remember those days when Sting and Muta alone would provide the show stealer, based on their youthful energy, heat with the crowd, unique personalities and spectacular confrontations in the ring? I'm sorry to say it, but those days are long gone. With Sting maintaining all of his heat with the crowd, most of his moveset and more than a little energy, Muta's been riding a steady downhill slope for years. His green mist spit is just as stunning a counter as ever, but the similarities to the Muta of the late '80s pretty much end there. Where the Great One's uniquely eastern offense shone like a beacon in the NWA and WCW that housed his early American run, his sloppy, mailed in efforts today make him just another has-been, a name from yesteryear. Moreso than any other, Muta is jut going through the motions.

I suppose that's why Vampiro's been thrown into the mix here, to help with the execution of it all, but I've grown tired of the ongoing feud between Vamp and the Stinger. Instead of providing a fresh new angle to a struggling rekindling of an old feud, Vampiro just adds more soot. We may get a couple nice spots here, but overall the match is likely to fall short of what expectations it has produced. I'll go with Sting here, cleaning house and launching the Muta / Vampiro singles feud that we're likely to be seeing at Halloween Havok.
Winner: Sting

The Franchise and Torrie Wilson vs. Kidman and Madusa
Pittsburgh Plunge Scaffold Mixed Tag Team Match

Not long ago, when I composed my column covering gimmick matches, I mentioned my faith in these two and their ability to bring a distinctly WCW gimmick into the present, without losing any of the historical significance involved with it. Since then, WCW has seen fit to add Torrie and Madusa to the match, effectively destroying any of its credibility and renouncing the match as a joke. Now, I realize there's something to be said for T&A on a wrestling program today. I understand there's a good chunk of the viewing audience that tunes in to see a little cleavage on PPV. This. Is. Not. The. Place. Until that fateful moment a week ago, I was actually looking forward to this match above all others. I was anticipating what twists and turns Douglas and Kidman could throw into it, and mayben just maybe an incredible bump or two. Now that Torrie and Madusa have been added, one of the women must be thrown off the scaffold before the match can end. Let me say that again; one of them is going off the scaffold. So much for believability... if an untrained bathing suit model or a forty-year old has-been can take the fall, what does that say for Douglas or Kidman? It couldn't have remained a one on one match.
Winner: Kidman, because he's in no shape to take the bump

Kronik vs. The Harris Brothers
Chain Match

Have I already said 'ugh'? There isn't really much I can say about this match, aside from the fact that I'm definately not looking forward to it. Why the Harris brothers were brought back from an extended absence while more deserving, talented, watchable workers were released from their contracts ranks up there with the bermuda triangle and Amelia Earhart as one of the world's great unsolved mysteries. Seriously, these two had absolutely no redeeming value. Catch that wicked "promo" they cut on Nitro? They couldn't even complete a pre-taped segment without screwing up on several occasions. That takes a special kind of suck.

On the other end of the spectrum is Kronik, and their holier than thou, non-jobbing, non-selling, we-should-be-champions attitudes. And... yeah. There isn't much more accurate a description than that. Since their return from individual absences, Adams and Clark have given me more than one reason to lose all respect I ever held for them as workers, team players or human beings.

Worse than the combined negative aspects of both teams is the fact that this one will go more than a couple minutes. They'll get all the time in the world to stink that arena up, and I'll wager more than a couple fans find themselves sitting on their hands throughout. Because the Harris Brothers have been known to job once in a while, I'll take Kronik as the victors here, but I won't like it.
Winners: Kronik

Jeff Jarrett vs. Mike Awesome
Bunkhouse Brawl Match

Here's a classic example of what WCW's doing wrong. Awesome and Jarrett, both dynamic in the ring, decent to above average on the mic and full of charisma. One would think all the necessary booking would instruct them to "head to the ring, have a good match and don't hurt each other." After all, they've got a combined two decades of experience in the ring between the two of them, why not let them cut loose and entertain the crowd? Instead, Jarrett will come to the ring amidst pyro, carrying a guitar and running from potential conflict while Awesome will drive the Partridge Family bus, step out in a leisure suit and play the "dude love" role from start to finish. It's funny, I thought the "sport" still came before the "entertainment" on the marquee.

Still, even if they are required to stick with their gimmicks, I don't see these two pounding out a bad match. They'll give us some nice counters, reversals and series, and we'll certainly see Awesome climb to the top rope at one point. It won't end cleanly, (oh, heavens no) but it'll be nice to look at until that point. Jarrett walks away with this one, on account of his association with Nash, Steiner and Russo.
Winner: Jeff Jarrett

Lance Storm vs. General Rection
Canadian Heavyweight Title Match

I think it says something that I'm a solid American citizen, and I'd rather be affiliated with Lance Storm than General Rection. Then again, I won't be voting come this presidential campaign, because neither candidate is a man that I feel confident putting in charge of our country. There have been better times to be an American, and General Rection seems to embody that sentiment.

I have enough faith in Storm's work to believe that this one won't be completely throwaway, and that he'll be able to drag a strong enough match out of his opponent for the evening. Still, I long for a worthwhile follow-up to his remarkable performance against Mike Awesome in the finals of the US Title tournament. Perhaps a dream for another day. I guess it should be noted that Storm's held that same belt for over two months now, which is quite a feat considering the crash-TV handling of just about every other belt in the fed. It's no two years, but I'm willing to believe he isn't quite halfway through his reign just yet.
Winner: Lance Storm

Goldberg vs. Scott Steiner

These two have never really had a proper feud in the past, and even now their PPV encounter seems a sort of predecessor for things to come, something to whet viewers' appetites for a larger collision in the near future. With that said, I don't think anything will be resolved here, aside from Goldberg's upcoming rise back to the World Title and Steiner's continued de-emphasis at the basement of the main event scene. These are two powerhouses, neither one as technically sound as they could be, but both making up for it with the sheer velocity of their respective moves. This won't be a masterpiece, but it won't be a waste of time either and I maintain that a prolonged feud between them could be big money down the road given the added incentive of the World Title.

You'd be silly not to realize they're primping Goldberg for another run as their top dog, and the road leads right through Steiner. I wouldn't put money against a second collision between these two next month after a shady finish tonight, but my gut tells me Goldberg goes to a decisive victory here.
Winner: Goldberg

Booker T vs. Kevin Nash
World Heavyweight Title - Caged Heat Match

Here's the shocker of the evening; I think these two can have one hell of a match. The last time they met in singles action, Kevin Nash gave an unusually inspired effort and renewed my interest in him. While it could be argued that his was only a token effort, as he'd receive the World Title later in the same match, the fact remains that he dug himself out of that rut long enough to do his job for the first time in years. If Nash comes out to play tonight with a rested Booker T, enough time alotted to give fans their money's worth and a better, cleaner outcome... well, I might just go home happy. Rumors have been swirling that Nash plans to hold the belt for over three months, but those same rumors sound pretty familiar, especially considering there was talk that he'd be champ for nearly a year last time. Booker's been on the receiving end of a lot of crap in recent weeks, and though Goldberg is by far the number one face, I'd be surprised to see Booker on Nitro without the gold this Monday.

I have no idea what this "caged heat" stipulation means, but if it provides a decent effort from these two, that's good enough for me.
Winner: Booker T

..and that should do it here. WCW's found themselves in yet another rut lately, and unless they whup out something truly remarkable with this PPV, could be in a world of hurt sooner than anyone expects. It's almost a last chance for the Atlanta promotion, and I'm not sure they have the tools to make it work this time.

At any rate, be sure to tune in next time as John and I will be around to unveil the World's Greatest Unforgiven Preview at the Oratory. Check it out, it's bound to be more entertaining than anything I could put out on my own.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Ringside Shadows #143: The Main Event

No, this isn't an entire train of thought dedicated to WCW's "event", Chuck Palumbo, nor is it associated with Rob Van Dam or Shawn Michaels in any way. What we've got here is a rundown of the top names of either promotion, the men who have carried the World Title in the past, those who are hurrying their way through the present and those who are destined to run with it into the future. The Bill Goldbergs, the Chris Jerichos and the Rocks of the modern wrestling world. The "go-to guys," the team players, the athletes that viewers will tune in for.

Carrying a main event is about more than just the gold. When a promoter gains the confidence in one of his workers to boost them up to contention for their prime slot, he's giving them a number of compliments and additional responsibilities. A main eventer is a moral leader to everyone in back, an example of where hard work and dedication (or, in turn, the right friends in the right places) will get you. He's a participant in the most important match of the evening, with the ratings or PPV buyrates resting heavily on the shoulders of his performance. He's a physical example for the company in the eyes of the public, promoted to those who don't watch the WWF or WCW programming regularly. Finally, a main event worker is the point of much ridicule and speculation. If the promotion is doing poorly as a whole, it reflects historically on the champion, (see Kevin Nash's WWF title run in the mid 90s) however, if business is good, the champion becomes a legend (Hogan's run in the mid '80s, Rocky's run today.) It's a lot of pressure, and many simply can't handle that kind of strain. I suppose the main event is where they separate the men from the boys, and the stars of tomorrow from the future McDonald's employees of the month. So how does today's crop stack up? Well, let's take a look.


Kevin Nash
Ah, the plight of 'Big Sexy'. While he can work a mic like second nature, Nash has been slacking more and more noticably in the ring over the past two years than anyone else in the business. His matches are consistantly bad, even when contrasted with a superb worker, as he continues to rely on the same moveset and structure time-in and time-out. I saw sparks of life in him that I'd thought had been long forgotten several weeks ago on Nitro, in the match that saw his third reign as WCW champion come to fruition, though the effort has since been eclipsed by a poor showing in the WarGames match.

Inserted right into the thick of things with the major league nWo angle, Nash has done little to reinvent himself since... always playing "the cool guy," even when heel. His recent turn (and resulting dismissal of the fans) has been good in that respect, so far, though he seems to ache for a return to his old ways. Probably the hardest thing for a heel to maintain is a proper aura, a personality that screams "evil," not "cool." It's easy to turn on the faces, perform run-ins and assault others with foreign objects, but in this confusing day and age where yesterday's heel is today's hero, becoming and remaining "bad" is an underspoken difficulty. HHH has done it, and Nash seems to be finally understanding what he's done wrong.

So long as he remains true to that character, I have no problem with Kevin Nash in the main event. Until his matches improve, however, I'll have to disagree with a continued reign as World Champion.

Without question, the most breakneck ascention to popularity in the history of this industry belongs to Bill Goldberg. Three years ago, Goldberg was facing Steve McMichael in throwaway matches at the start of Nitro. Today he's a million dollar enterprise, a measuring stick and a former World Champion that's apparantly grown a chip to match the tattoo on his shoulder. I've publicly defended Goldberg in the past while others have turned on him, and won't lie to you today either; he's exactly where he should be in the World Title mix.

Goldberg's just got "the look", something many strive for but few attain. He just looks like a wrestler, more so than anyone dressed like a clown, chicken or mortician can ever claim. On top of that, Goldberg's got a moveset that matches his look. Unlike Kevin Nash's lame powerbomb, when Goldberg hits a spear or jackhammer, it's vicious enough to make you forget that he hasn't done much else throughout the rest of the match. That sense of realism and violence is the root of his character, and he brings it to the ring with him every time he walks that aisle, whether he realizes what he's doing or not. While his vocal skills could certainly benefit from a pointer or two, he's far from completely inept on the stick. To be frank, he works the microphone like a rookie entering his third year... which is exactly what he is. With another year's worth of heavy work, he'll be decent enough.

Though his heel run earlier in the year was cut much too short, for whatever reason, those two months showed more grasp on the role than most anyone else in the federation. In a promotion overflowing with cowardly heels in the vein of Chris Jericho's cruiserweight days, Goldberg was the steadfast evildoer that wouldn't back down from the opposition. In essence, he was playing the same character; strong, pissed and mean as hell, but this time he was fighting for the wrong team. I was sorry to see it go, but there really is no use crying over spilled milk. Perhaps someday we'll see that side of the man again, but until then he'll be burning up the ladder as the promotion's top face, which is where he belongs.

Booker T
The newest face on our list, Booker's main event push should have been years in the making. Instead, he was held at or below the TV title, having never recieved the chance many felt was due after his breakthrough performance with Chris Benoit in their best of seven series. Call it the meddlings of Hogan, call it Bischoff's problem, it's all water under the bridge today (or is it the bridge under the water?)

His catchphrases and work with the stick don't really do anything for me, but I love to watch Booker T work. His style is a refreshing change of pace in this world of cookie-cutter carbon copies and redundant headlocks, sleeperholds and suplexes. With a kick-heavy offense (which is, in itself, usually reserved for martial artists), Booker's using his build to its fullest advantage. He's introduced several new and imaginative moves, combinations and reversals based on that alone, and when he ties those in with the basics that mold every worker in the same light, things get really interesting. His run as champion was nice and largely unexpected, and though I'd liked to have seen his first World Title reign extended into something special, a rematch on PPV for the belt will have to do for now.

As a champion, many will have difficulty accepting Booker T for another six months. It's a period of adjustment every champ goes through, and one I'm sure you remember from HHH's arrival in the World Title scene. He just needs some time to build credibility. After that, I think T fills the role of the hungry, athletic, young challenger to the dynasty of the more established WCW main eventers that surround him. He's right where he should be.

Jeff Jarrett
The black sheep of WCW's main event lineup, Jeff Jarrett came to Turner with high hopes. He'd dropped the WWF Intercontinental title only days before, and was met with compliments and good nature from his former employers on the way out the door, a rarity in this dog-eat-dog business. He's one of the true gems of this industry but, unfortunately, is also among the most overlooked. Much like Curt Hennig in the early 90s, Jeff Jarrett has all the tools you could ever ask for. As a second generation wrestler, he grew up in the business and has spent the better part of his life mastering it. On the mic, Jeff can cut a promo for just about any situation. He knows how to incite a crowd and isn't afraid to play the heel, even if it means lost personal revenue due to merchandise sales. In a word, Jarrett is an A+.

Yet, despite his apparant superstar potential, Jarrett has always found himself playing the second fiddle. He's a joke to WCW audiences, despite numerous World Title reigns, because he was booked that way. Every victory, every title defense was handed to him through outside interference. Now the crowd recognizes him as a fluke four time champion, the weakest link of Russo's new faction, or as "that guy with the guitar who says Slapnuts."

Put plainly, Jarrett shouldn't be in the main event. Much as I appreciate the guy, everything he's done and everything he should do, his place is not in the main event scene just yet. At the end of last year, when he was pumping out solid ladder matches with Chris Benoit, he seemed a sure shot for the big plate. Since then, he's traded indecisive victories with most of WCW's old guard before finally handing the belt over to Booker T, while Benoit has since won the World Title and promptly left the federation, having done everything he could do as a member of WCW. It's time for Jarrett to rebuild. Perhaps a run with the US title, defending cleanly against the likes of Kidman, Juventud Guerrera, Big Vito and Shane Douglas. Maybe then audiences will accept him for what he can be: a real chosen one.

Long the staple of WCW's appetite, Sting is their resident phenom. He's remained loyal for well over a decade, carrying the World title through troubled waters, talent raids and new highs. Honestly, you couldn't have picked a better man for the job, as Sting is one of the rare good souls in the biz. He'll do what's right for the company before he does what's right for him. He's forgotten more about working up the crowd than we'll likely ever know. His dynamic ringwork, while altered drastically since his late '80s knee injury, is still easy to watch and effectively unique. Even when wearing a mask earlier this year, you knew it was Sting by the way he handled himself. On the mic he tends to repeat a catchphrase for far too long, but is otherwise harmless. Crowds can't get enough of the guy, and he's bound to be over for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, Sting's also nearing the end of his career. He's led an unbelievable life between the ropes, but unless he wants to end up like a Flair, Hogan or Luger, the time to consider moving on is now, before his body begins to betray him. With that said, I certainly believe he deserves to go out on the top. The Stinger deserves one last run with the gold before saying "adieu" and wishing his fans well for the final time.

...and that's all I can find wrong with the guy. Give him his run, give him someone to pass to ball to (someone loyal, like Booker T) and put the plan into motion. Audiences would eat it up, knowing his time is near, and we'd only be left with fond memories of a great career, not the sad image of an old man who's lost his touch, boring us in white makeup. Sting is a great, and he needs to go out like one. Soon.

Scott Steiner
Big Poppa Pump rounds out the WCW end of things, still fighting his way to the World Title shots he's deserved for about 7 years, only to fall back down on the verge of holding the glory. Steiner is a shadow of his former self, apparently dropping his work in the ring to further concentrate on his phyisque and steroid acquisition. In the mid-90s, few were better than Scotty. He was more inventive than anyone in the sport, be it with his frankensteiner, (the very first hurricanrana in one of the big two US promotions) his steiner screwdriver, (a vicious suplex-into-spinning piledriver that was just brutal) or his trademark steinerlines. He knew how to build a match with pacing, psychology and tag team (or singles) dynamics. The only thing he was missing was personality, something his brother had in spades... which is why they worked as such an incredible tag team, I guess. When Scott joined the nWo everything changed, and many believed World Title shots were in his near future. Instead, Hogan stole the spotlight once more and embarked on yet another World Title reign of his own while Steiner was stuck in the tag ranks with Buff Bagwell.

Since then, Steiner's stock has flucuated rather wildly. When Hogan stepped away from the nWo and WCW in general to concentrate on his political aspirations, (heh...) Steiner was appointed the new leader of the group. Weeks later, Hogan was back and it was a return to the same-old, same-old. Steiner was a surprise addition to the second incarnation of the black and white stable as 2000 started out the gate, but the new group quickly fell into the same traps that had doomed its predecessor and Steiner was left in the US title ranks once again. His current angle seems to be more of the same, as Nash is undoubtedly the leader and Steiner is once again only an underling. Were he to turn on Big Sexy, Scotty could finally have something coming to him in the World Title picture, but don't count on that in the near future. Double S is in the same boat as Jarrett. Nobody's ready to accept him as a champion, because he's never stood on his own. He needs to rebuild.


The definition of a heel. Triple H has worked his ass off to get where he is today, and deserves everything he's recieved. He's despised by crowds the world over, yet all hold a strong amount of respect for him, as he will not back down and seems to never give up. Since losing DX and making a strong effort for the glory of the World Title, HHH has been booked to perfection and his efforts between the ropes reflect that. McMahon obviously has a world of trust in Helmsley, not only because of his immense push and multiple title reigns, but because of his continuing assured spot at the top of the card beside Vince's own daughter Stephanie. That the wedding angle has lasted over a year is a crowing achievement, that the audiences haven't turned on it is almost magical.

In the ring, HHH has come light years from what he was; a poor, repetitive face that seemed more concerned about the angle of his x-chop than the delivery of his dozen or so knee lifts during battle. His feud with Mick Foley taught him more than enough in the fields of pacing between spots, while his Iron man match with Rocky showed he knows more than he let on about psychology and building a strong, extended match. With a face turn seemingly on the distant horizon, I'm coming to appreciate his run as a heel more and more, especially when I think of what things have been like without it. I have absolutely no problem with HHH's role within the company, and after incredible segments like his confrontations with Kurt Angle over the last two weeks I hope to god it keeps going strong for another several years.

Kurt Angle
I don't think I'm going out on any kind of limb by saying Kurt Angle was the surprise runaway success of the past year. While anticipation was high for the arrival of Chris Jericho and (eventually) Tazz, Angle was busy working a year's worth of dark matches in preparation for his on-air opportunity. I remember attending a HEaT taping a year back (you know... when it was still broadcast live...?) and recall noting the dead silent house that sat and took in his participation in a dark match. My roommates and I felt sorry for him, since he was a very good worker, and took pity on him... screaming like we were starring in a remake of The Exorcist whenever he locked in a headlock, hit a dropkick or dropped his poor opponent with a leg sweep. When he finally took the match home with a powerslam, I'm pretty sure one of us climaxed. I find it rather humorous that now, only one year later, he's involved in the best feud in all of wrestling and can scrape up an emotion from the crowd with just the shift of his eyes.

There's a reason Angle's success has been so runaway; he's stupendous, all around... be it in the ring or on the mic, backstage or on the entryway, he's unbelievable, especially for someone relatively new to the industry. Now that his attempts at stealing Stephanie away from her husband have hit full speed, his character is really defining itself. What many expected to be a bland, patriotic face character has since developed into a well-rounded, selfish, tremendous heel that's put HHH in a position many of the viewing audience have found themselves in as well; an unwanted love triangle. Angle plays the dickhead heel very well, and knows precisely when and where to introduce humor to the drama. In short, he's very, very real.

Given two years, there's no question in my mind that Kurt Angle will have defined his niche as one of the all time greats in the industry. He'll be a multiple time champion, possibly the second ever grand slam champ, and everyone on the 'net will be saying "I told you so." Losses to the Undertaker and Big Show in his first few high profile PPV appearances will mean squat by then, as they're beginning to even today. Angle is ready for the main event, and I'm eagerly awaiting the day they make it official.

The Rock
The Rock is the WWF today. He's ascended to another level, one that only Hogan and Austin had before him; a pop culture icon. You'll see people on the street wearing his t-shirts, only to announce they don't watch wrestling, much like the "Hulkamania" or "3:16" tees of the past. Something about Rocky just hits a nerve in the minds of anyone who sees him... funny, considering he was among the most rejected rookies in the WWF's history. Back then he was "The Blue Chipper," Rocky Maivia. A "shoe in", JR told us, "for future stardom." Well, you know the WWF fan as well as I; they don't like it when things are shoved down their throats. Poor Rocky was booed mercilessly throughout his first year, and I don't mean that he was a good heel. Maivia was a face all the way, but he was the clean man in a day when the dark, dirty anti-hero ruled the popularity charts. The exact opposite of Steve Austin.

His rise to stardom is pretty much formulaic. Taking note of his continued non-popularity, the WWF turned him full heel as a member of the Nation. Fans took notice and continued to boo him, though more in the sense of a heel, not a face they didn't want to see. When a few cheers snuck in, Vince made his move and launched the Rock to the finals of the World Title tourney back at the Survivor Series, facing off against McMahon's own heir apparant and fan favorite, Mankind. When Maivia turned on the lovable Foley, fans almost chased him from the arena. He was the WWF's most hated heel. Not long after, Maivia had turned on McMahon, established himself as "The Rock" and formed the largest following in our sport. Vinnie Mac had gotten his way, he'd just taken the scenic route.

It's not that Rocky's such a bad worker, just that he's contrasted by the likes of Angle, Jericho, Benoit and Helmsley. He's probably the weakest main eventer in the WWF's roster in terms of technique and work in the ring, but his popularity more than answers that. If the Rock isn't in the main event, the fans don't go home happy. It's as simple as that. If the fans don't go home happy, they don't come back and, eventually, there's no WWF. Vince isn't an idiot, and neither am I. The Rock needs to be in the main event.

Chris Jericho
He's the golden boy, the surefire star, the one WCW let get away. Everybody knew this guy was a main eventer except Eric Bischoff, and I'd be willing to bet he's still kicking himself today for keeping him in the cruiserweight division for so long. Jericho's altered his style quite a bit for the WWF audiences, eliminating a lot of the ferocity in his finisher (the transition between Liontamer and Walls of Jericho is enormous) and many of the high flying moves in his arsenal, but landing with more of a heavyweight moveset in exchange, convincing those that would've questioned his place otherwise that he was ready to compete with the big boys.

Still, his style is an interesting amalgamation of the two, including much of the speed that cruiserweights rely on, while maintaining the power that makes him a formidable heavyweight contender. Though he's slowed down and forgotten some of what made him so incredible over in WCW, his public perception and net value have improved drastically. In WCW he needed help from Paul Wight to defeat Stevie Ray for his final title reign, a run with the TV belt. In the WWF such a match wouldn't be an issue.

On the stick, Jericho remains one of the top go-to guys in the industry. He can talk circles around anyone, keeping the crowd entertained and the intensity showing in his glare the whole way through. Though he's used them in the past, Jericho is not catchphrase reliant, and usually has good enough taste to alternate his big catches when he's been using one for too long. Watching a Y2J interview very rarely becomes boring. Ultimately, though I'd love to see him with the title right now, it isn't his time yet. Jericho still has some proving to do before fans and professionals alike can seriously consider him a threat to the World Title. He's on the verge, mind you, he just needs a few more high profile wins to cross that line. Chris will deserve his spot in the main event within six months.

Here's a guy that missed the bus. He was working main events with Steve Austin and the Undertaker less than a year after his debut. He was a surprise to the bookers, as his character wasn't really supposed to last beyond that initial feud with his brother. When the fans took to him, they hurriedly threw him into another feud in an effort to keep him in the public eye, a feud that led straight to Steve Austin and the WWF title. The audience loved it, and when he ended Austin's first World Title reign, they called for his blood. Tell me, how could this guy not consistantly main event in the months after?

They stuck him with X-Pac, almost threw him into DX (and accordingly changed his ring attire to.. ugh.. green and black) and, in one of the most embarassingly funny moments of the last ten years, had him shout "suck iiiiit" into his voice box. Come to think of it, they're lucky that alone didn't kill him off for good.

The man underneath the mask, Glen Jacobs, is a surprisingly good worker, especially when his size is taken into consideration. Here's a man that nears 7' (the WWF's height for Kane isn't quite correct) and climbs to the top and delivers a flying clothesline. He's best when opposed with smaller or regular sized men, as his fellow giants often slow things down considerably and expose themselves along the way. He shouldn't be allowed on the stick, but that's ok because his character isn't supposed to talk. Add to his arsenal the intimidating explosion that marks his entrance, the arena bathed in red light and possibly the coolest mask in the fed, and you've got quite a forboding figure.

With so much untapped potential, it's consistantly amazing to see the WWF miss over and over again with this guy. I suppose it's good to see that even they aren't infallible, but it remains a shame that it had to happen to him. Until the bookers give me reason to believe otherwise, Kane is at the bottom of the WWF's main event rotation, below Jericho... who I don't really consider a main eventer yet.

The Undertaker
See Sting's description, as the Undertaker fills it pretty much to a T. He's the WWF's resident phenom, a loyal champion that's stuck around through two generations. I really don't care for his new gimmick, but he deserves one last run if just for his decade of dedication. He's slowing down considerably, though, and if he isn't phased out soon, things could get ugly.

Chris Benoit
I read somewhere that, backstage at Benoit's first WWF match, McMahon was heard to utter "this guy's it.. he's the future." In the hands of the federation's venerable bookers, it's hard to argue otherwise. Benoit's only flaw in the past has been his lack of a mic presence, and even that is becoming a non-issue, as he visibly becomes more and more familiar with the stick in his hands. Benoit has been the top worker in the world for nearly six years. Not North America, not WCW, the world. To steal a line from HHH, he's that... damn good. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Benoit is his adaptability. He can work any style in the world, depending on his opponent: American heavyweight, Japanese junior or European brawling. He knows it, he knows how it works, he knows what contrasts it, and he knows how to make it dynamic. Benoit tells a story like few in history ever have.

On the stick, well, he's developing. Until he reaches a sort of peak, he won't be ready to seriously compete for the gold. Unfortunately, the state of things today have made that much a necessity. Except in special cases like Kane, work on the mic is a must, almost moreso than talent in the ring. Benoit needs to continue his improvements in this area to ensure he doesn't end up like the bully in High School that, when confronted, would only come back with "yeah, well... your... your mom's really fat."

He needs about three months facing upcoming talent, teasing them on the stick and taunting the Rock, or a huge angle, to really break through to the core WWF fan. Until then, he'll just be a big body, a good wrestler and somebody the average fan glazes over in their list of "favorite faces" or "hated heels."
until then, i remain

Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Ringside Shadows #142: The New Youth

It's happened. You may not have been looking, it might've slipped through in the blink of an eye, but the "next generation" is undeniably making good their threats to invade the main event as we speak. Chris Benoit and The Rock headlined a main event a month back with the WWF Title up for grabs. Booker T's already completed a strong run as a first-time WCW World Champ, and don't think it's his last. Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle are nipping at the heels of the few that remain above them on the WWF ladder, and neither has been in the fed much more than a full year.

Only six short years ago, Vince McMahon unveiled to the world his "new generation" of wrestlers, headed by names like Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Kevin Nash and, eventually, Steve Austin and Mick Foley. These were the men to which he entrusted the sport's future. The names he called to carry his baby through the years after the Hogans, the Savages and the Warriors. Since that time, a lot's gone down. Two of the bigger names made a surprising jump to McMahon's only competition, only months after holding the World and Intercontinental titles, with others threatening to follow suit. Michaels and Hart severely limited the main event potential, after personal problems made a collision in the ring difficult at best. McMahon himself jumped into the thick of things, shoving Bret Hart out of the World Title scene and the WWF as a whole in arguably the most controversial move in the sport's history. The waters haven't exactly been smooth but the industry pulled through in the end, riding a wave of popularity the likes of which has never been seen.

Now that they're riding that wave (or paddling behind it, in WCW's case), the decisions made by the head of each federation become much more important. When the WWF was failing back in '94, McMahon had nothing to lose when choosing Hogan's heir. He could afford to take a risk, and it paid off for him in spades. It could be said that the entire resurgance of his empire was based solely on his willingness to risk it all, an action that meant quite a bit less when talking about a sub-million dollar act, as opposed to the billion dollar monster we see on Raw today. The time is now; with the "new generation" in the past and their replacements picking up the ball, it's time to define your main event. A few choices are obvious... Booker T, Chris Jericho, Jeff Jarrett and HHH... but who's gonna round out the card with them? Who will be their opponents? What follows are my three choices for each federation: read and become enlightened. (and write to disagree)


Billy Kidman

Why He Made My List: Despite a recent slip in performance, Kidman remains one of the best homegrown talents on WCW's roster. Sure, I realize he spent time in ECW and the indies before Turner snatched him up for their own purposes. WCW is where he hit it big, where he gained international recognition and it's where he's called home for nearly five years now. That's good enough for me.

For whatever reason, audiences (myself included) seem to enjoy a homegrown talent above and beyond anyone hired from another market, with few exceptions. Booker T, Goldberg and Sting are prime examples. Never spent time in the WWF or ECW, yet consistant fan-favorites. If WCW would take this ball and run with it, rather than focusing on the swerve, the shoot interview and the smart fan, perhaps they'd find something worth watching. But I digress.

Kidman has the talent, the universal appeal, the moveset and the personality to make a run atop WCW's card work for so many reasons. Though his size remains an issue, Kidman has the speed and technique to play the role Shawn Waltman (X-Pac) never did for this industry: a breakthrough star, finally opening the doors for the smaller guys to legitimately compete with the big boys. His unusually placid ring outfits, his humble appearance and his believably-proportioned body hits home with audiences. It's much easier to relate to someone who isn't three feet taller than you are, and I think many fans would find a bit of themselves within him.

Lance Storm

Why He Made My List: I'm gonna go ahead and say it: Lance Storm is the next Chris Benoit. Though the WCW that housed Chris Benoit differs substantially from the one in charge today, I believe that with a few months of work, a little gimmick tweaking, a touch of luck and a return to the clean wins that built him as such a strong heel in the first place, Storm can maintain the breakneck pace Benoit set back in '94 and '95. Though it took five years and the absence of his services for WCW to realize what Benoit meant to them, I remain confident that they've seen the light early on with Storm. He's working the best gimmick in the place, bar none, and can back his harsh words up with actions when the situation calls for it. He's held three singles belts in the span of two months with the company, the fastest ascention for any worker in any fed in recent memory. He's without a doubt the most well conditioned man in WCW, and knows how to build a match better than any other, as well. Tell me there's something to dislike.

Unfortunately, the bookers-that-be have anointed Lance Storm as their newest "cowardly heel," a plague that's, in itself, decaying WCW from the inside. They've thrown him into a makeshift stable, alongside three workers that had little to no recognizability amongst the common fans. To top it all off he's feuding with the Misfits in Action, a stable headed by Hugh Morrus and the Wall; two complete wastes of time. From an outsider's perspective, one would think they're trying to sabotage themselves. Here was a successful gimmick, the lone Canadian who stood in the ring while his anthem was played, all the while attempting to ignore the jeers. He finally snapped and told the Americans off, further inciting them, and then went on to capture three of WCW's four remaining singles titles, basically telling us where we could stick it. The addition of another member was inevitable, but three...?

The fact that this angle's still seen on television is a testament to Lance Storm's talent. If the story had gone in any other direction, he'd be near the top of the card, not feuding with someone named after a penis. Still, Storm remains one of Turner's surefire hits. A talent that's bound to hold a world title somewhere, even if WCW doesn't learn from their mistakes.

Big Vito

Why He Made My List: Because he's defying the odds. Big Vito, for all rights and purposes, should be struggling for a spot on Thunder. He's worked as a shamelessly stereotypical Italian in angles involving The Godfather, (the movie, not the wrestler) pasta and his sister's wedding. He was involved in the ridiculous Hardcore division, and managed to make the title respectable again. More recently, he's been dropping matches to the main event heels. The important part is this; he's done it all while maintaining credibility. If he loses, he loses but he does so cleanly. He's ironed his character out flawlessly and never fails to play the role he's asked to on TV. That, and those losses against main event heels have been much closer than you might think.

The fans are slowly rallying behind him and, for once, Russo is listening. He's booking Vito in more and more important roles, testing the waters for a possible main event run in the future. Vito's formed an alliance with Goldberg and officially crossed Russo himself on air a couple weeks ago, leading to a much larger pop than I'd expected. The guy's a throwback of sorts, as he comes to the ring with a body that isn't etched in stone, yet you still believe he could boot your head off your shoulders without giving it a second thought. He's WCW's Eddy Guerrero; probably the only man in the promotion that isn't moving up the card too quickly or too slowly, but working up the ladder at a speed that seems just right.

Big Vito's come through in the clinch more than once, and until he pulls a screwup of epic proportions (ie tripping over a wire and taking the nitro-tron down with him), I'd imagine we'll be seeing more and more of him in the immediate future. A great middle man for any stable and a future main eventer, Vito is somebody I'd accept on my team without a second thought.


Eddy Guerrero

Why He Made My List: Like I said a few lines back, Guerrero is probably the only guy in the WWF that's making a well-paced climb up the ladder of success. He's worked his way through the belts in the proper order, and his great performances and clean victories have convinced fans that he isn't a fluke, he deserves the praise. While he's still a ways from the World Title scene, the waters have been tested with a strong showing in his match against HHH on Raw's main event last week. Again, like Vito, his gimmick needs some fine tuning before it can go all the way (the overdone accent needs to go), but remains close enough to make such comparisons a believable possibility. Nevermind that he's one of the top workers in the world.

While I won't agree with his continued involvement with Chyna, I will acknowledge that she seems to have been that extra little boost he needed to get over. The two have good chemistry together, but Eddy needs to drop her soon if he wants to get serious about a run at the top of the card. All their segments seem to end up a comedy, and that isn't really becoming of a main eventer.

If nothing else, Guerrero heads my list because he's the perfect blend of personality and technique. He's large enough to challenge the heavyweights, but small enough to keep up with the cruisers. His moveset is about as inventive and diverse as they come, capped off with one of the most beautiful finishers in the business. In addition, McMahon doesn't have to worry about Eddy embarassing himself if he's given a microphone. He can build a feud using his arms or his mouth, and he's got "the look," which is something no amount of words can describe. He's prime time material, and it's only a matter of time before the certification is stamped.

Al Snow

Why He Made My List: Because he should be there now! While Snow has been grouped in with the has-beens and never-weres because of his struggle to find a gimmick that works, something helps him stand apart from the Ding Dongs and Bastion Booger: he's got the talent to work with the World Title. Properly motivated, Al Snow can keep up with the best and carry the worst. His strange mesh of styles in the ring is both quirky and intriguing to watch, and when he snags a mic, they really don't come much better. The catch is this; Snow must be motivated. If he's given a feud that's obviously going nowhere, he won't make any extra effort to make sure it doesn't. On the opposite, though, if he's thrown into a feud that's worthwhile and interesting, he'll make it exhillerating. Case in point; his oft-referenced feud that almost was with the Rock. In the heyday of the Rock'n Sock connection, Snow played the role of the friend that was pushed aside in the shuffle. His anger was justified and relatable, and gave fans an interesting delimma: do I side with The Rock, because he's the guy everybody likes or do I side with Snow, because I think he's got a point? It could've been huge, but the WWF didn't want fans second-guessing their allegiances to the Rock, so the plug was pulled.

Al Snow has everything you'd want in a big draw except the motivation to get there. He's been so close so many times that I wonder if he truly has the desire any more. Granted, that's quite a problem, but it's a risk I'd be willing to take in exchange for what Snow could offer in the end.

Crash Holly

Why He Made My List: Personality. Crash has one of the most interesting, clearly defined personalities in all of wrestling. He's the little guy that doesn't take any crap. He's explosive, TNT in a barrel, and a surprisingly strong worker in addition to it all. He found a nice little niche in the Hardcore division, but the time has come to move on. I briefly thought the WWF was about to get serious with him after his strong showing at the King of the Ring tourney, and it's still not too late for that, but I seriously doubt things are about to pan out there. What Crash needs is a solid series of matches against larger men. Some would end with close losses, some with crowd-awakening victories. Most importantly, they'd all be clean. Crash needs to build a reputation away from the garbage cans and singapore canes, one closer to his rarely-seen mat skills. His recent alignment with Dean Malenko could be just that.

Now that big brother Bob has been out of the picture for some time, it's about time Crash builds an image all his own. The bleached blonde hair and Hardcore Holly tights can shift to something more unique, more his. There's a lot of exploring to be done, and when the end of the tunnel is reached, I think we'd be looking at a man that could conceivably carry the World title. It would be one hell of a risk, but like I said, Vince got this far by risking it all. Who needs certainty? The fans tune in to be surprised, and they wouldn't see Crash coming from a mile away.

It's best remembered that for every Steve Austin, there is a Curt Hennig. For every Shawn Michaels an Eddie Gilbert. A talented star that, for one reason or another, never made the big leagues. A can't miss prospect that somehow missed. In compiling these short lists, it's certain that I'm overlooking several men that deserve a slot in the main event, some of which will no doubt prove me wrong and climb to the top of the world as champion. Both federations are big places, and we're certainly about to find ourselves treated to a wild card or two, but my judgement calls these six the logical future. It's gonna take a lot of hard work on the part of both parties (those listed and those not) to prove me right or wrong, and for better or worse, I'll be sitting on my couch enjoying every minute of it.
until then, i remain