Friday, October 27, 2000

The World's Greatest WCW Halloween Havoc 2000 Preview

WCW's at "a crossroads" of sorts. They're slowly beginning the rebuilding process, taking the initiative and starting to cultivate their talent from within, rather than raiding more of Vince's old closets. While I have yet to warm up to newcomers like the Natural Born Thrillers and Mike Sanders or returning teams like The Boogie Knights, you can't blame WCW for trying. Though this card doesn't have the 'oomph' of last week's WWF PPV, it does show a bit of hope for the future. Take a look down the lineup.. very few of the participants have ever seen light on a WWF card, and those that have either started their careers or recently reinvented themselves in Atlanta. It's what's referred to in professional sports as a "building year" for WCW and after another year or two, we could find a couple prime time players in this lineup. With Booker T / Steiner headlining in a surprisingly soft spoken main event and Sting / Jarrett coming to a head quite nicely, this isn't awful. Then again, following on the heels of HHH / Benoit, Rocky / Angle and Hardyz / Edge and Christian, it would take a miracle to produce a comparative lineup. Let's take a gander at WCW's attempt..thar she blows!

Reno vs. A-Wall
Hardcore Title Match

If you're like me, you weren't quite sure who the champion was in this one until the little bracketed 'C' next to Reno's name solved the mystery for you. The WCW Hardcore division has become something of a retainer for talent that doesn't have anywhere else to go, with little or no storylines to dictate the title's defenses on tv or PPV. As a rookie, Reno's shown a bit of promise, but certainly not enough to merit carrying gold this early. He's got something of a nice beginner's power offense, combined with little or no personality and easily recognizable hair. It got Meng through several years of action as a WCW pro, so I suppose the combination's worth a shot here. Given a strong teacher, Reno could possibly become something.. but if Kevin Nash is the only veteran he knows to look up to, well.. it isn't really worth the effort. As for the Wall, I'd seen enough of him the first time he vanished from the scene. With the failure of MIA as a face stable, I'd figure WCW won't be giving them any sort of reward here.
Winner: Reno

Buff Bagwell vs. David Flair
DNA Match

The whole 'who fathered Stacey's baby' fiasco isn't really something that's interested me thus far, as it hasn't netted any mentionable positive advancements in David Flair's character. He still looks like somebody stuck a corn cob up his ass, isn't half the worker his father was and knows not the difference between charisma and a funeral procession. By introducing Buff Bagwell, WCW made the obvious official: this angle is worthless. Let us pray the physical altercation Sunday night is kept to a short, painless minimum. When the dust settles, my choice is Buff.. why WCW doesn't realize the liability he's always been is a mystery to me.
Winner: Buff Bagwell

Jindrak & O'Haire ? vs. Mysterio & Kidman vs. Boogie Knights
Tag Team Title Match

So long as Kronik is still out of the title picture, I'll remain happy. Mysterio and Kidman are the only really solid team of the bunch here, as Jindrak and O'Haire are still in the formative stages of their careers and DISQO / Wright were both average workers at their best. We should get a decent amount of solid action here, regardless.. as the Thrillers haven't completely refused to sell for the Filthy ones, and DISQO's style is easily adaptable to just about any other. So long as the consistantly rusty Wunderkid is kept out of the majority of the exchanges, we'll get our money's worth. Let's go with the dancin' fools here, capturing the gold after several close calls in the weeks past.
Winners: Boogie Knights

Mike Sanders vs. The Cat w/Ms. Jones
3 Round Kick Boxing Match for WCW Commissionership

As is the case with about any other "worked shoot", be it Roddy Piper and Buff Bagwell's boxing match last year or the Marc Mero / Butterbean extravaganza from a couple years earlier, this won't be pretty. The Cat's supposedly a legit three time World Karate champion, but for someone of such accolades, he hasn't really shown anything to confirm it in his time within the hallowed halls of WCW. His kicks are sloppy and arrant, rarely landing with any sort of effectiveness near their target. While some may argue he's simply looking out for the safety of his opponents and holding his kicks back, I call a foul. This may surprise you, but I studied Tae Kwon Do for nearly 5 years during my teenage years, eventually achieving the status of a first dan black belt... the first rank above your average black belt. If there's anything I learned with this training, it's the fact that the best of the best have an uncanny amount of control over their bodies. As a relatively lowly first dan, I still had the ability to stop my kicks inches from my sparring partner's face, proving I could've nailed them but didn't. If someone like myself could have such control, imagine the kind of power a three time world champion would command. He hasn't gained my respect by raising three fingers and claiming to be 'the greatest'. Then again, he'll likely look a lot sharper than Mike Sanders, who hasn't even bothered to claim he knows what he's doing in the world of martial arts.
Winner: The Cat

Shane Douglas & Torrie Wilson vs. Konnan & Tygress

There's talk this one won't be going down, as the state of Nevada has some sort of ruling against cross-gender violence in the area of sporting events. What an atrocious, closed-minded way of thinking! No man-on-woman violence! Unthinkable!
Finish wading through that sarcasm and give me a quick listen here: male on female violence is wrong, plain and simple. Whether it be simulated in the world of sports entertainment or all-too real with domestic violence, it's an atrocious thing and something that I'm ashamed to admit has a place in the world of pro wrestling. To see such matches becoming more and more commonplace is just silly.. especially when you consider the fact Tygress and Torrie Wilson have little or no formal training between the ropes. They're likely to hurt themselves or others, all because the promotion wants to look 'cutting edge' by giving us these kinds of confrontations. Tell me, would a straight up Douglas / Konnan match have been that much worse if the women had stuck in the corners as valets? Chances are, it would've been twice as interesting to watch.. and that's an issue that the booking committee really needs to consider in the end. By putting together matches like this, you're screwing with the reason fans come to the PPVs in the first place.. you're lowering the quality of your matches. Since I've got to pick a winner here, I'll put my cash on the line with Konnan and Tygress, avenging Kidman and Madusa's loss in the scaffold match.
Winners: Konnan and Tygress

Mike Awesome vs. Vampiro

Vampiro actually went a ways toward making this feud interesting with his brief promo on Nitro. It may have been a little rushed, but the end result was just what should have been desired: increased crowd interest for his match with Awesome at Havok. Both are rather underrated as workers, a notion I think they could shatter with a strong match here. Vampiro really needs it, after several months off following the atrocious 'Dark Carnival' angle. Similarly, Awesome could do us all a favor here by taking a big bump, knocking his way out of that nasty "70s guy" gimmick. It all adds up to a neat little match and a big Vampiro victory.
Winner: Vampiro

Lance Storm ? & Hacksaw Jim Duggan vs. General Rection
U.S./Canadian Title Handicap Match

As former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha once said; "read my writing on the wall." There's little doubt Duggan will be making his second turn in as many months here, returning to the unofficial 'Team USA' and costing Lance Storm his proudly held Canadian Heavyweight gold along the way. I really hope things don't turn out that way and Storm continues the most successful WCW title reign in years (and I mean any WCW title.. World, US, Tag Team..), but as the man says, the writing's on the wall. Duggan turns, Storm drops his gold to an undeserving challenger and the angle moves on for at least another month.
Winner: General Rection

Jeff Jarrett vs. Sting

One of the best built WCW angles in a long time. Jarrett's work as the 'fake Sting' was that of a heel at his very best. It made audiences despise him, gave the angle something to focus on and gave the fans something to follow as the feud progressed. This isn't just another match, using the tired 'revenge after a well placed guitar shot' cliche to build it.. Jarrett made things personal, and in doing so took the feud to a whole other level. Sting has good reason to be pissed at him, and fans can empathize with that.. they want to see Jarrett get his ass kicked this Sunday night. Bookers, take note: they're interested in the product. Might be something you should look into for further use down the line. As a feud meant to build Jarrett as a main event heel, I don't think it's about to end after only one month. JJ squeaks out a victory here, leading Sting on for another couple months of teasing.
Winner: Jeff Jarrett

Goldberg vs. Kronik
Handicap Match

I think it's great how they've conveniently rediscovered the formula they used to build Sid's win streak late last year, here utelizing it with Goldberg's run. C'mon, don't tell me you really thought they'd wait the year it took him to his 175 wins as a rookie before giving him another shot at their gold this time around. They're pretty obviously building him up for a payoff title shot at Starrcade, and that means they'll have to make a mockery of the memorable winning streak that got him here.. slimming the whole thing down to a couple months. Goldberg's getting two and three wins attributed to him for one match of work. He's running into matches that aren't even his own, collecting a jackhammer and moving one step closer to Starrcade. It's far from legitimate, and serves to piss me off more than interest me in the thrill of the chase. At least they're humbling the right people thus far, embarrassing Kronik Sunday with a clean job to a single man. I really dislike Kronik.
Winner: Bill Goldberg

Booker T vs. Scott Steiner
World Title Match

A main event I've been anticipating for quite some time now. I toyed with a Booker / Steiner feud over the US Title, leading to a future World Title collision between the two all the way back at Spring Stampede, and couldn't be happier we're finally seeing it here. WCW truly has come quite a long ways from the Hogan / Flair and Nash / Sid main events of just one year ago.. and I'll give credit where credit's due. This could be a strong enough feud to hold the company's head above water on its own for some time. I won't kid myself for a second, believing that's what they've got planned (remember Goldberg at Starrcade?), but it's a nice thought all the same. What we've got here is two heavyweights that know how to go. Their styles compliment each other to an extent, and with each maintaining their obvious roles as face and heel, there's little question who to cheer and who to boo. The resurgance of the heel is a beautiful thing, as referenced with this match and the Jarrett / Sting clash earlier in the card. As far as I'm concerned, that resurgance is a good part of the reason Steiner's gonna take the belt here. We'll need a heel champion going into Starrcade, and if Booker retains here that would only give the heel one short month to build his title reign as legitimate before dropping the gold in late December. Steiner wins his first gold here, to retain against Booker's rematch at next month's PPV as well.
Winner: Scott Steiner


You're really starting to see some of the Starrcade card come together with this program, which also bodes well for the booking committee. They've stopped looking for a short term fix, and have moved on to the long view.. building feuds that will carry several months. I can see the shadows of Steiner / Goldberg, Sting / Jarrett and possibly Booker / Storm looming in the distance, and those three alone could make for a strong enough card for the "granddaddy of them all" come Christmas time. There may be hope yet in the WCW camp, but don't get your hopes up too early. We've certainly seen potential from these guys before, only to have them fall on their faces. Let's hope nothing trips them up again this time.
until next time, i remain

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Ringside Shadows #149: Getting Over

If there's one certainty I've realized in the world of wrestling, aside from the occasional presence of obnoxious fans, an overabundance of signs in the audience, the failure of poor gimmicks and the fact that Hulk Hogan's hairline just ain't coming back, it's this: every once in a while, somebody who deserves to be monster over with the crowd just... isn't. There's a number of things that could be to blame for this; he could be working a gimmick that's headed nowhere, his head could be in the wrong place, he could be playing the role incorrectly, hell, even a pair of mismatched socks could be the culprit. The one fact of the matter is that something needs to change. In a hurry.

With the world of wrestling bursting at the seams in recent years, a couple weeks' worth of non-reaction from the fans could easily bring about the doom of someone who deserves the World Title. Case in point: Kurt Angle. If he hadn't been half as over as he was upon his debut in the federation, he'd likely be working as a member of the RTC. If the WWF had introduced him as a weak face instead of the heel we've come to adore, perhaps he'd find himself coasting through a feud with Mideon rather than holding the most respected gold in the land. In that same vein, just what point would be the limit for similarly gifted athletes like Raven or Mike Awesome? Though both are really floating with little direction right now, a good push, decisive gimmick, high impact feuds and a solid personality could land them at the top of the card for years to come.

The same couldn't be said for guys that don't "have it" like the two I mentioned... though that doesn't seem to stop McMahon or Russo from trying. Given individual pushes comparable to Angle's, Billy Gunn and General Rection have fallen flat on their faces in the past couple years, as have several others. Gunn was awarded the push of a lifetime, catapulting from the breakup of the New Age Outlaws (and, in the longrun, DX) to a monster heel push. He took a PPV slot opposite the Rock, a role which nearly guarantees you instant heat, and still managed to screw up. His matches were weak, his promos were weaker and in the end he found himself kicked off the train to stardom faster than he'd climbed aboard. It's just a visible way of illustrating the proven theory that the cream will rise to the top (if you allow it), while the waste will always find itself disintegrating at the bottom. It's no accident Angle, HHH and Benoit are headlining card after card while the Big Show and Mark Henry have stepped out to "refine their game."

So this week I've put together a short list of deserving talents. We'll go over the positives, negatives and possibilities of Steven "William" Regal, Raven, Billy Kidman and Mike Awesome, and I'll try to come up with an idea of what's been done wrong with them, as well as an angle, feud or personality shift that could land them near the top, where I believe they should be. After all, I'd much rather see any combination of these four try to crack the main event and fail than I would another Road Dogg, Godfather or Sid Vicious success.

Mike Awesome
I don't see what ECW was doing wrong with him in the first place. By giving Awesome and Masato Tanaka match after back breaking match in their early TNN days, Paul Heyman's fed was building two solid, well-regarded heavyweight contendors. Trading the belt a couple times and spending a little time in unrelated feuds, these two always seemed to come back to that one central conflict. They were heavyweight workers and they delivered heavyweight blows, giving fans aches of their own after only seeing the stuff they delivered. When Awesome came to WCW, it was head-on into a feud with then-returning Kevin Nash. He was still ECW's champion, but he was appearing on WCW's programming. It was a big deal, and WCW just let the whole thing sizzle out. After a light hearted "feud" with Horace and Hulk Hogan, Awesome adopted the persona that's all but destroyed his credibility since: "That 70s Guy."

Sure, I realize WCW has a tradition of pitiful gimmicks to keep up, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. If Mike Awesome wants to be anywhere near the main event, he's got to be taken seriously. And to be taken seriously, he needs to drop that gimmick. Awesome, like Kidman, could benefit greatly from a monster heel turn. Unfortunately, unlike the former Flock member, Awesome's already been there, done that. He'll need an extra kick to get his big turn off and running on the right foot. Enter Diamond Dallas Page. I'd send Awesome out to the ring with a mic and a purpose, tearing a hole in the fed, the athletes that have "made it" in WCW (specifically Booker T, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash and DDP) and his shabby treatment there. Interrupting his tirade, Page would strut out to the entryway amidst an explosion from the fans. He'd climb into the ring with a smug grin on his face and start in on Awesome. "Hold on a second there, jerky." DDP gets up in his face for a second, then looks down at the mat. "You come out here tonight, standing in this WCW ring... with your big money contract and your big money aspirations, stepping on the backs of the guys that killed themselves to get here..." mid sentence, DDP's cut off by a cheap shot from Awesome, bending him over at the hips. Faster than lightning, Mike picks him up and throws him down with a vicious powerbomb right in the center of the ring. Bluntly, he spits right in Page's face and purposefully steps back to the locker rooms. It'll be another couple months before Page resurfaces, selling the ferocity of Awesome's attack. Plenty of time for him to erase the "70's guy" embarassment and use the springboard of his heel turn to invade the main event.

More of a cult icon than many would give him credit for, Raven's debut in the WWF has been a subject whispered in the backgrounds for nearly a year now. After leaving WCW and spending a rocky year in ECW, he finally made his appearance in the WWF alongside Tazz, and was pretty well forgotten soon after. The two have become an on and off tag team since, but have yet to do anything noteworthy almost two months later. Given next to no time to familiarize fans with himself, Raven has hurriedly shouted "What about Raven!" a couple times, hoping against hope that audiences will remember him from WCW. Quite a shout from the cool, collected, downright evil character he played in his prime.

The air around Raven right now is a frantic one. He seems frantic to get recognized, frantic to get his career back onto the right track. Fans notice things like that, and I don't mean in a good way. They see somebody who's lost their touch, who's trying too hard to be cool. When given the chance, (not to mention the motivation) Raven can build a solid feud around anybody in the business. He could weave an intricate plotline around a match with the Brooklyn Brawler, but he'd have to do things his way. His promos are softly spoken, and a bit drawn out, and his matches need to last longer than a couple minutes. Sometimes good things come to those who wait, and that's definately the case with Raven. He'll give you gold, but you'll have to wait for it. Half of what makes his work stand out is the way he slows things down while others are barking out catchphrase after catchphrase. He's the kind of guy that could soothe a puppy into his arms, only to calmly twist its head off.

...that's how I'd build him in the WWF. I wouldn't rush him in, give him a DDT to deliver, and then rush him out. I'd make his appearances sporadic, completely random. He might show up in a ringside seat during the curtain jerker or the main event. Maybe Y2J will come down to shout out an interview and Raven will be slumped in the corner of the ring, sliding underneath the ropes before Jericho gets to the ring. He'll get an occasional vignette, (an art that seems to have been lost) but if you blink you might miss it. I'd make his appearances more and more frequent over time, building to his first real encounter with a WWF superstar and piquing fans' curiosity. Finally, I'd cue the Rock's music near the end of a big Raw is War broadcast, prompting the entire arena to rise to their feet... paying no attention to the fact Raven's snuck into the ring and set himself down in a corner again. Rocky plays to the crowd, only noticing Raven when he attempts to go up the corner that's already occupied. The music would cease, the Rock would raise the eyebrow and Raven wouldn't even bother to make eye contact. Rocky would unleash the verbal assault, all to no response from the man in the corner. Fed up, the Rock would move on to "more important issues" and direct his attention to HHH, whose cowardly attack cost the Rock his title not long ago. Seconds into this attention shift, while the Rock's back is turned, Raven would rise to his feet in a flash, deliver a kick to the unsuspecting Rock and nail the evenflow, breaking Rock's sunglasses in the process. Rocky would lay face down in the ring, motionless, for about a minute before getting to his feet... and by that time, Raven would be long gone.

Billy Kidman
Perhaps the more appropriate question would be what have they done right with Kidman. Poor Billy Kidman's had so many chances to up and go, so many close calls and so many aborted angles that it's become something of a trademark. Fans see him facing a heavyweight and assume he's going to lose, or facing a lightweight and assume he's going to win. Seeing his record in both situations, it's hard to disagree. He worked as a part of Raven's flock, jobbing more often than not until taking the first big step out of the group, winning the cruiserweight title on the same night that he left Raven's stable. After passing on a chance to depart WCW with the aforementioned Raven, he picked up Torrie Wilson and joined the Filthy Animals, a group that, like Kidman, deserved much more than they received. The group started hot, but were never given a distinct role as face or heel, which led to their eventual demise. He again found himself given an opportunity to leave the company with Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero, but passed in favor of an ongoing feud with Hulk Hogan. Kidman was thoroughly trounced every step of the way, never winning a match or gaining any sort of offense against the bald beast. He recently rejoined the Filthy Animals, a move that many would read as acceptance of defeat.

The only way for Kidman to escape his stigma is to become someone else. Perhaps someone with more of a killer instinct. A heel. I'd rekindle his old tag team with Rey Mysterio, Jr. and work a Strike Force / Rockers angle with it. Give them the tag titles, with a clean win over Kronik, (who have both become whining wastes with big heads) and a reign of a couple months before the seams of their team begin to show. A little miscommunication here, a poorly placed blow there, and you've got the necessary tension for something big. I'd give them a big title defense on Nitro one night, where Rey takes the clean fall and Kidman lets it get to him, throwing a tantrum and stomping away from the ring in disgust. The next night, Kidman would apologize and the two would go their separate ways, each entering a tournament to determine the number one contender for the US title as singles, wishing each other luck. As fate would have it, they'd end up in the finals against each other, shaking hands before the bell sounds. I'd give Kidman a decided early advantage, maintaining the friendly atmosphere, which all changes when Rey tries a schoolboy midway through the match. Kidman, visibly upset, asks Mysterio "what was that?!", before continuing the match a little pissy. They lock up and Rey eventually tries to roll him up again, prompting Kidman to slap him full in the face. This would get Tygress up on the apron, distracting the ref while Kidman kicks his former friend in the nuts and finishes him off with the ring bell. A week later, he's the US champ and on the road to recovering his rep.

Steven Regal
As the pale, rigid Englishman, Regal is a perfect fit... and that's probably why he's been playing that role off and on for over six years now. Though he's nailed the part after all those years of experience, he's also falling into a lot of the same ruts that plagued earlier incarnations of his character, saying a lot of the same things and enacting many of the same personality flaws that we've all seen before. It's become a little stale, and I think that's part of the reason why fans are so hesitant to give their full attention to him. The "proper gentleman" role has been played several times throughout the WWF's history, most recently by Bob Backlund a couple years back. Though Regal's portrayal is much more realistic and entertaining than Backlund's, the similarities are there... and if I can make the connection, so can the throngs of diehard fans out there as well.

No, Regal needs something that sticks out, an extra nudge, something that drives the point home. And I think I've got it. Everything from his physique to his mannerisms are classical. His build isn't the chiseled look of a Greek God, but more likely that of the bouncer that could kick your ass six ways from Tuesday if you gave him the reason. He presents himself a bit more timidly in the ring, less likely to initiate the offense but more likely to come out with the upper hand. Not as flamboyant as we've become accustomed to today, but every bit as believable. What I'd do is exploit that aspect of his game. I'd send Regal to the tape room, along with boxes upon boxes of old tapes from the 30s, 40s and well before. The sport's roots, stuff from Lou Thesz, Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, Tom Jenkins, anybody who was anybody. Regal would be creating an amalgamation of them all.

Instead of the prim and proper Englishman who wrestles a modern style, he'd become the prim and proper Englishman who's convinced things have gone downhill since the beginning of the century. Everything from his wardrobe to his stance in the ring would be early 20th century, (with enough of a twist to be acceptable in modern times) and he'd kick everybody who got in his way, effectively proving his point. He'd hold both the Intercontinental and European titles, and would defend them separately and regularly. He'd appear unstoppable, destroying the midcard until the day Helmsley's had enough. I'd build a feud for the ages around Regal and HHH, hitting all the important generation issues in their promos and giving the fans a giant collision of styles in the ring. So, who walks out with the title...? Not my department. Regal's at the top of the cards, and he'll be there for quite a while. As will they all, I'd hope.
until then, i remain

Friday, October 20, 2000

The World's Greatest WWF No Mercy 2000 Preview

What up, what up.. as of my last bid, the ebay price of WCW as a whole had reached a staggering $25. Not too shabby, for a company that's burning several million a year. It seems like every month we've come out here for a Y2K WWF Preview, each of us has agreed that it has potential to be the PPV of the year. It's become something of an overused phrase by this point, but I can't help but echo John's sentiment once again. The WWF has lined up yet another slam-bang card, utelizing much of their roster to its fullest. We've got potential classics with Benoit / HHH and the Jericho / X-Pac blowoff, as well as Austin's big return to the ring and Kurt Angle's first shot at the gold. It's really too bad Eddy Guerrero's injury was so poorly timed, as he was really on his way to bigger and bigger things starting with this card. Alas; it could've been much, much worse and he could be counting his lucky stars that he's still able to walk after that scary bump on Raw this past week. There is, unfortunately, a bit of fat at the bottom of the card left untrimmed this go around (a slot which could have easily been filled with a light heavy match or two, as I mentioned in my latest Ringside Shadows..), but they'll likely be kept to a minimum so as to allow the big boys up top ample time to flex their in-ring muscles. Shameless plugs aside, though, with the exception of one or two matches I'm really looking forward to this one.

The Dudley Boyz vs. Bull Buchanan & Goodfather vs. Too Cool vs. Tazz & Raven vs. Lo Down
Tag Team Tables Invitational Match

Man, the WWF didn't waste any time in dropping the ball with Raven. I was almost more excited about his inevitable debut than I was for Chris Jericho's a year and a half ago, but he's been jobbed consistantly since that big run in last month. His promos are betraying the character thanks to their hurried nature, and he hasn't put together anything of a good match since his arrival. Raven's one of those guys that, when motivated, can become the strongest link in your chain.. but when his role is given a little slack, he falls to pieces. I'd really like to see him given that chance.. not rushed into a role that doesn't fit him in the first place. As for this little gang-warfare battle royal, I'll take Lo-Down. Vince seems to be high on them lately, and I suspect they'll continue their winning ways with a big victory in this one.
Winners: Lo Down

William Regal vs. Mideon
European Title Match

Words can't describe the incredible sense of joy I'm feeling at this very moment. Mideon has returned to action, and he's jumped right into a shot at the European title. Your favorite and mine, Mideon has recently landed the gimmick that's bound to take him all the way to the top. As "Naked Mideon", he's unearthed a personality that rivals even Ric Flair in his glory days. He'll make you forget about the '97 Hart Foundation. Mideon is about to become a household name. Unfortunately, he's likely suffering from a bit of ring rust.. and when he tries that patented shooting star press / 450 splash combo from a 30 foot ladder, I'm thinking Regal might just have time to get out of the way. This Sunday night, I'm expecting the unthinkable.. Mideon's taking a pin.
Winner: Steven Regal

Acolytes & Lita vs. T&A & Trish Stratus

I'm actually considering this one the sleeper of the night. While a superb match is expected out of HHH / Benoit or Angle / Rocky further up the card, to see one here would be a pleasant surprise. Just about everybody in the ring has a nice spot or two, and I wouldn't figure they'll have more than five minutes in which to utelize them. Despite the fact they're each slowing down, I still enjoy the Acolytes in moderation, and T&A could make something of themselves if they'd quit slacking off and get to it. Trish and Lita are both gorgeous, and each has a willingness to bump on top of that.. it's almost a "can't miss" formula. If I had to choose one match to surprise you this Sunday, this would be it. Keep your eye on it. As for a decision, I'm going with T&A.. pulling a surprise victory out in the end.
Winners: T&A

Chyna & Billy Gunn vs. Steven Richards & Val Venis

Man, it really is bad that Eddy went and got himself injured, isn't it..? Now instead of an assuredly hot IC title bout with Billy Gunn (in which we'd at least have Guerrero's effort to look forward to), we'll find ourselves 'treated' to this little waste. The RTC angle is really cooling down of late, and needs something big to get it back into the limelight again before it's all for naught. Unfortunately, I don't see anything like that coming out of this neat little tag match. Neither Gunn nor Chyna seem ready to turn, and nothing the current members can do will serve to really piss fans off enough to get them back where they need to be. This is a tidy little tag match that wasn't really necessary.
Winners: Chyna and Billy Gunn

Hardy Boyz w/Lita ? vs. Los Conquistadors
Tag Team Title Match

It's been a while since I've laughed like I did this past Monday night, during the Conquistadors' match on Raw. Though it likely wasn't really Edge and Christian under the masks Monday, the very idea of these two under the masks, slapping their chests and blatantly trying to appear as someone other than themselves is just hilarious to me. There's a sort of lighthearted fun to this whole feud, which is something I think the sport's been missing for some time now. It's great to see that aspect of the game back again. It's no secret that the feud that's enveloped these two teams over the last year and a half is the stuff of legends. Their matches are the kind that you only see once or twice in a generation.. like Flair and Steamboat or Austin and Hart, they just seem to click. You're guaranteed your money's worth when they step into the ring as opponents, and I wouldn't expect anything less Sunday night. The Hardys come out on top, but fail to unmask the golden boys.
Winners: The Hardy Boyz

Chris Jericho vs. X-Pac
Steel Cage Match

Probably the most surprising story of the year has been the de-emphasis of Chris Jericho in the WWF. While the rewards have been great for the industry as a whole in the continued aftermath of the Radicals' jump to McMahon's arms, Y2J seems to have collected the sole notable downside. With so many extremely talented workers suddenly flooding the main event, there doesn't seem to be room for Jericho any longer.. and that's a terrible, terrible loss. Chris needs something to get him started on his way back to the top, and it all starts with a big victory against X-Pac right here.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Triple H vs. Chris Benoit

This card, in a way, marks a sort of anniversary for HHH. As I'm sure we all remember, it was at the 1999 No Mercy PPV that 'The Game' successfully defended his newly-earned WWF title from the threat of Stone Cold Steve Austin, silencing naysayers and proving he really was here for the long haul. For nearly every PPV since, Hunter's put forward an outstanding effort.. often closing the curtains of the card with the match of the night. Though the point is arguable, if I had to narrow it down to one night, No Mercy is where I'd say HHH's ongoing run of stellar performances started.

Now Hunter finds himself not in the role he played at last year's card, a new arrival looking for one last rub, but in the position Austin held at their clash in '99.. the mainstay, elevating a future main eventer that isn't quite there yet. It's a shame his feud with Kurt Angle is on pause for the moment, but HHH has found himself yet another perfect match of an opponent in Chris Benoit. None of the intensity of his feud with the olympic champion is missing here, making it just as good a contrast and every bit as exciting. As far as the matchup goes, I'll go with Benoit through underhanded means. Either Stephanie's turning or Angle will play a part, but I'd be surprised to see this one end with anything other than a crossface.
Winner: Chris Benoit

Steve Austin vs. Rikishi
No Holds Barred Match

I'm surprised Austin's made his active return so quickly, and though he won't be near the worker he was before (not right away, anyway), that's to be expected after an absense of over a year. One factor I was keeping a sharp eye out for as of his return last month was any sort of variation in the way Austin approached things. He wasn't the same man during his run-in at Backlash, and if it was more of the same last month, I'd have questioned his and the WWF's motives in bringing him back if he couldn't do the job. Instead, we saw the attitude that sent him to the top alongside very little, if any, of the cautious movements that stuck out at his last appearance. He's truly come a long way in those months, and if the same holds true in the ring, we shouldn't have anything to worry about. He'll no doubt be taking it easy for a couple months, and I question sending him in there against someone like Rikishi, who won't do him many favors as far as looking better than he's performing. They're giving him quite a challenge, asking the man to carry his opponent during his first match back from an extended absence, but I think Stone Cold's up to it. Austin takes the 'v' and Phatu's goofy ass tries to sell the stunner convincingly.
Winner: Steve Austin

The Rock vs. Kurt Angle
WWF Championship Match

Rumor has it we'll be seeing a bit of controversy surrounding the finish of this one, as Monday's directv preview opens with the quote "Who is the WWF champion?" heading hour one. Bearing that in mind, I'm still looking for Rocky to retain here. Why? It's pretty obvious that, with this fifth World Title run, the WWF is trying desperately to establish Rocky as a champion worth mentioning in the history books. While his technical prowess may not add up to his peers, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and HHH, his tremendous popularity outshines them all. By giving him an extended title reign in a day of quick changes, they're helping him stand out from the masses. I wouldn't be surprised to see the gold around Rocky's waist all the way to Wrestlemania, though I suspect he'll have dropped it once along the way. On the other side of the coin, Angle gets a big chance this Sunday, as he collects his first World Title shot. Along with the prestige of the WWF gold, Angle will have a chance to fully arrive in the main event scene by actually carrying the reigning champion to a strong match. I'd imagine Kurt will have the match all but won cleanly on at least one occasion, while the ref's absence will prevent the Rock from dropping the belt. In the end, Angle gives us plenty of food for thought, but doesn't have enough to take the gold home with him.
Winner: The Rock

In Closing...

Looking at the bottom of the card, it's nothing special.. it's those top five, as John mentioned before, that really make No Mercy shine. If HHH can keep up his string of performances here and Chris Benoit just shows up, we'll get a classic with that one as well as a worthwhile performance from Kurt Angle and the Rock. There's plenty of intrigue going in, but I can't help but wonder how much better things would have looked with the white hot Eddy Guerrero factored in. Perhaps some things are best when waited for...take it easy, and enjoy the PPV this Sunday night.
until next time, i remain

Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Ringside Shadows #148: The WWF Light-Heavyweight Division

When I look back at the '90s and early '00s, years and years from now, one issue is likely to stand head and shoulders over the rest. It isn't the reign of Rocky Maivia as WWF champion, nor is it Rikishi's head-on assault on racism in the sport. We'll likely have forgotten the rumors of WCW's sale, whether it eventually does go onto the auction block or not. No, the single most important progression facing the squared circle today is the little man, the high flyer, the light heavyweight, and his integration into a world formerly dominated by the hulking behemoths and slow movers.

It's blatantly obvious that, despite a notable collection of opposed parties, the smaller athlete will indeed find a spot in the main event of professional wrestling. Thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Dynamite Kid, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, the men who wouldn't have had a snowflake's chance in hell twenty years ago will be introduced to a whole new world by the time we're older. A world that's based on a much more even playing field, where your skill, dedication and love for the game have much more to do with your elevation than the body you were given by god. Where Dynamite's smaller frame held him from the chance he deserved as a single in the WWF of the 80s, his heir apparant, Chris Benoit, is reaping the benefits for both today. The smaller man is gaining more and more of a foothold in this sport, with Michaels solidifying that as WWF champion in the late '90s, but one question still remains; why don't they have their own division?

If the WWF hopes to remain on the cutting edge of the industry, they must move soon to create a sort of learning environment for these smaller athletes. The bigger men have the European belt to utilize in this manner, while the lightweights watch their title fading away slowly into the distance for the second time. In a federation that boasts one of the greatest rosters of all time, as well as the most successful booking team in history, to ignore this important part of the formula would be quite a mistake.

It's no secret that WCW's cruiserweight division is to credit for a great deal of the fed's continued success in the late 90s, keeping fans tuned in between the long Hogan promos and nWo sketches. I won't hide the facts, a fast-paced Malenko / Guerrero match during this same time period is what reeled me back into pro wrestling after an absence of several years. In many ways, the division was ahead of its time. Though fans were extremely involved in the matches with little or no necessary storyline, the men in charge weren't taking notice of it. The full impact of Shawn Michaels and his reign over in the WWF hadn't quite reached WCW by this time, and the main event was still dominated by larger men. Little or no effort was put behind elevating the most popular cruiserweights beyond their division, and the tremendous crossover potential was lost as morale between the recruits took a nose dive. Bischoff had the follow-up to his ultra successful nWo angle right under his nose with these guys, but refused to acknowledge it. WCW could have been the innovators, for the very first time.

Still, an upstart cruiser by the name of Chris Jericho was determined to bridge the gap between the organized main event and the oft-ignored cruiserweights. While the heavy hitters were given plenty of mic time, a recognizable plot thread to maintain crowd interest in lengthy feuds and longer matches, Jericho watched as the cruiserweights were given time for a title defense and little else. He saw his opening, stepped up to the plate and hit a home run, successfully creating a perfect blend of drama and action in the division he called home. He gave each cruiserweight a distinct personality, and gave fans even more reason to cheer them. As their heel champion, Jericho was loathed by fans, but gave the division more of a fighting chance than ever before. With his bridge nearly complete, Jericho embarked on what would have been a floodgate-opening feud with Bill Goldberg. He gave it his all, and the crowds had grown full of anticipation over the imminent collision between these two. And then, in what was to have been the division's shining moment, it all fell apart. The feud hit a wall, as Goldberg found himself talked out of it by certain members of the backstage booking committee. The big blowoff never happened, and the cruiser division soon collapsed upon itself as a result.

WCW's folly provides illustration to a relevant point: innovators never hesitate. When Bischoff and his underlings took a moment to think about the possible ramifications of a big cruiserweight elevation, they'd already sealed their own fate. Ditto for the WWF and their first two attempts at a light-heavyweight division. Both were started amidst much fanfare, the right talent and well wishes, but were eventually debated to death behind the scenes. Just as crowds were coming around to Dean Malenko and Scott Taylor's constant show-stealing performances, they were yanked from the rotation. Neither has gone anywhere since. There's a whole new world waiting to be discovered in this division, and once that realization is made, things will never be the same again. The WWF has to be willing to take a risk before they'll reap any benefits, and this is their big chance to shine.

Of course, when talk surfaces about a new division, the point is moot without the names to accompany. With the largest roster in many, many years, the WWF would have no problem providing enough talent to give the division the life it needs to attract more talent in the future. Rattling off the top of my head, I see the fed isn't doing anything with Crash Holly, Dean Malenko, Scott Taylor, Brian Christopher, Taka Michinoku, Essa Rios and, amazingly enough, Chris Jericho. They wouldn't really even miss anything by dragging X-Pac out of his upcoming feud with Billy Gunn and tossing him into the mix here, either. Given free reign to help recreate what made him in WCW, Jericho could attest to both the credibility of the belt and its challengers, as well as come up with a fun feud or two.

When you're presenting names for this division though, bar none the most important of them all is a man that wouldn't find a spot in front of the cameras... Terry Taylor. Responsible for many of WCW's greatest recruitments during the heyday of the cruiserweight division, as well as the bookings of many of its matches, Taylor is one of the greatest minds in the biz. I wouldn't think about starting a serious division without him by my side. Therein lies the problem, though, as he may be bound to his contract at Turner, and wasn't taken seriously by the WWF the last time he was there anyway. Still, I consider Taylor an essential for this division's success.

Almost as important as the matches themselves are their presentation to the common fan. Rather than wheeling these workers out, amidst little or no fanfare or introduction, the fed would have to get serious about boosting them beyond the level in which they reside currently. A perfect seed could have been laid with Taka Michinoku's strong showing against HHH several months ago, nearly stealing the WWF title in the process. This lightweght title should rival the Intercontinental gold in value, with the logical next step from a reign as champion being the main event. With Jericho already there, he could help the division immensely by jobbing the title early to an up and comer like Crash Holly or Essa Rios. Something would then have to be done to reaffirm Jericho's position in the company, along the lines of a big victory over Kane, HHH or the Rock, but the end result would far outweigh the immediate consequences.

These guys need storylines to make them work, promos to establish an identity before the fans, and set heel and face roles both in the division and in the federation as a whole. Cruiserweights should not be limited to the cruiser division, they could be challenging for the IC gold on one evening and the Light Heavy on the next. To deny them access to feuds outside the LHW division would show that nothing was learned from WCW's disaster in late '98. Fans need to take the belt seriously, and to do that they must respect the workers that battle for it. It would require the quick ascention of several men to near main event level, as well as the lowering of one or two that are on the brink of a breakthrough now. It's a hard decision, and one that would certainly piss off more than one worker backstage. It would be a risk.

But then, what was it I was saying about risks earlier...? Without them, you become stagnant, something that would kill the fed's cutting edge attitude with the fans. Audiences recognize when someone is betting all their marbles, and the response is never lukewarm. They either love it or they hate it. With the elimination of their biggest threat on the distant horizon, it would be easy for the WWF to rest on its laurels here. It would appear they can afford to take a breather or two, but in doing so would take themselves out of the flow. It's time for something new, something different. It's time to change the status quo. I'm of the firm belief that the Light Heavy Division could do all that and more... it could shape the future.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Ringside Shadows #147: A Look at Wrestling's Unspoken Heroes

It's a role that's as easily overlooked as they come, yet one that's as integral to the final production of a wrestling program as the brush is to the creation of a painting. While it's easy to heap blame or praise upon the workers relatively evenly, the men behind the tables, the announcers, rarely receive any attention whatsoever unless they've done their job poorly. A prime example of this is Stevie Ray's work on last night's Monday Nitro program. Stevie was, admittedly, awful, and as a result drew my attention away from the matches at hand. He distracted me with his attempts to appear cool, took away from the workers by trying to put himself over on their time and pretty much blew his chances at a full time gig with a weak performance. While Stevie's is an extreme case, it offers a perfect segway into what made those that came before him (and those that will doubtless come after) so good at what they did.

In taking the role behind the monitors, an announcer is assuming the most difficult job in the sport. If a worker is having trouble getting himself over in the ring, the announcer must pick up the slack, enhancing his every positive aspect to the viewing audience and smoothing over or entirely forgetting his weaker areas. If this hypothetical wrestler is struggling on the mic, it's the commentator's job to give them a more memorable voice, one that's more likely to get across the point they're trying for. A good announcer must do all of this while maintaining a conversational tone with his comrades, calling the action in the ring and keeping himself as far in the background as possible. Rarely will you see a color commentator mentioned when perusing the lists of wrestling's all time greats, though they likely had as much to do with the ascention of the names listed as did the men themselves.

Probably the only real mention of these men that hasn't been fleeting in nature came in Mick Foley's autobiographical work, Have A Nice Day, where he gave his undying gratitude for Jim Ross and the work he did from the announcer's table in WCW. Though JR didn't do all the work for Mick, he did give his all where it counted and gave the future WWF champion the extra popularity it took to go somewhere in the sport. Given his non-traditional build and bizarre methods, I seriously doubt Mick would've gone anywhere near as far as he did without the help of JR early on. He realized it, and by making strong mention of it in his book gave me a newfound respect for those that have done the same. When an announcer accepts his job, he isn't doing so because he'll be heard by millions every Monday night. He isn't doing it to sell T-Shirts. He's either doing it because he loves the sport, or he likely won't be anywhere within another couple of years.

Throughout my time observing this sport, several announcers have nudged their way into my memory, be it through a stupendous call, the memorable building of an untapped talent, fantastic exchanges with an equally adept broadcast partner or by simply being in the right place at the right time. Below is a list of those men, as well as a brief explanation of what it was exactly they were doing right, wrong or otherwise. This one's dedicated to those unspoken heroes, the men who were our eyes and ears all this time. This one's for the heart and soul of the industry, the announcers.

Tony Schiavone
Though he's been the living, breathing pun of the industry for the last few years, Tony Schiavone was once a bright, worthwhile announcer who knew the game much more than he lets on today. Working for both the WWF and WCW, Schiavone was brilliant. He could call every move almost flawlessly, and though he was somewhat lacking in the department of storyline development, his blistering play by play more than made up for it. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon was becoming more interested in a good gimmick than a good match at this point, and as Schiavone's style became more and more outdated he was quietly released from the World Wrestling Federation. Since that time, Tony's attempted to reinvent himself more than once, but never really grasped the "entertainment" quite as much as he did the "sport" all those days ago. Though he's reached a niche as WCW's mainstay head announcer, it's come at some cost and I often find myself wishing he'd let this facade go, returning one last time to the play by play that brought him here in the first place.

Mike Tenay
Tenay, on the other hand, has filled that very void. A former Nitro regular himself, "The Professor" knows every different variation of every single hold, the complete history of every worker in WCW and probably your Social Security number, too. Tenay took the idea of a "wrestling historian" to a whole new level, giving audiences a true-to-life reason why the match they were watching looked so incredible. Like Schiavone, he wasn't much for advancing angles outside of the ring, but once the men stepped inside, it all made sense. Mike Tenay is like tuning in every week with a good friend, a guy who's known the sport inside and out for years. When a Buff Bagwell or Ernest Miller would step between the ropes, and occasionally find themselves struggling, Tenay knew how to make the match interesting again... simultaneously raising the workers' stock in the eyes of fans.

Vince McMahon
The most creative mind in the history of the sport was, unfortunately, also one of its biggest wastes as an announcer. McMahon was downright awful, and the sorry thing was everybody knew it, but was afraid to say so for fear of losing their job. As an announcer, Vince's opinion regarding the general viewer's gullibility was far too obvious. McMahon fancied himself the "down to Earth," public voice of the company, and he fell for everything. When Doink the Clown took off his cast and started beating Crush with it, McMahon went on for a full twenty seconds, screaming "Good god, he's torn his arm off at the socket! Right off at the socket! Now he's using it to hit Crush again and again! Auuugh!" Vince's announcing was responsible for a great deal of the silliness that plagued the WWF in the late 80s and early 90s, and it's not surprising that the circus atmosphere didn't begin to die down until he left the broadcast position for good several years ago.

Bobby Heenan
A good manager-turned great announcer. The day Heenan first picked up the mic was the day the game changed as a whole. Playing the first memorable heel commentator in the days of the WWF's big Rock'n Wrestling boom, Heenan fit the role like no other. He cheered (and often managed) the top heels, and tore down the faces consistantly, working his magic through reverse psychology. Fans absolutely hated Heenan, and often backed a man just because he'd expressed something of a dislike for them. Add to that his tremendous sense of humor and undeniable chemistry with Gorilla Monsoon, and Heenan goes down in history as one of the all time greats, certainly an innovator. My one regret is that he stuck around too long, tarnishing his memory in the minds of many.

Jesse Ventura
One of the greatest talkers in the business, it was only when teamed with another former wrestler, the late, great Gorilla Monsoon, that Ventura really began to shine. Like Heenan, Ventura played the role of a heel announcer, but made his arguments hard to ignore. Everything he said was based in fact. If the heel was dominating the match, Ventura exploited it. You couldn't argue with his logic, and you hated him for it. Still, he maintained a friendly, conversational atmosphere alongside Gorilla at all those PPVs and would sometimes even admit that the face had, in fact, been the better man on this night (often to close out the show.) He and Monsoon would often throw back to their days in the ring, leading to an interesting comparison or two. It really gave you the idea that you were getting a bit of insider information from these guys, despite the fact everybody else was hearing the same thing you were. Ventura's emotions, also a strong part of his presence, stressed the importance of a match and were generally very well placed.

Jerry Lawler
Far from the worst announcer I've ever heard, but also a ways from the best. Lawler treads the line between face and heel announcer, with his choice in athletes screaming "heel" but his attitude and actions remaining those of a face. Lawler has taken the role Heenan created and brought it into the 90s, where he makes jokes that are more with the times, and plays a great comedian to JR's straight man. The King may not know the technical name of many moves, but as a former wrestler himself, knows what it takes to make a good match. His screeches and wails have become as much a part of the Attitude era as Austin's stunners or the Rock's eyebrows, and for that you have to give him credit. He's one half of the announcing team of the decade, and it takes more than one man to make something like that work.

Jim Ross
Like I mentioned above, for every good comedian there's a strong straight man. Abbot had Costello, Laurel had Hardy and Lawler has good ol' JR. In more ways than one, Jim Ross is the announcer of the 90s, picking up where his mentor and long time partner Gordon Solie left off. He knows who to back and how to do it, what makes a good match tick and what his role in the fight should be. Ross is one of the greatest minds in our sport, both behind the scenes and in front of the mic, and he's modest enough to keep that to himself. Without JR's precise, on-the-money calls, we'd be out a whole lot of memories. While another may have become excited when Mankind took that infamous dive from the Cell in mid '98, nothing would have drilled the memory home like JR's call. "My god they've killed him! They've killed him!" It still sends shivers down my spine, and was truly the perfect call. Ross may have his flaws, but a more well-rounded announcer you aren't likely to find anywhere else in the world.

Gorilla Monsoon
Could've been your best friend. A giant in build but a softie at heart, Gorilla Monsoon was an oxymoron if I've ever seen one. He wasn't the greatest, nor the most technically sound, but Monsoon made up for it all with his good nature and honesty. If he backed a man, you knew you could trust that decision and vice versa. Alongside Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura, Gorilla was part of two of the most memorable announce teams in the sport's history. He had a personality that worked with just about anyone, and was always there to let us know when a move required "intestinal fortitude." Wrestlemania meant a little less this year, as the first to air without his familiar face somewhere on the program. He will be missed.

Gordon Solie
Finally, we come to "The Dean," the man all the above names have to look up to. Put simply, Gordon Solie was the epitome of a wrestling announcer. Alongside his rotating cast of broadcast partners, Gordon saw me through my earliest years as a wrestling fan, all the while expecting nothing in return. His words were golden. He could build a match in the ring, out of the ring or in the dressing room, and he could do the same with any given worker. Solie knew all the terms, all the holds, all the reversals and how each one could be integrated with the others. Even when he was in the frame, Solie knew the workers were the real stars of this show. While today's broadcasts see feuds built between Jerry Lawler, JR and Tazz, Solie played his part every step of the way. He stood in awe of these behemoths, and if one threatened him you cringed along with him. Gordon was the godfather of modern wrestling, and the sport lost a true hero when he passed away earlier this year.

And that, for me, is that. I may have left out a name or two along the way... the Lord Alfred Hayes, the Sean Mooneys, the Joey Styles and the Scott Hudsons... but for the most part, this list represents the highs and the lows of the unseen superstars, the announce team. Without these men, the industry wouldn't have reached the heights it sees today, and many of the workers that hold the straps wouldn't have advanced beyond stage one of their careers. So, for every time you're annoyed by a bad announcer, think of these men. Think of all the times you haven't given a second thought to the good ones.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Ringside Shadows #146: Everything Old is New Again

You know you've debated it... what kind of impact would Shawn Michaels have made if he'd reached his prime in the late 70's, rather than the mid 90's? How would a young Ric Flair have handled himself in the trainwreck that is the "Attitude Era?" Better yet, would Kurt Angle be in the position he is today, were he running alongside a young, fresh Rick Rude or Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat? How would the legends of yesterday have fared against the rising stars of today? It's a subject that's permeated every facet of the entertainment industry: who's the better late night host, Johnny Carson in the 60s or David Letterman in the 80s? Which cast of SNL was the funniest? It's a tough call, and one that no one can ever make without causing some sort of uproar, not that it ever stops them from trying.

Due to popular demand, I'll be walking that controversial aisle once again right here, as I deliver the follow up to last week's "Dream Matches" column. There is one slight difference here, though, one that gives the edge to this week's post, at least in my mind. Rather than limiting myself to the present, I've broadened my horizons. Instead of athletes currently employed in one of the big three, this week you'll see the best of the best. Yesteryear clashes with the present, in matches that nobody would turn away from, if just for their historical significance. These are the clashes that simply weren't meant to be. Whether it be the age gap, the political turmoil or the issue of cross-promotional confrontations, these guys have never and will never get a chance to show us what they've got. Each has gone his own way in the halls of history, leaving his mark on the World, for better or worse. Now it's time to revisit their youth for one last hurrah.

What follows is a list of five one on one matches, pitting the stars of the decade past against the youth of today and tomorrow. Beside each name is a year, announcing which year's Chris Jericho best embodies what made him tick. This is a personal choice, a decision that's restricted to matches I've personally seen, talents I've watched sprout and history I've been subjected to. Though I recognize and respect the legend of Lou Thesz, I've never seen one of his complete matches. My exposure to Bruno Sammartino is limited, as is my collection of old Terry Funk wars. Though I regret such a gap in my historical recollection, I can't effectively list a man that I haven't extensively seen. I'm sticking to what I know here, and I believe that's for the best. So, for just five minutes, sit back, take a glance at the screen, and forget all connections to the real world. Don't worry yourself about the continuity of it all, nor how these guys would never work with each other due to personal reasons. Just relax and forget everything you know. Enjoy the ride.

"Ravishing" Rick Rude (1989) v. "Y2J" Chris Jericho (1998)
Hands down, two of the greatest heels in the history of pro wrestling. They both had the skills, they both knew how to incite an audience, and each played an integral role in their federation because of it. Like it or not, Jericho was what made the cruiserweight division work during WCW's heyday, giving fans the motivation they needed to root for the smaller guys. He was the backbone of what was largely responsible for grabbing and holding WCW's core audience in the late 90s. The other guy, Rick Rude, worked WWF audiences into a frenzy in a day that had big names like the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan to fall back on. Neither received the recognition they were due, and both fled their breakthrough promotion soon after to make it big with the other guys. It would be interesting to see how many of their similarities extended into the ring, as well.

The Competitors:
In 1989, "Ravishing" Rick Rude was the be all, end all textbook definition of a heel. Fans hated this pretty boy with an attitude. He had the goods, he liked to flaunt them, and the pre-match 'de-robing' ceremony only poured lighter fluid into the fire. This was the man we loved to hate, and Vince McMahon knew it. Rude was booked into a feud with the Ultimate Warrior. He was placed alongside Bobby Heenan, when that meant something. He was even a World Title contender for a short while, and there's no explanation for why he never held the WWF Gold for an extended run. In the ring he was all confidence, right up to the point his opponent showed a little offense. Rude was the "pussy heel," the man who'd take his time when in control, rubbing it all over his opponent's face. But when the tables eventually turned and it was Rick's turn to take some punishment, he'd be out on the floor complaining in the blink of an eye. His moveset was strong for the day, and his selling (though comical) was often among the best. You'd never see Rick Rude doing a war dance, or Hulking Up. In a world of superheroes, Rick Rude was just a strong, conceded, dickhead of a guy that always managed to squeak out an upset win.

Jericho took that concept, tweaked it, and threw in a twist that made it decisively his. He perfected the concept of the "cowardly heel," a guise that's become quite overdone recently, by taking some chances in a time when every villain was trying so desperately to be cool. His resume boasts runs with each of the three major North American promotions, (not to mention holding individual titles in all three) turns with several international promotions and a slot on the 1995 Super J Cup tournament. Probably his most distinguishing feature, though, is his ability to interest fans in any upcoming feud. From Kurt Angle to Dean Malenko, Jericho has managed to come up with something that holds the fans' interest. While the workers of Rick Rude's era would usually stick to the everyday, boring interview segment, Jericho would poke fun at his opponent in ways that would make audiences laugh at and / or sympathize with the target. Simply put, his name is all it takes to pique interest anymore, as audiences have recognized his talent and embraced him for his past accomplishments.

The Match:
Since we're in an ideal world, and feuds between two similar heels rarely go down well, Jericho's gimmick here is identical to his current, fan favorite, persona. He'd maintain the work ethic and biting wit he had in WCW, but his stance with the fans would be that of a face. Like last week's match with Steve Corino, the majority of the fun here wouldn't come with the match itself, but with the build leading up to it. Rude enters the ring to his usual sax riff, accompanied by the chorus of boos he'd come to expect. Nabbing a mic, he breaks out the speech we've all heard before, the same words that bring a smile to my face, even today; "What I'd like to have right now... is for all you fat, worthless, out of shape losers..." Taking proper time to pause dramatically between words, Rude casually grips the string around his robe... and the Y2J countdown begins. Enter: Jericho, wearing a carbon copy of Rude's velvety robe and toting a mic. In the mocking manner only he could pull off, Jericho imitates him every step of the way, right down to the "corncob up the butt" body language. When he gets into the ring, he reveals the kicker... extravagant tights underneath his robe, depicting Rude's face, dead-center on his crotch. Next to the competition, Rick's crudely painted trunks look shabby. Enraged over being upstaged in public, he assaults his opposition and the match is officually underway.

With Rude running the show, we go all over the ring and out to the floor. Jericho tastes the ring steps, as well as a steel chair, and Rude climbs into the ring to deliver a pelvic thrust for the crowd. A moment's pause was all Jericho needed to recover, and his flurry of offense sends Rude to the concrete, this time looking to recover his lost advantage. The two trades moments in control, with Rude constantly aborting the very moment Jericho takes over on offense, until Y2J finally has enough and nails a baseball slide under the bottom rope. They head into the ring, where Jericho pummels the former Intercontinental Champion, finally placing his injured body in the middle of the mat. The Lionheart makes a run for the ropes, aiming to hit a Lionsault, but Bobby Heenan is waiting to distract him. Jericho hesitates and Rude regains his footing, grabs his opponent from behind and hits the Rude Awakening before the younger contender knows what's hitting him. Rude makes the cover, but only gets two and a half. While Rick argues with the official, Jericho lays on the mat. Rude bends over to lift up the pieces of his challenger, giving Jericho the opportunity he was waiting for... he nabs Rick's legs, throws him to his back and locks on the liontamer. Rude can't help but to tap out.

Ricky Steamboat (1988) v. Kurt Angle (2000)
Two of the greatest pure wrestlers in the game, with Angle garnering all the accolades that were surprisingly missing from the career of Steamboat. Both men are the babies of the internet, where writers do little but sing their praise. Their styles would likely work together magnificently, as Steamboat's technical prowess would compliment Angle's straightforward greco-roman modern style. Angle has the edge in personality, an area where Steamboat's always been lacking, but once in the ring, these two would make last Monday's extraordinary Angle vs. HHH match look like child's play. They'd put on a clinic.

The Competitors:
Heralded by many as the most underrated performer in history, Ricky Steamboat had outstanding matches in the WWF during his time, (the most notable being opposite Randy Savage at Wrestlemania III) but made his name on the work he'd done in the NWA. His ongoing feud with Ric Flair has reached almost mythical proportions in the years since the matches were performed. They put on more five star performances in one feud than many are likely to see in a lifetime. They were born to work together. The wrestling world wouldn't be where it is today if they hadn't. It's interesting to note that Flair went on to a slot among the top three names in the history of the sport, while Steamboat has become little more than a footnote, a silent legend that's whispered in the backdrop somewhere. Between the two of them, Flair had the stronger personality, while Steamboat was the superior worker. It's why they clicked so well. Both were quite strong in the ring, and The Dragon's natural babyface personality intensified Flair's monster heel character. Apart, both could easily carry a feud to four star level, perhaps five if they gave it their all. Combined, there was little question what the result might be. Still, Steamboat appeared to yearn for the WWF and the mainstream success that went along with it. He'd establish himself with superb matches in the NWA, (and later WCW) only to jump to the WWF soon after. Though he carried the Intercontinental title for several months during his first big run, Ricky was never given much of a chance to prove his worth in the big time, which is certainly a great shame. He could have made the WWF something it wasn't in the early 90s: successful. It's too bad Vince McMahon had some sort of personal vendetta against him.

Kurt Angle, meanwhile, has led a story that reads as almost a polar opposite. Instead of a tragedy, his is a story of success. Working dark matches to little or no crowd reaction for months, Angle was finally introduced as "The Olympic Champion" barely one year ago, and found instant heat as a monster heel. He's been a European Champion, an Intercontinental Champion, a King of the Ring and now a World Title contendor, all in less than a year. He's well above average in the ring, bringing a unique blend of amateur and professional wrestling to the ring, and his work on the mic betrays his brief experience. He's currently involved with HHH in the best feud since Hart / Austin, in terms of both intensity and hype, as well as delivery. He'll be a World Champion within another year. The only remaining problem with Kurt Angle is... now that he's already reached the top, where does he have left to go?

The Match:
The feud as a whole here would be a sort of amalgamation of the respective HHH vs. Angle and Steamboat vs. Flair encounters, with Angle playing the heel and Steamboat playing (obviously) the face. Angle would consider himself above the legend, citing his King of the Ring glory and multiple singles titles in the Fed as ample proof. After all, the Dragon's only been champion "in some old federation nobody remembers any more." Steamboat would attempt verbal comebacks, but just isn't in the same league as the Olympic Champion, eventually finding himself more and more embarrassed with each encounter. When they finally climb into the ring, it's high time Angle learns a lesson or two about respect... and maybe something about intelligence, intensity and integrity as well.

I see things going purely old school in the ring here. Little or no action on the top rope, no moonsaults, 450 splashes or hurricanranas; simply an old fashioned schooling in the art of technical wrestling and ring psychology from the professor himself, Steamboat. The Dragon would hold a firm advantage throughout the match, until Angle decides enough is enough and clocks him with a foreign object of some sort. The ref misses it (surprise!) and Kurt looks for the easy pin, but Steamboat still manages to get his shoulder up before three. Furious, Angle picks him up, powerslams him and tries the cover again. Steamboat kicks out and Angle is ballistic. He steps out to the floor, likely searching for his discarded foreign object, and Steamboat climbs to his feet, hitting a cross body block to the outside. A headlock leads to a mean butterfly suplex on the concrete for Steamboat, and we go back inside. Angle tries to get the momentum back on his side with an Irish whip to the corner, but Steamboat reverses it. Angle does a Flair flop out of the corner, just for the old school bastards like myself. It's all Steamboat here, and he works the arm relentlessly. Angle, who isn't used to such a concise attack, has this bewildered look on his face throughout. Steamboat continues to work on the arm, and is wrenching it something fierce when something snaps inside Angle and he quickly, decisively counters. He nails a northern lights suplex for two, followed by a bridged German suplex for two. Ecstatic, he looks for a backslide, which isn't such a good idea when your arm's all banged up. Steamboat takes advantage of his arm, breaking the pinfall attempt and spinning it around into a double arm chicken wing. As he falls backwards, Angle realizes he's got two options... tap out or lose the use of his arm for several months. After a long close-up detail's Angle's agony, he submits. Experience wins out in the end.

The Dynamite Kid (1982) v. Rey Mysterio, Jr. (1995)
The man who introduced it against the man who perfected it. High flying, super fast, in your face action from the best in the history of the world. If you've never seen tapes of either of these men in their prime(s), you're really missing out on some essential stuff Recommended viewing includes Mysterio's match with Psychosis at the '95 Super J Cup and Dynamite's series with Tiger Mask I. While Rey might move a bit faster than Dynamite, the Kid would make up for that with his seemingly limitless power. Every series of short, quick kicks, flips and smacks would be answered with one devastating piledriver or arm wrench. They'd play off each other extraordinarily, especially considering Billington (Dynamite)'s experience with high fliers. It would certainly be one for the ages.

The Competitors:
The Dynamite Kid's matches with Tiger Mask Sayama are the stuff of legends, and rightfully so. Looking at these tapes, it's easy to forget the matches you're watching took place almost twenty years ago. Unlike many other angles, feuds or matches, they hold up as modern even today... in fact, they're still better viewing than anything you'll see on regular television in year 2000. Along with Sayama, Dynamite introduced high speed ringworking to the sport as a fundamental piece of the puzzle, not just something to glance at once or twice in a match. Everything they did was flat out, 110%. I really can't stress enough how important these matches are to the way things are performed today. Eddy Guerrero has this series to thank every time a heavyweight sells his head-scissors takedown. Chris Benoit owes his entire career to Dynamite, the man he molded himself after. His influence is extraordinary, and moreso than Steamboat, his praises are largely unsung. While most would remember him as one half of the British Bulldogs, the constant opposing team to Bret's Hart Foundation, his singles work is where the brilliance of his performances really shone. Davey Boy Smith slowed him down, and considering Davey's strong reputation beyond their tag team, that says something for him.

In the 1995 incarnation of Rey Mysterio, Jr, you get the best luchador there's ever been... before he blew his knee out, lost his mask, gave up his style and lost his desire. He threw his body about with reckless abandon, and it ended up costing him the moveset that made him so unique. But this is before all that. This is in the day when a Rey Mysterio match meant a dry mouth, opened in amazement from start to finish. This was the Rey who would hit that smooth hurricanrana off the top rope, right into a pinning combination. Though he was sometimes spotty, it was well worth the set-up time for the payoff. Without a doubt the most innovative flier of the last decade, Rey would hit his opposition with things you couldn't even imagine, moves that don't have names today. He was a human Spiderman, not even limited by his own imagination. Nothing was too fast, too flashy or too unreal, he'd make it happen. On top of it all, Rey was a born face. You couldn't turn this guy heel if he was opposing the Rock. He's just a natural.

The Match:
With that said, Mysterio would obviously be playing the face. Dynamite, head shaven, would have adopted the persona he occupied over in Japan; brutal, uncaring and lethal. He didn't care if you were Stallone or Pikachu, if you entered the ring, you were leaving without your head. As I explained with Rey above, most of his moves can't even be called, which makes things a bit difficult for me here. I imagine he and Dynamite would be trading off rather evenly throughout the first ten minutes, with nobody gaining a significant advantage. Mysterio would hit some low-impact, imaginative moves and Dynamite would negate their combined attack with one sharp, vicious maneuver of his own. Rey would be selling like he'd been shot out of a cannon into a brick wall, and then he'd start again with the little jabs and swipes. He'd get Dynamite to the floor and launch a somersault plancha, only to realize the Kid wasn't there any more (and Dynamite's done similar things in the past, forcing workers to land their own leaps on the cement.) Come the twenty minute mark, Rey's really starting to feel the effects of his insane methods. He's winded, bleeding and hurt. The Dynamite Kid, realizing he's waited long enough, unleashes power move after power move, effectively driving Rey through the mat. To cap things off, he hits a Piledriver and then goes up top. Rey tries to get out of his way, so Dynamite aborts, piledrives him again, and then hits the diving headbutt for the three. A bit anticlimactic, but a worthwhile enough lesson that sometimes the smartest thing to do is allow your opponent defeat himself.

Shawn Michaels (1996) v. Eddy Guerrero (1996)
Two Texas natives, two exceptional blends of Lucha Libre and mat wrestling, and two examples that they're putting something in the water down south. Guerrero, among others, is one of the first names mentioned when the future of the WWF is questioned. He's just hitting his prime now, and has quite a bit left both to show and to accomplish. On the other hand, Shawn Michaels is doubtless among the greatest WWF champions ever. The man Vince turned to when everyone began abandoning his "sinking ship," Shawn took a list of unproven talents, failed prospects and new recruits, and built a worthy list of World Title contendors with of it. He's one of a handful in history that's been able to "carry a paper bag to a four star match." Of the matches on this card, this one blurs the lines the most. Both have been active and great at the same time, but they were never in the right place at the right time. They never met, and if they had, it wouldn't have meant what it should have. With Michaels retired much too soon, it's obvious that this match will never happen... and that, for me, meets the requirements for this card. Though the years I've selected above are right next to one another, Michaels is certainly the one who's been left in the past, while Guerrero has yet to reach his golden year.

The Competitors:
As I said above, Shawn Michaels was the WWF in 1996, whether I like it or not. I'll be the first to admit I despise the guy outside the ring, but once he quit being Shawn Hickenbottom and became HBK, I've nothing but respect for his talents and what he's done for the industry. Shawn did everything he could to make a match exciting. If the fans wanted to see him kill himself, then that's what he did (see: Hell in a Cell I.) If they wanted Michaels as a triumphant hero, he'd do everything he could to give it to them. He was among the best in terms of storytelling, speaking on the stick and selling an opponent's offense. He could take a feud that would have failed miserably under anyone else's watch and make it worthy of carrying a PPV, either as a face or a heel. The impact of Shawn Michaels will be felt on the industry years after his premature departure, and every time the opening riffs of his music hit an arena somewhere, fans will explode in appreciation for that. There really isn't much more one can say about Shawn Michaels. He's near perfection, the absolute best one can get in the world of wrestling.

Eddy Guerrero's been everywhere, but he most certainly hasn't done it all. He's wrestled South of the border in Mexico, overseas in Japan and for each of the three major US promotions as well. He's a member of the prestigious Guerrero family. The sport's in his blood, and it shows. He's successfully merged Puro, American and Lucha styles, and the result is a thing of beauty. On top of it all, he's possibly one of the most convincing heels I've ever seen. His entire look is that of a heel. Much like Rey can't help but gather cheers with every appearance, Eddy's face runs will always be just filler between big sprints as a heel. He's got the glare, the build, the look and the moveset to make it possible, and he delivers big time. On the mic, Eddy isn't the best on the block, but he's far from the worst. He'll let you know what he's feeling, will further the feud and will entertain you, but he won't force you into fits of laughter like Foley or give you the only reason you need to buy a PPV. You won't smell what he's cooking. Eddy's more than a gimmick character, he's a wrestler. He understands how to build a match, pace a match and finish a match, and he knows why he's doing it. Given a couple more years, Eddy's name will be written in the halls next to Michaels himself.

The Match:
Much like Guerrero's match with Yoshihiro Tajiri in the previous column, to try calling this would go against what makes these two so great to begin with. They're excellent, shoot-from-the-hip wrestlers, guys who can pick it up and run with it for the duration with little or no suggestions and help from the back. They've honed their craft long enough to feel comfortable doing so, and without a less skilled opponent to worry about carrying here, I think they'd be able to let it all hang out. We'd get one for the ages, full of combos, reversals and momentum shifts. We'd get a wide variety of offenses and defenses. We'd fly through the air and we'd crash through the mat. I wouldn't be surprised to see a ladder thrown into the mix before all's said and done, either. In the end, I've got Michaels holding a firm advantage. Guerrero's been working the neck and shoulders for some time, but Michaels has withstood it up until this point. He hits the flying forearm, followed by the elbow from the top and Guerrero is barely out at two. As he steps back to set up for the sweet chin music, Eddy stumbles to his feet. With Michaels stomping the ground behind him, Guerrero shoots an all-knowing smile to the audience. He's done his homework, he knows what's coming, and he's ready for it. A split second later, Guerrero's donned his "I'm injured and stumbling" face to turn towards HBK. Shawn launches the sweet chin music, but Guerrero's ducked under it and made his way to Michaels's back. In an instant he lands a vicious dragon suplex that's bridged into a pinning combo. The ref goes down, slaps the mat three times and comes up again, signalling to ring the bell. Guerrero slides out of the ring, his arm raised in victory. Michaels underestimated him, and Eddy called him on it.

Ric Flair (1989) v. Chris Benoit (1997)
The match we should've seen years ago, with control of the Horsemen at stake. Quite a while ago, I wrote a column based on a rumored policy WCW was about to instigate: the top ten. Rumor had it bookers were going to choose ten men to base the promotion around, with everyone else receiving significantly less time to prove their worth than those lucky enough to make the list. It would've effectively written itself, as Hogan, Nash, Luger and Goldberg were still the biggest things around in the eyes of those who held the book, but I put together a "top ten" of my own, regardless. My explanation for Benoit's place on that list was simple: a feud with Ric Flair. The Crippler's been primped since day one to take over the Horsemen, and the audience knows it. If the writers could convincingly work an angle that focused on a stable's leader, facing a challenge from within his own ranks, the fans would flock to it. Look at the Rock's success in, and eventual ascention from, the Nation of Domination. Handled correctly, the feud would have been enough to carry the promotion... but if Flair were still in his prime, handling a threat to his authority? It would have been instant history.

The Competitors:
You know these guys. Ric Flair is the greatest of all time. A fifteen time WCW champion, a man who's done just as well in the WWF as he has in his home, the NWA. A classic heel and a beloved face. In 1989, Ric Flair was following up the feud of a lifetime with Ricky Steamboat, and he gave us a worthy sequel against Terry Funk. The build was marvelous, the crowd was on fire, and Flair was in the form of his life. Sure, he wasn't getting any younger but he hadn't begun to lose his steps yet either. He'd mastered all he was going to attempt and he'd made an art of it. Now it was simply a matter of applying it while he was still able. He could've followed up the Steamboat feud with a match against Bastion Booger and produced something worthwhile. ...well... maybe that's getting a bit out of hand. Simply put, Flair proved why he's one of the greatest of all time in 1989. He had several five star matches in him, and he let them all fly before the turn of the decade. He was the man when it came to ring psychology, working a crowd and making things respectable. Frankly, when it comes to a wrestling ring, Flair is the alpha and the omega of his generation.

On the other hand, Chris Benoit has the ability to do the same for his peers. His mic work is steadily improving, he's among the top heels in the WWF and he's the keeper of the single most varied, effective and unbelievable moveset in the world. Benoit was a member of three incarnations of the Horsemen, (alongside Flair, Anderson, Pillman, McMichael and Malenko) and collected every piece of gold in WCW before making his way to the WWF, where he's a multi-time Intercontinental champion. With a little more promotion, continued coaching with his mic work and the skills in the ring that he's held for the last six years, Benoit could accomplish everything Flair has, and then exceed it.

The Match:
Much like Guerrero and Michaels, to attempt to spell this out would dishonor both men involved. Steamboat and Flair's classics were amazing because they were left entirely up to the workers, with only the finish going through bookers first. With the added incentive of the Horsemen thrown in, things would grow very heated, very fast. The other members of the stable would make their way to ringside, looking on, but wouldn't become physically involved at any point in the match. It's a matter of respect, of tradition. Never at any point in their history has anyone questioned Flair's leadership, let alone tried to knock him from power. In doing so, Benoit would be taking quite a gamble with both his health and his future.

In the ring, both would be evenly matched. Control would be off and on, with Flair taking the overall advantage through much of it. Benoit would hesitate, as he's used to following this man, and Flair would take instant advantage with an eye rake, nut shot or some other underhanded tactic. Near the end, Benoit would finally start to understand: Flair isn't doing it because he's a dick, he's trying to teach his student something. With that, the Wolverine would unleash everything in his arsenal and things would quickly grow even once again. Flair would stick to the ground, working relentlessly on the knee while Benoit would utilize everything under his power, including some stuff he's never pulled out in America. It would be back and forth for some time, before a final combo would see Benoit stuck in the figure four. Showing pain as only he can, Benoit would scream and lunge desperately for the ropes to no avail. Flair won't be going anywhere. Realizing his leg is useless even if he does escape, Benoit takes advantage of the last chance he'll get to move in close. Gritting his teeth, he grabs Flair by the hair and yanks him over to close range. He then proceeds to drive elbow after elbow into the back of Flair's head, neck and shoulders. Flair screams and throws his arms up to cover... releasing the figure four in the process. Benoit takes the cue, nabs Flair's flailing left arm, and locks him into the Crossface with an uncanny fluidity. He wrenches back, and Flair taps. The Horsemen invade the ring, staring down at their former leader. And, with one last shared glance as friends, they proceed to tear him apart. There isn't room for two leaders in the Horsemen. this is it, for good (or until I've run out of ideas.) I've had a great time putting these things together, and I hope it came through all right with my words. Got a question? Comment? Suggestion? Want to tell me I'm wrong in each case? Drop me a line at
until then, i remain