Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Ringside Shadows #154: The Resurrection of an Empire

Wrestling works in cycles, as does everything else when examined to a certain degree. What's happened before will happen again under different circumstances. Though the ancient proverb is correct in stating "those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it," very few are willing to complete the amount of work necessary to actually avoid such a fate. That's why it wouldn't surprise me to see the WWF once again toppled from their comfortable position atop the wrestling world within the next handful of years.

The ratings war is over, of that there is little doubt. Checking the ratings on a whim this afternoon, I felt my heart skip a beat when a typo listed Nitro's cumulative rating at 5.0, while Raw's lay at an uncharacteristically low 2.4. The Wednesday afternoon release of these overemphasized numbers is predictable, dull, even "boring." But was it really only four years ago that the ball was playing exclusively over in the other court? Eric Bischoff once made the observation, during WCW's 82 weeks of viewership domination, that the race was "no longer interesting." It just wasn't fun anymore, the ratings war of 1996 was "boring." Over on the other side of the fence, however, Vince McMahon knew better. The best time to strike your opponent is when you've been underestimated. McMahon knew the truth of this statement, and embraced it to tremendous success. If only the higher ups in WCW would take note of these similarities and use them to their advantage, we could be watching a whole new battle zone every Monday night, come mid-2002.

Even further down the halls, the similarities become a bit more obvious. The WWF of '94 had been the pinnacle of the industry for years, only to see themselves driven from their majestic perch by misplaced trust, poor decisions made at the wrong time and overpowering backstage politics. Sound familiar? Come 1998, WCW was in the same boat, having lost their substantial popularity due to causes identical to those of their rival not four years earlier. Hogan and friends had exploited their remaining clout for every penny it was worth, draining the company of the life that had radiated from within not two years earlier. Once the liberals, WCW had suddenly become the conservative while the WWF rediscovered their youth.

In some ways, WCW has already taken many of the same steps that helped Vince's boys reclaim the number one slot in early '98. One of McMahon's first actions during this movement was to almost completely clear out the locker room, eliminating many long standing problems and starting from a fresh, almost blank slate. Out of the picture were past and present main event players Bret Hart, Mabel, Ted Dibiase, Lex Luger, Jeff Jarrett and so on. Ready to take their place were fresh faces; Mick Foley, Brian Pillman, Rocky Maivia, Steve Austin and Vader. While some eliminations were questionable and several new recruits fell flat on their faces, McMahon learned to roll with the punches and emerged with a highly effective, young, strong roster. Likewise, WCW recently held a major league housecleaning with the apparent elimination of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Sid, Diamond Dallas Page and Randy Savage. Keeping with the trend, they followed these tough removals with heavy pushes for new players Booker T, Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett and Lance Storm.

Unfortunately, the lesson taught by their trouncing at the hands of the WWF has not yet been completely learned by WCW, as many of these old faces have begun popping up on their programming more and more often lately. While the WWF stood firm and supported their new players every step of the way, WCW has been shakier in their stance. When these fresh stars meet their first roadblocks and falter, the strength of WCW as a promotion isn't behind them. Instead, the powers that be look back to the problems they'd just eliminated, like a sort of failsafe. They're going through the motions, but aren't willing to take the risk necessary to effectively establish their next generation. And therein lies the problem.

When the WWF made their big move to overtake the threat of the Monday Nitro machine, they did so by risking everything. Had the fans not embraced them so passionately, Vince McMahon Incorporated would have been flat out broke. Out of the picture. When the first episode of the newly title "Raw is War" debuted with a brand new look, set, feel and set of morals, the results were not instantaneous. Crowds didn't flock to the changed product, they pretty much stayed right where they were. Ratings didn't change an iota. Still, McMahon had confidence in what he was trying and stuck with it. Fans eventually migrated to his set of trenches. When WCW launches something with equal potential to reap benefits, they yank it off their air if results aren't there within a couple weeks. Of all the stumbling blocks in WCW's path, this is probably the easiest to remove. It's a blow to the ego to back something that fails, but that's something you've got to risk in order to be number one.

Another problem in the WCW hierarchy that's easily repairable is their unwillingness to listen to a fanbase. Much like a combat situation, when it comes to booking for fan reaction everything that can go wrong will. When the WWF was still hatching their new round of faces, Bret Hart remained as one of the strongest players on the roster. A gracious face, Hart was content doing what he did best and the federation was content with letting him do it that way. As Hart made his big return from an extended absence, bookers did everything in their power to make fans hate Steve Austin and love the Hitman, but found the masses were aligning themselves with the Rattlesnake. Though Hart didn't like it, long term plans were changed and the notorious double switch went down at Wrestlemania 13, cementing Austin as the firm face and Hart his hated opponent. The WWF listened to their fans, and it paid off in spades.

In a similar situation over in WCW, however, a young Chris Benoit found himself the recipient of more and more vocal a section of that viewing audience. Despite tremendous feuds with Diamond Dallas Page, Raven and Booker T, as well as a successful run with the Horsemen, the bookers refused to acknowledge Benoit with any sort of memorable singles push. While crowds became more and more vocal about the Crippler after each match, WCW attempted to keep these cheers at a minimum, all the while pushing the tired Hulk Hogan-dominated main event they'd scripted months in advance. While Benoit did eventually achieve the alliance's highest honor, the WCW title, his view of the company had been jaded by so many years of burial and mistreatment. It truthfully poisoned what could have been one of the key moments in their comeback effort, the realization of a new savior.

Without question, the WWF could have never made the comeback they did without the aid of Steve Austin. He changed the landscape of wrestling, his brash personality striking a chord with audiences everywhere and directly attributable for the "Attitude" era of wrestling. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story, though, is that it was never supposed to happen. In the months leading up to King of the Ring '96, the event which catapulted Austin to national notoriety, booking plans called for HHH to win the tournament and move on to the spot Austin later filled at the top of their new roster. Fate, however, had a different song and dance in mind. When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash departed for the greener pastures of WCW, it wasn't without a slap to the face of their former employer. The two broke kayfabe, joining in with Shawn Michaels and Helmsley for a group hug, center ring, at their last scheduled appearance for the promotion. Since Hall and Nash were out of the promotion and Michaels was the residing champion, Helmsley felt the full brunt of the punishment for this show of unity against the system. The carpet was yanked out from under his feet, and his push was almost instantly disintegrated with Austin playing the part of his last second replacement. With nothing expected of him, Austin grabbed the ball and ran through the endzone with it. He believed in the company and jumped at the chance to make it competitive once again.

In WCW, though, Chris Benoit was the one placed by fate in a similar position. When an untimely injury forcing the current champion, Bret Hart, to abandon the World Title, (and later his career) Benoit found himself suddenly thrust into a position he was never meant to hold. With nothing expected of him, Benoit took the World Title in a match with Sid and knocked out a heartfelt speech afterwards that hinted at big things in the future and a near instant establishment as the be-all, end-all of pro wrestling excellence. Things seemed pretty similar to Austin's situation, with one glaring exception; the years of misuse had destroyed Benoit's faith in what the company could be. He'd become disenfranchised because of a silly past mistake on WCW's part, and left the promotion not one week after accepting its greatest honor. Though not through the same means as Austin, Benoit could have shaped the landscape of wrestling even further, re-igniting the actual sport of things through his superb grasp of technical wrestling and inspiring his peers to do the same. Instead, Benoit seems to have introduced that renaissance to the WWF and its workers, as evidenced by the shift in emphasis over these past couple weeks (specifically, the Benoit / Austin and Angle / Austin matches).

In many ways, the WWF of 1998 was thinking globally, shaping the future in their own image, while WCW remains a pale imitation of where the WWF's already been, what their competition has already done. Case in point: the creation of Degeneration X vs. the creation of the Misfits in Action. DX was a real life situation, employing the established heat of the backstage politics stirred up by the Clique and the obviously close personal relationship between HHH and HBK. Fans had for the most part seen right through Michaels' alleged knee injury that kept him out of action at Wrestlemania 13, and had begun to boo him as a result. The WWF heard this reaction, turned him heel, and thus was born DX. The MIA, in comparison, are a hollow attempt at the same sort of situation. No real emotions come forward during a Hugh Morrus speech, nor do crowds have any legitimate reason to love them or loathe them. While the MIA are a wrestling angle in soul, DX in its prime was a backstage situation that spilled over into the world before the cameras.

It was the same story with the "evil" Mr. McMahon and the "evil" Vince Russo. Fans absolutely hated McMahon for what he had done to Bret Hart, and the WWF amplified these boos by presenting him on television as the jackass promoter. I have vivid memories of my freshman year here at Ball State University (during which I was an adamant WCW junkie) of my neighbor in the dorms, Kieth, running into my room shouting "Why is Stone Cold gonna fight Vince McMahon?!?" The interest was unbelievable, and it's a huge part of why the WWF maintained their audience after the Montreal incident... which leads me to the next point on my checklist.

Nothing attracts a crowd faster than controversy. McMahon realized this with the Bret Hart conspiracy theory, as ratings on Raw jumped a full point the night after the '97 Survivor Series. They had the attention of the masses, and they rode that for all it was worth. The Montreal call brought in the viewers, but the ongoing superiority of the WWF storylines kept them tuned in to USA. WCW has also enjoyed a taste of this several times during their current slump. From the return of Ric Flair in late 1998 to the public expulsion of Hulk Hogan at this year's Bash at the Beach, it isn't the controversy side of things that WCW has yet to grasp: it's the consistent quality in their programming. Had Nitro showcased an absolutely stellar set of feuds and angles those nights, they'd be riding high today. Instead, they remain deep in a rut.

While building the legacy of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the WWF paid a tremendous price, losing Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart forever. After playing their cards at all the wrong times, who's left on the roster that WCW can afford to lose today? Though it's obvious that WCW is slowly beginning to grasp what cost them the lead in the wrestling industry all those years ago, I fear the lessons themselves are still a long way from being learned. For the sake of the viewers and the industry as a whole, I hope they learn them soon, quickly and concisely. Because it's never much fun to watch a blowout.
until then, i remain

Sunday, November 26, 2000

Ringside Shadows #153: The World's Greatest WCW Mayhem 2000 Preview

Before I take my feet-first dive back into all things WCW, I need to make a bit of a discouraging announcement; my good buddy and long time PPV partner, John C, has opted out of continuing our tag team demolition of WCW PPVs as of this month. I can't argue with his reasoning, as the shows just aren't motivating him enough to write about them any longer, and it's with a heavy heart that I must move on. As always, John and I will be around for the WWF Previews every month at The Oratory, where we act as Co-Administrators, and I'll do my best to carry the torch lit by he and the MIA Matt Spence many moons ago with the "World's Greatest" WCW Previews. As of right now, I'm not sure if I'll be seeking out another partner (of whom I've already got one in mind) or not, but for the next month or two at the least I'll be going it solo. Best of luck to ya John, and here's hoping I can do the tradition justice.

The boys at Turner, meanwhile, keep trying to make the best of an overly poor situation. Their rediscovery of home grown talent continues this month, as the two men fighting over the World Title have WCW pumping through their veins, and the theme runs true all the way to the bottom of the card. As I mentiond last month, this is truly a rebuilding year for World Championship Wrestling... there's really no doubt who's running with the ball and who's jogging behind in an all too distant second. With that in mind, the guys in charge are finally allowing some of their wounds to heal. Younger, hungrier talent is finally getting their shot all across the board. The right names are coming up in the right places in the title hunt, (with the exception of Luger) and a vast majority of their gimmicks and storylines are originals, not merely pale imiatations of the WWF's past. It's a dark time for the company, without a doubt, but with one or two tweaks in the booking department, a lucky break or two and a slip on the WWF's part, things could fall into a whole new perspective.

3 Count Vs. Evan Karagias And Jamie Knoble Vs. Jung Dragons

Probably one of the best decisions WCW has made in the last six months has been the split of Three Count, though the follow through fell short in more than one aspect. The original lineup saw two fresh new faces and a tired former cruiserweight. By cutting Evan from the squad, Shane and Shannon trimmed the fat and should have been propelled into serious contention for the tag team titles. Perhaps it's still a bit too early to say, but unless something drastic goes down after the necessary feud with their former partner, the talented duo looks have found themselves slipping back into the same rut as before. The matches are strong enough, if spotty, but enough is enough. It's time to let the Jung Dragons / 3 Count feud take a little breather while both teams work towards earning the success they're due. My money's on the stronger gimmick of the three here, though my mind's telling me Evan and Jamie will be take the 'V' in their stead.
Winners: Three Count

Reno Vs. Big Vito Vs. Crowbar

Another set of WCW originals, mixed in with a veteran of the ECW trenches. Of all the young prospects in the Atlanta bullpen, Crowbar shows the most promise as a future main eventer, but all of that is lost in these throwaway Hardcore matches. Every time the men in charge decide to wheel out another redundant hardcore garbage brawl, fan support dives a little further. Once one of their strongest attributes, the WCW Hardcore Division is now nothing more than a ghost, a shell of that which has passed. While Reno shows promise, Crowbar has everything you need in a worker and Vito has delivered in the past, I'm not sure even this tight little knot of athleticism can save the Hardcore gold. For what it was, Crowbar and Vito had a nice little confrontation on Nitro this past Monday night; nothing too over the top, but nothing boring either. Makes me wonder how much more I'd be anticipating this Sunday's match if it were a straightforward wrestling match, as opposed to a junkyard brawl. While a no contest is somewhat likely here, I'd put my money on Reno. It's like they always say, strength lies in numbers, and Reno's got the Natural Born Thrillers in his corner.
Winner: Reno

Kwee-Wee Vs. Mike Sanders
Cruiserweight Title Match

In Mike Sanders, WCW has found a surprisingly strong addition to their roster. In Kwee Wee, they're doing their best to eliminate another. While Sanders is given the chance he certainly deserves, pushed near the top of the card as the acting commissioner, the former Alan Funk is stuck running with a lame catchphrase, little to no credibility and tight pink trunks. It's quite a paradox, really, as both deserve the chance to either jump that hurdle or fall flat on their face based on their own actions. No matter, if given enough time to properly develop and start to tell a story, this could be a surprisingly strong matchup. Both are young, so the flaws will no doubt be showing, but both also have the vigor and enthusiasm that's been lacking in the work of Kevin Nash and Lex Luger for years. For what it's worth, I expect a neat little cruiserweight battle here, with just a bit more matwork than the usual lightweight title defense. Kwee Wee takes the upset, since Sanders is by no means a cruiserweight.
Winner: Kwee Wee

The Cat (with Ms. Jones) Vs. The Franchise (with Torrie Wilson)

Though I'd usually be on the opposite end of the spectrum as my perennial Douglas-despising former partner, John, I can't help but agree with his criticisms in this instance. Shane's been headed downhill for a ways now, and seems to be growing more and more erratic as time goes by. You couldn't ask for a better promo than he delivered time and time again during his ECW days, yet he's seemingly become a completely different man in the rings owned by Turner. Far from aiding matters is his opponent this Sunday night, the consistantly annoying Ernest Miller. As commissioner, I had no problem with him. He spent far less time in the ring that way, and I could learn to live with his mic work. As a talker he's tolerable, but a wrestler he's not. In this instance, I find myself going with the lesser of two evils.
Winner: Shane Douglas

Mike Awesome Vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

Two ECW alum that haven't been given the chance to shine in the big leagues. Between Bigelow's free TV jobs to Goldberg in under two minutes and Mike Awesome's ludicrous gimmick, there's little question why this one isn't getting the attention it probably should. What could have been a nice contrast of styles is now likely to fall through the cracks as just another "could've been." Built properly, I stand firm that this could tear the roof off any arena in the country. As for Sunday, I'll wager Bigelow pounds the hell out of Awesome, knocking some sense into him and ridding the world of that terrible gimmick.
Winner: Bam Bam Bigelow

Lance Storm Vs. General Rection
U.S. Heavyweight Title Match

Probably won't be all it should be. Storm recently used his website to confirm the troubles he's currently having with his ribs, letting us all know he plans to give us 100% but not to expect five stars. Seeing as how the leader of team Canada's one of the brightest spots on WCW's increasingly youthful roster, that's quite a setback. As one of the most consistantly built, pushed and handled wrestlers in the sport, Storm's without question one of their "go-to guys" for the next three years. With his feud against General Rection and the MIA finally wrapping up within the next couple months, (likely blowing off at Starrcade) it's do or die time for those involved. One man will use the US title as a springboard to the top, while the other heads to the midcard for another visit. My money's on the Canadian.
Winner: Lance Storm

The Chosen One, Jeff Jarrett Vs. Buff Bagwell

I really haven't much to say here. While I was one of the loudest voices opposed to Jarrett's breakneck ascention to the main event, it wasn't so that he could be used like this in the mid-card. What Jeff needs is a solid spot in the US title scene and something to thrust himself back into the spotlight. One year ago today, he was in the exact spot he should have been, continuing a strong feud over the US title opposite Chris Benoit. A clearly defined, deserving face meeting his match in a clearly defined, deserving heel. Though there's no problem deciphering face from heel here, neither is at the level required for the World title shot they're dangling above the winner's head. Jarrett needs the victory to hit the skids on his decline, but Bagwell seems more likely to receive the big main event push.
Winner: Buff Bagwell

Kevin Nash and DDP Vs. The Perfect Event
Tag Team Title Match

A decent extension of the Nash / Thrillers feud. Though these aren't the teams I think of when the words "Tag Team Championship material" come up in a conversation, it's a passable facsimile. By turning on Nash, the Thrillers took on a little personality of their own and started down the long path of establishment. Now they've got to look strong in a nose to nose confrontation with the man himself and another top star, Diamond Dallas Page. Though the pairing is likely to end in a brief feud shortly down the line, their team is nice for the short term fix it is. The tag division gains a little length on its lifespan, and four otherwise aimless souls find something to do in the title scene. I've got Page and Nash cleaning up in this one, with rematches on the way.
Winner: Kevin Nash and Diamond Dallas Page

Lex Luger Vs. Goldberg

It was a nice twist thrown at us Monday, in the same vein as the Mick Foley stipulation at Wrestlemania, as Ric Flair announced this would be for the World Title at Mayhem if Luger managed to beat Booker T that evening on Nitro. Of course Booker held onto the belt, but the mere mention of the stipulation made it seem as though Luger couldn't help but win. A little unpredictable, and a nice twist... not overthought and double swerved, just a nice, subtle little trick that could've been easily overlooked. I'm hardly anticipating the matchup itself, as Luger's been poor for quite some time and Goldberg has been stagnating for the majority of his "second streak," but the build has been worthwhile, at the very least. There's no question who's playing the face and who the heel, and neither's worried about looking cool or selling merchandise; only nailing the angle and playing their roles. It isn't difficult to predict this one, as Goldberg heads into Starrcade with a head of steam and Luger softly fades out once again.
Winner: Goldberg

Scott Steiner With Midajah Vs. Booker T.
Caged Heat World Heavyweight Title Match

The gimmick's quite silly, (a straight jacket will be hanging above the ring) and doesn't really aid the match in becoming something it's not, but at the very least it won't be a poor match. Booker and Steiner have shown in the past that they can put on a tremendous show as professional wrestlers, (albeit alongside a shady finish that spoiled their cumulative efforts) and I'm sure the two of them can work around the slight handicap of the dangling jacket to give us another effort worthy of the main event here. While I don't agree with their decision to hold off on a Steiner title reign until one month before the blowoff PPV of the year, I will say with quite a degree of certainty that he's gonna take it here. What that leaves WCW is one month to build their top heel into an unstoppable champion, strong enough to hand Goldberg his first clean loss, build the encounter, add a couple heated exchanges and sell the fans on the whole schebang. Ideally, I'd have carried Booker's first World Title reign all the way through to Halloween Havok, where he'd drop the belt cleanly to Scott Steiner. Booker would be granted his rematch the next month, only to lose through shady measures and Steiner would dominate a short program of his own, biding his time while Goldberg built his streak to 175. But hey, what do I know? I'm just an internet junkie. The match should be worthwhile, though I'm still a bit skeptical of the gimmick. Steiner takes his first World Title only to drop it to Goldberg next month.
Winner: Scott Steiner

In Closing...

There's also a Jimmy Hart / Mancow match this Sunday night, but I've chosen to relieve you of that burden, as I'm sure we all hope WCW will by bell time as well. At Mayhem this Sunday night, WCW delivers something of an indecisive card. Many matches need only a spark to ignite their way into history alonside Kurt Angle, HHH or The Rock. It's that spark, however, that I'm starting to doubt. It takes only a glance to realize the workers in the company no longer care about the product for the most part. Spots are sloppy, movement is slow and the intensity is almost non-existant. With a few shining examples, the entire WCW roster is letting the slump get to them. Turner could have a powder keg here, but somebody forgot the lighter.

And that should do it for me. As always, all feedback is welcomed and read with an open mind. I'll be around at the usual time in the middle of the week (for real this time! I forgot about the holiday last week) for my regularly scheduled post, so...
until then, i remain

Friday, November 17, 2000

The World's Greatest WWF Survivor Series 2000 Preview

Following a run of absolutely beautiful PPVs, the WWF has finally given the string a little slack here. Part of the blame could go to this event's position as one of the 'big 5' PPVs, thus making it an easier sell than one of the lowly former In Your House events.. but that didn't stop them from putting on a dynamite Summerslam earlier this year, as well as a very notable Royal Rumble. I suppose the run had to end some time, and though the card may look a bit humdrum when compared to the past year's efforts, it's still head and shoulders above anything we've seen from the competition. With Rocky actually starting to hit something of a stride, Benoit taking monster steps toward a full time main event slot and Kurt Angle constantly improving and reinventing himself as champion, the WWF isn't even close to slowing down just yet. In all honesty, the new generation is just now starting to hit their real stride. The fireworks aren't even half over yet. Though it isn't a strong on paper as last month's offering, the potential for an outstanding evening is still certainly there for the 2000 Series.

William Regal vs. Hardcore Holly
European Championship Match

I'm not sure why Holly isn't involved with his cousin(s) further down the card here, but it's just as well.. I'd rather see a Hardcore face off with our current European Champion than Steve Blackman. When John says this guy's getting heat, he isn't yanking your chain.. attending the Smackdown tapings this past Tuesday, Regal was invoking such a reaction I couldn't decipher a single word of his promo. Audiences absolutely despise the guy, and he's loving every minute of it. In the ring he's never been stronger, and at his current pace, we could be seeing Stephen William in the main event within another year or two. On the flip side, Hardcore Bob Holly seems to be in position to head for the main event sooner than that. His return was treated as quite the event, with Kurt Angle selling for him like it was the second coming. What we're getting here is a preview of what could be in store for us even further down the road.. and I'm sure both men realize it. Could be a show-stealer, and I'll take Hardcore as the winner, but not the new champion.
Winner: Hardcore Holly

Steve Blackman, Crash and Molly Holly vs. T&A and Trish

I was quite pleased to see the former Mona finally arrive in the WWF, and though she completely blew her very first springboard, I think she's got big things in her future. Generally a crowd pleaser, we'll see all the big spots with very little substance to fill the gaps. T&A pick up the 'v', likely pinning poor Crash, who hasn't been given much of a push comparable to his ever-expanding talent.
Winners: T&A

Ivory vs. Lita
Women's Championship Match

I think Lita is definately carryable to a watchable match, and with Ivory acting as the WWF's strongest active female worker we're likely to get the best Women's title match possible right here. Ideally, we won't be going more than five minutes here, and I don't see Vince booking it much longer than that in the first place. We'll more than likely get some missed spots along the way, but overall I'd figure this as a neat little package of a match, which is much better than what we've been seeing from the division since its reintroduction during the era of Sable a couple years back. As for a victor, I'm a sucker for a dress, and Ivory fills hers out really well as a forefront member of the RTC. She retains.
Winner: Ivory

The Hardy Boyz & The Dudley Boyz vs. Bull Buchanan, Goodfather, Edge & Christian
Survivor Series Elimination Match

I really have no idea why the Goodfather is being pushed in the ring over Stevie Richards. Though I fully understand the idea of the 'cowardly heel', inviting audience reactions by constantly avoiding physical contact whenever possible, as the leader of the stable Richards needs to take a more decisive position. He's been booked as a legitimate threat on the few occasions that he's stepped between the ropes, yet he hasn't found his way into this one. If Guerrero weren't already a heel champion, I'd suggest Stevie look for work in the Intercontinental Title scene. John's right, I think we've seen Edge / Christian vs. the Hardys a bit too often this year. It's time for both for a blowoff, and I think that's waiting in the wings once we get this little elimination match out of the way.
Winners: RTC / Edge & Christian

Billy Gunn, Chyna, Road Dogg & K-Kwick vs. The Radicals
Survivor Series Elimination Match

On one end of the spectrum here we've got the Radicals, who have been called the most threatening stable in WWF history.. yet haven't been given any sort of push to give the fans that same opinion. On the other side stands what's left of DX: Billy Gunn, the Road Dogg, Chyna and newcomer K Kwik. Though they're far from an imposing collection, just about every one of them has been pushed to the moon and beyond in recent weeks. In both cases I feel something needs to change, and I don't think there's much question as to what that is. We've got something of a grab bag here, as the Radicals obviously have the skills to give us a great one, but haven't been delivering of late. Some of that is doubtless due to lack of motivation, and I'd suggest a strong showing here could mean good things for them down the line. John's idea of a Benoit solo victory sounds good, but if the WWF is serious about pushing these four as legitimate hardasses, they'll need more than just a solid leader.
Winners: The Radicals

Chris Jericho vs. Kane

This is probably Y2J's big chance to hit the brakes on his recent downhill slide and start back up the path to the main event. Though his character has been sort of directionless for some time now, his work in the ring has echoed the sentiment. If Jericho comes out ready to play this Sunday night, I'd be willing to bet it's a sign of things to come. Judging by his recent performances, I'd say that's more than likely. John's theory holds water, but I don't think the feud has legs to last further than this PPV. Jericho gets the victory here, as the WWF hasn't any idea of what to do with Kane in the main event picture.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker
WWF Championship Match

It's something of a disappointment that Kurt Angle's incredible rookie year has found itself capped off with a second rate title, not one month into his first reign as champion. Though the Undertaker certainly retains his big name value, the man's lost more than a step or two over the last couple years, and I'm not sure Angle has what it takes to get a good match out of him. I've got no problem with him in the main event for right now, but the time is drawing near for the American Bad Ass to ride off into the sunset. Watching him hobble to the ring this past Thursday after Smackdown went off the air was as sad a sight as you're ever likely to see. The desire still burns, just as strong as it did during his first WWF appearance exactly 10 years ago, but his body just isn't up to it any more. Still, I wouldn't bet against this match serving as a sort of thanks for the decade of dedication to the Fed the 'Taker's put in. If there were ever a time for one last title reign, it's now. When it's over, though, I'd implore the WWF to give his career the proper sendoff it deserves.
Winner: The Undertaker

Rikishi vs. The Rock

Here's one that won't end with one PPV. I fully expect the Rock's ribs to play a crucial part in the way this one plays out, and now that the People's Champ has shown he understands what psychology's all about (in the Smackdown match John mentioned earlier), that expectation doesn't appear nearly as farfetched. It's no secret Rikishi isn't doing half the business he was expected to after his big heel turn (as evidenced by the re-turning of HHH.. the WWF's trump of all trump cards), and like John said he needs a huge win over a major league face to solidify himself as a force to be reckoned with. He isn't gonna get many more opportunities to take a clean win like this, and I'll be surprised if he does the job to an injured Rock this Sunday night.
Winner: Rikishi

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Triple H

Though I won't go so far as to say I didn't enjoy the surprise HHH heel turn a couple weeks ago (quite the opposite, actually.. I loved it..), the whole thing feels like it's been rushed, as neither Austin or Helmsley have ben in top form while promoting it. This is something around which you could base the company for nearly a full year, and by lighting the fuse this soon after Stone Cold's return to the ring the bookers are trimming the impact down significantly. Neither man is physically able to give it their all as of this weekend, and that too will put things in a negative light. Certainly HHH's injury has something to do with the way we're viewing this card, as his continued efforts are a large part of what made the last year's worth of PPV broadcasts so incredibly successful. It could be said that a healthy HHH = an effortlessly good main event, and if that's so... what does an injured Austin and an injured Hunter add up to? In my book, it's a hurried match that won't hit near the high water mark it would have two months from now. I'm with John, we'll get a little taste of things here before both move on to other things for a little while. This is the kind of feud you don't want to spoil. I'll take Austin, for argument's sake, though my money has him taking it via a DQ.
Winner: Steve Austin


The WWF has a card worth the purchase here, though it doesn't hold as much promise as its predicessors. We've got several matches that ride the razor's edge and could very easily end up surprising us, but could just as well fall into the abyss of poor faceoffs. As one of the Big Five PPVs, the workers could be that much more motivated to give it their all this time, and I'm sure that will factor into the end result as well. Again, not a poor roster by any means, and a peek into what's to come from this federation if nothing else. I'll be along for the ride, no question.
until next time, i remain

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Ringside Shadows #152: Smacked Down from Section 208

Just as I'd mentioned in my last post, I attended last night's Smackdown! tapings and plan to deal with them in relative depth here this evening. If you're the kind of person that delights reading the spoilers in their entirety, feel secure that I do the same. My work, class and personal schedule doesn't really allow me to catch Smackdown on a regular basis, and I'd just as soon read the results as watch them. If you're against the idea of spoilers as a whole, I can understand where you're coming from as well. Just understand that you'll probably want to wait until late Thursday evening to read this post. Don't say you haven't been warned...

So yes, I was among the screaming masses at this past Tuesday's big Smackdown! / HeAt tapings in Indianapolis. As the last televised event(s) before this year's Survivor Series card, I'd figured we'd see a bit of last second angle development alongside a solid match or two, and I wasn't let down. I made the voyage with my girlfriend, roommate, and Chris, a reader that I met moments before we hit the road. The ride was smooth, yet uneventful and we arrived at the arena with about half an hour to spare. While Chris went off to find a scalper with reasonable prices, (after all, scalping is legal here in balmy Indianapolis) the remaining duo and I stepped into the arena to find the first of several unpleasant surprises to come throughout the evening.

Our seats were atrocious. Though the event wasn't a complete sellout, as far as I know, we somehow managed to scrounge up chairs that sat literally one row from the very roof of the place. And not even that stopped three nameless wrestling fans from trying to steal the cushioned glory from beneath our respective tushes. After the three finally made the realization that they were in the wrong seats, we sat down and took a peek at the giant television monitor that would be providing us with our close-ups and backstage vignettes for the rest if the evening. Or at least we would have, had the Indiana Pacers' 1994-95 Central Division Championship banner not been hung directly in our line of sight. Eliminating that possibility, I glanced down at the oval tron. It was in plain sight, but backwards. Good enough, I suppose, though I'm still trying to sort out what happened at the end of the nevaR & zzaT / looC ooT match.

Pleased that I could see the ring well enough, I made the journey to the concession stand for dinner with ten minutes left until the opening bell. Twenty minutes, one match and twenty-five dollars later, I returned to my perch at the top of the world. Should've stopped by McDonald's on the way after all. Not that I was bothered to have missed the Jimmy Jabroni / Tommy TuTone dark match that started the whole shebang. I'd finished my fine dining by the time the ring apron, lighting and announcers had been properly introduced and tweaked for the HeAt taping.

Essa Rios & Funaki gave the crowd a rush as the first competitors of the night with their own Oval-tron videos, but were quickly overshadowed by their opponents for the evening, Edge and Christian. The former champs were surprisingly on the defensive throughout this one, with Funaki maintaining much of the control to everyone's shock. My girlfriend, Autumn, upset that Taka Michinoku would not be in attendance, made her first trip to the restroom. Meanwhile, Rios missed his moonsault but landed on his feet, only to do the same from a standing position on the mat in an inventive escape from a bit of Edge offense moments later. Not bad. E&C finally realized that enough was enough, though, and wrapped things up soon after with the clean pin. Poor Sho Funaki, always playing second fiddle in an aptly talented team that's going nowhere.

Next up was Al Snow, which made me wish I was seated a bit closer and had brought along the sign I'd brainstormed for the night; "Hey Al! Don't Job!" Alas, my well-wishings were all for naught as "Number Two" Billy Gunn made his way into the ring, pounded out some weak-hearted offense and put Snow away with the move that we aren't allowed to call the Fame-asser any more. Chyna was present for this match, inspiring the undersexed young man behind me to wake up and take vocal notice. Actually, that's not entirely accurate... I did catch a comment or two coming from his direction during the previous Essa Rios match; "Him agile." Wrestling events provide the best environments for just sitting back and listening to your peers. He went on to entertain me throughout the evening, telling us all about the WWF's recent purchase of ECW and other known facts. Just out of curiosity, when did Chyna cease portraying "a man, baby" and start acting as "a fine piece of ace"?

William Regal stepped between the curtains for a promo, giving us our first big heel pop of the night. I hadn't realized just how over this gimmick was getting him until last night, when I just had to sit back and smile as he did his thing. I couldn't even hear a word, the noise was so great.

Finally, Steve Blackman main evented this broadcast of HeAt against the sorely missed Big Bossman, in a hardcore title defense that didn't go backstage for a change. Pretty straightforward stuff here, as a kendo stick and trashcan made cameos. The Bossman introduced the kendo stick, immediately inducing the referee's rage... apparently this wasn't a hardcore match after all. Bossman, kind hearted soul that he is, handed the stick over instantly, but went for his billy club while the official's back was turned. Blackman also took notice, however, and drove the object back into its owner's face with a swift kick. A three count made it official and brought us head-on into the matches set to air tomorrow night on Smackdown.

While the ring crew began the half-hour chore of switching the apron and ring ropes, Lillian Garcia graced us with the national anthem, complete with a red-white-and blue lit entry ramp. Throughout the evening, perhaps the most interesting phenomenon was the constant lulls and delays between the segments. We'd get a five-minute match or quick backstage vignette, followed by about five minutes of down time. Occasionally we'd get a quick sales-pitch, reminding us to check out the merchandise stands, but for the most part these gaps were filled with absolutely nothing. It's an unfortunate thing, too, as the crowd would be really riled up and ready to go after a solid segment, only to die a slow death while the next match was cued up. Not a very professional way to treat your audience, really. All in all, I'd say there was about 45 minutes of dead time on the four-hour program.

Finally, the arena seemed to explode in upon itself as a pyrotechnics display opened up the tapings for this Thursday's Smackdown. Right out of the gates came Rikishi, who cut a weak-hearted little promo amidst a chorus of boos. As Phatu tried to find his way around on the stick, Mick Foley made his only physical appearance of the night, threatened him with fines, suspensions and whatnot, and finally sent the vicious officers of the Indianapolis Police Department down to the ring, where they stood around uselessly until Rikishi took off.

Following the less than stellar entrance of T&A, Crash and Molly Holly were introduced, to a monstrous pop. Even the guy behind me was out of his seat, and I was a bit shocked to hear it. Perhaps Crash is getting more credit than I'd figured. His cousin Hardcore was out next, and the men got it on in the ring. Crash and Hardcore worked a more technical match, while T&A flaunted their size advantage with a more powerful set of offensive maneuvers. Even so, the Hollys found themselves holding a significant advantage when the dust began to settle. The finish saw one of the two (from that height it was hard to make a call) Hollys delivering a swift schoolboy to capture the win for his team. This left T&A feeling a bit down, but the situation was quickly remedied as they kicked the holy hell out of the lookalike cousins. Paying no attention to what always happens in these situations, the ultra-fine Molly Holly stepped between the ropes. Moments later she was stretching out after her meal... a stiff Trish Stratus boot shot. A fun little match, for what it was.

We saw HHH on the screen, but for the life of me I couldn't make out what he was saying. Making the most of the situation, I shouted "Miss Biggy will BEAT youuu!!", probably my favorite line from Acclaim's WWF Attitude for the Playstation... easily the worst wrestling game in existence.

Too Cool took on Tazz and Raven in what was just another disappointing match for the former Flock leader. The end was swift, as Raven "accidentally" hit the evenflow on Tazz, then fell back into a corner and watched as Brian Christopher dropped a leg from the top and collected the easy fall. When Tazz finally climbed to his feet, Raven was waiting for him on the floor. The two got into a verbal disagreement, and the misunderstood one delivered the spot of the night; a super-sweet DDT from the ring steps, headfirst onto an unfolded and upright chair. Looked brutal as hell.

For the next match, I was stoked. Eddy Guerrero had been announced as taking on Stone Cold Steve Austin earlier in the night, which was enough to send me off into a world of personal bliss. When Guerrero stepped into the ring to moderate heat and delivered a strong heel promo, I was eating it all up. The threat of a run-in seemed great, but I figured at the least we'd get a couple minutes' worth of solid action before all was said and done. When Austin flattened the remaining Radicals backstage, even that possible detracting factor was gone. He hit the ring, and Eddy, about two minutes later. Apparently the bionic knees don't move as well as they used to. The two pounded on one another for a little while before Austin took a decided advantage and sent things out to the floor. Once there, Chyna's estranged lover grabbed a chair and wrapped it around the Rattlesnake's legs before sending the action back onto the mat. Inside again, Austin regained the advantage, racked Eddy three times on the ringpost, delivered the double bird and hit the stunner for the pin. Yeah, that was it.. and I think I nailed the description just about move for move. Needless to say, this one was a great disappointment. Only one thing could lift me from my displeasure, and Mick Foley delivered moments later. Chris Benoit vs. the Rock. Later tonight. Yeee-uh.

The next match involved three teams, three finishers and three minutes. The Dudleyz and Hardyz took on Right To Censor in an overly hurried little pile that achieved very little. We saw a 3D, the Whassaaaah spot and the Swanton Bomb before Matt Hardy grabbed an uncharacteristically quick three count. Buh Buh Ray called for a table afterwards, but even that was too much to ask, as RTC invaded the ring and mopped up their mess. Autumn made her second bathroom break around this time, as I shouted "My girlfriend is going to PEE!" for all the world to hear. Needless to say, this thrilled the folks around me.

The remaining pyrotechnics were shot off in rapid succession, as three of the loudest entrances in the fed came one right after another. Chris Jericho and the Undertaker took on Kane and Kurt Angle. Though the ref was vehemently against the Bossman's use of a kendo stick in the hardcore match earlier this night, he had no problem whatsoever with the introduction of a chair here. The steel object was used more than once, and eventually led to the outcome; a Kurt Angle pinfall victory over the Undertaker. Kane had slammed Jericho through the announce table and as the Taker prepared to hit the Last Ride, smacked his brother with the chair. Angle fell, butthole first, onto the Undertaker's head and collected the easy count. Post-match, the Taker was seen picking pieces of corn and peanuts out of his beard.

The Road Dogg and K-Kwik led the way in the match before our main event, taking on Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko. Partway through, the crowd started a weak "boring" chant, and surprising as though you may find this, I can't really argue with them. Malenko and Saturn weren't in good form, and the Road Dogg still sucks. Kwik has promise, but didn't get enough time between the ropes to show it off here. Besides, he reminds me too much of Pa Rappa the Rappa. Kwik-Dogg took the win in this one, after a bit of poor teamwork ruined the Radicals' chances. Incidentally, Kwik's finisher looked pretty lame.

Finally, we got what I was hoping for: Chris Benoit and The Rock in ten minutes of solid, Benoit-dominated action between the ropes. I had my doubts about this one going in, afraid they'd overlook Rocky's Monday Night injury completely and please the fans with a Rock slaughter, but it was not to be. The offense and psychology was realistic and top notch, and I'll tip my hat to Rocky for going along with it. He didn't look superior out there, and it went along with the storyline ideally. We got the first successful Benoit triple-German suplex in nearly a year, a Rock-delivered Sharpshooter / Crossface combo that didn't have Benoit tapping within seconds, and a ton of strong exchanges in between. This had potential to be the best match I'd seen in months, before Rikishi's interference led to a smoggy finish. No decision was ever announced to the live crowd, nor was the bell rung. Rikishi just stepped between the ropes, looked around, and dropped the banzai onto the already-beaten Rock. Aside from the finish, a terrific matchup and worth the price of admission alone.

And that's where I'll assume the Smackdown tapings will end. Rocky was bleeding from the mouth as Benoit and Rikishi furthered their punishment, and the fans wanted Austin with a vengeance. In his stead, however, came the Undertaker. The no-longer-dead man hobbled down to the ring and spooked the two heels from their task, then helped the Rock to his feet and wished us all god speed on our way home.

Far from the worst show I've ever seen live, (that honor goes to the last Nitro I attended) this was actually pretty average from start to finish. The only thing keeping it from being one of a kind was that Guerrero / Austin match, and the outcome there was as much the fault of the workers as it was the bookers. Despite the pissy seats, I got all out of the event that I'd expected and went home with a smile on my face. Perhaps next time I won't purchase my tickets over the internet.

I'll be around this time next week with a return to my regular style, as well as a comparison between the WWF of 1997 and the WCW of today. As always, thanks for reading.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Ringside Shadows #151: Injured Reserve

An injury is a fickle thing. In a form of entertainment that many would call a "phantom sport," nobody's supposed to get hurt. When the gladiators step behind the curtains, all the wrinkles of pain should vanish from their faces, their limps gone on a moment's notice. In an ideal world, the only bone they'd have to pick with their opponent would be over a missed spot or a poor performance. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far too real and injuries have become more and more common as audiences continue to demand something more explosive and dangerous each night. The Owen Hart tragedy, in particular, should have shown us things were getting a bit out of hand in that department, though no lesson has apparantly been learned from that disastar. But I digress.

Injuries are no longer a risk, they're a part of the territory. They'd just as soon go after a future superstar as a born loser, with the outcome being the same all around. Still, their continued appearances in the industry lend themselves quite nicely to a sort of "what if" scenario. Mark Price already explored several possibilities a couple weeks back in a column of his own, and while we'll be covering some similar territory, each of our reports boasts a couple instances missing from the other.

What follows is a run down of several big names that would have, could have or should have shaped the industry as we know it. They were all current or future main eventers in their own right, without question, and were cut down at varying stages of individual success... certainly before they could accomplish everything they'd hoped. While several of these names remain active in the field, the path to which the injury forced them is quite different than the one they were treading at the time of their accident. It's interesting to imagine how vastly different the world of wrestling would be, had these men achieved all they were shooting for, though just how different is limited only by the dreamer's imagination.

Scott Hall
As Razor Ramon in the halls of the WWF or the man behind the nWo invasion of '97, Scott Hall's already made a substantial mark in the industry as it is. He basically co-founded the ladder match with Shawn Michaels, circa Wrestlemania X, led the way in the giant migration of talent from North to South in the mid '90s and threw together more than a couple excellent matches along the way. With the world at his feet, the only thing standing between Scott Hall and permanent success was himself. Unfortunately, it was here that he made all the wrong decisions. Near the end of his WWF run, Hall began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. Though he still put out fairly strong matches at the time, his personal life was falling apart. Later, as the nWo machine began to sputter and wheeze, Hall was visibly spiralling out of control. He was absent for longer and longer periods of time, while WCW and the industry as a whole went on without him. Finally, several weeks ago, Atlanta made his termination official. I seriously doubt we'll ever see him again.

That's a real tragedy, too, as Hall had main event potential and more. Though he was never given the opportunity to grab the bright spotlight and run with it in the WWF, there was little question that his time was on the horizon. With Shawn Michaels, his constant running mate, already at the top of the card, it was only a waiting game until Hall received his big money PPV shot. As a character, Hall constantly blurred the line between face and heel, making him both more interesting and more believable than his peers. While a standard crowd-favorite would always drastically alter his motives, personality and style in the ring when he turned heel, (or vice versa) Hall maintained the same attributes regardless of his alignment. He was arrogant, slimy and damn good in the ring, whether the audience loved him or hated him for it. Hall was truly the first "cool heel," and though it's a trend I'm glad to see dying down I can't discredit him for that. As an Intercontinental champion, Hall was good, but as a World Champ, I think he could have been great.

Eddy Guerrero
I suppose it's a question of "which incident" in this case. One of the industry's most gifted athletes, Guerrero is also one of its most injury-prone. He arrived in WCW some time ago, as the first cruiserweight to gain any sort of attention, and later developed into one of the greatest natural heels of all time. Leading the LWO, Guerrero was at the forefront of a scorching anti-establishment angle that could have seen his long-overdue rise to the very top of WCW's roster, when he was involved in a devestating car accident. Several months later, Guerrero had scarcely been given time to get his feet wet again in WCW's pool when an elbow injury put him out of action once more. While sitting on the sidelines, Guerrero became involved in the real life political struggle that saw the Radicalz jump from WCW to the WWF. Upon his first match with the new employer, Eddy ripped his healthy arm out of its socket in a sickening accident that put him out of action once again. Only recently, Guerrero nearly lost yet another opportunity, as he landed on his head moments after his first stellar heel promo in the fed and injured his hamstring in the process. He's healthy, only a little worse for the wear.

Probably the most interesting thing with Guerrero is the way his injuries have interwoven with one another. Had he not been involved with the car accident that put him out for months on end, I'm of firm belief that WCW would have realized his potential and elevated him to a slot near the top of the card, as evidenced by their strong television support of the LWO angle and all the related developments. In his position higher on the card, Eddy wouldn't have been involved with the Filthy Animals gimmick that produced his elbow injury later down the line and wouldn't have been out of action at the time of the Radicals' movement. Hell, he might have found himself headlining the Souled Out card that saw Chris Benoit's world title win in the place of Sid... an act which, in turn, may have kept them from jumping ship in the first place. If the said talent jump had, in fact, gone down anyway, Guerrero most certainly wouldn't have injured his arm in the WWF ring. As easily noted in the replay, Eddy was landing differently to lighten the impact on his still-recovering right arm, which put him off balance and resulted in a terrible injury to his left. With Guerrero still healthy, the Radicals would have remained a face stable, feuding with DX near the top of the card (as booking plans at the time called for.) The fact remains, however, that Eddy Guerrero has still got a chance. Whether in WCW or the WWF, there's little doubt he would be near the top of the card today... working as one of the greatest heels around.

Curt Hennig
As Mr. Perfect in the late 80s and early 90s, Hennig was stupendous. Often heralded as one of the WWF's greatest creations, the character was filled out to perfection by the blonde second generation athlete. Everything from his well groomed appearance to his snide offhand comments were dead on, and none could argue with the near perfection of his ringwork. Fans abhored this man, and he reveled in their hatred. Working with Bret Hart, Hennig proved himself in the Intercontinental hunt as a legitimate upper midcard contender, with the seeds planted and already sprouting for a run at the top. Unfortunately, it was at the height of his promise that fate stepped in, leaving him on the sidelines with a nagging back injury throughout the height of his popularity. Though he's returned on several occasions since, the spark his been missing from his eyes, that extra bit of youth from his step. Hennig had missed out, and he knew it. While he remained technically strong, he never managed to recapture the magic he'd enjoyed under the guise of Mr. Perfect. Now, as his age catches up with him, Curt must find himself looking back at what should have been a multi-time World Champion's career.

The WWF left little doubt as to Hennig's intentions during his initial run with the federation; Mr. Perfect and Hulk Hogan were destined to collide. With Hogan riding out the remainder of his popularity wave at the time, a feud with the super-hot Hennig was all he needed to rekindle that flame and soar with the eagles once again. Perfect / Hogan was definately in the cards, and I'd be willing to bet they'd have given Hennig the nod at least once, netting him incredible noteriety as the man who beat Hogan, heel heat the likes of which we haven't seen in quite some time, and a reign (however brief) as the WWF's centerpiece World Champion. With the continued push of his victory over Hogan behind his back, he could have embarked on feuds that never came to be during his tenure in Titan. More importantly, however, he wouldn't have taken so much time off in the prime of his career and would likely remain in terrific shape today.

Mick Foley
With his official injury list reading like a transcript from Faces of Death, Mick "Mankind" Foley built his career on punishing himself for the fans. Three hundred and twenty five stitches, six concussions, a nose broken twice, a broken cheekbone and jaw, four missing teeth, five broken ribs, multiple dislocated shoulders, second and third degree burns covering much of his body, a broken wrist, a torn abdominal, a broken knee and two thirds of an ear missing, there's little doubt Foley nearly killed himself for the business. Ultimately, though, that's what got him to the top. Without the crazy stunts, suicidal dives and inhuman threshold for pain, Mick would probably be flipping burgers in New Jersey today. Without the injuries, the word Foley would still refer to those guys that make sound effects for big screen productions.

Magnum TA
Back when WCW wasn't even a glimmer in Ted Turner's eye, the NWA was running rampant with match after match, feud after feud and star after star tearing up the scene. In the era that spawned the Four Horsemen, the Steiner Brothers, Lex Luger, the Midnight Express, and countless others, it was Magnum TA who had successfully captured the public's interest as a whole. With a brief feud with Ric Flair and the young Four Horsemen already under his belt, Magnum had delivered the goods with his now-historic "best of seven" series with Nikita Koloff. Just days before teaming with Dusty Rhodes in a match against the Horsemen, Magnum was involved in a terrifying car accident that tragically ended his wrestling career before it had really begun. He returned to provide color commentary on several occasions afterwards, as Koloff switched from heel to face and carried on in Magnum's stead. The NWA attempted to pick up the pieces and move on, but the industry had been knocked on its ear by the sudden departure of an up and coming, surefire main eventer.

It's strange to think this far back or in this broad a sense, but the loss of Terry "Magnum" Allen was something that literally reshaped the way things turned out today. Much like Hennig, it was only a matter of time until Magnum captured the elusive gold that fit snugly around Flair's waist, and the NWA was backing him heavily against the threat of Hulk Hogan in his heyday. Though Flair is undoubtedly the greatest of all time, the popular consensus will always see Hogan as ruler of the '80s, with the WWF plowing head-on into their "Rock'n Wrestling" success and introducing the industry to a vast new audience. With the intense popularity of Magnum to counter his unchallenged reign as king of heels, Flair and the NWA could have captured the WWF's new audience with an amazing feud or two and moved ahead as the new leader in sports entertainment. Instead of Hogan vs. Andre, the pinnacle of the '80s could very well have been Flair vs. Magnum. It's hypothetical talk, but very big talk all the same. We could have ended up looking at a completely different landscape, with different focal points and memories.

The Dynamite Kid
Similar to Mick Foley, the Dynamite Kid systematically destroyed himself to get where he was in the mid '80s, though not nearly to such a severe degree. Where Foley would dive headfirst off a twenty foot cage, into piles of thumbtacks or sharply onto a concrete floor, Dynamite's form of self-destruction was a bit more traditional. He'd deliver standard moves of the day in spectacular and original fashion, throwing himself and an opponent off the top rope all the way to the floor in a sickening superplex gone bad. He basically created the snap suplex, and redefined the diving headbutt. Through the years of beatings, stress and steroid doses, the Kid's back finally gave out on him, forcing his career to a close and dooming the Kid to life within the confines of a wheelchair. Dynamite's style was literally a generation or two ahead of its time, as he emphasized psychology, a unique blend of convincing submissions and spectacular high flying, and an effort of 125% each and every match.

Had Dynamite managed to escape serious injury all the way to today's scene, however unlikely that is, I think he could have made a profound effect on the direction of the industry and the dedication of the youth. Many of today's greatest young athletes consider him an influence at the very least, (with Chris Benoit going so far as to say he wouldn't be wrestling today if not for the Kid) and I think his presence in the backstage area as a peer and, later on, a mentor would have been nothing but healthy for the future. Where a Matt or Jeff Hardy isn't getting the chance they should to round out their game in today's crash TV format, Dynamite could step in and give them the schooling they need to utilize proper pacing and psychology, and then to integrate it into a five or ten minute match on Raw. Though I seriously doubt Dynamite could have gone much further in singles competition during his time, due to his size, I could see him having a profound effect on the upcoming generation(s) as a backstage presence.

Finding stardom in the WWF as the 1-2-3 Kid, aligned alongside Razor Ramon, X-Pac never achieved much during his initial run and was canned just after Hall and Nash left the promotion. Picked up as an early member of the nWo, Waltman became Syxx and entered into the highly competitive cruiserweight divison. Racking up successful feuds with Eddy Guerrero and Chris Jericho, among others, Syxx was building a name for himself as one of the industry's finest before a water bottle thrown from the stands scored a direct hit on his head... breaking his neck. Waltman had experienced troubles with his neck in the past, and this aggrivation of the injury put him on injured reserve for quite some time. Just as things appeared to be ready for his return to the ring, Eric Bischoff laid down the boom and sent him his pink slip. Noticing WCW's blunder, the WWF quickly snatched him back up, dubbed him X-Pac and sent him to the ring to join Kliq member HHH in the ultra-hot stable Degeneration X.

While it may be easy to disregard Waltman's injury, as he hasn't done anything noteworthy afterwards and remains in good health, one mustn't overlook the result of his jump to the WWF. The night after Wrestlemania XIV, X-Pac's arrival has been labeled a turning point in the war between Bischoff and McMahon. Viewers, curious to see the aftermatch of the biggest event of the year, tuned in to see Steve Austin and stayed to watch Syxx-Pac. His shoot interview at the beginning of the program will go down in history as one of the most important of the decade, and was a pure definition of what the WWF Attitude era was all about. Fans liked what they saw, and one by one flipped their channels from TNT to USA. Had Waltman not jumped ship at the right moment, fans may have checked on Austin's victory and then switched back to Nitro for the duration. Had his speech not been so heartfelt and memorable, many wouldn't have stuck around for half of it. Shawn Waltman was the right person at the right time, and he gave the WWF that extra something they needed to get going in the right direction again. Sure, Vince would have certainly overtaken WCW at some point anyway, but this way he did it in style. The WWF was doing the same they'd done for the past few months, but Waltman gave them the added attention they needed to strut their stuff. He brought the viewers on that night, and the boys got them to stick around.

Steve Austin
As a cult favorite star in WCW, Austin found himself rubbing the dog the wrong way for much of his time in the Southern promotion. By stealing the show alongside tag team partner Brian Pillman time and time again, Austin made all the wrong kinds of enemies backstage, a problem that seemingly solved itself when Ric Flair took over the reigns of the company in the mid '90s. Primping Austin as a future main eventer, Flair was oblivious to the power struggles going on behind the scenes until it was already too late. Eric Bischoff took over and, as Austin was on injured reserve, (the exact injury is debated, be it a shoulder or knee) fired him over the telephone. Austin went on to become a rocketship bound for stardom in the WWF, holding the Intercontinental Title for months before a botched sit down tombstone piledriver nearly broke his neck. He took a significant amount of time off before making his big return and climbing to the top of the card regardless. Years down the line, with the neck injury still nagging him, Austin took ten months off for intensive neck surgery and rehabilitation. He's recently returned, to mixed reviews.

Much like Guerrero, this is a game of "which injury, which time." Austin has made it no secret he was unhappy in the Bischoff-helmed WCW, and I'd imagine he would have left the promotion on his own if and when he were given the chance. Therefore, the time off that prompted his release over the phone (and subsequent development of the Stone Cold character) is insignificant in the end, as I'd see him ending up in the WWF either way. The real issue here is the neck injury, delivered at the hands of the late Owen Hart. Before this crushing accident, Austin was a brilliant technician in the ring. He took risks with his body that gave a certain unpredictable air to his character, a trait he held in common with a pre-main event Sting. He was probably one of the most well-rounded workers you'll ever find, and no better evidence can be produced than the opening ten minutes of the match that nearly snapped his neck. Austin and Owen worked together beautifully, and had put together a stupendous match right up to and including that fateful spot. They'd traded turns on the offense, kept the crowd interested with choice gestures at just the right moments, and were headed to a big finish that fell flat on its face when Austin laid motionless on the mat. Both men knew their art inside and out, and they were giving the crowd one to remember.

After his return, Austin was a completely different character. Much as Jushin Liger completely remodeled his style from high flying to mat-based after a knee injury, Austin reinvented himself. He went from a technician to a brawler, and proved his versitality by doing both well. The style shift fit his character, and crowds everywhere got into it, but the unpredictable nature that had made him so perfect was gone. Understandably, Austin wasn't about to take any more chances with his body, not when he was this close. He perfected the brawling and continued producing excellent matches up until last year's Survivor Series. I'll be devoting an entire column to his return later in the month, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

So, in retrospect, would the world be a better place if Eddy Guerrero hadn't gone out on that New Year's eve, or Austin hadn't laced up the boots that night? I'm not certain. Would things have turned out a whole helluva lot differently? Without question. These are the events that got us where we are today, the tragedies and troubles that shaped the way we see things. Just imagine who could be next, and what unexpected turn we'll take next.

I'll be attending the Smackdown tapings this Tuesday night in Indianapolis, so it's quite likely that I'll be dealing with the spoilers in next week's post. If that bugs you, skip over the column until they air and then stop in again to see the stories that go alongside the event. I promise this won't be like every other Smackdown report that hits the 'net. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'll be in the nosebleed seats, so don't look for any inventive signs from me on that night.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Ringside Shadows #150: The Best There Was...

I'd planned on a separate topic for this week, but I just can't escape the shadow of what's, in my opinion, the most noteworthy story of the year. While some might have you believe the WWF's supposedly imminent buyout of WCW or the big move to TNN deserves that spot, I've got no illusions. For me, at least, 2000 will be the year we lost Bret Hart.

Sure, he may have been far from the man we'd grown to love in the mid '90s. The Montreal incident took from him a great toll from which I don't think he ever really started to recover. His early misuse in WCW gave him even more reason for bitterness toward the business, and he didn't belong in the "Attitude Era" to begin with. While we saw glimmers of the true Bret Hart once in a while during his tenure in Atlanta, nothing can really come close to the superb, well rounded athlete we saw on the top of his game in the WWF. The Rocky Maivias or the Kevin Nashes may come and go, but each generation only has one Bret Hart.

In the ring, Hart was butter on a warm skillet. Everything he did had a certain smoothness to it... he was always "thinking five moves ahead," to quote Gorilla Monsoon. Little about him was spontaneous and you always had the feeling that Bret was totally in control, even when he was suffering chairshot after chairshot on the cold surface of the concrete floors. Many might argue that his moveset was too limited, repeating the same formula match after match and if you'd like to get technical, sure. Bret's was far from the most expansive collection. Thing is, he could take that limited pallette and create a masterwork, threading in schoolboys and combos almost effortlessly. While you might be seeing the same individual moves time after time, you never.. ever saw the same match.

Add Bret's tremendous pacing and psychology to that, and you've got a more complete package than almost anyone in the history of the sport. With one glaring exception, (that being the Wrestlemania XII showdown with Shawn Michaels) Bret's matches were consistantly exciting and realistic... never a dull moment to be found. After a long match working on his opponent's knee, Bret had entire audiences wincing in pain when he finally locked in the Sharpshooter or figure four around the ringpost. Whether his opponent was Yokozuna or brother Owen, Bret found a way to make things interesting and keep them there. He was in it for the fans, and for the glorifiation of the industry.

While I spoke of the great strides taken by Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and the Dynamite Kid towards building the lightweight as a viable main event worker, I failed to mention the Hitman more than fleetingly. As the first "small" World Champion, (barely breaking six foot) Bret delivered the killing blow to the tired heavyweight title picture. He proved the naysayers wrong by building a highly successful reign around himself, putting forward exciting matches with men of all shapes and sizes. In essence, he took the greatest step of all, marking the arrival of the small man in grand fashion.

The World lost a legend when Bret Hart finally said "it's over." It's a shame so few others have stepped forward for the ovation he deserves.

I'll be back with a regular column this same time next week.
until then, i remain