Friday, January 26, 2001

Ringside Shadows #159: Measuring Up

Over the last ten years, the wrestling industry as a whole has done a lot of evolution. From the highs of the "Rock n' Wrestling" combination to the lows of the mid '90s to the new plateau of the Attitude era, the world between the ropes has undergone more than one significant change. The main event runs of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Steve Austin came and went. The game changed from a predictable good vs. evil children's program to a well oiled, mature storytelling medium. Audiences grew older, and the gimmicks changed to suit the viewers. It's been a neverending road with plenty of bumps, but in all likelihood the greatest obstacle in the sport's long history slipped by without more than a handful of souls even noticing.

Since its very inception, professional wrestling has been about the big man. The larger the muscles, the more the intimidation, the greater the worker. Old time bookers weren't stupid, they'd give the audiences what they wanted... and in the beginning, audiences were enthralled by the big ones. It was always a case of the irresistible force vs. the immovable object, all the way up until the mid 20th century. Though audiences' tastes had changed in due time, the basic curiosity that drove wrestling's earliest fans to the arenas remained intact. They still wanted to see the giant vs. the god, if only because they'd never known anything else. With this innocent desire, however, came an unexpected bias. God only knows how many amazing wrestlers were left out of matches that could have defined a generation, only because they couldn't gain that extra couple pounds, couldn't grow those two more inches. It serves as bitter irony today, then, that Chris Benoit... arguably the greatest technician of our time... wouldn't have been given any sort of chance had he been born thirty years earlier.

And therein had lain our obstacle. Grand workers weren't being given the chances they deserved because of an ages-old mindset that was dominating the industry. Somewhere in the mid '90s, though, something clicked. Perhaps it was Eric Bischoff's recruitment and showcasing of the original cruiserweight lineup, maybe it had something to do with ECW or puroresu or lucha libre, nobody can pinpoint the precise moment that old set of standards was thrown out the window. The important thing is that it was. Over the course of a few short years we went from a historically biased industry to an almost completely level playing field. For the first time in history, popularity was the only factor in deciding who moved up the card and who would be looking for work at the end of the week. But with that new way of thinking came a whole new set of issues.

How were lightweights to work with super heavyweights that couldn't accommodate their high flying, furiously paced style? What moveset was the standard for such matches, and which maneuvers were completely out of the question? Where does the emphasis seem to be headed for the future of the industry? How do these newly defined weight classes stack up against one another?

Since I'm not aiming to write a book with this one, we'll stick with the most relevant (and arguably, most important) question; what makes each class unique, and which two combine to create the most entertaining, crowd-pleasing matches? For each weight class to have survived this long, they had to bring something original to the table, something that makes them indispensable. Likewise, that unique element has to be translatable between the three, it has to function just as well against a super heavyweight as it does against a cruiser. Otherwise, federations would begin to overcorrect the problem, overexposing smaller men, underexposing larger men and leaving things no better off than they were to begin with.

So with the criteria laid out on the table, let's dive in with the most recently arrived of the three weight classes.


Above anything else, the lightweights bring an incredible amount of speed and inventiveness to the game. While these positives are often negated by the spottiness that almost goes hand in hand, the potential alone is enough to bring most crowds to their feet. Add to that the stronger workrate still ingrained into most smaller workers (as a result of the years of oppression they fought through to get where they are) and you've got a fresh, motivated set of athletes that entertain the crowd on a consistent basis. The cruisers also boast the greatest variety of styles and techniques in the industry, from high fliers like Jeff Hardy to technical masters like Dean Malenko to hardcore brawlers like Spike Dudley.

vs. Heavyweights
Against the heavyweights, the cruisers have arguably their best match. While they must eliminate some of the more extravagant moves from their arsenal, they've still plenty more to choose from, covering the vacancies rather fluidly. Many heavyweights are now showing more and more willingness to adapt their styles so as to better match up with cruisers, helping to smooth the whole process over while ensuring their survival in the main event well into the future. HHH's recent run with the WWF title is a good case in point. In his multiple matches with Chris Jericho, Taka Michinoku and their peers, he sold more head scissors takedowns and high risk maneuvers than any that had come before him. To see a man that many have labeled as the star of his generation selling moves that no heavyweight in his right mind would even consider ten years ago says more than any words can hope to express. More so than their larger brothers, the heavyweights have adapted themselves to better embrace the new weight class and are currently reaping the benefits.

vs. Super Heavyweights
With super heavyweights, there's a little more challenge. The cruiser's vocabulary is extremely limited, as you can't expect a 400 pound man to sell many top rope hurricanaranas or even move very much when someone half his size barrels into him. There's always the added intrigue of a "David vs. Goliath" match, and fans won't have any trouble choosing sides, (unless the cruiserweight has done something unimaginably heinous, he'll be the perennial face) but without substance in the ring to back them up, the storylines I mentioned aren't worth much if anything. Besides, there's only so many times you can tell the same story before crowds lose interest.


In the world of pro wrestling, heavyweights are the norm, the bar, the ideal. Hovering around 300 pounds, they're large enough to land powerful moves like a powerslam or jackhammer convincingly, yet small enough to climb the ropes and take flight when necessary. Almost an exact middle ground, heavyweights can shift their style ever so slightly with relative ease and can work with just about anyone.

vs. Super Heavyweights
The age-old confrontation, worn out after years of overuse. From Hogan vs. Andre to Hogan vs. Earthquake to.. uh... Hogan vs. the Giant, Hulk Hogan alone is responsible for much of the audience's loss of interest in this face off. Though the two weight classes aren't restricted much by size issues, as the line between heavy and super heavy is debatable, very little exploration has gone into fleshing out the feuds that produce these matches. It's nearly always "face meets heel, heel withstands face's best shots and smiles, face is bewildered, face conquers all at the pay per view." With a little exploration, I have no doubt this timeless collision could once again give us the reason we're looking for to shell out that $30 every month. As it stands now, however, that day's still a little ways off.

Super Heavyweights

There isn't much one can say that the name doesn't describe on its own. These guys may not be the most limber folks in the industry, nor will they ever climb the ropes. They don't have a very deep moveset, and they aren't noted for their endurance in the ring. What they do have is drawing power. As I mentioned at the beginning of the column, people have a strange sort of fascination with the biggest of the big. The fact that Viscera has been steadily employed since the mid '90s stands as the only proof you need for this phenomenon.

When the dust clears, I don't think there's much argument... the heavyweights and cruiserweights have the skills, the motivation and the momentum to carry today's industry steadily on their backs. Their matches are without question the closest to what audiences seem to be craving in the modern age, and while I won't go so far as to call the Super Heavyweights "things of the past," they do have quite a bit of work ahead of them as a whole if they want to survive in the brave new world that's surrounded them.
until then, i remain

Saturday, January 13, 2001

Ringside Shadows #158: The World's Greatest WCW SiN 2001 Preview

With all the excitement floating around the state of WCW now that it's no longer a Turner subsidiary, most everyone seems to have forgotten they've still got a PPV to present this weekend, emanating from my hometown of Indianapolis. Though I've decided not to attend the event itself, that's not to say the card is a complete waste of space. While the main event is pretty well unrecoverable at this stage (especially if their big mystery man really is Scotty's elder brother Rick), much of the undercard is either very, very promising or salvageable at the very least. Despite the crippling injuries of Booker T and Sting, the promotion continues trying to make the best of a bad situation, elevating some new faces and concentrating more on producing good programming, rather than catching the WWF in the ratings. Provided Bischoff's arrival doesn't erase the big steps these guys have made in the last six months, the promotion could find their collective heads above the water rather soon... with much larger things even further down the line.

As for who they need healthy, active, motivated and elevated to get them to that higher level, well, I'll keep that list to myself for now. It's more important to concentrate on what's here and real now than to hypothesize about the future. While this card won't be rivaling the Royal Rumble in any way, shape or form, it could easily blow any of the struggling promotion's own offerings from 2000 out of the water. And that, I think, is a victory in and of itself for these guys.

Shane Helms vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr.
For the Cruiserweight Title

Hands down, the match of the night. While he hasn't really hit his stride as a heel just yet, Chavo's been on fire in the ring these past few weeks, and with good reason. He's been given his shot, and dammit... he's making the most of it. Though the belt means squat, Eddy's cousin is determined to make his mark on the cruiserweight title. Another couple weeks of this and he'll have a hard time finding anyone to claim otherwise. On the other side of the ring, Shane Helms has taken the initiative and moved (along with partner Shannon Moore) into the spot I've maintained they deserved for over a year now. Fans are really coming around for these guys, due in large part to their "get it done in the ring" mentality. It was a refreshing change this past Monday night, watching an entire match between Shannon and Chavo sans run ins, blown spots or a questionable finish. Chavo played an old school heel, accentuated by his post match assault on Shane, and I loved every minute of it. So long as they don't go the obvious "shock TV" route Sunday and turn Moore on Helms, this will be a keeper. Chavo squeaks by this time, with another couple months with the belt in his future.
Winner: Chavo Guerrero, Jr.

Big Vito vs. Reno

This one's got more potential to surprise than any other on the card, as neither man has been given much reason to really come out of their shells in the federation. Both have shown glimmers of potential at one point or another, and with their similar builds and styles shouldn't have much problem entertaining the crowd Sunday night. The storyline they're working isn't doing anything for me, though, so I hope mic time prior to the match is kept to a minimum. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Johnny the Bull has turned up once again, so we're likely to see a bit of him here. Not entirely a bad thing, since he's got just as much potential as Reno or Vito. So long as Vito's "sister" doesn't climb between the ropes, this'll be respectable. Vito goes over, as he's been needing a victory for quite a while now.
Winner: Big Vito

Crowbar vs. Meng vs. Terry Funk
For the Hardcore Title

Placed right alongside Moore and Helms, (and, later, The Jung Dragons) Crowbar made my list of names to keep your eye on little over a year ago. Unfortunately, he's probably blossomed the least out of that company and today finds himself involved with a Hardcore Title scene that's more than a bit lacking. With tired old veterans like Funk and Meng haphazardly flung into the thick of things, there isn't really much room for a budding young prospect to develop into the big time star I still think he could be. While I've all the respect in the world for Terry Funk, I'm quite sure I won't be the first to say his time has come and gone. The man's a legend, but even John Wayne had to hang up his cowboy boots at one point. This won't be near the level a Hardcore match should inhabit, and unless Crowbar does something inhuman, the audience is likely to snooze through it. Meng takes this, though he really shouldn't.
Winner: Meng

The Natural Born Thrillers (any two) vs. Kevin Nash & Diamond Dallas Page
For the Tag Team Titles

Even though they're still many years from the big time, the Natural Born Thrillers took giant steps toward establishing themselves as distinct personalities and athletes in 2000. Though I still don't care much for Stasiak & Palumbo, and Jindrak & O'Haire are sort of bland, the stable has managed to carve a nice little niche for themselves within the hierarchy that is today's WCW. Where they started as a group of guys that wore the same shirts and acted kind of mean, they're now starting to branch out into well developed personalities within a living, breathing, structured little gang. In other words, they're beginning to mesh. While I'd rather see Sanders involved here, his match with the Cat pretty well eliminated that possibility, leaving either the Power Planters or the Perfect Event. My money goes with Jindrak and O'Haire as the whipping boys of choice here, and I'd like to see them given a fighting chance against the seasoned veterans. While the Thrillers have a great deal of clout thanks to the commissionership of Sanders, they're still lacking the credibility they need to really arrive with the public. A good showing against Nash and Page could net that for these two, even if they end up doing the job. I'll call it as a good, competitive match, but the InSiders aren't about to lay down for the heels this time.
Winners: The InSiders

The Cat vs. Mike Sanders

Speak of the devil. Here we've got Mike Sanders, one of the guys I've found myself actually enjoying over the last few months. He knows his role (for lack of a better phrase) in the business, and has secured for himself a solid spot on the WCW midcard for the foreseeable future. I've never been a supporter of his opponent, the Cat, and while I don't plan to become one any time soon, I think I can see a decent angle for him when the dust settles here. Though it's just a hunch, I'd wager they're planning to turn Miller this Sunday night, aligning him with the Thrillers and putting Flair in one hell of a position. So long as it keeps the Cat out of the ring, I'm all for it.
Winner: The Cat

General Rection vs. The Franchise Shane Douglas
First Blood Match For The U.S. Heavyweight Title

Rection's first real challenge as US Champion. While Douglas is certainly no slouch, he's also no longer in the league of Lance Storm when it comes to building a great match and giving us our money's worth in consecutive showings. Though Rection won't be carrying the Franchise this Sunday, he will have a lot more responsibility than he did against the former Canadian champion. In a way, it's his first real test in this new role with the company, and if the match turns out ugly I'd wager we won't be seeing nearly as much of him in the weeks to come. Don't expect any miracles out of this, though I wouldn't mark it off as a failure just yet either. Douglas is likely to lay down in the end, as the US division seems to be devoted to establishing Rection as a future star right now.
Winner: General Rection

The Filthy Animals vs. Team Canada
Canadian Style Penalty Box Match

Though the gimmick may hinder things a bit, this match is more than likely to be excellent. The current incarnation of Team Canada is inarguably the strongest we've ever seen, and with Lance Storm putting foot to ass on a regular basis lately in the ring against opponents far less talented than the Animals, this one could really be something special. It's pretty well a given that the girls will get involved, and with Duggan donning the striped shirt I've got no illusions; this won't be five star material. However with Storm, Skipper, Awesome, Kidman and Rey all involved we're pretty much guaranteed a couple fireworks. Let's hope the Lance vs. Kidman match on Nitro was a good representation of what they've got planned for us Sunday.
Winners: The Filthy Animals

Goldberg & Sarge vs. Lex Luger & Buff Bagwell

More than anything else, this match is probably the main reason I chose not to attend the event. With the combined forces of suck appearing in the forms of Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell stinking up their side of the ring and a man that's got no place on television, let alone an upper echelon PPV match in the Sarge, I don't figure the end result here will be too pretty. In my eyes, Goldberg's underrated... but no underrated enough to carry these three to anything even resembling a good match. I suppose it's only fitting, then, that this is the most likely suspect for an overbooked beginning, middle, end and post-end. I'm not sure if Goldberg's streak is even an issue here, but I don't see him doing the job either way. Luger will flex, Buff will act annoying, Goldberg will hit a spear and Sarge will stare into the crowd like a deer in headlights.
Winners: Goldberg and Sarge

Sid Vicious vs. Jeff Jarrett vs. Mystery Opponent vs. Scott Steiner
4 Way For the World Heavyweight Title

It would be a nice change for Sting to arrive as the mystery man, wouldn't it? If he's healthy and the bookers have any sort of common sense in their heads, that's what they'll have planned for this weekend, whether they've got Jarrett slated for a face turn or not. Either way though, this won't be much of a technical masterpiece. While it could be argued that many fans don't enjoy a technical masterpiece anyway, I have a hard time believing they'd rather watch the aborted beast that's going to birth in the main event of SiN instead. Steiner's decent enough as a champ, though he could stand to sell a little more and the tension he's got going with Jarrett is interesting, but those two positives do not a good match make. I'd bet the mystery man will move on to a match or series with Sid after this, while the uneasiness between Jarrett and Steiner explodes into a full blown feud over the title heading into Spring Stampede. For now, though, Steiner will escape with his gold.
Winner: Scott Steiner


Like I said in the intro, this isn't an entirely promising card, but it's not a completely disappointing one either. Take a look at the roster and tell me it doesn't look about fifteen times more promising than the sad crew they'd assembled this time last year. The feel around WCW these days is changing to one of hope, of building towards a future. Sure, bad seeds like Sid and Buff Bagwell are still slinking around the backstage area. Long time problems like Hogan and Savage, though, are nowhere to be found. But in any set of eyes, that isn't the message that this PPV will be remembered as embodying. If nothing else, WCW SiN 2001 will go down in history as the last PPV before Bischoff and company made an impact, be it positive or negative. Let's pray this newfound hope survives through the first month of the new year, to blossom into a profitable tree later in the summer.
until then, i remain

Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Ringside Shadows #157: The War of the Stables; DX vs. the nWo

It's been well documented that wrestling, just like life itself, works in circles. What's hot one year may lie in the gutter the next. No matter what heights the industry may reach during a hot run, it's a guarantee that won't last. It could be observed that wrestling and popularity have a hot and cold relationship. In the mid to late 90s, that relationship had come to a bitter, frozen halt. While longtime industry leader Vince McMahon was experiencing something of a creative impasse, a new kid on the block named Bischoff was just about to play his trump card. With the initial appearance of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in WCW, Eric laid his groundwork. He gave what fans remained a little taste of what was to come. With the turn of Hulk Hogan, he did the unthinkable... he bested McMahon at his own game.

As word of Hogan's turn spread, so did interest and enthusiasm about WCW's product. Though Vince was still out in the cold, Eric's product was just warming up. Casual viewers, checking up on rumors of the Hulkster's turn for the worst, were converted into die-hard fanatics by the superb midcard of the day and an ongoing dynamic collision between the nWo and WCW. Teens around the nation took off their flannel and grunge in favor of the now-familiar black and white logo that changed the landscape. The nWo had arrived, and they'd brought a newly invigorated audience with them.

Over in the WWF's neck of the woods, things seemed to have gone from bad to worse. Pro WCW signs were turning up at each tv taping, and interest in the product as a whole was dwindling. Though many of the WWF's programs were critically acclaimed, fans just couldn't take their eyes off the action WCW was giving them. In addition to that, tempers were flaring and egos growing behind the scenes, with the federation's top two stars, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, at each other's throats nearly every week. For a while, fans were split in their allegiances... some taking Bret's side, others sticking with Shawn's. All that changed a couple weeks after Michaels relinquished his World Title unexpectedly just before Wrestlemania 13. Though the Heart Break Kid insists to this day his injury was legit, the popular consensus amongst fans was quite the opposite. Everyone with half a brain cell could see the WWF was building towards a Michaels / Hart rematch at the year's biggest PPV, and that his surrendering of the title came from out of nowhere hinted that Shawn was slated to return the favor Bret had given the year before; he was about to lay down for his most hated enemy in the most important match of the year. Slowly, fans started to turn on the former champion... something that didn't escape the watchful eye of one Vince McMahon.

So when Michaels did eventually return to action, it wasn't as the perennial face fans were expecting. Alongside backstage buddy Hunter Hearst Helmsely, (now dubbed Triple H, abandoning the blue blood angle he'd worked for years) Michaels took the punishment from the live audience and then threw it right back in their faces. In one fell swoop, Michaels had turned an ugly real life situation into a living, breathing, downright entertaining wrestling angle. Thus was born Degeneration X, the WWF's first real threat to their opponents' steamrolling nWo machine.

In theory, the nWo and DX aren't really all that different. They're each the textbook definition of a stable; three or more respectable workers, one of whom is a clear cut leader, that watch each other's backs in the cutthroat business of professional wrestling. Each had an easily distinguished direction, as well as the crowd reaction and interest to get them there. Both shaped the industry to an extent, and exchanged members at least once throughout their respective lifespans. Each owed a great deal to the originators of the wrestling stable, the Four Horsemen, but also took that group's ideas and methods a step further, altering them just enough to work in the modern day. So what sets these groups apart, and which was the more historically significant? Let's take a peek...

The real measuring stick of these two bands is the leader. Without Ric Flair, the Horsemen would never have worked and the same holds true here. Every monster must have a head, and in this case that head came in the forms of Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels.

In Hogan, the nWo had instant recognition with young and old fans alike. Where a casual viewer may have been absent during the gradual elevation of Shawn Michaels, there was absolutely no way to get around Hogan in his heyday, the mid 80s. He was an icon, a status symbol, and to think that he'd crossed over to the wrong side of the law was enough to attract millions of curious spectators. Without his turn, the nWo wouldn't have had near the impact it did.

On the other hand, Hogan couldn't hold a torch to Michaels in terms of keeping a crowd entertained throughout a five minute interview, let alone a grueling thirty minute match. Though the thrill of a villainous Hulk Hogan was undeniable, it was also quite short lived, as little to no backstory was given for his jump and his promos quickly adopted an obvious, repetitive pattern. While Hogan was saying the same thing almost every night he went out there, Michaels was moving, shaking, and entertaining in a new and interesting way each and every episode. When it comes to match quality, there wasn't even a competition. Hogan had his charisma, and he had his legdrop while Michaels is regarded as one of the greatest of all time, hands down.

In the end, it came down to their individual character portrayals in and out of the ring. While Hogan was just playing the role of an evil wrestler, Michaels was out there living it. The fans' hatred for him was legitimate and sprung from a real life situation, while Hogan just seemed to be going through the motions. In my mind, there's no question; Hogan had the edge in terms of instant recognition and interest, but once the viewer took their first peek at a heel Shawn Michaels and his cronies, they were hooked. DX gets the edge.

It's been noted before that a no general can win a war without good troops, and that, too is quite relevant in this situation. In the nWo's corner stood Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, while Degeneration X boasted the services of HHH and Chyna. A strange debate, but a debate nonetheless.

With Nash and Hall, WCW had started a Southern exodus that would take up the majority of the next year and a half, raiding the best (and worst) of the WWF's locker room and dramatically changing the public perception of their product. Their individual arrivals on Nitro were both unprecidented and incredibly realistic. The way they were handled (as outsiders, never officially signed with the promotion) had a great deal to do with the future perception and image of the nWo. They were always together, watching one another's backs and attacking anyone who got in their way. For some time, there was truly a sense of urgency to the whole affair, that these two really needed to be stopped before something terrible happened. They had the desire to topple the old regime, and once Hogan joined up with them they had the means. There was this tremendous ongoing struggle against the establishment that carried over from their original appearances with the company to their war alongside the nWo, something that can't really be put into words.

Meanwhile, HHH and Chyna were just friends of Shawn's. There was a great chemistry between the three, but little more in the way of an ongoing theme. While Nash and Hall made the nWo legendary, Helmsley and Chyna seemed to be along for the ride. They had a little fun and they kicked a little ass, but didn't have the straightforward vision that drove Hall and Nash. Even in the ring and on the mic, the two areas that set Michaels head and shoulders ahead of Hogan, these two weren't any more special than their opposition. Helmsley wouldn't become "The Game" for years, and Chyna had little to no experience between the ropes, aside from the occasional nutshot or forearm while the ref's back was turned. Meanwhile, Hall still had some of the drive that made him so great in the WWF and Nash hadn't yet completely regressed into the lazy waste he is today.

Though the leadership was unquestionably better for the original DX, the troops themselves were somewhat lacking when stacked up against those of the nWo. Nash and Hall melded their already-hot angle with this one, and in the end created an even better story. Meanwhile, Chyna and HHH weren't going anywhere before the angle, but instead had their careers made by it. The edge goes to the original nWo here.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, is the effects the stables have had on the direction of wrestling today and in the future. As I'd mentioned above, the Four Horsemen had possibly the most long reaching influence of any angle in wrestling history, as they introduced the premise of the stable. Though both have undeniably changed the landscape, each took a different approach to it.

With the nWo, WCW achieved what they'd been reaching for throughout their existence; they changed the rulebook. In a day that featured clear cut faces and heels, the nWo played the grey area. They had depth, they were believable. Instead of a superhero facing off against a would-be world conquerer, you had real people fighting over the paychecks they hoped to take home. Scott Hall was an egotistical jerk. Scott Norton was an easily misled powerhouse. Though Hogan's promos left a lot to be desired, the "us vs. them" nature of the conflict was strong enough to carry the entire feud over that stumbling block, and on towards what should have been a logical conclusion. Up until Starrcade 1997, Eric Bischoff and the nWo had played their cards perfectly, deceiving the fans time after time, mocking their heroes and debasing their morals, but never crossing the line of believability. In the months before what should have been the big blowoff PPV, the cracks within the nWo heirarchy were already evident. With the perfect foil already signed, sealed and delivered in Sting, the story should have written itself. Instead, Bischoff sent out a blunder of monumental proportions, something that's haunted the stable ever since. In the biggest blowoff PPV of the year, he put over almost every heel. The good guys were flattened, the fans sent home unhappy... all in an attempt to boost sales for the next PPV, Souled Out. The nWo had grown too big for its britches, and slowly descended into anonymity, to the point that nobody noticed when the last t-shirt had been taken off.

Though the stable went down with a whimper instead of a bang, the healthy years just before were exceptional, truly something worth remembering. The nWo took that first step towards reality, away from the circus that professional wrestling had become. They gave characters personality, and though when all was said and done it was just an act, the idea alone was something revolutionary. In more than one way, the nWo paved the way for the WWF Attitude era that was to come.

DX, then, naturally took the work the nWo had accomplished and used it as a stepping stone toward some innovations of their own. Where the personalities that set the WCW stable apart were just characters, those DX put forth were their own. Fans would love or hate the members because of who they were, not because that's how Vince McMahon wanted it to be. The creature that was Degeneration X was as unpredictable as they come, both in terms of the storyline and the bookers themselves. It was a predecessor for the wave of reality TV that's overtaken television audiences today, it had gone beyond art to life itself. And, unlike the nWo, the original DX had a distinguishable beginning, middle and ending. Though the stable itself continued after Shawn Michaels, that first story had been successfully introduced, hyped and blown off. Austin had beaten the odds and taken the gold from the dickhead that held it, despite his mind games and backup plans. It was how the nWo should have gone down, and it told more than any angle or storyline. The WWF understood the business. WCW did not. Game, set, match... DX.

While both groups have since come and gone several times, boasting new members, different storylines and new colors, the original message of either has yet to be touched. The late 90's were some fertile years for the progression of the industry, rewarding viewers with the growth spurt they'd deserved for some time. With DX and the nWo, wrestling really came of age. It's now only a matter of time until someone new comes along to carry that progression even farther.

I'll be waiting.
until then, i remain

Sunday, January 7, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF Royal Rumble 2001 Preview

God, the Rumble's provided some great memories. From the incredible '92 brawl that saw Ric Flair crowned as World Champ to Austin doing pushups in the ring in the Attitude era, the Royal Rumble has been one of the more consistant PPVs in the WWF's history. While the actual Rumble match itself has always been the main attraction, with the other matches serving as sideshows at best, the '01 lineup reads like an almost perfect card from top to bottom. European Champion William Regal will be defending his gold against perennial rising star Test, showcasing what the division should really be about; young or underexposed talent getting their first big chance to shine and play on the big stage. The WWF's top tag team of 2000 (as voted by Oratory readers), champions Edge and Christian take on the Dudley Boyz in what's certain to be an enjoyable match from start to finish. Chris Benoit and "Y2J" Chris Jericho are set to polish up their near complete reconstruction and revitalization of the Intercontinental gold with a ladder match, and Triple H and Kurt Angle find themselves set to pick up the feud that time forgot several months ago with the World Title at stake. Perhaps souring the card a bit is the Ivory / Chyna bout at the outset, a small price to pay for what's sure to come later on. All in all, the WWF looks to be picking up in 2001 where they left off a couple months before the end of 2000... and if this year shapes up to be as good as the last one, that alone is cause for rejoice.

William Regal vs. Test
European Championship

It's too bad Regal's feud with Austin was aborted recently.. I was really getting a kick out of it. Still, it wasn't really correct to have the European champ feuding with someone as high on the card as Austin, and I'm sure one day they'll have another go in the ring.. with the stakes that much higher. Regal is still just arriving on the WWF scene, ready to take the next step up already. The same could be said, in a way, of Test. He's no stranger to fame, after working through the surprisingly successful marriage angle with Stephanie, but his rocketship to stardom inexplicably ran out of fuel before arriving at its destination. For over a year, Test has been floating in virtual limbo while life in general went on without him. Now that the long-rumored T&A split is behind him, Test has become a strong face once again and I've found myself more open to his re-elevation. This feud with the British goodwill ambassador hasn't even begun yet, and I think it'll be a couple months before we see a winner. That's why, for right now, I'm taking Regal to retain. Sunday's really just a feeling out process to see how these guys relate on the mat. Next month is when the fireworks could start.
Winner: William Regal

Ivory vs. Chyna
Women's Championship

Not my first choice for a curtain jerker, but it should serve to wake the crowd up a bit. Chyna's a big hit with fans, whether I like it or not, and the storyline she's currently running with Ivory and the RTC is red hot. Though the match itself won't be much to speak of, it will do wonders for the Women's division and the heat will likely be tremendous throughout. There isn't much more to say, except I think Ivory's gonna sneak through with a big upset, raising her credibility tremendously.
Winner: Ivory

Edge & Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz
Tag Team Championship

Edge and Christian are back on top, holding the belts they owned through 2000 and building a hot feud with the Dudleys with less than five minutes of camera time. These guys are good. Unfortunately, there isn't much we can see in the ring from these four that we haven't seen before. E&C have been heels for a full year, and the Dudleys have been face for even longer. They've run through their repertoire multiple times, and there really isn't that much more they can do with the same formula. Sure, the crowd will be hot for the "whassaah" spot, as well as for the teasing of the tables, but how many more times can we see the same thing before it gets annoying? Somebody needs to turn, and I think it's the Dudleys. Perhaps they were testing the waters a bit with that teased RTC run? Unless one of the four busts his ass and breaks out a whole new moveset, I wouldn't expect this to do anything revolutionary. It's good stuff, but it's getting monotonous. E&C retain.
Winners: Edge and Christian

Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho
Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship

To be honest, when I first realized they were running with this ball again, I wasn't that excited. It hasn't been long enough between Benoit and Jericho's last feud to really build another good one, and I thought of this as going to the well once too often. The added ladder match stipulation, though, has really gone and spun my opinion a good 180 degrees on the subject. With Benoit and Jericho promoting the match as intensely as the have been over the last couple programs, audiences are really starting to take notice... setting the stage for something big to go down Sunday night. If there ever was a time for Benoit and Jericho to put on the show of a lifetime, it would be at the 2001 Royal Rumble. With the fans' curiosity piqued, the #2 slot on the third largest show of the year, the second most prestigious gold in the land on the line and one of the WWF's traditionally most entertaining gimmicks, these two have the best opportunity they'll ever find to get themselves noticed.

Every time these two have met over the past six months, I've seen it as a sort of foreshadowing event. Remember the feeling you got in the late 80s, watching Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart face off in tag matches or later for Hart's newly-earned WWF Title? How about the battles in the late 90s between a charismatic Intercontinental champion named Rocky and his rival, a guy going by the name Triple H? There was something there, even years before they made it, that said these two would be meeting again in the main event. I get that same feeling with Benoit and Jericho. It wouldn't surprise me at all if five years down the road these two were colliding again with the WWF Title at stake, while two new midcarders fight a similar fight for the Intercontinental strap.. setting up a future main event run of their own. Benoit and Jericho have chemistry, talent and attention. Let's just hope they can reach the potential we all know they've got here. Jericho goes over.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Kurt Angle vs. Triple H
WWF Heavyweight Championship

This one's about four months too late. The WWF had caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle midway through 2000, when they first teased a HHH / Angle matchup with the affections of Stephanie at stake. Fans absolutely loved it, the matches were bound to be excellent and the intensity was the stuff of legends. It was a Flair / Steamboat for the sports entertainment era, and the WWF decided to pass. Now fans are no longer anticipating the match. Both men are heels, making for an awkward collision at best, and Stephanie's almost become a non-factor now that Trish is in Angle's corner. The crowds are now looking for HHH / Austin, a collision I'm betting we'll see at Wrestlemania, and the WWF is once again not delivering. Strange business methods for the number one name in the game.

Still, despite the lost momentum and almost complete lack of build, this should be a strong match.. easily credible as a battle for the World Championship. The Trish / Steph feud is likely to play a big part in this one, with both men keeping one eye trained on the activities outside the ring throughout. If the game is truly ready to play and Angle's feeling up to it, we'll get a good, solid matchup at best. It's really disappointing too, considering how much potential these two had earlier on. I suppose one can't change history, though, a sentiment I'm sure Kurt Angle will be echoing when he drops the gold here. Austin / HHH at Wrestlemania, and the build starts here.
Winner: HHH

Thirty Man Royal Rumble Match
Participants include Rikishi, Undertaker, Kane, The Rock, Steve Austin, Faarooq, Bradshaw, Steve Blackman, K-Kwik, Billy Gunn, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Hardcore Holly plus 19 other superstars

In a day that's seen the rediscovery and eventual oversaturation of the gimmicked match, the WWF's Royal Rumble still stands out from the crowd. There's a certain mystique, an electricity, that links itself with this match. No matter who the last man to enter the ring was, be it Shawn Michaels or Judy Bagwell, fans were intrigued to see who was next. There was always a fresh face waiting in the wings, and that's what separated the Royal Rumble from other battle royals, what made it special. What began as just another ego boost for the "immortal" Hulk Hogan has since transcended him and taken a spot as one of the most important matches on the wrestling calendar. There's more at stake here than a shot at the World Wrestling Federation title.. a man's career can be made or broken with this match and the crowd's reaction to his work. Through the Royal Rumble we watched Shawn Michaels become a man. We saw the progression of a man named Foley from the depths of the undercard to the highest honor the federation can present. And we watched the "fake" Diesel and Razor Ramon vanish from the pages of history in less than a year.

Following up one of only two Rumbles that didn't end with a clear cut winner, the WWF has, in my opinion, a step or two to take towards rediscovering the formula that made this great match work in the past. While the majority of the 2000 Rumble was excellent and well performed by the athletes, the finish left something of a bad taste in my mouth and the four way for the title at Wrestlemania took away from the importance of this annual January event, as well. For the first time in years, the WWF has a roster large enough to fill an entire Rumble without any unnecessary additions or questionable selections. That, along with the presence of undeniable talents like Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Chris Benoit and Raven should make this year's brawl something to remember. This will likely be as pretty a battle royal as you're ever gonna see. And, while I'd absolutely love to see a big surprise victory for someone like an Eddy Guerrero or Taka Michinoku, the fact of the matter is that would send the fans home extremely unhappy. This one goes down by the books, with Steve Austin standing alone in the ring when the dust settles.
Winner: Steve Austin

In Closing...

Just a tremendously balanced card, worthy to follow in the footsteps of the greatest PPV 2000 had to offer. While some matches are disjointed and others are bordering on monotony, the right ingredients are still in the mix, and the finished product should be something worth getting excited over. From a technical standpoint, this card is going to be outstanding. The WWF has truly given us a full serving of their best, living up to the tradition of a "Big 5" PPV. There's a sort of 'calm before the storm' feel about things, though, like something huge is about to go on and I'm missing all the clues.
until next time, i remain