Saturday, May 26, 2001

Ringside Shadows #171: The Logical Follow-Up

Wow, what a while it's been. Of course, for the casual reader it hasn't been long at all, as I've kept my knives sharp so to speak with a remastered, corrected, prettier "director's cut" version of my classic History of the Four Horsemen series over the past couple weeks. However, for me it's been over a month since my last new column. To say I enjoyed the break would be something of an understatement, and I've several new ideas I'm itching to get down on the proverbial paper over the next several weeks. So to those that read and enjoyed the revamped Horsemen series, I thank you. For those that didn't, because it looked familiar, welcome back to the stable.

So we've covered the history of the Four Horsemen in full. Every peak and every valley, from the Minnesota Wrecking Crew to Sid Vicious, Paul Roma to Chris Benoit. Now it's time to shift that gaze from the fruitful feuds of yesteryear to the open pastures of tomorrow. With the Horsemen in the middle of their longest hiatus to date, I figure it's about time they start pulling all the pieces together again and begin rebuilding that dynasty.

Let's face the facts; Ric Flair and Arn Anderson aren't getting any younger. If they want their legacy to carry over to the next generation, they're gonna have to start soon. With the WWF no longer out of bounds, the future is filled with possibilities. There's truly no better time than now. When the WCW of 1996 needed that big angle to get them out ahead of the WWF, they found what they needed in the nWo. Now that Vince McMahon's federation is facing an even more imposing threat in the face of extinction, they need a similarly massive angle to get fans interested again. As crowds are slowly losing interest in "Attitude" era, a return to tradition might be just what they need to get excited again.

Then again, a logical step forward must be taken to avoid dooming the WWF by making the same mistakes they made after the golden years of the late '80s. They have to learn from their errors, and while integrating the bits and pieces that made the Horsemen so successful, must also make a decided effort to bring the classic stable into the next millennium. Flair and Anderson must be involved, but they can't be active contributors. With the vast majority of complaints about the old WCW centering on the age of the main eventers, they can't risk carrying that image over to the new show. If the Horsemen are going to grab the ball and run with it, the first thing they need is a new lineup. So who makes the cut, and why?

Lance Storm

He's technically sound. He knows how to turn a crowd on him in an instant. He's got the "let's get down to business" demeanor that Arn Anderson had his entire career. On top of all that, he's incredibly versatile. The only problem I can see with Storm's involvement is the relative step down he'd have to take from leading his own stable, Team Canada, to acting as a follower in the most historically significant crew in wrestling history. Storm would have to learn to take orders, and that fact almost kept him off my list altogether. While his possible problems with that might lead to an interesting storyline down the road, the team needs solidarity right out of the gates.

Still, Storm was a follower in ECW as the muscle of the Impact Players, and used similarly with the Horsemen things could work out excellently. He's already received Ric Flair's on-air blessing, during the last days of WCW's life on TNT, and that fact alone could be all the credentials he'd need to pull off this membership. In 2001, Storm would be a constant reminder that not every Horseman has a big mouth, and sometimes actions can speak much louder than words.

Mike Sanders

The perfect counterpoint to Storm's icy silence would be Sanders. His run right out of the gates with the Natural Born Thrillers proved he knows how to handle himself as part of the greater whole, and his work on the mic is deceptively good. Sanders is one of the rare gems of this industry, in that he can say his piece on the microphone and then back it up in the ring. He can do more than just talk the talk... he can walk the walk. A convincing heel, Sanders took what he was given by the bookers and breathed new life into even those lame storylines. The similarities to a pre-Y2J Chris Jericho aren't hard to note.

Like Storm, Sanders has also received Ric Flair's on-air approval, and built a strong image as the cool, collected young commissioner of the federation for many months. Not unlike a young Rocky Maivia in the infant years of "Attitude," Sanders was packaged as a straight-up blue chipper, only this time the fans were supposed to hate him for it. As a mixture of hot and cold, I think Sanders and Storm could create a dynamic tag team, which is one thing the Horsemen will be needing in the new millennium. Apart, Sanders could easily capture the Cruiserweight title while Storm busies himself in the middle of the card.

Booker T

The Horsemen will also need an enforcer, a second-in-command, and to pull that off Booker T would need to alter his approach more than a little. He'd need to take a vicious turn, violently tearing himself away from the cookie cutter fan favorite role he's filling today and giving opponents something more to fear than a popular catchphrase. It might be a stretch, but I think the current WCW World Champion could do it. As far as credentials, you couldn't ask for much more. Multiple reigns as a TV champion, Tag champion, US champion and World champion. Victories over some of the top names in the sport. A phenomenal workrate. On top of all that, he's built like a wild animal. One look is enough to tell you this isn't a man you want after your blood, and as the enforcer for the Four Horsemen, he'd take that intimidation to an all new level.

While there might be some friction between Booker and the leader of the stable over a feud that's long since passed, I'd imagine that would be put on the backburner in lieu of the Harlem Heater's new, more violent, personality. Booker would be their dependable backbone, always there to flatten the opposition and reaping the benefits with a firm spot at the upper crust of the card. He'd be US champion without much contest, and when the time comes that someone does manage to give him a run for his money, it would mean all that much more.

Chris Benoit

Finally, the Horsemen are going to need a leader, a centerpiece, someone the fans recognize as a legitimate World Title contender anywhere on the planet. Flair was, bar none, perfect for this role. And now that Benoit's gained respect in the WWF and knows how to speak into the microphone, he's just about set to slide into the role Flair and Anderson were primping him for since day one. He'd be the wolverine leading a pack of his kin, the unquestionable leader through sheer intimidation. The other three would follow because if they didn't by their own will, he'd force them to anyway.

In addition to all that, the group is going to need someone to tie them to their origins. As a member of several Horsemen rosters, Benoit has received the necessary rub from the Nature Boy and Double A. His past is undeniably intertwined with that of the four, and without that legacy to tie them together, this group would fall apart before they could even get started.

The end result is a slightly different roster. One that maintains every aspect of the original lineup and a few new ones to remain on the cutting edge of the industry. Lance Storm brings the no-nonsense attitude of Arn Anderson, Mike Sanders the know how of Tully Blanchard. Booker T blends the ferocity of Ole Anderson's single-minded offense with the intimidation of Sid Vicious's bulk. And Chris Benoit merges the undeniable credibility of Ric Flair with an intensity and technical magnificence that is uniquely his.

Narrowing down the list was tougher than I'd previously imagined, and a lot harder than I remember it being when I dealt with the topic in a similar fashion, waaaaaayyy back in the archaic Ringside Shadows #2. There were a number of faces that could have and possibly should have fit into this picture that, for one reason or another, didn't. Names like Sean O'Haire, Elix Skipper, Bill Goldberg and Dean Malenko were on the tip of my tongue, but didn't make the final cut. Any combination of those names and the ones I selected would make an arguably stellar group, but I feel the four I went with would be not only the most interesting, but the most effective.

With the WWF on a huge roll and WCW apparently ready to follow suit, there stands a good chance that the Horsemen won't have their card played right away, if it's in the plan at all. However, the bottom line is WCW has a bonafide hit on their hands, and it's at their disposal whenever the time is deemed right.
until then, i remain

Friday, May 18, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF Judgment Day 2001 Preview

What we've got this month from the WWF is a short, concise list with a surprisingly small amount of build. While I'm personally a fan of smaller cards, which offer more time to the matches that deserve it, I can't see the Women's or Hardcore matches going much more than ten minutes. With another two and a half hours to fill, I'm not sure if the extra time will turn out to be a blessing or a curse. Certainly, I'd love to see Benoit and Angle go at it for an entire hour, but would the casual fan? The points that are going to make or break this card are time management and talent motivation. If Benoit, Angle, Triple H and Austin come out to work, the card might just shine. If not, things could get ugly.

Chyna vs. Lita
Women's Title Match

The one thought that's kept me going despite this god-awful feud; at least it's Lita, and not Nicole Bass. Still, I think just about anything the WWF could have done to promote this angle would've worked better than what they chose. When Lita first confronted Chyna a couple weeks ago on Raw, the audience was ready to explode. They wanted it. However, with this 'spanking' angle clogging things and adding substance where none was necessary, the focus has been taken away from the match at hand. What could've been a white-hot wrestling feud (albeit not a very good one, technically speaking) has since regressed into an overbooked Sports Entertainment fest. It'll be interesting to see if Lita retains her heat. As for the match, somebody's gotta turn and all the signs are pointing to Chyna. She'll pull out the win here.
Winner: Chyna

Rhyno vs. Test vs. The Big Show
Hardcore Title Match

I've actually been pleasantly surprised with Test and Rhyno lately. While they aren't tearing houses down across the country, both are doing a respectibly solid job with the roles they've been given and continue to improve on a regular basis. I'd have to agree with Mark, in saying a Raven / Rhyno match would be a nicer option than this, but it should be decent for what it is. I'll never be 100% sold on the Big Show as a trash brawler, but Test and Rhyno should be able to salvage something easy on the eyes. With Test playing the injured party and the Big Show continuing something with Bradshaw, the process of elimination has Rhyno retaining in this one.
Winner: Rhyno

Rikishi vs. William Regal
Grudge Match

If Y2J couldn't get a good match out of the Good Will Ambassador, I don't think Rikishi's got much of a chance either. In my eyes, this feud's been pretty lackluster and the late booking really shows. It's a shame too, since Regal's a stupendous worker when he's motivated. His match with Chris Benoit at last year's Pillman show was good enough to land him a high profile spot in the WWF, because he knew it was a "do or die" situation. Now that he's secure on the upper fringe of the card, that motivation is dissolving. Who knows, maybe he'll go out there Sunday night and prove he can still carry workers to a good match. Then again, maybe not. Either way, he needs to rebound from his loss in the blowoff of his series against Jericho. He'll get a victory here.
Winner: William Regal

The Hardys vs. The Dudleys vs. X-Factor vs. The APA vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Radicalz vs. Chris Jericho & ????
Tag Team Turmoil Match

There's actually quite a bit of debate here as to who Y2J's partner is gonna be, and following a plodding month of Austin and HHH promo after beatdown after promo, the mystery is certainly welcome. Odds are Benoit will show for a fourth match, setting up the Canadian Raw / Smackdown tag match everyone knows is coming. Still, I'd love to see Raven, Guerrero, Tajiri, Storm... just about anybody. I'm genuinely interested, and that's good.

As Mark stated, the match is likely to be something of a mess. But it should be a long mess. Here's hoping most of it's spent with less than four teams in the ring. You'd have to be absolutely insane to pick anyone but Jericho and his mystery man here, though I have a sneaking suspicion Angle, Edge and Christian will find a way to cheat them out of it.
Winners: Chris Jericho and ????

Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit
Best 2 Out Of 3 Falls Medals Match

Seeing as how I'm such a big fan of these two, it should come as no surprise I'm stoked for this match. Though I haven't thought too much of Benoit's theft of the gold medals, nor the ensuing chase, the quality of the matches has been there. Benoit's victory overseas in two straight falls this past week has served to shake things up even more. In a sport noted for its overly dramatic storylines, to see a 2/3 falls match not go to the third fall was both unexpected and original. It also adds a whole new elemend to the match this weekend, as Benoit's got that momentum going with him into one more potential three fall collision. It's no longer guaranteed to go to the ladder, though I'd be pretty let down if it didn't. It's nearly time to bid a fond adieu to this feud, and though I can't see Angle moving on without his medals, I think Benoit's your man this Sunday night.
Winner: Chris Benoit

Triple H vs. Kane
Intercontinental Title Chain Match

The Intercontinental Title has always been about elevating workers almost ready for the main event, sort of a trial run for the World Title. Did the Warrior main event a PPV as the Intercontinental champion? Sure. Did he go back to the Intercontinental belt after he lost the World Title? Nope. What the belt's being used for now betrays its original purpose. It's not supposed to be a prop to lend credibility to a stable of main eventers. I can think of a half dozen workers offhand that could actually use that belt right now, while Hunter's been sitting on it since his "fluke" loss to Jeff Hardy. But, like it or not, he's still the IC champion, and this match is going to happen. And it won't be too bad. HHH has been on one helluva streak for the last year and, seeing as how he's opposed by a somewhat competant worker in Kane here, should produce a nice little matchup. Though Kane's gonna give him a run for his money, I'm gonna stick with the Haitch.
Winner: Triple H

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker
WWF Title Match

Yesterday afternoon, I could've care less about this match. Sure, it's Austin and the Undertaker. Yeah, the Dead Man rides to the ring with Limp Bizkit blaring in the background. OK, Austin's the heel. I just haven't been enjoying the storyline. After Smackdown, my opinion's shifted a bit. As Mark commented at the top of the preview, this week's UPN visit was quite good. Not only did it tease tension in the HHH / Austin alliance, but it gave the Undertaker and Kane more dimension, all the while building them as legitimate challengers. The only problem I had was the cheery reunion at the end of the show. I'd rather have let that tension between the champs hold steady through the next couple weeks. Still, I'm a bit more interested in this Sunday's results now than I was before. The match won't be among either man's best, but it should be solid. We'll get some nice, tough brawling and a sound storyline to follow throughout. And I'm willing to bet we'll get an Austin victory, because he needs it. Since beating the Rock the night after Wrestlemania, he hasn't been given very many clean defenses and is almost acting as a paper champion. A good, bloody war with the Undertaker could solve all that, provided Austin retains. He's my pick.
Winner: Steve Austin


At first glance this looks a little mediocre, but there are a couple matches that could really swing that around. If Test and Rhyno drag a good one out of the Big Show, and the Tag Turmoil match isn't too nutty, this card could be quite a bit of fun. Then again, if Benoit and Angle drop a stinker and Regal and Rikishi go on for too long, it could be ugly. It'll be interesting to see how everything turns out.
until next time, i remain