Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Ringside Shadows #173: Take Two

I'll be perfectly honest with you; I'm usually not one to complain about the events of any particular Monday night program on the day, week, or even month afterwards. For the most part, I'll sit back on my big blue couch on any given Monday night, take in the matches, enjoy the angles and take the good right along with the bad. It's been over a year since I last made any sort of commentary on the current wrestling scene, barring my monthly PPV Previews with various partners. However, last night's atrocious episode of RAW just struck a chord with this lowly internet opinion-maker. I don't know if it was the disrespect of the live crowd, the fumbling of the WCW angle or the overall boring air that permeated the entire event... perhaps it was a combination of those factors. Whatever the cause, last night's programming just didn't cut it by my standards. RAW didn't stick, it didn't kick, it merely let out a whimper and watched the credits roll.

I know, it's easy to play the quarterback from my proverbial armchair, isn't it? The everyday duties of the booking committee look like a cakewalk from in front of the TV screen, don't they? No matter how much planning you put into a live program like RAW, you're never gonna get exactly what was planned. Live wrestling is a much tougher world to control than a television program or a big-budget summer blockbuster. There are no "second takes" in the world of the WWF, right? Well, for the purposes of this column, there will be.

If you're not a fan of my "fantasy booking" columns, (for lack of a better word) I'd suggest you turn back now and stop by again next week, because what's about to follow is my own opinion of how RAW should have looked last night. The WWF had an important program on their hands, following a disastrous PPV that nearly took out their three top players, and in my opinion they left a lot to be desired when the eve was through. So instead of pointing out every little thing they did wrong and whining my way through the column, I'm going to hold their hands and tell them exactly what I would've liked to have seen. There were a few redeeming factors about last night, but not many. Thus, you might see something familiar in the following schedule of events. Things like the Mike Awesome run-in during the Hardcore match were quite well done, but needed a follow-up. That's where I'll come in.

But that's enough of a lead in. We're at Madison Square Garden, and the seats are already filled. It's bell time, and we're ready to go live. Welcome to RAW is War for June 25th, 2001... take two.

The Vince promo to start the show was a good way to kick things off. In my fine tuning, I'd have emphasized the achievements of his father just a bit more, only with a bit of the McMahon selective memory thrown in for good measure. I'd have Vince go on at length about how his father groomed him to take over the WWWF, how when the time is right the promotion was simply laid at his feet to do with as he pleased. Vince would tell us all he knows his father is proud of what the WWF has become, as Jim Ross has a hernia at ringside. With JR beginning to tell the viewing public the real story, the WWF's staple broadcaster is stopped mid-sentence by Vince himself, who reminds the Oklahoma native just who he works for with an icy stare. Ross shuts up.

Gathering his composure once again, Vince sets his sights on the other important matter at hand; a certain rival promotion that's been back in the news. He decrees the night will be a "simple lesson to my son Shane and the WCW," reminding us "On their last night in business, WCW held what they called a 'night of champions.' They trotted out all their old, boring, worthless champions and faced them off to determine who would be the last set of WCW title holders. Now, I need not remind you that WCW's last broadcast came from a beer hall. A beer hall, ladies and gentlemen. Can you imagine that?" McMahon pauses, soaking up the cheap heat and catcalls before continuing. "Well, take a look around. We're in Madison Square Garden! Now, this is how the WWF does things! Quickly, can anyone tell me how many times WCW has been in this building?"

Vince smiles, before announcing "That's right. Not once! So tonight, in the arena WCW couldn't touch, we're going to do something else WCW couldn't do properly. Right here, in this very ring, we're going to have our OWN little night of champions. Every WWF champion will defend his title in this ring tonight... with the single exception of Steve Austin." As the crowd turns on McMahon, he gives them a taste of their own medicine, snapping "That's right, Steve Austin WILL NOT defend the WWF Title tonight, because he CAN NOT defend the WWF Title tonight! Because that worthless Booker T broke his damn hand!" He scowls and stalks to the other side of the ring, before concluding "But tonight, the WWF is going to put on one hell of a show. We're going to prove why we won the 'ratings war.' We're gonna have ourselves a night of champions! ...And there's not a damn thing Shane McMahon or the WCW can do about it." Cue 'No Chance in Hell.'

We kick off the night with the Hardcore Title up for grabs, with champion Test defending his gold against Rhyno. I thought this match was a great decision for an opener, especially considering the crowd was so totally into Rhyno from the moment his music hit, but they made a grave mistake in taking it backstage, where the MSG crowd couldn't see it with their own eyes. In addition, Heyman missed calling the gore and as a result the ending looked sudden and unbelievable. I'd have left the match in the ring area, putting Rhyno over strong throughout. Near the finish, I'd have Test stumbling to his feet with the crowd anticipating the Gore. With Rhyno charging, Test would sidestep and deliver a knee to the midsection, followed by his signature gutwrench powerbomb. He'd then climb to the top and land his big elbow, followed by a cover and a surprising Rhyno kick-out at two and three quarters. Stunned, Test would attempt the pin again to the same result. Visibly angry, he'd pull Rhyno to his feet and land two more powerbombs with vicious results but still no three count. Fuming, Test would head to the floor where he'd nab a table and climb back into the ring. With the table between himself and the man beast, Test would set it upright on the ring while he unfolded the legs. With the wood blocking his view, he'd never see Rhyno coming. A horrid gore right through the table would drill Test as well, and with the final ECW champion falling on top, the ref would count three.

With the crowd celebrating the new champion, nobody would notice Mike Awesome, sliding out from under the ring with a table of his own. Setting it up on the floor, he'd roll into the ring, grab Rhyno and proceed to Awesome-bomb him from the apron through the table on the floor. He'd grab the ref by the shirt, cover with one arm and gain the WWF Hardcore Title just like that, escaping through the crowd.

Vince, visibly ready to kill somebody in the back, screams for the entire security staff to be in his office, right NOW!

Back in the ring, Light Heavyweight champion Jeff Hardy is on his way down the ramp, ready to defend his title in a triple threat match against X-Pac and Dean Malenko. Nothing but standard fare here, with three very different styles that I think would mesh wonderfully in the ring. Malenko and X-Pac would form something of an alliance early on, allowing Jeff the chance to sell their offense like only he can. Absolutely destroying the champion, the two hit rocky times in their relationship as Malenko is thrown out of the ring and X-Pac hits his X-Factor near the ropes. With JR proclaiming "it's gotta be over," Malenko drags the ref out by his shoes at two and a half. X-Pac seems to pay no heed, running away from Dean-o, but he quickly rebounds off the opposite ropes and nails a baseball slide that stuns the former Radical. Pac follows up with an attempted hurricanrana from the apron, but Malenko counters in mid-air, twisting his legs into a Texas Cloverleaf and sitting down on it right there on the black tarps that cover the arena floor. Malenko's advantage quickly turns to defeat, however, as he looks to the ring and releases the hold in time to catch a Jeff Hardy somersault senton in the ribs. Hardy recovers first and throws X-Pac into the ring, climbing to the top for the Swanton, but finds himself thrown from the top rope by... a WWF security official? With Hardy slowly rising to his feet, the official tears off his shirt and hat, revealing himself as former WCW Cruiserweight Champion Elix Skipper! Skipper hits the overdrive, but as he turns to make a cover he's met by an X-Pac skipping side kick. The force of the blow knocks Skipper over the top rope, and right on top of Dean Malenko, who had recovered on the floor. The ref rolls into the ring as Pac falls on top, counting to three and registering a new Light Heavyweight Champion.

Backstage, steam may as well have started spraying from Vince's ears. Most of the security staff has gathered in his office, explaining their absence during the previous match, and Vince sits them all down in grand fashion. He begins chewing them out, drill sergeant fashion, as the show goes to commercial.

As we return, The Big Show is seen backstage, trying every pickup line in the book to little effect on Trish Stratus. He attempts everything from cheesy lines to promises of gifts and nights out on the town, but she just doesn't seem to get the idea he's interested in her. During a break in the conversation, Crash Holly swiftly walks by, pauses for a minute, and asks "You know, Trish, since Molly's been hanging around with Spike Dudley lately, I've been going without a manager to direct traffic at ringside. I've got a European Title shot coming up next, and I'm wondering if you might be kind enough to accompany me to the ring?" Trish accepts and the two walk off, leaving the Big Show forgotten in the dust.

Seconds later, Crash and Trish are already on their way to the ring. Shortly thereafter, Matt Hardy follows suit with Lita on his arm. Not really much need to book this one, as these two can put on quite a show on their own. Given a solid five minutes, Matt takes a decided advantage and appears ready to put Crash away. He looks for the Twist of Fate, but Crash counters by shoving him face-first into the ropes and catching him with a release German suplex on the rebound. Both men on the ground, Crash regains his footing first and hits a beautiful vertical suplex. As Crash climbs to the top rope, Juventud Guerrera hurdles the security rail, pulls the ref out of the ring, beats Crash to the top in an adjacent corner and hits his patented 450 Splash on the flattened Matt Hardy. Juvi rises to one knee and signals for Crash to follow suit with a maneuver of his own, but the younger Holly merely jumps down to the mat and shoves Juventud to the ground. He continues strongarming the Mexican legend, unaware of Matt Hardy's recovery behind him. As the ref returns to the ring, Matt rolls up his challenger in a schoolboy for the all-too-easy three count, and Juventud beats a hasty retreat. Post match, Lita jogs toward the rampway where Matt's standing, accidentally running right into a stiff shoulder from Trish. Stratus plays it all off as an accident, but gathers some dirty looks from Matt and Lita all the same.

Backstage again, Vince is having a hissy fit over what's been going on tonight, and vows any more WCW interference will result in immediate firings in the security staff, if not worse. As the collected security forces scatter, Steve Austin shoves his way through into Vince's office. On sight of Austin McMahon explodes, asking where he's been and explaining the situation. Austin makes it well known that he doesn't care about the other titles in the WWF, and demands to know where Vince was last night at King of the Ring. Vince calms down and avoids the question, asking Austin if he's ok and sharing a hug as we go to commercial. Basically, the same backstage vignette that was shown on RAW last night, only moved to later in the program and with the added story of the security guards.

In the ring, the security officials have swarmed the ringside area, and also line the whole of the entryway ramp. Men in black shirts paint the entire set, providing visual proof to the seriousness of the situation. A few are seen exploring under the ring itself, with no results.

Back in Vince's office, Commissioner Regal and Tajiri have joined the party, toting Edge's King of the Ring trophy along with them. Austin and McMahon are giving Regal a piece of their mind, demanding to know what he plans to do as punishment for Chris Jericho, but Regal keeps calm under pressure and states "Settle yourselves down now, I've already considered the situation." When Vince and Austin push him, he follows up by booking a match for later in the evening; in keeping with Mr. McMahon's wishes for a night of champions, the Dudley Boyz will defend their titles against one man... Chris Jericho. McMahon smiles that evil smile, but the World Champ still has an old bone to pick with the Undertaker. The commissioner thinks for a moment, before offering a Kane vs. Undertaker match for the Red Machine's Intercontinental gold. Austin now appeased, Regal leads Tajiri towards the door. They're interrupted on their way out, though, by Kurt Angle. Angle sees the KoTR trophy, and looks at Regal as though he just died inside. Before the theatrics get out of hand, Mr. McMahon greets Kurt and congratulates him on his three stupendous matches, quickly shooing Tajiri and Regal out with the trophy in the process.

Back to ringside, Chyna has arrived with her Women's title and appears ready to take on Lita once again for all the glory. It's a short enough match, with Lita keeping up surprisingly well. Chyna takes a decided advantage, however, and seems ready to finish things off with her handspring elbow. But just before Chyna connects, Lita manages to get a foot up and cracks Chyna right in the back of her head. Running on emotion, she scoops up the "Ninth Wonder of the World" and rolls her up for a clean three count. Post match, Chyna slaps the mat in frustration, but then stands and offers her hand in a show of respect. Lita takes it, the two share an uneasy shake, and the former Women's champion passes the torch by raising the arm of her successor. JR and Paul make mention of the fact no WCW stars were present during this match, backing up the authority of the security guards and glossing over the fact WCW doesn't have any stars which would fit into this situation.

Returning from commercial, we go right to the King of the Ring presentation ceremony. Nothing much I'd change about this, as Edge and Christian were great both on the mic, in their relations with one another and in their interactions with Tajiri and Regal. I wouldn't have even cut out the intrusion of Billy Gunn, since most of the points presented there had the markings of a good feud all over them. I dislike Gunn, but it makes sense to use him as a middle man between Edge and Christian's face turn and their inevitable split. This way, Edge gets the chance to go over strong on an established name while his storyline with Christian is advanced on the side. As the second straight segment ends without WCW interference, Paul Heyman remarks that the invasion might be "finished before it can start," but JR warns him not to jump to any conclusions.

Backstage, the WWF roster unites in their fight against WCW. I thought this was a good idea, but wasn't given enough firepower to make the kind of impact it needed. This segment needs to be staggering in the sheer number of stars we see. Everyone from the underutilized guys like Jerry Lynn and D'Lo Brown to the real heavyweights like the Big Show and Kane need to be there, and the Acolytes as leaders worked well enough for my purposes. As we saw it last night, this segment almost seemed pathetic. Remember when seeing an entire federation's roster could send shivers down your spine, with enemies standing next to one another, united just this once for a common cause? That's just the kind of effect you need here. Break for commercial.

When we return, the sound of squealing tires and an auto wreck breaks the momentary silence. Upon the recognition of Mick Foley on the entryway, the audience jumps to their feet in excitement. Foley climbs between the ropes, makes his obligatory "right here in Madison Square Garden" reference, and dives quickly into the meat of his speech. Pulling one of those familiar pieces of signed, legally-binding paper from the front of his sweat pants, Foley announces that this particular sheet gives him "the duties of an honest to goodness Federation official in a main event anywhere, at any time." He goes on to announce that he'll be employing that document right here tonight, during the Chris Jericho / Dudley Boyz main event, and that "any sort of foul play, and I'm looking at those Damn Dudleys when I say this, will not be tolerated." He also makes a brief comment about the WCW invasions, stating that "anything that gets under Vince's skin is cool by me," before reminding the crowd to have a nice day and falling through the ropes on his way to the back.

We cut to backstage, where William Regal and Tajiri are waiting behind the curtain for Foley to return, and intercept him the moment after he gets out of the public eye. Regal warns him that this is a bad idea, and he's making the wrong kind of enemies, but Foley shrugs them off and leaves the commissioner behind on his way to the rest room. Regal tells Tajiri he has an idea that will ensure Chris Jericho gets what's coming to him, and the two play the stereotypical diabolical evildoers to perfection on their way out of the camera's eye.

To the ring we go, as the arena goes pitch black for Kane's big introduction. The Intercontinental Champion enters the ring and cues his fireworks, but the arena stays black for his older brother, who is notably without his trademark motorcycle. With wife Sara by his side, he strides to the ring and grabs a mic, telling Kane this "ain't nothing personal... it's just business." And that's that, with the two brothers tearing into each other like lifelong enemies. Once again, standard fare here with neither one taking a distinct advantage. Six or seven minutes in, the Undertaker milks an advantage while the cameramen take a brief look at Sara Undertaker. As the view cuts back to the ring, JR says "Wait a minute... son of a... can we go back to camera 3?" The program director takes heed and switches back to the shot of Sara, and JR calms down, claiming "Must've just been my imagination." A split second before the camera cuts back again, Sara's head jerks backward, a gloved hand reaching from the audience and grabbing her by the hair. With a plain shot of the ring on screen, JR starts shouting to switch back to camera 3 again, and by the time it's done Sara is laying on the ground crying. The Undertaker and ninety percent of the security officials in the area give chase to DDP, who is visibly fleeing with a large shred of Sara's hair. Meanwhile, Kane waits in the ring... failing to notice Rob Van Dam in the ring behind him, holding a chair. Sensing something, the Intercontinental champ turns and catches the chair in mid flight. It's just what Van Dam was counting on. He nails the Van Daminator and makes a mock cover, fleeing the ring before the security that went after DDP can make it back to ringside.

Backstage, Austin and Angle sit with open mouths, before Vince tears the television monitor from its stand in his office and throws it to the floor, beating a hasty path to the ring.

Back from commercial, Vince McMahon, Kurt Angle and Steve Austin have joined the announce team at ringside, and the entire locker room seems to have followed them there. An obviously uneasy Mick Foley is introduced, wearing his familiar black and white stripes and cautiously making his way through the big crowd at ringside. Moments later, the air-to-TitanTron missles hit, signalling the arrival of the Tag Team Champion Dudley Boyz. When the fresh heel champs have arrived in the ring, the Y2J countdown begins on the big screen, and the arena goes dark for the final introduction of the night. Chris Jericho soaks in every last cheer before making his own way through the mob that's surrounded the ring and stepping between the ropes for his shot at the tag team titles.

It's your standard "Face in peril vs. two heels" formula here, with the entire roster standing at ringside acting as lumberjacks in the traditional sense, never beating on a man who's outside the ring, but merely rolling them back in to continue the match. Foley plays the fair ref, sometimes forcing a break in the corner but refusing to take sides as the match progresses. Both Jericho and the Dudleys play spooked the entire match, as not only is the entire locker room watching them, so is a whole new promotion. Finally Jericho is able to turn the tides on his opposition, landing a forearm and a bulldog in succession on Buh Buh Ray. On his way to the ropes for the lionsault, Jericho is distracted by William Regal, who's climbed into the ring. While everyone's attention is focused on the commish, Tajiri slips in unnoticed behind Jericho. Disgusted by the argument between Foley and Regal in front of him, Y2J turns and gets a faceful of green mist, courtesy of Yoshihiro Tajiri. Foley calls for the bell and all hell promptly breaks loose, with a multitude of WWF wrestlers at ringside taking offense to these tactics and pulling Tajiri and Regal out of the ring. The chaos is further amplified when Lance Storm jumps from the mob of WWF wrestlers and hits a superkick on Buh Buh Ray. He helps Jericho to his feet as Heyman shouts "The ThrillSeekers! The ThrillSeekers are back!" and the entire WWF roster floods the ring.

Somehow, the arena lights go out. Confusion reigns for several moments, until a familiar theme song blasts through the arena's speakers; "Here comes the moneeeyy..."

From backstage, out steps Shane McMahon, followed by Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Diamond Dallas Page, Buff Bagwell, Billy Kidman, Elix Skipper, Rey Mysterio Jr, Mike Awesome, Sean O'Haire, Lance Storm (who managed to escape during the confusion) and the rest of the WCW roster. Those WCW logos you saw shining on the Raw entryway last night? They're shining just as brightly here. The two Federations slowly, silently approach one another. Austin, Angle and Vince lead the way for the WWF, while Booker, RVD and Shane head up WCW. They meet at the halfway point of the entryway, and the noise in the arena is absolutely deafening. Fade to black. Cue WWF logo. See you Thursday night.

Now, if you were paying attention, you'll see I took great care to accomplish everything the WWF did last night. Everything from Mike Awesome as the new Hardcore Champion to X-Pac owning the LHW strap to Trish Stratus' involvement with the Big Show and upcoming feud with Lita to DDP's possession of Sara Undertaker's hair. I worked within the limitations, but took into account just how important this show really was to the future of the sport. See, what the WWF needed last night was a Home Run, not a bunt. They needed something to hook their viewers, a show that could plant seeds that would sprout over the next three months. They needed something memorable, hell, something legendary. Instead they gave us a show I'd rather forget. And to me, that's just unacceptable.
until then, i remain

Friday, June 22, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF King of the Ring 2001 Preview

It's been a genuinely exciting time to be a WWF fan over the course of this past month, with the elevation of the Canadians Chris, the Free-TV TLC match, several shows in front of an always entertaining Canuck audience and a white hot Steve Austin dominating the promotion's programming. That's why it surprises me so to see a card so full of white space just three days before the first bell is set to toll. While the main event story has been told magnificently, several feuds have gone without a blowoff or simply floated off into nothingness. Who's Kane going to defend his Intercontinental Title against, and why are we going to care about the end result? What about Matt Hardy and his European Title? Test and the Hardcore gold? The upward motion from the midcard has been a thing of beauty lately, but the rest of the roster has been shut out in the cold, so to speak.

Certainly, we'll see more than one match added to this lineup before bell time. However, it'll be up to the workers and the short term build to interest the crowd. Not a good position to be in.

Jeff Hardy vs. X-Pac
Light Heavyweight Championship Match

I think we'll end up with a neat, tidy little battle here. It's been built quite loosely, with X-Pac leading a series of assaults over the last couple weeks, but nothing of a reason's been given. I see it as something of a step down for the so-called "leader" of X-Factor to be taking on Jeff Hardy, while his brother remains unchallenged for the more highly regarded European title. It's becoming more and more obvious that X-Pac's failing as a stable master, but that won't keep us from seeing some fireworks here. Waltman had a nice clean fight with Eddy Guerrero a few weeks back, so I see no reason why we wouldn't get a repeat performance here. Jeff retains, for the same reasons Dave introduced above.
Winner: Jeff Hardy

Kurt Angle vs. Christian
King of the Ring Tournament Semifinal

I think Angle's attempt at another KOTR reign is absolutely appropriate and fits into his character flawlessly. I was surprised when he won it last year and I'll be surprised if he wins it again here, but I'd be lying if I said it doesn't work. Angle's been the single most quickly elevated superstar in WWF history, and another victory at the King of the Ring could start the ball to the top rolling once again. Along with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Angle's the only upper card heel the WWF's got, and they need to re-establish him quickly to build toward a new feud at the top in the near future. A strong showing here would pretty much seal that deal. Christian's good, but he's not ready to go over Angle. Not yet.
Winner: Kurt Angle

Edge vs. Rhyno
King of the Ring Tournament Semifinal

I don't think it's out of hand at all to call this match the "real" KOTR finals, as I think whichever man comes out on top in this one is going all the way to royalty later in the night. Both Edge and Rhyno are right on the verge of breaking through as a solid new face on the scene, and an upset victory over Kurt Angle in the finals would provide that all-important last little push toward establishment. I like what Dave mentioned about the competition between the Gore and the Spear, and with the WWF's continued recognition of Edge's maneuver (don't think it was coincidence E&C were discussing it during Raw), I think the fed's already got that little comparison planned.

What we'll see in the ring here is a good, physical, story. Rhyno recently realigned himself as a heel, turning on the Suicide Blondes this past Thursday on Smackdown, and I think that action alone may cost him. Edge has really gone lengths to establish his character in the past few months, and I think there's no doubt he's the field leader of the team with Christian. The time seems just about right for his breakthrough performance... I think Sunday Night's the place.
Winner: Edge

Edge vs. Kurt Angle
King of the Ring Tournament Finals

Well, I pretty much gave away my prediction for this match earlier in the preview. But just for old times' sake, let's pretend like I didn't already say "Edge is going to win." OK?

Coming in to this PPV, I can't help but remind myself of a statement Angle made about Chris Benoit's 'four falls in one night' last month. I can't quote directly, because I lost the original file, but Angle said something along the lines of "I don't know how he did it." He's got an unbelievable amount of stamina, but I don't know how he's going to handle three falls with sustained breaks between them. His body's going to want to start cooling down just as it's time for another match. Rest assured, if Angle makes it out of King of the Ring with three solid performances, he'll have made himself as a lasting star on the WWF's lineup. If he doesn't, well... who knows. Working with Edge, Christian and Shane, he won't have too rough a time of it.

Anyway, the match should be stellar. Both guys realize what an important match this is, and will likely turn it up that extra notch as a result. Edge can be quite good when he wants to, and working with Angle should give him plenty of ammunition to put on the best match of his career. Whether the finish comes clean or with interference from WCW, I think Edge is coming out with the advantage. We'll have a new King this weekend, and he totally reeks of awesomeness.
Winner: Edge

Shane McMahon vs. Kurt Angle
Street Fight

The complete surprise appearance by DDP on Raw this past Monday has left me wondering just how "up in the air" the contracts of big names like Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Sting... hell, Ric Flair, really are. The WWF has been tightening a stranglehold on the news that makes its way to the boards lately, and I for one really like that fact. It's been a long time since I've been surprised the way I was Monday, and that's a feeling I could really get used to. This is the kind of stuff that got me interested in the scene again.

I think it's extremely likely we'll see the floodgates opened completely in this matchup, with the remaining members of WCW all rushing the ring at once and giving the WWF talent a run for their money. However, along the way there's still a match to be finalized and an Olympic champion to deal with. As Dave mentioned, Shane's got the unenviable task of topping himself to worry about here, and unless he jumps from the ceiling into a bed of broken glass, razor blades, baby spiders and dead babies I just don't see how he can manage. Then again, if there's one thing Shane McMahon knows it's how to keep an audience interested. This should be quite the interesting little brawl, and when the bell tolls we'll be left with one man standing tall with his own promotion.
Winner: Shane McMahon

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho
World Wrestling Federation Championship

If the undercard isn't filled with another match or two, this is going at least forty five minutes. It's Benoit and Jericho's big chance to prove themselves in the biggest spotlight on earth, and if they don't take advantage of this, it'll be a long time before they're granted another chance. I'd be surprised if WCW doesn't have a hand in this somewhere, but a clean finish would be a welcome change. Austin's been more than willing to give Benoit and Jericho the chance to look strong in their matches over the past month, and seeing him tap to the Walls of Crossface on Raw was, in my opinion, a great way to lead up to the main event this Sunday. We've got a champion who just proved he's not invincible, we've got two eager, hungry young athletes ready to make their mark and we've got a main event at one of the big five PPVs acting as their stage.

And while I won't argue with the fact Austin's the heavy favorite, a good showing and a lot of fan interest could go further to elevate Benoit and Jericho than anything else right now... perhaps even a World Title reign. As we all know, the chase is far more interesting than the reign.

Just take a look at the match that pretty much sealed this deal; Benoit and Jericho vs. Austin and Helmsley, with the Tag Titles on the line. Going into the match, fans didn't know what to think of the Canadian Chrises. They weren't ignored, but they sure didn't get a standing ovation. But as the match progressed and the two worked their magic in the ring, the audience became more and more involved with the events unfolding before them. It all built up at a crazy pace until the bell rang, with the crowd foaming at the mouth with excitement. If these two could do that with a tag match, when both agree the singles matches are really their cup of tea, imagine what we'll get Sunday evening. It's not often I'm the optimist in these previews, but I firmly believe this is gonna be significant. I'm going out on a limb with my choice.
Winner: Chris Benoit


The WWF's blown big chances before, and I won't say it's not a possibility here. Everything's going to have to be perfect to work here, but I don't think you could ask for a better cast. I seriously doubt DDP and the Undertaker will clash at KOTR, as the angle's still in its infancy. We'll certainly see an advancement of the feud, but I doubt they'll come to blows. If anything, I see DDP bailing on KOTR entirely to kidnap / assault the Undertaker's wife while the Deadman searches for him in the arena. Of the matches the WWF's provided, I think we'll see some real quality. It's just up to the performers right now.
until next time, i remain

Monday, June 4, 2001

Ringside Shadows #172: Revisiting Montreal

"Ring the damn bell."

It's funny how such a short, emotional sentence can unleash a maelstrom of thoughts, feelings, memories and opinions, isn't it? I'm sure Vince McMahon knew what he was doing that fateful day in Montreal when he first uttered these words on camera. They caused a lot of hurt, ended a lot of careers and directly impacted the industry forever, and I'm sure most of these possibilities rushed through the chairman's mind in the moments leading up to what's become the biggest moment in wrestling history. However, not even Vince, master of hype that he is, could've predicted the ongoing impact of his actions and the reverberations which are still felt today. It's been four years, and a lot of questions remain unanswered. There still remains a fiercely defensive group of fans who believe it was all a work. The ending's been rehashed time and time again, so why does it still wield such an impact on the viewing audience today? Perhaps the most frustrating part of the entire affair is that lack of answers. Perhaps nobody knows the right set of questions.

To call what happened in Montreal between the Harts and the McMahons an important moment would be an understatement... a more appropriate term might be "catalyst." How else could you describe a simple action that eventually ended a handful of careers, launched another handful and shaped the way we'd see wrestling forever? Would Mick Foley be nearly as sympathetic a face if he hadn't been betrayed and abandoned by Mr. McMahon in the infamous main event of that 1998 Survivor Series? Chris Benoit's become an undeniable Canadian hero in the last week, after locking Vince in the crossface in retaliation for the screwjob heard 'round the world. On that same page, would Owen Hart have climbed that catwalk in Kansas City if his brother were still in the federation? Would Davey Boy Smith have landed awkwardly on any trap doors in the WWF? What would've been the finish of the 1999 Starrcade main event if Montreal had never happened? Hell, who would've been the participants?

This past Monday's shameless return to the shaky grounds of "the screwjob" brought back a lot of those memories for me, and also allowed me a chance to rethink my opinion on the matter. A Bret Hart fan since day one, I'm slowly beginning to realize that perhaps I've allowed that to jade my thinking process a bit. It seems every other day I'm seeing less of the Hitman I thought I knew through the airwaves and more of the Bret Hart the fans met at all the conventions and signings. He remains one of the sport's all-time greatest technicians, but his character outside of the ring has been under a heavier fire of late. And, while the wrestlers' personal lives are certainly their own business, Bret milked this incident as a personal assault and thus should see himself come under just as much scrutiny as Mr. McMahon.

When push comes to shove it's a simple matter, really. Bret was leaving the WWF and Vince understandably wanted to get the belt off of him. Despite all the extenuating circumstances, that's what it all boils down to. Regardless of his fifteen-plus years of dedicated service, Bret still knew right from wrong. And, to his credit, he offered a viable solution. When the exchange of his championship gold became more of an issue than "you lie down, and I'll pin you," Bret offered to hand the belt over on his last night in the WWF. But would that have really been enough?

The WWF of 1997 was a vastly different place than the well oiled machine of today. Coming off one of the worst runs in their history, Vince had seen the majority of his stars signed away by Eric Bischoff and the tremendous amount of money at his disposal. They'd lost their iron grip on the industry and were panicking. While Bret, Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin were slowly crafting a magnificent story, Vince was desperately looking for a way to stop the bleeding. With the Hitman leaving the WWF, McMahon needed a new, credible champion to take his place immediately. He needed someone who the fans would accept, someone who'd been a proven draw. But he also needed to get the belt on them in a convincing fashion. Had Bret merely handed the belt over on Raw, it would have been seen as Hart "having done everything he could do" in the WWF and moving on to the new pastures of WCW. His quiet departure would've been a crushing blow to the terribly wounded federation, and fans would've seen any successor as a paper champion at best. He'd never beaten Bret in the ring, and had only taken the title by default. No, Bret needed to lose the belt flat on his back in the ring. However, the most suitable venue was in Canada. Bret had reason to avoid a clean loss in the nation around which his entire gimmick was based.

While McMahon certainly had his own future to think about, he was also obligated to send Hart off in a fashion that wouldn't destroy any hope of future success in other promotions. After all, Bret had signed an unprecedented lifetime contract with the WWF and was honestly doing Vince a favor by allowing him to get out of it. As someone who was built, promoted and over as a Canadian hero, Bret couldn't afford to take a clean loss in his home country. It would be crippling to his heat in WCW, and would all but rule him out of the title picture there in an instant. It's been argued that while a man refusing to job in his home state is understandable, someone who expects to win every match in his home country is expecting a bit much. To that argument, I merely present a copy of the WWF's travel calendar. You'll see just as many Raw or Smackdown tapings in New York or the west coast as you will in Canada during any given year. Bret has just as much right to claim Canada as a home arena as Steve Austin has in Texas.

Adding fuel to the fire is the man McMahon had pegged as Bret's successor; longtime rival and hated backstage enemy Shawn Michaels. The fireworks both backstage and before the cameras were loud and bright between these two, and if there were ever a man Bret could understandably want no part in elevating, that man would be the Heart Break Kid. Hart had taken a chance in jobbing his World Title to Michaels before at Wrestlemania XII, only to have Shawn refuse to return the favor the next year. Michaels was known to be a prima donna behind the curtains, and Hart wanted no part in giving Shawn one more thing to brag about.

However, as the true stories of fan interactions with Bret are starting to come out into the open, I can't help but wonder what sort of air the Hitman had around him backstage at the time as well. His contract was undoubtedly the largest in the federation. He was beginning to take his fans for granted, treating them with contempt at nearly every occasion. Was Vince using Bret as an example for the others? The answer is a bit hazy. Judging by the sheer mass of wrestlers who failed to show up at the following Raw, Bret was either well liked or merely well respected behind the scenes. He inspired a near-total walkout that night, and the big Raw afterwards was a slim program indeed. However, the opinions of the Dynamite Kid and Bad News Allen, who worked with Hart during his formative years in Stampede as well as in the WWF, paint another picture. Both went out of their way to mention Hart's problems with an ego, both mentioned his tendency to make every spotlight into his own. While Hart's work in the ring may have commanded respect, his personality outside of it didn't earn him many friends.

In addition, when all the crap is cast aside and the matter is seen as a champion refusing to drop his gold, Vince could have understandably meant the screwjob to be a message to anyone else backstage who thought they were more valuable than the WWF's reputation. He'd already seen his Women's title thrown in the trash on Nitro, he did not want to see the scene repeated by any of his other champions. All Bret would have had to do was skip that Survivor Series match and the following Monday's Raw. McMahon couldn't allow the possibility, so he gave Hart the impression that he'd be keeping his title after the main event.

I guess what it all comes down to is two bulls locking horns, two men with a point refusing to budge. One had the final say and used it to his advantage, losing his honor and reputation in the process, while the other refused to move on with his life and wrecked his career and marriage as a result. Why Hart didn't drop the title cleanly the week before the WWF went to Canada is an option that's never been explored. Why the Undertaker wasn't put in the main event instead of Shawn Michaels is another matter... sure, Bret would've lost some of his heat by dropping the belt in Canada, but he wouldn't have done so at the hands of his arch-nemesis. In the same vein, why couldn't Bret have dropped the gold to his brother, Owen, in a surprise turn? There were almost infinite options that should have been explored before going to the drastic measures Vince did. Then again, there were several possibilities that Bret annexed himself along the way, as well. Vince was responsible for the whole ordeal's creation, as he asked Bret to leave the fed in the first place, but Hart was responsible for it dragging out into the prolonged incident it's become.

In hindsight, they say everything's 20-20. I say the Montreal incident proves that theory wrong in a heartbeat.
until then, i remain