Earl Hebner vs. Nick Patrick
Though the angle is somewhat silly, the fans are absolutely devouring this like a six-course feast left unattended in a large Somalian village. Neither Patrick nor Hebner are strangers to the spotlight, as the WCW official has played the heel on more than one occasion in the past (remember Starrcade '97?) and good ol' Earl's been involved in about as many face-to-heel turns as the Big Show. When Hogan lost the title to Andre just before Wrestlemania IV? Hebner was the "evil" ref who counted to three. The man who screwed Bret Hart? Weasely little Earl. Remember a ref drinking beers with Austin during his heyday and offering crotch chops to the audience to wild laughter? The same.
So while I'll be cheering for Nick Patrick all the way, due to the events surrounding Montreal '97, the audience's support and the smart money will be 110% behind big Earl Hebner here. It'll be interesting, but I hope it's kept short.
Winner: Early Hebner
Tazz vs. Tajiri
And to think, these two were putting on breathtaking main events for ECW just a few short years ago. Tazz and Tajiri proved, just before ECW debuted on TNN, that they had chemistry together. Their styles meshed, their movesets complimented one another, and each guy knew what it took to make the other look like gold. Tazz was willing to take Tajiri's stiff kicks, and Tajiri was willing to do anything humanly possible to make Tazz a believable heavyweight champion. To be honest, their first feud really put both guys on the map.
I'm sure that's just the kind of performance Paul Heyman is hoping they'll put forward Sunday night, and with this kind of motivation, a big slab of crowd interest and a little luck, I don't think they'll have any problems doing so. Crowds are still very curious about Tajiri. His matches have been kept short, giving audiences just enough of a taste to know they'd like to see more. He's working the ideal angle for instant heat as William Regal's downtrodden flunky. On top of all that, his personality is quickly establishing him as a distinct, noticable personality. He doesn't fade into the woodwork like X-Pac or Steve Blackman, he's already his own man.
Still, despite Tajiri's great strides toward recognition and future superstardom, Tazz needs the win a lot more this Sunday night. After struggling to be accepted as a hardass in the hectic WWF of the last couple years, Tazz needs to be a force if this new ECW is going to be taken seriously. I'm hoping to see a good competitive match, but in the end Tazz's power should be too much for Tajiri to overcome.
X-Pac vs. Kidman
I'd be willing to bet we'll see something special here, with X-Pac turning it up a notch to keep up with all the talent coming in from his former WCW stomping grounds and Kidman making the most of his biggest opportunity to date (and that's including his breif feud with Hulk Hogan). We've got two stars in the prime of their careers, fighting in the style they do best and doing so on the largest stage of their lives. The WWF Light Heavyweight Champion vs. the WCW Cruiserweight Champion. Kinda sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it?
Simply put, I wish they'd given the strap back to Taka, as he most embodies what the WWF Light Heavyweight division was all about during the height of the Monday Night Wars, but X-Pac's a good enough substitute. Though I don't think the WWF's gonna be on the winning side for most of the evening, I do think the Kliq member's got the edge here. X-Pac takes it home with some underhanded tactics.
Edge & Christian vs. Mike Awesome & Lance Storm
While everybody and their brother drew the logical conclusion that Booker T and HHH would inevitably feud somewhere down the line, due to Booker's catchphrase ("Don't hate the player, hate the game"), this neat little sub-feud was something nobody really saw coming.. and it's cool as hell, because everything makes perfect sense. Edge and Christian are doing a tremendous job playing the characters that made them famous here, giving Awesome a hard time in their own unique way and playing a perfect counterpoint to Lance Storm's anti-emotion.
Unless the hand of god reaches down and takes away the wrestling abilities of these guys, we'll have something stupendous when the dust has settled here. Edge and Christian have been nothing short of blazing over the last year, and despite a rocky close to his run with the original WCW, Lance Storm's been something of a phenom for the former Turner establishment. I'd expect to see one of the Suicide Blondes playing the 'face in peril' through the majority of this one, with a key mistake by the WWF players costing them the match here. Just like Dave says, the split's coming.. this is just one way to expediate it.
Winners: Lance Storm and Mike Awesome
APA vs. Chuck Palumbo & Sean O'Haire
Though the APA aren't quite the most flashy team on the roster, they're still a solid power squad... in essence, playing exactly the roles they've been asked to. You won't see any flying head scissors or Dragon Corkscrews coming from Simmons and Bradshaw, but you will see a solid, powerful match with more than a taste of crowd heat, as their characters are over like bastiches.
In contrast, I think Palumbo and O'Haire show a lot of promise, but remain quite, quite green in the end. I won't say there isn't a lot of potential in both, but I will say they've got a lot of seasoning to do before any of us can call them the next Benoit, Flair or Austin. Right now they're getting some experience working with different styles, and though they didn't mesh well with the APA earlier, perhaps the added importance of Sunday's match will give them the boost they need to really make it something memorable.
If things go the way they should, we'll get a tight, explosive little brawl here, with the Thrillers taking home a cheap win in the early goings. Though I despise WCW's booking as a bunch of imposters who can't grab a victory the right way, I think that's the best decision here. Palumbo and O'Haire need the notch under their belts.
Winners: Chuck Palumbo and Sean O'Haire
Rob Van Dam vs. Jeff Hardy
Sure, both have been known to get pretty spotty in the past. Sure, neither one is what I'd call main event talent.. at least, not yet. But to say they won't work well together before they've even had a chance to hook up is a bit ridiculous. I don't think anyone really thought the Lynn / Van Dam matches of early 1999 would add up to anything memorable, and the end result was both men raising their stock substantially. Truth be told, even two spot machines can put together a superb show with the right ingredients. I won't promise *****, but I will say we should give them a chance before we condemn them.
If there's anything I think I can guarantee with this one, it's some inventive and original moments. Between the two of them, Hardy and Van Dam have really carved a whole new niche into the industry. In essence, they've created their own fan base.. now it's time for them to really define that new category, prove it's here to stay, and silence their critics all in one fell swoop.
Of course, there's still the little issue of compatibility. There's a strong chance the memorable styles of these two will clash in the ring, leading to an ugle miscarriage of a match. But that's part of the risk in waiting for PPV to give away the first clash between two superstars.. and that's a risk I'm glad the WWF took. In my book, Rob Van Dam takes the opportunity to introduce himself to the Worldwide audience here, capitalizing with a win.
Winner: Rob Van Dam
Trish Stratus & Lita vs. Stacy Keibler & Torrie Wilson
Bra and Panties Match
We won't be seeing much wrestling in this one. Just a nice collection of joy, joy, joy. God bless the WWF for bringing us Lita and Stacy all at once. Now, if only they could convince Torrie that her perm looks like a dog shat upon her head.
Winners: Stacy and Torrie, and the Kleenex manufacturers
Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Kane, The Undertaker & Chris Jericho vs. Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, The Dudley Boyz & Rhyno
So, you don't think Flair's gonna make an appearance here? If there's one thing WCW needs more than anything else, it's a seasoned veteran's voice and expertise. I love Shane McMahon, but he's floundering as the mouthpiece for this huge of an angle and Paul Heyman just comes off as a little man without any power, now that Stephanie's asserted control of ECW. There's only one man in my eyes who can deliver WCW back to the upper echelons of the sport, and the Nature Boy's got one hell of a track record.
It should be obvious that this match is a big one, and overbooking will only serve to hurt it in the long run. To be successful, I think the bookers have to put all their trust in the abilities of the men involved in the main event, and to be honest those hands are pretty capable. With DDP and Booker representing WCW, you've got two athletically gifted heavyweights who have proven time and time again they can go. Hell, DDP carried Bill Goldberg to the best match of his career. You don't need to worry about them. Rhyno and the Dudleys are the backup in that corner, bringing Rhyno's explosive popularity and the Dudleys' fresh new attitudes after a recent heel turn. Team WCW / ECW is perfectly capable of carrying their half of the load.
On the other side of the ring, we've got Kane, the Undertaker and Chris Jericho. Though the Undertaker's been lagging behind lately, he's always someone I'd count on to come through under pressure. The WWF just wouldn't be the WWF if he wasn't in there. Kane, too, has been on something of a slump lately, but I think his opponents are as much to blame for that as he is. Facing off against Booker, DDP, the Dudleys or Rhyno, Kane should be solid gold. Finally, Y2J, Chris Jericho, is coming off the biggest month of his career. He's been so close so many times, only to be shoved back down the card, that I'd see this as a chance to grab a foothold at the top of the roster. A good performance in this main event could be all Jericho needs to disprove the naysayers backstage and convince Mr. McMahon of his worth to the company.
And finally, there's Austin and Angle. The two biggest name's the WWF's got, and hands down the strongest active workers in the sport today. With both men white hot coming off the surprisingly successful King of the Ring PPV, they're almost icing on the cake here.
In the vein of the Austin & HHH vs. Benoit & Jericho and the early 2000 ten man tag on Raw that turned the Radicals heel, the promotion's got every piece to the puzzle ready to go here. Now it's just a matter of shaking the box and hoping the pieces fall into the right place. Like Dave, I'm expecting a big turn here. Unlike Dave, I suspect that turn's gonna be Austin. His return to the "old" Stone Cold character was too sudden, too convenient. He's a double agent, guys, and his turn's gonna cripple Team WWF.
Winners: Team WCW / ECW
Despite the absolutely breathtaking lineup we've got before us for this weekend, I can't help but wonder why it seems so small. Where's Matt Hardy, and his European Title? Would a defense against Mike Sanders be too far out of the question? In my eyes, the WWF's got a huge hurdle here, and it's gonna take everything they've got to get over it. With the WWF's proven track record of delivering in the main event and the fresh faces of WCW and ECW coming into play, what we're likely to be watching Sunday evening is a thing of beauty. It's something I'll be happy to be a part of.
until next time, i remain