Saturday, August 18, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF Summerslam 2001 Preview

You know, Summerslam's always been known as the WWF's second most important event, running a close second behind (what else) Wrestlemania, but these last couple years just haven't really delivered the kind of excitement you'd expect from such a high profile slot. While main events like last year's Rock / HHH / Angle encounter and 1999's Austin / HHH / Mankind clash have been consistantly strong, the remainder of the cards have been almost headfirst nose-dives into stank. That's not behavior becoming of the WWF's second largest card of the year, and it's a situation that's thankfully been remedied for the 2001 lineup. The recurring theme of this year's Summerslam seems to be giving the crowd what they want. Be it X-Pac as a heel, Kurt Angle as Steve Austin's opposition or RVD as the chosen member of the new blood, the WWF's taken the initiative and changed some of their plans to please the audience. The result? A roster I'm actually really looking forward to, and a PPV that might just rival Wrestlemania X7 for the year's best. It's really an excellent rebound from the somewhat chaotic InVasion last month, refreshing my interest in the current product and giving me some new optimism for the future.

Dudley Boyz & Test vs. APA & Spike

If there's one drama I wasn't expecting to revisit upon the WWF's absorbing of ECW's roster, it was the long, twisted story of the Dudley family. With an ECW lineage that was as goofy as it was interesting (D-Von, Buh Buh Ray and Spike had a Native American brother named "Dances With" Dudley, among others), I just couldn't see the WWF crowds warming up to Paul's bizarrely dysfunctional family. However, with only a slight amount of tweaking and one well received "romeo and juliet" style romance, the surviving brothers have emerged as three of the WWF's most well defined characters. Hell, the kind of receptions Spike's been receiving of late are almost up to par of the main eventers.

On the other side of this coin, we've got the APA continuing their natural storyline with Test. Unlike their silly little brawl with Palumbo and O'Haire last month, the APA have good reason to be involved with the PPV here.. ditto for Test. Faarooq and Bradshaw were playing well within the bounds of their pre-determined roles when they led the assault against Test all those nights ago, and Test had every reason in the world to take personal offense later, when he cost the Acolytes their tag team titles. Hey, if you really want to look back, it was Spike who delivered those titles to the APA in the first place. And who were the champions at that time? The Dudley Boyz themselves.

It's little touches like the history of this match that were missing from the WWF's product for the last few months, when things began to stagnate. And yeah, chances are half the crowd won't even remember half the story, but they'll be interested. They won't know why, but they'll be really into this match. I'm not a fan of the six man tag, but when you've got one of the hottest faces in the business teaming up with the most consistantly over tag team in the WWF against the top heel team and a freshly turned young athlete, there isn't really much to complain about. This should be surprisingly good.
Winners: Test & the Dudley Boyz

Chris Jericho vs. Rhyno

Should be fun, for what it's worth. This one's just a natural progression from the main event last month, with the two "alternates" on the aforementioned main event teams facing off with one another here. The inclusion of Stephanie I could've done without, as it not only limits Rhyno's potential but brings Jericho back to familiar ground when he should be blazing new paths and really defining himself amid the chaos. Rhyno's gore through the Smackdown set was superb, and would've served as all the motivation fans needed for this match, but alas; it just wasn't meant to be.

So what we're left with is a match that should really wind up being rather good, despite the Jericho / Stephanie rivalry which continues to drag on, and a vehicle to keep these two active in the current picture without really elevating them much above midcard status. Unless these two pull out something unforeseen and amazing, like a gore through the entryway or a lionsault off the rafters (or, heaven forbid, a solid, entertaining match through and through), the match is likely to fade into the scenery without much of a fight. It'll be good, but not good enough to turn any heads.. especially on a card this strong. Jericho takes it here, as I don't see this mini-feud lasting much longer.
Winner: Chris Jericho

X-Pac vs. Tajiri
Cruiserweight & Light Heavyweight Championship

Clue one that the WWF's realized again that they need to be listening to their fans: they've quit going against the grain and let X-Pac play the heel fans want him to be. I don't know if it was his natural dickhead charisma or his solid babyface opponent in Kidman that turned fans so ferociously on X-Pac last month, but it certainly seemed for a while that the WWF fully intended to bowl on through their storylines, reactions be damned. X-Pac was doing everything within his power to get over as a babyface, even going so far as to alter his ringstyle toward a more high energy, impressive arsenal, but it was to no avail. Inspiring speeches like "Hey, I may be an asshole, but I'm a WWF asshole!" fell on deaf ears.

So what did the WWF do? The right thing. They elevated a young star who'd piqued fans' interest enough to merit a larger push, gave him the Light Heavyweight Title on a fluke, and let the fireworks set themselves off. The end result is a renewed interest in X-Factor, a big chance that's appearing to pay off big for Tajiri and a Light Heavyweight / Cruiserweight division that's starting off on the right foot for... what, the third time? The fourth? The only missing component in this equation is William Regal, who's shadowed Tajiri throughout the feud without so much as a couple words. For what it is, this matchup should be dy-no-mite. Both the Japanese Buzzsaw and the 1-2-3 Kid work an extensive amount of martial arts maneuvers into their arsenals, and paired off with each other I'd imagine they'll each be trying something new for us Sunday night. My money's on X-Pac, with Regal refusing to accept responsibility for the loss he's caused.
Winner: X-Pac

Lance Storm vs. Edge
Intercontinental Championship

This is exactly what the Intercontinental Championship should be all about. Two young athletes, hungry to prove themselves on the big field, fighting over little more than the right to hold the gold. Nevermind the fact Storm and Edge's on-air personalities are perfect foils for one another, nevermind the fact both haven't even scratched the surface of their potential on WWF airwaves, what it all boils down to is the Intercontinental title and all its glory. Storm's working the role of an old school heel superbly here, reminding me of what Chavo Jr was doing in the cruiserweight division during WCW's last days. Even though it's been done limitlessly throughout wrestling's history, sometimes all it takes is a heel attack from behind after the bell has rung to send audiences into a feeding frenzy. They hate Storm. They love Edge. They're interested in this match.

In addition, I can't express how happy I am to see the return of the Canadian Maple Leaf. Much like Booker T in the main event, Lance Storm just wasn't the same without a defined finisher, and he's a much more solid package now that he's been granted his old maneuver of choice. Keeping that in mind, and noting Storm's concentration on the 2001 King of the Ring's legs over the last few weeks, I'd imagine this match will be firmly based around psychology. It'll be an uphill battle for Edge all the way, with Storm clipping a knee or landing a legsweep just as he starts to make a comeback each time. Of course, that kind of match can only lead to one thing; the one time that heel makes a mistake. If Christian doesn't turn, we've got a new Intercontinental Champ.
Winner: Edge

Undertaker & Kane vs. DDP & Kanyon
WWF & WCW Tag Team Championship

The only match on the card I'm not looking forward to, and my reasoning for that opinion can be summed up in two words: The Undertaker. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for what the Taker's done for the business over the last fifteen years. I realize he's a legend, someone who's respected behind the scenes and an all-around nice guy. That still doesn't excuse his performance in the ring over the last several months. To refuse to put over new talent to the degree he's done lately is almost outrageous. It should be off-limits to anyone and everyone, whether their name is the Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Billy Kidman or Kwee Wee (Hi, Frank!) So to say I think his actions have been out of line lately would be something of an understatement.

Otherwise, this match has every reason in the world to be successful. Kane's got two solid workers opposing him, so he should deliver something of a watchable matchup, and the near-reunion of your favorite stable and mine, the Triad, is something worth a mention or two. DDP and Kanyon have been more than a little motivated lately, and with this high profile gig Sunday, I'd figure that will continue. Page is always better as a heel anyway. Here's hoping they don't let that complete lack of offense get them down. The feud between DDP and Taker isn't quite ready to wrap up yet, which means we're gonna see some prime time cheating here or a major swerve at a pivotal moment. Either way, DDP and Kanyon emerge victorious.
Winners: DDP & Kanyon

Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam
WWF Hardcore Championship

It stole the show last month, so it's only natural that the WWF would deliver a follow up with the stakes raised just a tiny little bit. Last time these two hooked up, they silenced the majority of their critics by putting on a match that played up both of their positive aspects, while glossing over some of their weaker areas and maintaining a nice, non-spotty, pace. To be honest, it was just what Jeff Hardy needed to rejuvinate himself and just what Rob Van Dam needed to really arrive. Now that they've got our attention, the WWF's really put this one out on a pedestal, not only giving it almost top billing but tacking on that ladder match stipulation along the way.

These guys have their work cut out for them Sunday night, and I really hope everyone comes out in one piece. We'll be seeing some really risky stuff, to think otherwise would be useless, but I wonder if they'll manage to tie some of that down with solid transitions, good ringwork and a touch of psychology for good measure. This match would be just as exciting if it revolved around RVD's ribs as opposed to what giant object they'll jump off of next. I thought this would be better than everyone was giving it credit for last month, and I was right... this time, I'm a little less optimistic. I still think it's bound to be a great match, but all these added pressures might lead to a crack along the way. A win here would elevate RVD to the upper crust of the Alliance, and that's just what I expect to see happen.
Winner: Rob Van Dam

Booker T vs. The Rock
WCW Championship

I've got to admit.. at first I wasn't too crazy about the idea of Booker T and WCW as a whole turning heel, especially considering Booker seemed very ill at-ease with the whole situation. However, with the Rock's return and Mr. T's major delivery under pressure these last few weeks, the turn and this subsequent feud have become something I'm really, really into. There's a certain amount of honesty coming out in this angle in the eyes of fans, as Booker's been knocked for years (be it justified or not) for being a Rocky clone. Now that he really is doing his best to emulate The Rock, fans are jumping all over him like a pack of rabid wolves. He's getting over like a monster, and while the fact he's opposing the Rock on his first PPV in months doesn't hurt, he's largely doing it on his own.

Booker's getting a chance to shine, he's running with the ball, and more than anything else he's establishing himself as a credible challenge to the WWF's top competitors. His finishing maneuver isn't a WCW Title-shot to the head any more, it's the Book End. He's gone toe-to-toe with The Rock, Angle and Austin, and has held on to his WCW Title all the while. Fans want to see him beat, but there's actually a touch of urgency to their wishes; like maybe he's got more than a slight chance at beating Rocky this Sunday on pay per view. Of course, the natural progression would have the People's Champ winning the title here, defending it successfully at next month's PPV and challenging Austin in a unification match at the Survivor Series, but who ever said the WWF was one to follow the natural progression? I'm going out on a limb here, but I actually think Booker's got more than a chance at taking this one home... I'd wager he's the favorite.
Winner: Booker T

Stone Cold vs. Kurt Angle
World Wrestling Federation Championship

I don't think they make words large enough to explain the amount of relief I felt when it dawned on me they were actually going with Angle as the challenger here, not the Rock. After several months of sitting on the main event backburner, Angle's name has reached the surface once again... and, who woulda thunk it, he's a face! I still have no idea how they did it, but the WWF managed to turn the dorkiest, most hatable heel on their roster into an exciting face fans are more than willing to stand behind. For god's sake, they had an entire arena chanting the National Anthem. Perhaps ol' George Dubya should have Vince's henchmen see what they can do for his image while they're at it.

But seriously, Angle's journey from the overly confident villain everybody loathed to the overly patriotic hero everybody loves to watch in the ring is probably the best thing going in the WWF today. It's something that's totally deserving of the main event, and an angle that should be headlining the second largest event the WWF has to offer, without any question. And that's without even mentioning Austin's superb work as a main event level heel. More than anything else, this is what it's all about. Angle's got the fans behind him and he knows it. He can beat Austin, and he knows it. He's leading the charge for the most popular federation in the land against their arch rivals, and he's doing it with a bid on the World Title. C'mon, folks, it just doesn't get any better than this. Unfortunately, I fear it's all for a losing cause. Austin's deep into his run as World Champ, and no matter how much popularity Angle gains I don't think he's the right man to bring all that to a stop. Not yet, anyway. Too much of Austin's character depends on his position as the World Champ at this point, and Angle wouldn't have anywhere to go even if he did capture the title for that second time. It's a valiant effort, but it's all for naught in this campaign.
Winner: Steve Austin


You know, there's a lot of gold being thrown about on this card. Just about everybody listed above is wearing a belt of some kind, and while the masses of die-hards such as myself would more than likely revolt if Vince even thought about retiring one or two of our precious WCW or WWF titles, the truth of the matter is it needs to be done. Just how special is a "World Title Match" if there's another one within the next hour? I'd imagine they'll be merging both WCW and the WWF's gold somewhere down the line, with the logical unification matches already starting to take shape, but this craziness does need to stop relatively soon.
until next time, i remain

Saturday, August 11, 2001

Ringside Shadows #174: The Tag Scene

Probably one of the most unique aspects professional wrestling has going for it will always be the Tag Team division. Merging the brutality of solitary conflict sports like Boxing and the Martial Arts with the strategy and necessary trust of team cooperation sports like Baseball or Basketball, the tag team is certainly a unique device.

To say things would have become stale in the scene without the introduction of this style of wrestling is quite the understatement. Imagine legends like Andre the Giant or Dick the Bruiser quickly losing their notereity and long-term importance thanks to continually eroding skills on their own. Both these world-renowned grapplers fell back on tag team wrestling when they were starting to slow down in the singles scene. Imagine smaller guys like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart never getting a chance to show what they could do in the big leagues. Both were restricted to the tag ranks until crowd support for their individual performances became too much to ignore.

As I mentioned above, the tag team is a variation of sporting unique to the wrestling world, and as such has a long and speckled history. From teams like the Rockers reinventing the way North American wrestling was played to psychologically brilliant tandems like the Minnesota Wrecking Crew of Arn and Ole Anderson to talent decades ahead of their time in the original British Bulldogs, there's a wealth of past marks left by this incredible division. Even today there are innovators, original spins on an old game, making their impact in the wealthy tag team arena of the WWF and WCW / ECW. Unfortunately, this historically important aspect of the business is quickly becoming nothing more than a device to introduce and launch new singles stars. Teams like Edge and Christian, however historically important they might be, seem to have been created and maintained solely for the high profile angle their imminent breakup is sure to produce. While teams like the Midnight Express or the Hart Foundation survived on their strength as a unit, today's teams are beginning to live off of the tension between members.

Still, despite the change in the status quo, most agree that today's tag scene is one of the strongest in recent memory. Sure, there are a few dogs and sometimes matches between two great teams don't amount to much, but for the most part things have been very competitive and very, very entertaining. So, without further ado, here's what I think of the current crop...

The Hardy Boyz

In my opinion, the most solid tag team in years. With Matt working a sound, psychological style and Jeff hitting the fast-paced high spots and near suicidal bumps, you've got almost all the bases covered with these two. Put plainly, Jeff's the flash and Matt's the substance. Add to that their original, hip look and expansive moveset, and you've got a winner. The only thing these two could possibly add to their assault is a presence on the microphone. With Edge and Christian running vocal circles around them, Matt and Jeff sometimes come off as lame ducks in the buildup for big matches.

Edge & Christian

Right up there with the Hardys in terms of overall value and staying power. Edge and Christian really hit all the bases possible as heels, and with a breakup seemingly on the horizon, have opened up whole new worlds of possibility as faces. Crowds have been warming up to them for quite some time now, thanks to their clever work on the mic and dependable performance in the ring. Their characters are well defined, almost to the point where you know what they'll say even before they say it, but their ingenuity and originality always keeps us surprised and entertained regardless. Unfortunately, their notable ringwork is often outshined by the competition. Though neither work as distinguished a style as Matt or Jeff Hardy, Edge and Christian are slowly carving out niches for themselves under the cover of their tandem offense. With Christian working a surprisingly powerful style for a smaller man and Edge echoing that sentiment, they aren't often as well rounded as their opposition. Probably the only flaw you'll ever find in this combination.

The Acolytes

You know, I may catch a bit of flack for this, but I actually enjoy watching the APA. Granted, neither man is as strong a worker as they were years ago, (Bradshaw as a member of the new Blackjacks, Faarooq as former NWA World Champion Ron Simmons) but with age also comes experience. These two know their roles, to borrow a phrase, and play them to perfection. You'll never see Faarooq attempting a Flying Space Tiger Drop, but that's got just as much to do with his character's development as it does with Simmons's inability to land it. These guys are power wrestlers, plain and simple, and they work every match as such. While they could do to sell a bit more and need to shake up their ringwork a bit, an APA match is still something I'm happy seeing on my television set every Monday night.

The Big Show & Billy Gunn

The designated amount of "suck" for any given division. Despite all the celebration and promotion surrounding his arrival and subsequent impact in the WWF, the Big Show has done very little, if anything, to justify the amount of money it took to sign him. Between a reign as the most forgettable WWF Champion since Sergeant Slaughter and his constant absences from the roster for various reasons, I see no reason why Paul Wight was brought back so quickly from his recent stay in OVW. Teaming him with Billy Gunn only serves to pour salt into that open wound. For all the talk we've heard about Gunn's natural athleticism behind the scenes, he's blown more chances at the spotlight than anyone on the roster will ever be worth. Now granted, these two have similar characters at the moment, and that would naturally lead to a coalition. But putting them into the current tag team division is like pushing Mantaur into a big return feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. It just won't work, for more reasons than one.

Lo Down

God, how I want to like these guys. If there's any one talent on the WWF roster deserving of a big shot at glory right now, it's D'Lo Brown. Be it his willingness to work just about any angle, (as his run under the turban has proven) his excellent moveset or his unprecedented learning curve, he's got all the tools to make himself a prime player in today's WWF. Unfortunately, somebody seems to have it in for him, and he's stuck in nowhere teams like the one you see now. Instead of flying alongside team WWF in this big invasion, Brown's in Puerto Rico, (last I heard) suffering alongside a dead weight partner and an unenthusiastic mouthpiece. However hard he tries, no amount of brilliance from D'Lo can overcome the odds stacked against him here. And, for somebody that should've slingshotted over the ruins of his tag team with Mark Henry all those years ago, that really sucks.


I thought it was really funny, how even after the WWF propaganda machine got behind X-Pac in his match against Kidman at Invasion, even after the bookers listened to the crowds and put the WWF into the role as the face of this big feud, X-Pac was nearly booed out of the arena. If you're a longtime reader of my columns, you'll know I'm a vocal supporter of X-Pac and his work. Always have been, probably always will be. But as the leader of a faction, X-Pac is out of his league. He lacks the voice, he lacks the look, he lacks the physical presence. He's best as the annoying little mosquito heel, the lightweight that can kill the big boys with a little luck, not the intellectual opportunist. On that same page, a tandem with Albert really doesn't work. While it could be argued that, like the Hardys, Albert and X-Pac cover a lot of ground by mixing heavyweight power and lightweight speed, the comparison is here unjustified. Instead of adding up to a well rounded tag team like the Hardys, Albert and X-Pac would quickly fall into a repetitive rut in their matches, with X-Pac doing all the selling and Albert doing all the offense. Now, with Justin Credible gone to play for the other team, X-Factor's even drier than before.

The Hollys

Where the formula goes awry with X-Factor, it mixes just right with the Hollys. Taking a look at X-Pac next to Albert is almost comical, with Albert such a gigantic man and Waltman almost sickly in comparison. That's why it's so hard to take the smaller guy seriously. Setting Hardcore Holly next to his cousin Crash gives us a much more believable tandem. Actually, with the way this team was developed and given their credibility, it comes as a major surprise that they aren't right in the thick of things around those tag straps. Think about it; you had Hardcore for all those months, going out and getting his ass handed to him but always coming back for more. Finally, he gets the respect he's desired and morphs into a genuine hardass just in time for his little cousin Crash to come in on the ground floor, starting the process all over again. It's classic. Really a shame they're MIA in the current scene, as I'd imagine now would be their big chance to start making waves with things beginning to dry up a bit.

The Radicalz

I'm never the type to say "I told you so", but...

Well, I feared from day one that Dean and Perry wouldn't make it in the WWF's current run, and almost a year and a half later it looks like I was right. Dean is too technically sound and not marketable enough to establish himself today, especially when the common fan can't tell what he does in the ring apart from what The Rock does. Meanwhile, Perry's in the midst of one of the most nonsensical angles of the past few years with his "You're Welcome" gimmick. I don't think much of it, especially since they already did the "moron" angle in WCW, and actually did it a lot better. But anything that gives Saturn a chance to shine can't be all bad, right? Yeah, well... I still don't see his face on very many episodes of Raw. I love the workers, but my fears came true when they were cast aside by the WWF.


Similar to Saturn above, Taka and Funaki are two guys that were struggling to grab attention in today's WWF, before a silly gimmick and delightfully stupid catchphrase made them overnight sensations for many fans. Once again, WCW did this gimmick much better in the past, and once again I'm not seeing much "evil" on my TV most Monday nights. Taka's the breakaway star of this teaming, and appears much more in control and comfortable leading Funaki than X-Pac does bossing Albert. Even with that stupid overdubbed voice controlling their actions, there's a world of unexplored possibilities with these two. They've proven time and again they can make things constantly interesting in the ring, and now that the common fan sees them as more than just "two Japanese guys," they've got staying power. So why did the floor drop out all of a sudden?

The Dudley Boyz

The Dudleys have the bizarre ability to turn just as I'm starting to grow tired of their current characters and the status quo therein. Both know what they're in the ring to do, both are equally adept at playing a face or playing a heel and can jump between the two with relative ease, and both work extremely well with their partner. These guys are so smooth as a unit, you could often confuse them for a single worker. They double team with but a glance between each other as communication. They really seem to work together like brothers, and it's great. It's been a fun ride, watching them develop from the tie dyed, stuttering inbred boys to the camo-wearing, table-toting, psychotic thugs they play today. I'm often wondering where that next step will take them.

Chuck Palumbo & Sean O'Haire

I'll be honest, when we caught our first glimpse of the Natural Born Thrillers on Nitro all those months ago, I was hardly impressed. What I saw was a giant group of nameless faces, hurried Power Plant graduates and unproven rookies, stealing time away from the faces I'd grown used to seeing. What I didn't see was WCW, doing what we'd been begging them to do all along; pushing new talent, developing their own brands and slowly phasing out the old guys. As Waranhayt pointed out to perfection in his recent column, the Thrillers were more cleanly defined every day they existed, and when that big break finally occurred, WCW was much richer than they'd been before the five had come together in the first place. As the head of their graduating class, Palumbo and O'Haire nabbed the tag straps early in the year and have yet to look back. They've begun functioning amazingly well as a tag team, with O'Haire working as the powerhouse and ol' Chuck playing the heavyweight in charge. Both are still very green, but with the kind of experience they're gaining alongside the APA, the Hardys and Edge & Christian, it won't be long before they round that corner and arrive in the big leagues.

And that does it. Upon closer examination, I think you'll agree that the current tag scene is quite a far cry from the lineup of just a few short years ago. The arrival and performance of teams like the Hardys, the Dudleys and Edge & Christian, as well as the constant competition over the titles, is something we'll no doubt remember for years down the line. What we're quietly enjoying right now is something of a renaissance in mainstream Tag Team wrestling. Sorta snuck up on us, didn't it?
until then, i remain