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.
Lance Storm vs. Edge
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.
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
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