Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Ringside Shadows #184: The Tuesday Review for 11/27/01

I should really start calling this "The Wednesday Review," since I never have time to write these until Wednesday, my day off.

Well, we all knew it was coming... some sooner than others. The WWF has once again loaded up with all the talent in the world; the strongest grapplers, the best talkers and the most interesting personalities. And, unsurprisingly, it's taken all that insanely powerful ammunition and managed to shoot itself directly in the foot. It's a tough lesson to be learned, but a lesson nonetheless, that without a solid storyline and an interesting direction, no roster is strong enough on its own to keep fans tuning in every week. Not today, anyway. Take a look at the WCW of 1999, they had a tremendous roster including Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Bill Goldberg, Chris Benoit, Booker T, Eddy Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Scott Hall, Jeff Jarrett, Kidman, Juventud Guerrera, and a whole truckload of talented luchadors. What happened with it? Terrible, terrible booking and worthless storylines created without a doubt the worst year any major wrestling promotion had ever seen.

Boy, when I'm drawing parallels to WCW of 1999, you know things have really taken a turn for the worse...

But the sad thing is, the WWF was actually halfway out of the hole they'd dug for themselves before that first bell rang this past Monday night. They were coming off a super-hot week of returning talent, changed directions and surprising turns, and the internet was abuzz regarding their next big move. Flair's new role made sense, and fans wanted to be there to see the first sparks fly in his renewed relationship with Vince McMahon. Jerry Lawler's reunion with Jim Ross was the common fan's wet dream, as the two had worked so well together in the past that many called them the greatest announcing team of all time. Steve Austin was a face again, and it felt right. Kurt Angle was a heel again, and he was once again entertaining. Chris Jericho was sliding back into the persona that made him famous. It seemed like things could've run on auto-pilot for months without any kinks in the system, but somebody decided to tinker with the machinery.

When you've got a hunger deep down inside your belly, this week's RAW results are there to satisfy you. Coated with peanutty italics, your WWF RAW results make a perfect companion to my comments, themselves smothered with chocolate and lovingly sprinkled with plain text.

Footage from earlier in the day showed Ric Flair chastising Vince McMahon for withholding information from him on Smackdown! last Thursday night. The two came to a sort of mutual understanding, agreeing that they'd never keep anything from one another in the future.

Just about a week ago, Ben Miller posted a superb column at the Wrestling Observer where he told the WWF, in no uncertain terms, why Flair's use at the end of his WCW tenure was such a failure. Put simply, Flair doesn't work as a backstage personality; his largest strength is his arena charisma and his interaction with the live crowd. If this run with the WWF is to live up to everything it could be, they need him out in the ring as often as possible, stylin', profilin' and doing what he does best. So, without question, that column was the first thing in my mind Monday night, as I watched Flair confined to three short segments, two of which were backstage. And I don't think I'd even count the third appearance, as it consisted of the Nature Boy shouting "Whoo! Here's Kane!" and not much else. Maybe somebody needs to forward Mr. Miller's words to the WWF writing crew, as his is most certainly a firmer grasp of what makes the average wrestling fan tick.

Vince McMahon and Kurt Angle entered the ring, where Vince reminisced about ass-kissings in the past and forecasted several more ass kissings in our future. If we were extra good, Vince promised, we might even get to see one later in the night. Kurt Angle then took the mic and told us he would win both of his matches at Vengeance. Vince spoke lovingly of Steve Austin, and after considerable effort, finally broke the good news to the live audience; "Stone Cold" was invited to become the second member of the "Vince McMahon Kiss My Ass Club" later in the night. Somewhere in Africa, a wild monkey howled.

...and Vince sets right out to erase everything he'd established not five minutes prior. I really doubt he and Ric Flair sat down and went over the finer points of McMahon's pitch to include Steve Austin in his new club, so there goes the whole idea of the business partners not keeping anything from one another. As for the "VMKMA Club," I thought it pretty well served its purpose last week and had no qualms about its inclusion somewhere in the middle of that program. It helped to further the idea of Vince as the selfish, egotistical man in power, which is something that paid off later in the program, when he turned full heel. So, in that manner, the segment was a success and it could've trotted off proudly on its way to becoming just another footnote in the pages of history as far as I was concerned. I didn't even really have a problem with the possibility of seeing it included again this week, with Austin as the unlucky employee, so long as it was kept short and simple, was restrained to the middle of the broadcast, and ended with McMahon unconscious on the mat. Unfortunately, my wishing star wasn't shining too brightly Monday night...

William Regal and his band of misfits watched Vince's announcement from the locker room, deciding they were best off doing everything together throughout the night, in case Austin attempted to collect some sort of revenge for their actions on Smackdown. Ric Flair then entered the room, and informed the merry men that they were each wrestling in singles action later in the program, and no outside interference would be tolerated.

Everybody but Buh Buh Ray, I guess, as his match appears to have been moved to Smackdown! due to time restraints. Imagine Vince telling Buh Buh his match would have to wait until tomorrow, moments before climbing into the ring himself, removing his pants and dancing twenty minutes away in a bare-assed frenzy. I'm sure that little chat went real well. This segment was about as good as it could've been. Short and concise with a touch of character development thrown in for good measure. Smiles all around.

Christian defeated Jeff Hardy, pinning the blue-haired wonder after a fall from the top rope. Hardy was arguing with his brother, at ringside, when Christian recovered and shoved Matt into the ringpost. He then rolled into the ring and collected the easy pin. Surprisingly, Lita made no attempt to deliver the Lita-canrana in this match. After the match, Team Extreme began its split, with Lita walking out on the bickering boys.

Too quick of a match to be anything worth remembering two weeks down the line, as Jeff was resigned to selling his Survivor Series injury throughout. Still could've been something special given the proper amount of time, but alas.

I'm really cooling off quick on this whole breakup of the Hardys thing. On one hand it's a good thing, as this team's been belly up in the water for months now. The shakeup provided by the breakup (oh, that's a phat beat... word) should breath new life into the duo, but I'm not so convinced they're gonna make it. Both have some serious work to do in terms of developing identifiable personalities and making their words mean something on the mic, because as it is right now they're both different facets of the same personality. Matt's the conservative part, interested in building a grounded offense, while Jeff's the liberal part, interested in flash over substance. They both need to round out their games a bit and put some emotion into their words in the future, if they plan to go anywhere at all.

And, of course, the tag division is all but dead once these guys go their separate ways.

Rob Van Dam defeated D-Von Dudley with the five star frog splash, holding onto his Hardcore title along the way.

D-Von really worked his ass off in this one, and came out looking more a competent stand alone worker and less "one half of the Dudley Boyz." Though it was all in a losing effort, what he pulled out piqued my interest a lot more than anything we've seen from the midcard during the last few months. He's got to do something about that weird spazz-o selling he does, though. It's a bit weird.

William Regal pissed on the Big Show's leg

Hey, it made the match later on in the night make more sense than Regal's match with Tajiri last month. No complaints... let's just try to avoid a string of "Regal pisses on..." segments in the coming weeks.

Torrie Wilson defeated Stacy Kiebler in a bra and panties match to retain the WWF Women's Championship

Boy, I'm glad they're finding time to put these things on every week, while the cruiserweight title lies undefended in a corner somewhere.

The Rock entered the ring, shouted all the catchphrases, and predicted he would be emerging from Vengeance with the unified World Title around his waist. He went on to graphically describe Vince's woodland encounters with several of nature's creatures, stories which were met with an uncomfortable mix of emotions from the audience. Chris Jericho interrupted story time and cut his best promo since arriving in the WWF, explaining that he'd realized the people's adulation wasn't getting him anywhere and officially turning full heel.

What a bizarre promo Rocky cut. Between Vince's willingness to bare all for the almighty dollar and Rocky's fixation on antlers, this past Monday was one of the kinkiest programs I've ever witnessed personally. And I'm not just limiting that to pro wrestling programs, either. I really have no idea what Rocky's promo was supposed to do... was it supposed to make Vince look like a loser? Was it meant to make the Rock look stronger? Was it meant to get a big pop for the return of Al Snow's stuffed, mounted deer head Pierre? Who knows... all that I know is that he was drowning out there, and Y2J made a major save.

Maybe I'm getting caught up in the excitement of his rejuvenated heel character, but Chris Jericho was in rare form Monday night. Not only did he explain everything we needed to know about his big turn, but he did so in a manner that didn't bore fans or get caught up in hyperbole. And hot damn, I'm looking forward to their match at Vengeance now, though I fear the end result. Without a doubt, Jericho's promo was the high point of RAW, so it's all downhill from here.

Edge successfully defended his Intercontinental title against Test, winning by disqualification when ref Teddy Long was pulled in the way of the champion's offense.

Man, is Edge caught on something or what? He seems completely primed for a high profile shot toward the top, with everything from a popular theme song to a polished look to above average ability in the ring, but there's one piece of the puzzle missing, and I can't quite put my finger on what it is. He's going nowhere, when he should be on a rocketship to the roof. Maybe it's these constant rematches with Test.

Vince was seen backstage, rubbing his ass in a most distressing manner and fantasizing about Steve Austin, when William Regal interrupted his thought process. Regal asked Mr. McMahon to cancel his match with the Big Show, but McMahon couldn't help him. Instead, he whispered something into the goodwill ambassador's ear and the two shared a good laugh. Moments later, Regal defeated the Big Show, KO'ing the big man with a pair of brass knucks while Booker T ran in and caused a distraction. Booker T was Vince's big surprise? Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Vince just finish a fucking war with Booker T and company? Less than three weeks ago, even?? Come to think of it, wasn't it just last week that Vince had a huge bone to pick with Regal, Christian, the Dudleys, Test, and RVD? See, there's a little something here that's missing... it's called continuity, or the lack thereof. And it's one of the chief reasons things haven't been making a lick of sense lately. It was something of a pleasant surprise to see Booker T again, but it's only been two weeks and we're already overwriting the whole point of booking last month's PPV main event. Maybe they should've waited a couple more weeks before trying to undo that one, hm? Is it really this hard to keep track of past storylines?

Vince and the Undertaker had a little chat in the locker rooms, with Vince refusing to deny his intentions last Thursday on Smackdown, where he nearly flattened the Undertaker with a chair. He told the deadman that for eleven years, he'd always respected him, and that the two of them were a lot alike.

A seriously strong, back and forth promo between Vince and the Taker, that developed both their characters just a little further. This is the kind of thing that's missing from the Hardys' roles right now; depth. Vince is an ass, but he says what he thinks and he doesn't deny his own actions. It gives him an extra deceptive edge, something that makes him the real devil of the WWF. A good segment, one that I wouldn't have minded if we hadn't already seen Vince fifteen times that night.

Lance Storm was shown mopping the floors of WWF New York

No comment.

Before the next match, Ric Flair announced that we wouldn't be seeing a handicap match, but rather a tag match, and Rocky's partner would be Kane as he took on Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. Several minutes later, the Rock pinned Chris Jericho thanks to a firm DDT. After the match, Rocky destroyed Y2J until Kurt Angle drug his partner from the ring.

You're kidding yourself if you think the crowd wanted to see anyone other than Austin tagging up with the Rock here. It was a nice change of pace to see the match ended with a "regular" maneuver, and not relying wholly on a finisher. That's one of the things that I really enjoy about puroresu; the fans have been taught to believe that any one maneuver could become the straw that broke the camel's back, whether it's a wrestler's signature maneuver or not. Thus, when both men are weary and nearly defeated, and one lands a desperation german suplex or enziguri, the ref's count is much more exciting, because the match could conceivably end there. That's something that I'd really like to see brought back to American wrestling, but it'll take a while to break viewers from their pre-established school of thought. The match itself served its purpose, which was to give the Rock a bit of payback for the constant beatings he's suffered at Jericho's hands. Like the Hardy / Christian match, this is nothing I'll remember much of two weeks down the line.

Mr. McMahon once again bore bare ass on cable television, in an odd segment that's pretty much drove a stake into the still-beating hearts of long time fans everywhere. When all was said and done, Steve Austin did not kiss McMahon's ass (though his cheek did get pretty close to contact), and he ended up taking off his belt and beating red stripes into McMahon's pale posterior. With that, the remaining members of the Alliance chased Austin into the crowd, leaving ol' JR giggling like a little schoolgirl over what he'd just seen. At Vince's insistence, Kurt Angle drug the Oklahoma native into the ring and just as he was about to go headfirst into Vinnie's cushions, The Undertaker apparently made the save. Unfortunately for JR, though, the Taker had second thoughts and it was the dead man who turned, rubbing Ross's lips deep into his boss's rear as the show went off the air.

Guess we better take that Undertaker "Desire" video out of circulation, hm?

I really hope this is something I never see again. It wasn't funny, it wasn't entertaining, and it didn't make me want to tune in next week. Even the Undertaker's turn was worthless, as he's become the fourth major star to switch allegiances in seven days, and that isn't even including Jericho. Which leads me to my next point... with the Undertaker now a heel, what does that say for recent turns like Jericho and Angle? Though I hope I'm proven wrong, I can't see this Undertaker turn doing anything but harming those two, and possibly helping himself. I mean, who's he got to feud with? Both Austin and Rocky are spoken for, and unless the Undertaker plans to kick Y2J or the Olympic Hero out into the cold, he doesn't have anything to do. A feud with Kane might be in the cards, but by this point we've seen it before so many times that it wouldn't be worth the time of day.

Things look bleak.

Overall Grade: D-

Aside from Jericho's promo this show was forgettable, almost from top to bottom, with a few segments going beyond the call of duty and actually making me embarrassed to be a wrestling fan. If he was privy to these plans a couple weeks ago, I completely sympathize with Mick Foley's decision to part ways with the WWF, as there's absolutely no explanation for this kind of utter crap. Vince has almost instantly killed the interest generated by Ric Flair, making him a non-player not a full week into his new run. He's stagnated the main event card, and he's shown us his ass two weeks in a row. I guess the good news is it can't get much worse than this... right?
until then, i remain

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Ringside Shadows #183: The Tuesday Review for 11/20/01

They say life works in cycles, and I suppose this is all the proof you really need. Somehow, after all the criticism, anger and backlash regarding their current product, the WWF managed to do it again. They took a no-win situation in the failed WCW Invasion, gave it one big push towards the spotlight, and ended up with a winner. Within the span of seven days, last week's regurgitation became this week's "can't miss shocker." In short, the WWF proved it still knows how to generate interest when it needs to.

Going into a Survivor Series lineup that, aside from the main event, looked dismal at best, the monopoly itself pulled out a card that we'd all assumed was effectively null and void in this day and age; the arrival of a new face. Scratch that, several new faces. When word leaked about Flair and Lawler's potential returns to the WWF, interest in the Survivor Series seemed to increase three fold. I'll be honest, it even piqued my jaded curiosity. And when neither showed up on the PPV, all eyes turned toward the next night's events on TNN.

Continuing the ancient cycle of life, this week's RAW results appear in italics, with my comments following in mother nature's own plain body copy.

As RAW went on the air, Mick Foley found himself summoned to the WWF Private Jet, recently parked on the tarmac in an undisclosed American city. Foley climbed aboard and chatted idly with Mr. McMahon for a bit, before dropping the bombshell: he was resigning from the WWF. Vince began to tell him he was fired, when Foley cut him off and abruptly left the camera's view.

Is it just me, or does it feel like we've just awoken from a long, bizarre dream? It's like this whole Alliance thing never happened and we're back to the status quo. Mick Foley's promos mean something again, and his hair is back to a respectable length. Vince McMahon's a cocky prick once more, as is Kurt Angle. It's like they say, the more things change...

I thought this was an appropriately offbeat and respectable way to write Foley out of the ongoing storylines. It's too bad to see him leaving, as he's been in rare form these last couple weeks, but what must be done must be done. Probably the most gracious way you'll ever see anyone part ways with the federation, with plenty of room given for a possible return somewhere down the line.

McMahon then came to the ring, thanking Kurt Angle for saving the WWF and giving notice that changes were on the way throughout the evening. Vince changed the WCW Championship into the "World Championship," and announced that tonight would see the formation of the "Vince McMahon Kiss My Ass Club".

Does this little redubbing of the WCW Title to the World Title seem familiar to anyone else? It should... WCW tried the same thing back in the mid '90s, when they officially parted ways with the NWA and became their own promotion. Ric Flair held the NWA Title at the time, and the gold was officially renamed the "WCW International" Title when he lost a title match to Rick Rude. The belt was meant to be handled like a whole new World Title, comparable in prestige to the WCW World Title, but never really took off for obvious reasons. Fans can't get behind a champion if there's another World Champ somewhere else in the promotion. It just doesn't feel right. The title lasted about a year before Flair regained the gold and unified it with the WCW World Championship.

McMahon then addressed the situation that had arisen at the announcer's position, calling Paul Heyman to ringside. Heyman celebrated, assuming he was being given a second chance at the announce position. Vince slowed him down, though, and called him into the ring where he told the godfather of extreme he was fired. Heyman took offense, and the two nearly came to blows before security carried him away. On his way out, Paul E. was introduced to his replacement; a returning Jerry Lawler.

Heyman plays such a great heel... he even exchanged his trademark ECW hat for a "WWF Attitude" ballcap, further establishing himself as a weaselly little turncoat. There's been talk about Heyman and Lawler's personal dislike for one another behind the scenes, but Paul couldn't have put "The King" over any stronger in this segment if he'd laid down in the center of the ring and done a clean J-O-B. It's hard to imagine it's been over eight months since Lawler and Ross were last behind the announce position together, and I'd be lying if I said they didn't miss a beat Monday night. But these sort of things take time, and it won't be long before they're back to doing what they do best as a single, cohesive unit.

Trish Stratus successfully defended her WWF Women's Title against Lita, pinning her after Matt Hardy prematurely rolled his woman back into the ring.

Not the strongest of starts for the newly relaunched Women's title. I'd have rather seen anyone in that ring walk away with the title, even Earl Hebner, so long as Trish didn't get it. Just about everybody else is carryable at the least or superb at the best. Molly and Ivory have been putting out consistently surprising matches over the last few months, especially considering their opposition, but somehow Trish wound up with gold around her waist again Sunday eve. So, as a result, we get mutilated abortions like this match. Lita's watchable if she has someone competent in the ring with her, but put her in there with someone blonde, busty and clueless, and you get a nasty chunk of dung for your effort. Ugly, ugly, ugly...

The Dudley Boyz defeated Rob Van Dam in a non-title Tables match, putting him through a table on the second try with a 3-D.

See, this is the kind of match the Dudleys should've been having a few months ago, when they were dropping handicap tables matches against everybody from Rocky to Gillberg. It would've made them look stronger, a touch more acceptable. In a two-on-one encounter, there should be no excuse for a regular tag team to lose to the singles star, let alone to do so on a regular basis. As a result, Monday's little match didn't make the Dudleys look good so much as it made RVD look bad.

Standard fare here, pacing from one signature spot to the next until the finish. Great camerawork masked the fact Van Dam didn't get close to his proposed target, instead falling a few feet short and breaking the table with his arms and jaw. Looked brutal as hell, though, and if that wasn't enough to tell you Van Dam was through, the fact it took two 3-Ds to put him through a table did. Nothing overly memorable, but nothing overly forgettable.

Kurt Angle arrived at the arena, making a beeline straight towards the Rock's locker room. Entering triumphantly, Angle expected accolades from Rocky, who instead gave him a piece of his mind. When The Rock made a challenge for later in the evening, Angle accepted "so long as the World Title is on the line."

Rocky continued to stagnate this week, while Angle flourished in the role that took him to the top. Then again, it's tough to be the face. It's like the Batman movie franchise of a few years ago... nobody wants to be Batman, because he's boring. We've seen it all before, it's just a matter of going through the motions and winning all the important fights. Everybody's more interested in playing the villains, because they're so much more colorful and exciting. Heels get to have all the fun, while faces are stuck doing the same old same old. With that said, it's indeed quite challenging to remain fresh as a face, but it's possible. Austin did it for a solid run of almost four years. The Rock's hitting a dry run lately, relying on more of an adult edge than in the past, and that's something I can see working under the right circumstances. He's just struggling to find something that sticks. So long as he keeps solid in the ring (which is one department where he hasn't been slacking,) he'll be fine.

Vince McMahon returned to the ring after a McMahon drought of nearly ten minutes, calling Shane and Stephanie out to the ring to further gloat over his victory. Shane admitted his father had been the better man Sunday Night and quietly left the ring with his dignity intact. Stephanie, on the other hand, made excuse after excuse and was forcibly removed from the ring by security. Vince told everyone to "say goodbye" to his little girl.

What a bizarre segment, especially considering the performers are family. Shane left the segment with a newfound sense of pride and respect from the viewing audience, while we can only hope Poppa McMahon holds true to his promise regarding Stephanie. At least Linda didn't come out and lend her own unique brand of charisma to the proceedings.

The Rock defeated Kurt Angle after a tough match, reversing Angle's ankle lock into a schoolboy for the pinfall. After the bell, Angle tried to further the abuse he'd begun on Rocky earlier in the match, but soon fell victim to a Rock Bottom. Moments later, Chris Jericho entered the ring and together with Angle destroyed the World Champion.

Talk about two guys who have been on a roll in the ring lately. The caliber of their opposition might have something to do with it, but Angle and Rocky have been simply on fire lately, delivering must see matchups with little exception since Summerslam. Last night was no exemption, without a doubt a top quality match for free TV. The post match wasn't all it could've been, but that's par for the course as Jericho hasn't been as vicious as he needs to be to make this whole angle work since he won the gold many moons ago. To get over as the lunatic egomaniac, Jericho needed to absolutely kill The Rock here. He needed to tear apart anything and everything that got in his way, including but not limited to the federation officials. Tell me Jericho wouldn't have been a little more over if he'd locked one of the men in striped shirts into a liontamer. Not only that, but he needs to sit down on it like he did in WCW. Sure, it might be a little vicious-looking for a gracious face to hand out on a regular basis. A heel should have no such code of honor. Jericho needs to tear his opponents' heads off, or else this monstrous turn won't mean squat. It's not enough to see Rocky looking pitifully towards the camera, unable to stand. We've seen that too many times over the course of these last few weeks.

William Regal became the first member of the inappropriately named "Vince McMahon Kiss My Ass Club." Wouldn't that title mean the members are telling Vince to kiss their ass, not vice versa? How about the "Vince McMahon Kissed My Ass Club"? Wouldn't that be an exclusive crew? At any rate, Regal did indeed pucker up and plant one on Mr. McMahon's shiny white rear on national television. The devil has a face, and his name is Vincent K. McMahon.

And god knows I couldn't have lived without three slow motion replays of this on my set. I was just waiting for Regal to take that chapstick and shove it up into McMahon's puckering starfish...

Kane defeated Chris Jericho by disqualification, after Jericho drilled the big red machine with a steel chair in the middle of the ring. Post match, Jericho locked the scorched half of the brothers grimm into the Walls of Jericho and refused to release it.

Not exactly the best match Y2J's ever had, but watchable nonetheless. After spending an entire paragraph explaining what the WWF's doing wrong with Jericho's turn just a bit earlier, I've got a word or two about what they're doing right to balance things out here; he's looking credible. 75% of what pissed fans off about Jericho in WCW, at the height of his heel run, was the fact he was so good. When the Lionheart was dominating the Cruiserweight scene, fans were quick to back anyone who opposed him, if just because they had the opportunity to knock him off the top of the mountain. He even made Prince Iaukea a sympathetic face. Jericho held that strap for months, through heavy contention, defeating the best the cruiserweight division had to offer and the fans loathed him for it. Thus, when Dean Malenko finally knocked him off it was cause for celebration. And while it's still a bit early to say whether or not the WWF has taken note of this historical fact, the results of his match with Kane seem to lean toward the affirmative. Let's just hope they stay on course.

William Regal defeated Tazz quickly, overcoming the Tazzmission with ease and forcing the Human Suplex Machine to tap out to the regal stretch.

This just in: William Regal's new entrance music still sucks. Stock in Tazz continues to drop like a stone. Story at eleven.

Vince McMahon and Kurt Angle entered the ring as we neared the eleven o'clock hour, with the WWF Title draped over McMahon's shoulder. Vince grabbed a mic and, after sufficient stalling, informed fans of his plan to strip Steve Austin of the World Title in favor of Kurt Angle. Almost out of the blue, the opening chords to 2001: A Space Oddyssey filled the arena and Ric Flair strolled down the entryway, surprisingly casual for a man who built his career on being over the top. Flair climbed into the ring, thanked all his North Carolina fans, and told Vince he bet on a winner. When McMahon pressed him to elaborate, Flair informed him he was the consortium who bought both Shane and Stephanie's stock in the WWF when they purchased WCW and ECW, respectively. The two are now partners! Out of the blue, Steve Austin burst into the ring and laid out Kurt Angle and then Vince McMahon while Flair watched. The Nature Boy and Stone Cold shared a tense moment, before Flair gave Austin his belt and the two shared a brew together. JR sealed the night, screaming "Am I really seeing Ric Flair on RAW?"

Did the WWF really just perform a flawless triple turn? What an absolutely surreal experience those last five minutes were, from the first note of Flair's theme sending shivers down my spine and a shock through my heart to the final screams of Jim Ross and drips of beer spilling from Austin and Ric's cans of beer. If the WWF's intent was to send us out with a bang, they succeeded in monumentous style. I really had no idea how they'd bring Flair in to the active roster when I heard he was possibly making a grand arrival earlier in the day, and feared the worst. Luckily enough, my mistrust was unfounded, and this new role is absolutely perfect for the Nature Boy. He and McMahon showcased a special kind of electricity last night, and it's something I can't wait to see continued in the months to come. Everything leading up to these events, from Vince and Kurt's heel turns to Austin's surprisingly easy face turn, suddenly became crystal clear. The whole ass kissing ordeal? It made sense now... they were building hatred toward McMahon, and he didn't even have to break stride as a character. I don't think words can describe the kind of goosebumps this segment gave me. Just... wow...

Overall Grade: B-

But alas, superb opening and closing segments do not a complete program make. Aside from the giant steps taken by McMahon, Austin and Angle, and the reintroduction of Lawler and Flair, this RAW left something to be desired. Chris Jericho's making progress, but isn't quite at the level he should be by this stage. Rocky's growing more and more stale as each week goes by. The Women's title is around the waist of Trish Stratus, and she's defending it in weak matches. There are a lot fewer cracks in the foundation of the storylines after this week, but remaining cracks are still cracks, in the end. The rebuilding process has begun, but it's a long way from being a solid piece of work.
until then, i remain

Saturday, November 17, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF Survivor Series 2001 Preview

The rumor mill has been churning extra hard this month, covering everything from Mick Foley's exit from the WWF's stage left to the resurrection of a certain stylin', profilin' son of a gun, and more than a couple spots in between. And, with the last few weeks' worth of TV time chillin' out in the shitter, those rumors may be the only thing keeping fans tuned in at this point. If even one of these supposed plans actually turns out to be true, this year's Survivor Series could be huge. The WWF is no doubt planning a giant swerve this year, as has become a Thanksgiving tradition, but will it be something swell, like Rocky's surprise turn in 1998 (when he had gargantuan sideburns), or something stank like the revelation of the 'higher power'? For a company that's made so many right decisions regarding their fanbase in the past, the WWF knows more than enough about how to misread things, as well.

William Regal vs. Tajiri

I'm of a pretty firm belief that no single company is going to show any sort of upper hand throughout the event, all the way up to the final bell. If the Alliance walks out of every match with their hands held high, doesn't that make things in the main event just a tad bit too predictable? If nothing else, the WWF knows how to make main events nobody can safely predict, even on the very eve of their production. I'd imagine that trend will hold true here.

Regarding the match, well, I'm a bit disappointed. Loyal Ringside Shadows readers will remember my coverage of the Tajiri / Regal angle a couple months back in my weekly column, and I can't help but think they're dropping the ball by shooting this load with such a non-build behind it. Both have become quite stagnant over the course of the last month, with Tajiri treading water somewhere in the midcard and Regal's turn being overshadowed by the arrival of Kurt Angle and his aforementioned bicep tear, and this angle really needs more time to age in front of the fans before it's ready to blow off. Unless Tajiri turns heel here, which I'm calling a longshot, this will be quiet, understated and forgettable. It won't be bad, but it won't be something you look back on fondly twenty years down the line.
Winner: William Regal

Immunity Invitational Battle Royal
(Involving Crash, Saturn, Faarooq, Bradshaw, Spike, Albert, Scotty 2 Hotty, Funaki, Billy Gunn, Chuck Palumbo, Raven, The Hurricane, Kidman, Shawn Stasiak, Tazz, Steven Richards, DDP, Lance Storm, Justin Credible, Hugh Morrus, Tommy Dreamer, Chavo Guerrero Jr.)

I surprise myself for saying this out loud, but I've actually always been a pretty big fan of the old school battle royals. I dig the Royal Rumble each year, if just so we can see some faces that haven't been given a chance all year, and I just like the format of thirty guys going into one ring with a common goal, and only one stepping out of it the victor. With that said, one thing that's sorely lacking from the modern battle royal is unpredictability. You can always count on two or three people who have a chance to win it, and might as well write off the rest before their feet have even touched canvas. Sad but true. I predicted last year's Royal Rumble correctly. With a 1 in 30 shot, there's no way I should've been able to do that, but I did. Sign of the times.

So, for a change, I'd like to be surprised in this one. I'd like to see Steven Richards or Funaki battling for the immunity, instead of DDP or Bradshaw. I'd like to see a spot for Crash Holly in the new order. But, while my heart is telling me one thing, my brain is telling me something completely different. It seems Tazz is on his way to bigger and better things, judging from his inclusion in Heyman's promo on Smackdown, and Dave's guess is mine here as well. He's the logical choice.

Dave and I had a quick word about this one when the Smackdown spoilers went up Tuesday Night, and settled on a mutually agreed verdict; I wish my last job offered "Immunity Battle Royals". Some professions get all the luck.
Winner: Tazz

Jacqueline vs. Trish Stratus vs. Lita vs. Mighty Molly vs. Ivory vs. Mystery opponent
Women's Championship

I've never seen a Jazz match, so I can't say for sure whether you should hurt or squirt when she inevitably does show her face this Sunday. But I do know Molly's in there along with Ivory, so there's a slight possibility things will be watchable, however momentarily. Come to think of it, all of these women have a basic amount of experience in the ring, so it won't be the worst women's title match of all time.

I, for one, don't really care who wins this. But I disagree with Dave, there actually does seem to be a calling for this belt again. The WWF's made a concerted effort to get fans interested in Women's matches lately, and more often than not the results haven't been all that bad thanks to the hard work of one Molly Holly. So, no matter who the mystery opponent turns out to be.. Nicole Bass, Sable, Jazz or Janet Reno (there's a mental picture), I'm going with Molly as my vixen of choice.
Winner: Mighty Molly

Dudley Boyz vs. Hardy Boyz
Tag Team Unification Cage Match

Kudos to the WWF for making such a big deal out of the Dudleys' achievement as WWF, WCW and ECW champs, even though it means a little less now that they're all effectively the same promotion. I mean, if you're looking at this logically, the Dudleys don't even rank up there with The Steiner Brothers and The Public Enemy, who at least wrestled for the three promotions when they weren't one in the same. But alas, I'm getting off on a meaningless tirade.

These guys have fought more often than anyone can remember, even wrestling "historians" and the teams themselves. With that comes, naturally, repetition, but also a positive side effect; familiarity. Sure, every single step taken in this one won't be something brand new and groundbreaking. We'll probably see a repeat of one or two spots from earlier Hardy / Dudley confrontations. But the negatives will be cancelled out by the confidence these four have in each other as athletes and performers. So while the spots won't all be original, they will be smoother than ever. The transitions more abundant and less nonsensical. The match just a bit more solid than those that came before. And the Hardys the new champions.
Winners: The Hardy Boyz

Edge vs. Test
U.S. / Intercontinental Unification Match

For two guys just beginning to show some promise at the end of last month, the bottoms has really dropped out on Test and Edge. Sure, they're still fighting over what should be the second most prestigious title in the union, but does it really even feel that way any more? Remember in the mid to late 80s, when the Intercontinental champion was always just a short hop from the top of the world? When the US Champion would routinely test the NWA Champ with everything he had in him? Remember a little match in Toronto, at a tiny little show called Wrestlemania VI, where the Intercontinental Champ actually defeated the longstanding World Champ? That's the kind of prestige that should be associated with these belts, and the men holding them. Instead, it's almost a filler match at the middle of a card. An afterthought. And that's too bad.

Now, sometimes great athletes can use a situation like this one to their advantage. A huge performance in a relatively unsuspecting match such as this one could be all that separates a star like Edge from overnight Main Event status. Look what Mick Foley did in his own unique way, at a similarly unsuspecting match at the '98 King of the Ring tournament. It only takes one memorable match to make or break the career of a lifetime. Who knows... maybe this Sunday night will be just such a match.
Winner: Edge

10-man elimination tag match - Winner take all!
Team WWF (Chris Jericho, The Rock, Kane, The Undertaker, The Big Show) vs. Team Alliance (Shane McMahon, Booker T, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam)

The possibilities here are nearly endless, but there remain a few things the internet scene has been overlooking, in my opinion, most notably a 7'2", 500 pound main event participant. Come on, am I the only one who thinks the Big Show's inclusion is a little bit suspicious? All this talk you've heard about the WWF's solidarity in the face of annihilation, and where's the Show been? He's mysteriously never on the scene when Rocky, Kane, Jericho and the Taker have their little get togethers. He was thrown onto the team with little or no thought involved, taking Mr. McMahon's place without even a "Hey, wait" from Vince himself. Everybody in the WWF, WCW and ECW is afraid of his goofy ass. Something just isn't adding up in my book. So yeah, I think this whole thing is gonna be kicked off with a Big Show heel turn, leading to a victory by the Alliance.

Another thing I've noticed that's slipped by most everyone else lies in the opening moments of every RAW broadcast, namely the familiar "Thorn in Your Eye" accompanied RAW intro video. Probably one of my favorite things about the WWF during its biggest run was the fact it was always in motion. That opening video changed every week, it went years without remaining stagnant. And now, suddenly, it's remained unchanged for more than a month. That tells me the production team is busying themselves with something else... something more than those "Desire" videos everyone's been praising so far. Maybe a new introduction... maybe a new set... maybe a whole new show.

So the match will be a boatload of fun. The timeless nod to the event's history, taking shape in the stipulations of this ten man elimination match, is almost perfectly suited to this kind of an important, issue-deciding matchup. Personally, I thought the idea of making this one a WarGames match was killer, but you can't argue with the name at the top of the masthead, and the name of this PPV is the Survivor Series, not the Great American Bash. Even so, the WWF's going down to the visitors in this humble columnist's opinion. It'll be long, it'll be strong, and it'll be worth it in the end.
Winner: WCW


The Series and Monday's RAW should be good fun, and I imagine Sunday Night will leave an awfully large mess to clean up on Monday morning, but one thing about this card really doesn't sit well with me. No matter who wins in Sunday's "unification" matches, the man carrying the belt will be a former WWF star who switched over to the Alliance at one point or another. Think about it, the Intercontinental Champ will be either Test or Edge. The Tag Belts will belong to the Dudleys or the Hardys. The Cruiserweight Champs are Tajiri and X-Pac. The World Titles are around the waists of The Rock and Steve Austin. Not a single "old regime" WCW'er in the mix. Rest assured, the Invasion's already come and gone. We just haven't seen any of the fireworks up until this point.

The only thing that can really save WCW in my mind is a victory in the main event, whether Flair comes aboard or not. It needs to be done to establish the squad as formidable once again, even if there is only one WCW man on the crew. With Mick Foley and Paul Heyman already denouncing the Federation, I think it's a matter of reading the writing on the wall. But what do I know, honestly..?

until next time, i remain

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Ringside Shadows #182: The Tuesday Review for 11/13/01

Well, I'm back from an unintentional week off, and if you haven't already had your fill of RAW reviews on the Oratory, I'm here to clean up what's left of the plate with my own views and reflections. A few years ago, the third RAW recap on the board would've put me at about the halfway point, as everybody and their brother was throwing in their fifteen cents. Today, though, three seems to be a gargantuan number and I'm not so sure I should continue with the Tuesday Reviews. But that's another bridge to cross on another day, so let's get to the meat of the past evening's events, shall we?

After a set of unfulfilling episodes, promising the stars but delivering only broken dreams and an uninspired means to end the WCW Invasion, the WWF set out Monday night on their long quest to pick up the pieces and recapture the hearts and minds of their core audience. So did they succeed? It's hard to say. A few lessons have been learned, of that there can be no question. The amount of time devoted to the family McMahon has taken a sharp plunge. There's interest in where the storylines are going after this Sunday's Survivor Series. The sheer number of belts floating around the federation is about to be cut almost in half. Unfortunately, for every lesson they learned this past week, the WWF has left at least two more unattended. In short, the rehabilitation may have already begun, but we're still just one poor week away from being right back where we started.

As always, this week's RAW results appear in italics, with my comments following in the plainest plain text money can buy...

Kurt Angle opened the show on the stick, hoping to bait Steve Austin from the locker room with disrespectful comments geared toward the Boston Red Sox. After giving up on the indirect approach and straight up calling Austin out, Angle was instead greeted by Edge, who challenged him for his US Title right then and there. Edge took home the gold with a rollup, after Kane's brightly coloured fireworks mesmerized the Olympic Champion. Post match, the scorched one entered the ring behind Angle, locking him in his own ankle lock.

A really hot and cold segment, in my eyes. Though Angle's back to the dorky heel character that fans slowly grew to love this summer, he's also unfortunately fallen back on the cheap heat provided by a few knocks at the local sporting establishment, as evidenced by his commentary on the Boston Red Sox. I've personally never cared much for that method of turning the crowd against a wrestler, but this week was an especially extreme case. Speaking as someone who hasn't followed baseball since the strike in the early '90s, I had absolutely no idea what players and / or events Angle was referencing in his opening monologue. Thus, I thought it was completely dull and worthless. Not only that, but it sent Angle right back to the role he was filling about five months ago. How is the character we saw last night any different from the character we saw facing off against Chris Benoit at Wrestlemania? Everyone in pro wrestling must evolve in some way, no matter how minute, just to stay afloat. At this rate, Angle's a stone.

In sharp contrast, however, was the way the segment closed and led directly into a match. That, I thought, was simply genius. Not only is it a tried and true method of building intense interest in the card right away, but it delivered unto Edge the tremendous rub of defeating a two time WWF Champion. Sure, it was cheapened a bit by the way Kane's fireworks led to the end of the match, but by that point the work had already been done. Edge had kept up with Angle throughout, and proven himself a worthy candidate if and when a slot at the top of the card ever opens up. The match was a bit short for my taste, but you can't really argue with those kind of results. A great way to open the show, and a flawless way to give the crowd something to get excited about.

Test & Booker T lost the WWF Tag Team Championships to the Hardy Boyz, when Jeff pinned Booker after a Litacanranna

Not quite what you'd expect from this kind of talent. The match just felt like everyone was going through the motions, hitting the signature maneuvers, waving at the crowd and calling it a night. A fun little acknowledgement of things to come after match had ended, as Matt looked more than a little bothered to see his brother so friendly with Lita during their celebration. Matt's getting more character development these days than Lita, Jeff, Booker and Test combined... not that it's a bad thing, though, as he's playing this new character just right. He flirts with the divas with ease, but gets jealous when his own brother's in the same immediate area as Lita. Sounds like somebody I know, and I'd wager it sounds like somebody you know too. The boy's got potential. Let's just hope they handle this breakup a little better than they did Edge and Christian.

Hugh Morrus and Chavo Guerrero, Jr. asked Mr. McMahon if they could join the WWF after the Survivor Series. Vince calmly told them "no, thanks." The three then shook hands, and handled themselves like true gentlemen.

Hey, at least they got some TV time. That puts them in a better position than Mike Sanders.

Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Tazz after a hard evening's work in the ring, reversing the Tazzmission into a Stunner for the three count.

I'm wondering if there's something wrong with Tazz's conditioning, because this is the second time in the last month he's done the job in less than two minutes. Maybe he's making up for all those squashes he was granted while on the road to the top in ECW. Maybe Austin didn't want to look like a wuss, taking three minutes to pin the orange and black attack when it only took Kidman two. Whatever the reason, it's getting a bit out of hand. Build him into something competitive or don't waste my time.

Backstage, the McMahon siblings publicly fired Chavo and Hugh for their insurrection, before giving Sunday's big match the whole of their attention. Everything ended badly, as Shane left the room and multiple hissy fits erupted only seconds later.

Damn, but Shane looked like a BAD ASS in that extreme turtle neck, complete with sleeve rolling action.

Other than that god awful long necked sweater, I had absolutely no qualms with this segment. The firing of Chavo and Hugh was a good way to bring things up to the present. We've been conditioned to think the wrestlers backstage can't see what's on the monitor unless it's happening in the ring, and that's just silly. Austin and Angle's shoving matches were a great addition, and went a long way toward re-establishing the ongoing relationship between them. Stephanie's screeching was kept to an all time low, and the feeling of a promotion falling apart at the seams really permeated the air. It doesn't say much for their chances at Survivor Series, but it's entertaining enough to watch nonetheless.

The Dudleys did not wrestle Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert.

Should I really dignify this one with a comment? Stupid...

Rob Van Dam defeated the Undertaker, but not before the Taker failed to sell for both RVD and Booker T simultaneously.

Following hot on the heels of the best match he's had since WrestleMania, (last week against Kurt Angle, in which the Taker not only sold, but did so convincingly and through the entire match) the Undertaker fell back to his old devices once again this week. But that's not to say the entire match was crap. The first few minutes were actually pretty entertaining, with RVD delivering the kind of spot that's likely to find its way to RAW's opening credits later this month. I'm speaking, of course, of his jump from the Titan Tron.

But it wasn't long after that the Dead Man turned back the clock and played that pesky "No Sell" card, getting a two for one value in both Van Dam and Booker T. Tell me there's an excuse for that, and I'll unzip and piss on your shoe right here. Seriously, I've got to go. It's been said that the Undertaker doesn't sell for a lot of people, because "that way, when he does, it really means something." And, granted, that's a valid point. Take a look at last week. What does it say for the newest crop of main eventers, though, when they can't even hold a torch to this old guy as a tandem, let alone singles? At this point, the Undertaker should be struggling to keep up with his younger rivals, not dominating them without even breaking a sweat. Wrestling fans are famous for their ability to suspend their disbelief, but this is a bit ridiculous. Could've been a great match for both men, but instead it turned into just another excuse to criticize the man on the motorbike.

Mick Foley entered the ring, and told fans that no matter who won at The Survivor Series, he'd be out of a job. So with that said, he went about making the most of his last week in power. He signed matches to unify every one of the WCW titles with their WWF equivalents, with the exception of the World Title and the Cruiserweight Gold.

Hands down, the best promo Foley's cut since last winter. Probably had something to do with it having some sort of direction, a little something more than "Hey, go out there with Trish and book her into Sunday's Lingerie Match. And make it last about fifteen minutes." Foley pulled out some genuine emotion with this one, bringing back fuzzy memories for anyone who saw his first World Title victory and wrapping it all up with a harsh dose of reality. Mick wasn't on the program when the WWF hit his home turf. He also made a change I couldn't agree with more, drastically reducing the amount of belts in the coalition. Bravo, should've been done the instant they decided against giving WCW its own show. It's interviews like this one that remind me of how much I miss the guy with one ear. Aside from killing himself in the ring every night, this is what Mick did best.

The Big Show and Christian went to a no contest, after the majority of the nWo B-Team ran in.

So, what was Regal whispering to Christian backstage prior to this match? "Hey, let the Big Show squash you. I'll send in DDP and the Dudleys to hit him. It'll be fun." Someone with a quicker judgement than I might compare this match to the Undertaker / RVD match earlier in the card, but I'd have to disagree. Where the Undertaker was refusing to sell for two men who have each wrestled as singles in a PPV main event within the last six months, The Big Show was battling three guys who haven't done much of note lately, and are perceived as minor threats at best. And on top of that, he ended up selling for them anyway. As for squashing Christian, I'd ask you to compare Edge's younger brother's standing on the card to that of Rob Van Dam, or even the Big Show himself. No matter how much untapped potential he has, there's been absolutely no reason for fans to believe he should have any sort of chance in this match. For the Big Show to remain useful, he has to be believable as a monster. It has to be a major event when he loses, as it was when he was cleanly beaten by Chris Benoit and, later, RVD. That event starts to get a lot less major when he drops matches to workers barely holding onto midcard status. In a way, he needs the occasional squash to "refuel" his credibility.

Now, to answer your questions before they've been asked, no... I didn't think this was a great match. But it didn't pain me to watch, either. The RVD / Taker match did. End of story.

William Regal lost his bid for the WCW World Title when Tajiri spit mist in his face outside the ring. The exhausting performance lasted nearly three minutes.

When the first bell sounded for this one at quarter to the hour, I thought we were about to be pleasantly surprised by a lengthy, brutal, well planned war between Regal (who's proven himself in the past to be a hellish submissions grappler when properly motivated) and the Rock (who's taken tremendous strides in an insanely short period of time.) I imagined a story centering on Rocky's knee or back A classic, skull-cracking collision that would both elevate Regal's stock with a surprisingly competitive match and reaffirm Rocky's stance at the top of the wrestling world, surviving Regal's onslaught to emerge victorious. I dreamed of Gordon Solie, crimson masks, and the old NWA. And while I was daydreaming, Regal threw a few punches, Tajiri spewed his mist, and the Rock collected a quick pinfall. So much for that...

Post match, The Rock called out Steve Austin. The two looked into one another's eyes, borrowed catchphrases, used proper grammar, smiled and sang a duet.

Meanwhile, I was staring at my television in much the same way a deer looks toward the oncoming headlights of a speeding automobile. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and, judging from my co-workers' banter this morning, I wasn't alone. The last time I saw something this odd and out of place, I absolutely tore it apart in the next day's Tuesday Review. And then I looked at the ratings, where it had absolutely cleaned up. That was the now-infamous "Rocky, this is your life" skit, and I'd imagine I'll remember last night's little duet with the same kind of fondness I've dedicated to the entire Rock'n Sock debacle for the next few years. If nothing else this was mesmerizing, because Austin had that crowd completely eating out of the palm of his hand. Uncanny.

After that bizarre little ditty, Rocky delivered a Rock Bottom unto Austin, and all hell broke loose. When the dust settled, Chris Jericho was behind the Rock with a steel chair, but chose to pass on the opportunity.

If I had my druthers, this would've gone the other way. Jericho would've swung the chair before Rocky even turned. It needed to happen, because now the Alliance doesn't seem to have a shot in hell. Jericho, Rocky, the Undertaker and Kane are all cool with one another, while the Alliance is in a total panic. In my opinion this could've been more interesting if both teams went into the big brawl in disarray. But hey, I guess that's why the WWF's writers are the WWF's writers and I'm not. And hey, why haven't we seen any footage of the Big Show with the rest of his WWF comrades? Hmmm...

Overall Grade: C-

Below average, but only barely. The storylines are getting interesting once again, with the Alliance living in misery and the whole Jericho / Rock thing far from over, but the matches have taken a turn for the worse. Things started off hot, with Kurt Angle taking on Edge, but went downhill from there. I mean, for god's sake, three of last night's matches didn't add up to more than ten minutes of TV time. That's inexcusable.

So the Survivor Series is suddenly epic, thanks to all this unification business, but I can't shake the feeling that those matches should have been done immediately or else saved for Wrestlemania. It's all been thrown upon us too quickly, everything fitting together too nicely to feel right. Edge vs. Test to unify the North American Titles? Hey, weren't they just feuding a couple weeks ago? The Dudleys vs. The Hardys to unite the tag titles? Their feud's been going on for years. And hey, what's that? No matter what, when the dust settles, there won't be a single old school WCW star holding gold. The assimilation's already complete, regardless of how Sunday's main event turns out.

And god, what was up with that whole "Margaritaville" duet?
until then, i remain