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

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