Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Ringside Shadows #186: The Tuesday Review for 12/11/01

Well, the WWF had their work basically cut out for them this week. Coming off mixed reviews regarding the previous night's pay per view event, Vengeance, in which Chris Jericho finally shattered the illuminous glass ceiling and arrived in the main event, Vinnie Mac's crew had a lot to answer for. Many found the whole "there must be a winner" motif stripped of all its glory with an overbooked finish. Still more didn't feel Y2J's victory to be legitimate, as both his wins came with outside interference. Even more were disappointed in the inaccurate booking, which led to Mr. McMahon helping Jericho in the main event, an action which would have seemed ludicrous just two weeks ago. Still, the common consensus remained "let's wait and see how RAW turns out." So did the WWF answer everyone's questions with a single, 120 minute program? Well... not exactly.

Following the glorious schedule, kept since the dawn of time, last evening's RAW results will appear in golden italics, while my educated responses shall remain archived in ageless plain type.

Holding true to his word, Ric Flair carried both the WWF and WCW World Titles to the ring, where he introduced the very first Unified Champion of the World, Chris Jericho. Once inside the ring, Y2J produced a short "thank you" list, from which he read to the live audience. After Jericho had completed his thanks, Flair draped the titles over each shoulder and revealed that his first title defense would take place later that very night... in a fifteen foot steel cage, against Steve Austin.

Not quite the quality of last week's impromptu Flair / Jericho duel, but still a lot more fresh than any of Vince's recent monologues. Jericho seemed a bit nervous, which is understandable considering the circumstances, and it adversely affected what was otherwise a historic occasion. Still, as someone who followed The "Lyin' Heart" throughout his early WCW years, it was memorable as hell to see Chris Jericho given the torch for the very first time. I'd have preferred to see the situation a little less formal, with lots of room for improvisation and a little more give and take between arguably two of the greatest microphone acts of our time. I was less than enthusiastic when the steel cage gimmick was introduced, as Jericho's never been good under such circumstances, but the live crowd seemed to enjoy it... so hey, whatever works.

The Undertaker defeated Spike Dudley, retaining his Hardcore Title in the process. After the match had ended, the Taker continued his offense, culminating in a suicidal chokeslam from the ring out to the floor.

This was kind of sad, actually, as these were the exact kind of situations in which little Spike flourished, back in the hallowed halls of ECW. But alas, this is not the same Spike Dudley we once knew and loved and on that same hand The Undertaker is no Mike Awesome. I really wish they'd decide what kind of direction they want to go in with Spike, as he looks like a real loser out there with the shaggy hair and no goofy Dudley glasses. But hey, I suppose at least they've advanced him past that awkward stage, where he was wearing the same get-up as The Big Show.

On the subject of altered looks, I've actually got a word or two of praise about the Undertaker to dish out this week. I doubt it was what they'd planned, but the Taker's new, shorter haircut makes him look less like a badass biker, and more like a thick necked, simple-minded bully. Like I said, character development was probably not what Mean Mark was thinking of when he rolled, rolled, rolled into that barber shop a couple weeks ago, but it really does add an extra dimension to his new role. He does look goofy riding that motorcycle now, though, as the long hair covered up the weird way he postures his head while in motion.

Mr. McMahon and Booker T arrived backstage, basically locked in a firm, romantic embrace. Ric Flair greeted the two lovebirds, who were more than a little upset upon hearing the Nature Boy's plans for Steve Austin later in the evening. McMahon conceded, though, and told the conveniently-positioned cameras that this couldn't change the plans he'd laid out for the Rock.

Speaking of character development... wasn't it less than a month ago that Vince and Booker were at one another's throats? Isn't Booker T still one of the men Kurt Angle betrayed at the Survivor Series? Isn't Vince McMahon the first man Booker had physical contact with in a WWF ring? Weren't the two trying to put each other out of business less than a month back? So what changed, and why didn't we get to see it? Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased to see the former World Champion back in the mix, but if his role doesn't make sense why bother? At least Lance Storm's position within the scheme of things works.

Kurt Angle was counted out during his quest for revenge against Rikishi. The Olympic Hero beat a hot path back up the entrance ramp when that fat dancin' fool teased a stinkface early in the match, resulting in the decision. After the match, Phatu pulled out his Michael Jackson impression for the quiet fans of the left coast, an action over which Angle seemed to take particular offense. He rushed the ring with fists a-blazin', but was met halfway in by some solid Rikishi offense. The large Samoan then finally managed to land the stinkface. His nose browned permanently, Angle regrouped on the floor, grabbed a chair, and laid out his opponent with multiple shots to the ass area before finally exiting the arena.

This was actually shaping up to be more than a bit watchable before the sudden and anticlimactic conclusion. God, how long's it been since somebody's been counted out in the World Wrestling Federation? Years? It's to the point where if you see the ref actually attempting to count the men out, you know something's awry. So many times, I've seen an official get up to five, only to say "hey, come on guys... in the ring..." and then restart his count. The wrestlers don't even pay him heed anymore, as brawling all over the arena and into the backstage area has almost become as scholastic as an armdrag or chinlock.

But yeah, as I was saying above before I was so rudely interrupted, from all indications this was going to be a pretty solid match before it was cut short. Particularly impressive was Angle's delivery of a german suplex seconds in, and Rikishi's brutal "head and shoulders" landing. That one got the dead crowd off their seats immediately, and I'm willing to bet they'd have been much more lively for the duration with just a tiny bit of prodding. I've never really had too many bad things to say about Rikishi's work in the ring, as he can generally keep up very well when he has to and it's good to see he hasn't lost anything in that respect, coming off a successful shoulder surgery. Now if only they could come up with a different variation of his gimmick... that ass sandwich thing is really overplayed.

MADtv star Will Sasso was shown at ringside, as Lance Storm tried in vain to convince Ric Flair of his usefulness as a WWF Superstar.

Good lord, you'd think the WWF would do anything to keep from reminding fans of Will Sasso's existence. I honestly expected Bret Hart to stampede down the aisle ways and jump that fat bastard from behind, renewing their bitter rivalry from back in the old days of WCW. I was walking on eggshells the rest of the night, praying that Sasso would just stay put in his ringside seat.

William Regal defeated Kane, with help from his trademark brass knuckles.

Short, sloppy, and none too exciting. Sometimes bad matches happen to good wrestlers.

The Dudley Boyz defeated the Rock and Trish Stratus, pinning Trish with a 3-D while the Rock was occupied with Test outside the ring.

I'm actually starting to get back into the groove with the Dudley Boyz again. It's always a hot and cold relationship with those two, as they're either really good and really entertaining or really bad and really stale. Really. I think D-Von's singles match against RVD a couple weeks ago opened my eyes up again to these two, and I've been sitting up to take notice of their renewed vigor these last couple weeks. So long as they steer clear of the same trademark spots they've been employing for the last year, they're doing ok in my book. Last night was a good example, actually, as the Rock and Trish used an assortment of those very same maneuvers to assault the Boyz throughout. It's too bad D-Von and Bubba don't have much in the way of regular competition anymore, though, as I think some solid title defenses against proven contenders could step their performances up from "pretty good" to "memorable."

This one was long, perhaps a bit too long, but none too poor. Trish was kept firmly on the edge of the apron for 95% of the physicalities, and the Rock's past work with the brothers meant they were beyond the feeling out stages before the bell even rang. The action lulled in a couple spots, but otherwise not bad.

In the Matt Hardy dressing room of champions, Lita tried in vain to apologize to her distressed lover. As she turned to leave the room in frustration, Matt told her that "just like the Hardy Boyz, we're breaking up." She left in tears, and was consoled by Jeff just outside the locker room.

Probably the best segment the Hardys have ever done, in terms of backstage advancement. Though Jeff still came off lame, Matt really nailed the segment, taking his character from the chalkboard to the real world and doing so in a manner that's sure to turn audiences around the nation on him. Everybody's known a guy like that at some point in their lives, and Matt's performance was almost uncanny. Hard to believe he and Lita had been an on-screen couple for almost a year, isn't it?

Matt Hardy defeated Jeff Hardy and Lita, rolling his former flame up for the clean pin seconds after she tagged in.

The opening moments of this one showcased what most of the match at Vengeance should've been... fierce, fast, brutal and emotional. When they were throwing each other around with reckless abandon, connecting with wild punches and generally trying to kick a hole in each other's faces, you couldn't help but abandon your preconceived notions and believe these guys had serious personal issues to iron out. After they grew tired of that, though, the match took a steep nose dive in terms of the enjoyment factor. Instead of trying to destroy each other, Matt and Jeff seemed more concerned with not injuring each other with their signature maneuvers. That's not really the kind of attitude you go throwing those aforementioned preconceived notions out the window for, and it wound up killing all the positive things they'd done in the opening minutes. You've gotta love Matt, taking advantage of Lita's smaller frame with that harsh-looking rollup, but other than that the match was forgettable.

The Big Show defeated Lance Storm, effectively killing the Canadian superstar's chances at becoming a part of the WWF roster... right?

As soon as Ric Flair agreed to "a match" moments earlier, I knew it was bound to be with one of two men; Kane or the Big Show. And, seeing as how Kane had wrestled William Regal earlier in the night, the odds were pretty well stacked in the favor of the big man. Probably the only redeeming factor of this match came after the finish, as JR gave Storm a bit of respect, saying "Lance Storm's a damn fine athlete and I think he deserves a job in the WWF... but I'm not the one doing the recruiting." If only JR were more than an announcer...

Steve Austin cut a pre-match promo, basically listing the contents of his stomach while the crowd shouted "WHAT!"

What a bizarre promo. Austin's starting to flouder...

His face a crimson mask, Chris Jericho defeated Steve Austin in a steel cage, escaping through the cage door after Booker T knocked out the Rattlesnake with a steel cage door shot to the head.

Nowhere near the quality of Sunday night's match, (or even last week's match) which is something I'd attribute as much to Jericho's inability to work exciting matches inside the cage as I would the WWF's stupid modern cage match rules. I've never been a big supporter of cage matches featuring a ref stationed at the door, ready to open it up for anyone too lazy to climb out. Half of what made cage matches so great in the past was watching these poor fools attempt time and time again to get out, while their opponents mercilessly assaulted them from below. Hell, sometimes the guys booked in steel cage matches didn't even have the ability to get out, and they had agreed to it only for the opportunity to brutalize their enemies inside the confines of steel fencing. What fun is the match, if every time somebody's whipped into the ropes by the door, there's the chance they could take that little sidestep and win it all? It also kills much of the suspense, as no matter how good the actors there's much more tension in watching a man attempt to scale a cage than there is in watching a man attempt to crawl through a door.

That's a weakness Jericho exploited to the fullest last night, as he tried at least four times to get through the door... slooooowwwwllly.... crawwwlllingg.... as Austin finally caught him and tugged. Hell, Austin never even climbed higher than the top rope. Whether it was a mental problem with the idea or a physical inability to scale the thing, he had no intentions of going over the top. That makes me wonder... is someone trying to tell Steve Austin something? Like maybe he shouldn't be fighting in cage matches, if his knees won't allow him to climb over the top?

Adding to the disappointment was the finish of this match, which did nothing to solve the problems many had pointed out with Jericho's World Title victory the night before. So now Steve Austin goes on to feud with Booker T, while his newly-launched feud with Y2J is thrown by the wayside and Jericho is left as a weak paper champion. Not exactly the best of situations for a superstar just coming into his own, and something that needs to be resolved quickly. Not even a solid Jericho blade job could save this match from everything that was going against it before the bell even rang.

Overall Grade: C+

Better than average, if just for the few brightly shining moments scattered throughout the broadcast. Matt Hardy is well on his way to stardom or a role similar to Christian's, depending on what the WWF decides to do with him. Chris Jericho is slowly becoming the whiner we all knew and loved in WCW, if he can just grab a couple clean victories along the way. Booker T is back in the main event, finally set to wrestle Steve Austin in singles action, albeit a full four months after that match should've happened in the first place. The Dudley Boyz are getting exciting again. HHH is on the brink of returning. Things are starting to look up again, but there remain several heavy issues to be resolved before the rebuilding process can really begin anew.

Here's hoping the healing continues next week.
until then, i remain

Sunday, December 9, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF Vengeance 2001 Preview

For a card promising something we've been daydreaming about for years, the unification of the WWF and WCW Titles, there's a surprising lack of hype as we head into the home stretch this weekend. If an event of this magnitude had gone down this time last year, there'd be almost certainly an unmistakable buzz surrounding the World Wrestling Federation. Now, however, it's almost as if the only fans who really wanted to see such an event have been too preoccupied with keeping the door from slapping them in the ass on the way out to take any sort of notice. It's a really rough spot for the WWF to be in, and one with no one easy way out. You know, maybe Slick was right all those years ago. Maybe it's just best to "Turn out the lights... the party's over..."

Trish Stratus vs. Jacqueline
Women's Championship

If anybody on the current roster's gonna bare nipple, I suppose it would be Jackie... she's got a pretty colorful history in that regard. Like Dave said, they're really trying to get this division off the ground, which is a pretty remarkable feat when you consider there's no real centerpiece around which they've based things. In the past, the WWF has tended to center this whole thing around a single athlete, be it Wendi Richter, Sable, The Fabulous Moolah or Chyna... and that's something that's drug it down. Now they've suddenly decided to push their balls out to the forefront and parade it along, no matter how poor the initial reactions are. So.... yeah, what's stopping them from using the same 'wait and see' attitude with the Cruiserweights? Lawler will say "puppies", the wrestlers will roll around with fistfulls of each other's hair, and Trish will miraculously hold onto the title, even though she shouldn't really even be more than a valet.
Winner: Trish

Edge vs. William Regal
Intercontinental Championship

I've actually been enjoying Regal's recent use of brass knucks. It's a throwback to the old time heels, when they didn't have to throw people off bridges or drop trucks on their opponents to get over... they just had to break the rules and act undesireable. Funny how the fact that he's doing nothing more than using illegal objects in the ring sets him apart nowadays, isn't it?

I've got to agree with the sentiments Dave expressed above. The whole internet schebang about "ohh, Edge is gonna job because his leg's hurt" just doesn't work in this case, for the very reason the ol' Spinner pointed out just a few short sentences ago. These are two guys that are just a couple lucky breaks away from landing on the top of the card. Unfortunately, I don't think they'll get there facing off against each other. The segments they had together this week just didn't feel real to me.. they were lacking the emotion, and seemed more like skits on a wrestling show and less like two guys who want to tear each other apart. And, of the two, Edge has a bit of an advantage in my eyes.
Winner: Edge

Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy
Special referee: Lita

No matter what direction they take here, it's gotta be an improvement on where the Hardys were a couple weeks ago. And if they do pull the two brotha turn on Lita, the crowd's gonna be on a hunt for their blood in the weeks to come. A really sweet new direction for these two, that I honestly didn't see coming until I read Dave's words a couple seconds ago.

Regarding the match, however, I'm less than enthusiastic. Sure, these guys are amazing athletes, and sure... they've been one of the most solid teams in the WWF these last few years. Unfortunately, in the few times they've actually faced off against one another in the past, they've done nothing but disappoint. I've had my hopes up about a match like this for years, and now that it's come to pass, I can't shake the feeling that I've seen it before and it wasn't good. So I'm refusing to really build this up in my mind. That way, I've at least got a chance of being pleasantly surprised.

I like Matt in this one. If they're gonna do the straight split, he's the one with the most momentum. While Jeff's remained the sympathetic, injured face who always hits the crowd pleasers, Matt's been slowly but surely developing his own personality. He's the one we've seen the most of these last few weeks, and he's the one that's likely to get the big push coming out of the gates. Only time will tell if he falters or runs with the opportunity.
Winner: Matt Hardy

Big Show & Kane vs. Dudley Boyz
Tag Team Championship

The WWF Tag Team division, once a high and mighty institution, is just about this close to going the way of the dodo. In addition to the teams Dave mentioned during the division's peak, you had potential simply spraying out of every corner of the WWF, with the Hollys, Kaientai, Too Cool, T&A and even the Acolytes really rounding things out and completing a slam bang collection of tag team specialists. Now it seems like the bookers have to create new teams on the fly, just to keep the belts in active contention. Where were the Big Show and Kane one month ago? Probably the same place they'll be a month from today... in singles action.

With so many possible superstars getting their walking papers from the WWF development territories lately, I'm really starting to wonder about the writers' intelligence. Would it have been too much to ask, to call a couple of them up as a set of tag teams, give them a little bit of time to get over on WWF TV, and then feed them to the Dudleys for their big chance to shine in the spotlight? If one thing's for sure, it couldn't have hurt. The Dudleys retain, and Kane and the Big Show have personal problems... leading to the singles match of the century next month. You thought their King of the Ring '98 match, featuring the debut of the 'choke heard round the world' was great? Wait until you see what these two have cooked up next month.
Winners: The Dudley Boyz

Undertaker vs. Rob Van Dam
Hardcore Championship

So it'll be the Taker's first real match since turning on the WWF (and his hair) a few weeks ago on RAW. Should be interesting to see how it affects his performance in the ring, if nothing else. It's no secret that I'm no fan of the current Undertaker character. I've been among the loudest of the Deadman's critics these past few months, and I still don't think turning him heel was such a stupendous thing to do. If anything, that just means we'll have to suffer through that much more of him on the mat, as there's no way he's gonna ride off into the sunset as a heel. But even I have to acknowledge his past record of putting over the next generation of new talent, even if he didn't personally agree with what they said or what they'd done. I might be going out on a limb here, but The Undertaker's made just as many careers in the WWF over the last ten years as Ric Flair did in WCW over that same time period. Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Bret Hart, no matter what the name, they all passed through the Undertaker's test at some point on their way to the top.

And, in a way, this'll be a big test for the taker himself. If he does as Dave thinks he will, the unanimous respect of his legendary character will be knocked down several notches in the eyes of the wrestling collective. If he lets his own feelings get in the way of the company's future well being.... what could he have cared about the WWF in the first place? However, if he gives Van Dam a fair shake, if he sells and does so consistantly, there might be a word or two of apology due.

Personally, I don't think it's gonna be a very entertaining match. But the end result should be both interesting and informative. RVD isn't going over clean, of that I've got no illusion. But I'm not so sure the Undertaker will be having as easy a time as everyone seems to think, either. The Deadman's got my vote, but it's gonna be closer than you'd like to believe.
Winner: The Undertaker

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle
World Wrestling Federation Championship

The WWF's treatment of its perceived "top two" heels in Jericho and Angle these last few weeks has been interesting. Not only have they lost with regularity, but they haven't even looked very strong in doing so. Hell, Jericho even took clean pinfalls from both Austin and the Rock. How that builds a credible main event threat is beyond me, though it's not too late in either case to do a complete about face and arrive with the title firmly beneath their arms this Monday on RAW.

As Dave has once again already mentioned, Austin and Angle have been putting on classics without fail these last 4 months. They won't have a bad one tonight, no matter how overbooked it winds up being. They're just so familiar with one another by this stage, it isn't a question of whether the match will be good or bad, it's an issue of how good. Unfortunately, I don't share Dave's enthusiasm about the Olympic Hero's chances. Sure, it'd be a cool thing to see Austin returning the favor done to him by Angle several months ago on RAW, but it just isn't in the cards this evening. Despite possible Booker T interference, the Rattlesnake's going to the main event. If this crowd doesn't see a stunner at least once, they're likely to riot.
Winner: Steve Austin

The Rock vs. Chris Jericho
World Championship

As a firm subscriber to John C's policy ("job on RAW, win on the PPV"), there's little question in my mind that Jericho's going to the final match this evening. The real question here is just how clean that path will be. I really can't see the Rock falling very far, if at all, from a loss to Y2J here tonight... where on the other hand, Jericho would simply soar with the credibility of finally scoring a clean, solid, non-chair victory on one of the top names in the industry, in a high-profile situation.

Like Austin and Angle, Jericho and the Rock have been working together almost exclusively for several months, and as such have developed something of a rapport together, both on the mic and in the ring. They play off of one another wonderfully on the stick, and have an undeniable chemistry together in the ring. What needs to be done here is a firm definition of both men's roles in the scheme of things. If Jericho's going to be the vicious, egotistical, prick heel bastard, he needs to really act it here. He needs to show no mercy to Rocky when the advantage is his, and he needs to have no hesitations. On the flip side, of Maivia is to be the calm, cool, collected champion, he needs to have a firm grasp on Jericho's ringwork. He needs to appear as though he's always in control, even when he's getting his teeth kicked in. If these guys can manage that kind of definition, this match will be truly memorable... both for the action contained therein, and for the necessary evolution of both of their stagnation characters.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Steve Austin vs. Chris Jericho
Unified Championship

This past Monday hinted at it, and I think Sunday's gonna blow it open. Jericho really needs to look like a threat to even scratch Austin's front here, which just re-emphasizes the importance of that definition in his earlier match with Rocky. Having already dropped one clean on RAW to Austin very recently, Jericho's got a lot of catching up to do if he wants to sell the live audience on his chances at becoming the first Unified Champ.

Still, if you have to choose one "go-to" guy when it comes to turning a crowd in one fell swoop, that guy's gotta be Chris Jericho. He did it with regularity in WCW (hell, the guy turned an incredibly pro-Jericho Canadian crowd with two short sentences back in his heyday), and given the chance and a firm push, he can do it in the WWF.

Not only that, but he's got the skills to keep up in the ring with Steve Austin. Together, I believe the two can tell quite a story between them... so much so, after thirty minutes they'll have the live crowd falling out of their chairs over a clothesline or belly-to-back suplex.

Add in to that the ominous cloud of HHH's return hanging over the main event, and you've got a recipe for success that can't be screwed up. In case you missed it, Parade Magazine, a supplement to newspapers around the nation, pretty much confirmed plans to reintroduce HHH soon, if not tonight, as he was featured in one of their reader questions early in the issue. So if an when he does return, who's he gonna be feuding with? Both Austin and Jericho are solid bets, with my money leaning a little more towards Y2J.
Winner: Chris Jericho

until next time, i remain

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Ringside Shadows #185: The Tuesday Review for 12/04/01

Coming off the crumpled mess that was last week's program, the regular Monday Night patrol wouldn't have had to do much to impress me this week. And, sure enough, the action on this particular night was certainly a step up from where it had been less than seven short days ago. Perhaps a few lessons are being learned after such an unimpressive streak... or maybe nature is just taking its course, and a few chunks of shit are finally sticking to the wall. Unfortunately, all it really takes to stumble upon a great angle is a warm body and some luck, (just take a look at Eric Bischoff) so the WWF isn't in the clear by any means. But hey... at least things aren't all grim and grits for a change.

But hey, don't you worry... I'm sure I can find a couple things to bitch about this week. It may be coming a day late yet again, but the Tuesday whine crew is here to satisfy your pessimistic cravings once again. Hoo haaah...

This week's RAW results appear in the convoluted, fragmented italic text that's been catching your eye for years, while my comments follow in that cool, crisp, defragmented plain text. Truly the apple of your eye.

Y2J pulled apart the curtains, addressing the Milwaukee crowd and filling them in on his plans to win this Sunday at Vengeance. Before much more could be said, our party host was interrupted by the old school king of style and profiles, Ric Flair. The two traded barbs and insults, before Flair informed Jericho that "to be the man, you've got to beat the man," and that in his eyes the man was Steve Austin. Before Jericho knew what was happening, Flair had booked a one on one encounter for later that same night.

What a surreal experience this was. It's like the one on one we never saw during WCW's glory days, with a few minor exceptions made to the status quo. As anyone could have surmised before either one of these guys said a word, the chemistry between these two was almost off the charts. With both men refreshed thanks to major shifts in their on-screen characters, they were both in top form and the viewing audience was left to bask in the glory of the ensuing fireworks. Just classic Jericho, claiming Flair should be honored to be in his presence, and classic Nature Boy, playing rubber to Y2J's glue every step of the way. Now, if we could only have a segment with this much heart out there to open up every week's RAW, we'd be getting somewhere.

Also of note; for some reason, every time JR mentioned that we were in Milwaukee, I'd think "he means mee-lee-wah-kay." It's been years since Wayne's World was a top-grossing movie, but I'm still quoting miniscule phrases from it every day of my life.

Kane defeated Bubba Ray Dudley with a chokeslam, after single-handedly destroying D-Von and Stacy Kiebler.

Pretty much solidified what I'd begun to suspect after last week's program; D-Von's the real underspoken heart of this team. I remember probably a year and a half ago, my good buddy John C. posted a WWF Roster evaluation where he said something along the lines of "Bubba Ray is the only part of this team that has the character to make it in singles action." At the time, I couldn't help but agree with him. Bubba had more character, was more emotional, and handled the brunt of the team's action. Nowadays, though, Bubba's remained pretty much the same... and, for what it's worth, so has D-Von. The point, though, is that D-Von's remained fresh in my eyes while Bubba's faded off into monotony. In addition, I really can't see either of these guys going at it in singles action. Where Edge & Christian and, to a lesser extent, the Hardys, seemed destined to split somewhere down the road, the Dudleys just don't seem like a team that's ever going to separate from the division. Much like the Legion of Doom, these guys just work that much better as two halves of a greater whole.

But the question still remains; if they're going to be the WWF Tag Team of the decade, why are they jobbing to one half of the team they'll be facing on pay per view in less than five days?

While Scotty Too Hotty donned the golden headphones at the announce position, Albert defeated Test with the Baldo Bomb.

Actually a much stronger match than I would have expected from these two, with a hot series of nearfalls at the end drawing the fans in like moths to the hum of an electric light. Test still lacks the killer instinct that's vital to the kind of physical heel role he's trying to portray, but he's made tremendous strides over the past year, and appears to be on the verge of something big. Meanwhile, Albert's still a ways off from anything that's going to draw, but last night's performance proved he's ready, willing and able to keep up in a good match when the situation calls for it.

Rob Van Dam and Christian verbally probed one another backstage, while Michael F'n Cole stood uselessly in the same general area. The two superstars traded knowledge of foreign capitols, before the geographic trivia contest became too heated, and each man agreed to pit their belt against the other's in a contest later that evening.

I guess it's time for just one more unification, then? Fine with me. The Hardcore title has never really been my cup of tea anyway. Honestly, this was a nice little peek into the future of the federation. Have you ever watched tapes of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart ten years ago, back when both were still struggling to emerge as their own man? Ten years from now, this is the tape you'll be watching. These guys have money written all over them, and with a little bit of extra experience and fine tuning under their belts, they'll be tearing their way up the card in no time.

Trish Stratus and The Rock made babies.

A bit gratuitous, but surprisingly fresh. I wholeheartedly expected the Rock to get in close with Trish, and then shove a palm in her face and shout "it doesn't matter that you thank the Rock!" or something along those lines. Instead, it chipped away at the Rock's postured image and showed us all there's a person behind that facade after all. Not something I'd love seeing every week, but a good start for Rocky's much-needed restructuring process.

The Hardy Boyz defeated Tajiri and Spike Dudley, after Jeff hit the swanton bomb. Post-match, the brothers nearly went at it right then and there, as Matt disputed Jeff's use of a blind tag near the match's end.

Man, for every time these two stink it up behind a microphone, they make up for it two-fold when they're given an opportunity to let their actions speak louder than words. I was almost ready to buy the PPV for this match alone when they were pushing, shoving, shouting and screaming in each other's faces post-match. Then they climbed on the stick backstage and took a needless step back. Sometimes actions can speak volumes, and with the veritable encyclopedia evident in the Hardys' motions, it just doesn't make sense to force the feud with lame promotional interviews. If they can draw a crowd without saying a word, what more can you ask for?

Steve Austin defeated Chris Jericho cleanly following a Stone Cold Stunner.

This one delivered good news and bad news. The good news... well, using John's tried and true formula of "lose on RAW, win on PPV," Y2J's due for a big win this Sunday. The bad news... man, Jericho really needed the win here. As it is, everyone's expecting Rocky vs. Austin in the unification match at Vengeance, and by jobbing Chris out the week before, the WWF missed a chance to make things a bit more unpredictable. At this point, Jericho's got next to no validity behind his claims of finally winning the big one, as he had to cheat to beat the Rock just once, and the rest of his major matches have resulted in nothing but an extra check in the "L" category. A victory, or at the very least a longer match with a tighter finish, would have given Jericho instant credibility and perhaps shaken up the fans' preconceived notions about this Sunday's match.

As it stands, though, it was a solid (if short) encounter between two of the biggest names in the sport today. I wonder if Bob Ryder still thinks the Lionheart made the wrong decision in jumping ship to the WWF.

Booker T hotwired Austin's truck, jimmied the door, and drove away.

Hey, at least Booker's getting TV time. That's more than DDP, Shane Helms, Mike Sanders, Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero can say.

Vince McMahon and Kurt Angle strode to the ring, men on a mission. Issuing multiple threats in the direction of The Rock, it came as no surprise when the people's champion himself stepped from behind the curtain to defend himself. McMahon challenged The Rock and his new female of choice, Trish, to a tag match against himself and Kurt Angle later in the night, with the Rock forced to kiss the owner's ass on Smackdown if he lost. Before talk of asses, lips and connections could get too far out of hand, the merry scene was interrupted once again, this time by the Nature Boy himself, Ric Flair. Flair accepted the challenge for the Rock, then added his own twist; if McMahon and Angle lost, Vince would kiss "the people's ass" on Smackdown.

Last week I gave the WWF hell for misusing Ric Flair, sticking him in backstage skits when his real strength lies in his connection with the crowd and his spur-of-the-moment enthusiasm. This week, I've got to hand it to them; they did a complete about-face. Not only was Flair featured prominently in two major promos, but both took place in front of the live audience. It seemed that Flair wielded power once again, and the interest started to fill up in his relationship with Vince McMahon. Next week might be a completely different story, but for right now I'm pleased that the WWF's using the Nature Boy to his fullest.

It was a pretty bizarre sight to see Flair and the Rock side by side, peacefully coexisting after they'd thrown words back and forth across the airwaves near the end of the ratings war. It was also bizarre, and somewhat surprising, to see how much larger than Flair the Rock is. The Nature Boy looked almost miniscule next to the Great One, which may have as much to do with camera angles as it does actual height.

Rob Van Dam defeated Christian, reversing the one-man conchairto into the Van Daminator and sealing the deal with a five star frog splash.

Still a touch spotty, but overall another very enjoyable match. Christian nearly broke RVD in half, countering a Rolling Thunder attempt by putting his knees up and placing a chair on top. This is the kind of match I would've liked to have seen more of during the lifespan of the WWF Hardcore title. A nice mesh of original and innovative foreign object use, strong brawling, a touch of high flying and a firm base of standard wrestling maneuvers and counters. Too often the Hardcore title was overrun with garbage brawls and gimmicked spots, and the division quickly descended into lunacy.

William Regal defeated Bradshaw by pinfall, after striking with his loaded right hand. After the match, Tazz popped up on the Titan Tron, distracting Regal long enough for Edge to strike.

Boy, Tazz knows how to stall with the best of them. "Hey Regal, where's Edge? He sure isn't here. I came to WWF New York looking for Edge, but he's not here. Have you seen Edge? I haven't. Is Edge here, at WWF New York? I haven't seen him. Somebody told me Edge was supposed to be here, but I've been looking around and he's not anywhere." Hey, isn't he a former ECW world champion? A guy with one hell of a reputation, the man who ran over everything in his path just to get what he wanted and keep it? I guess that doesn't amount to much in today's WWF.

I don't have anything kind to say about the match, as it was junk. I like that they're establishing something for Regal other than the whole "I'm not an ass kisser" thing, but that's about all that was worth mentioning in this one.

Mr. McMahon and Kurt Angle fell to the combined might of The Rock and Trish Stratus, but not before Rocky kicked out of a dual Lionsault / Angle Slam, and Steve Austin chased Vince from ringside.

I was actually expecting Trish to turn here. She didn't seem to be too into Rocky's embrace earlier in the night, and the situation just screamed for a screwjob from the very get-go. Fortunately enough, we were given a rare opportunity to see a main event that didn't include some sort of shifted allegiance. The crowd was hot, but that's about the only thing memorable about this one. Just a poor match to cap off the evening in my eyes, with way too many shots of Rocky kissing the sky and smiling.

Overall Grade: B

For the most part the matches were quite good, even when they didn't have a right to be, as evidenced by the Test vs. Albert match. Regal vs. Bradshaw and the main event were both flat, but weren't enough to drag down what had come before... at least, not fully. The build for the PPV left a bit to be desired, as there's no question in anyone's mind now that it'll be Austin and Rocky in the main event. Then again, maybe that's a good thing and the WWF will "swerve the smarks" by giving us Angle / Jericho for the unification. And wild monkeys will deliver an encore by throwing themselves full throttle out of my butt. There's a real excitement factor that's been missing from WWF TV since springtime. Things don't seem to be happening correctly, and while there remain sparks of interest, it's been a long time since RAW has had me sitting up in anticipation of what's to come next. That's a major problem, and one I have no advice about rectifying.

Still, this week was head and shoulders above last week's program, and given continued concentration, things could turn out to be OK in the end. Keep your fingers crossed.
until then, i remain