As I alluded to in the intro of this... intro.. we've got a lot of big names making their celebrated returns to the ring. And while that usually means lots of ring rust, forced angles to explain their comebacks and retarded storylines, thus far everything's gone pretty well phenomenally. Hogan made a huge return, in the kind of moment you'll remember years after the fact, to state that he'd signed a new contract. Austin came back because Bischoff pursued him, and his friend JR asked him to as a favor. Rocky's returned between movies, and the fans are hating him because he left them to chase a few motion picture offers. Everything makes sense, nobody's running into their opponents with tractor trailers. Austin hasn't driven anything enormous to the ring. This is one of those few moments where I'll say I'm eagerly anticipating every one of these comebacks. They've been done well, and should pay off very strongly. Then again, we've got the return of Kevin Nash and the possible debut of Bill Goldberg on the horizon, so this ecstacy could be short lived.
Billy Kidman vs. Matt Hardy
WWE Cruiserweight Championship
They kinda theived this storyline from Disco Inferno, back in WCW, but whatever. The gimmick here is that Billy's Cruiserweight title is on the line, so long as Version 1.0 can get himself below the division weight limit. Matt's really starting to come into his own here, resurrecting Chris Jericho's gimmick from WCW and doing a pretty good job at that. He's the cocky heel who gets all his wins against guys who are visibly much smaller than he is. He's working a moveset that's cruiserweight-friendly, so the matches should be cake. All he needs now is a long list of challengers, which may be the only thing that holds him back. I've enjoyed the little spots they've thrown in here and there, featuring Shannon Moore doing his damndest to help Matt get into shape. They've eaten up just a tiny bit of time, and served to keep the angle fresh in the fans' minds. I'll applaud that kind of attention to detail enjoy every time.
I pulled out an old tape of the last Nitro broadcast the other day, just for old times' sake, and couldn't really believe the difference in Kidman. He looked like he was really having fun on that last broadcast, and as a result he was a much more approachable babyface. The fans liked him, and he appeared more confident in himself. And, halfway through the match, he performed an INSANE slingshot shooting star press off the top rope to the floor. It's like Vince said about Bret; "WCW wouldn't know what to do with Bret Hart," well the WWE doesn't know what to do with Kidman. Hell, they don't know what to do with the entire division, while we're at it. But it looks like they're still willing to learn. Should be a good match, my money's on Matt. He needs this win.
Winner: Matt Hardy
Chris Jericho vs. Jeff Hardy
So much for "Testicles," I guess. Looks like I can say the same for Jeff Hardy's rejuvinated heel character, since he didn't turn on HBK during their tag match on RAW and that was prime "heel turn" material if I've ever seen it. Honestly, I'm quite relieved if just for this match. Jericho has more reason to be facing off with Jeff Hardy after one week of build than he ever did with Test. The whole Stacey-meets-chair incident came off as forced, and the Y2J promo afterwards was a little awkward. He didn't say it with his mouth, but he said it with his actions; "Why have you taken me out of the ring with Shawn Michaels?" And, for what it's worth, he was right. Test has NOTHING to do with HBK, while Jeff's suddenly being portrayed as his big protege. It's all part of a bigger picture, and even if he was starting to go somewhere in the weeks beforehand, Test just never really fit into it.
I'm gonna say it before Spinner does; Chris Jericho is YOUR GOD. Haha! Sweet! Watch now as I run circles around the ring in celebration, a'la Mick Foley. Seriously, though, he's been the most solid performer on the show since jumping prior to Summerslam. And he's been especially white hot lately, giving us a great series of promos opposite Shawn Michaels and cleaning UP in the ring. This is a guy I love to hate, and he's slowly building a legacy for himself within the WWE, despite an apallingly slim number of title shots. Poor Jeff Hardy doesn't have a shot, but as long as they keep it under ten minutes we should get some solid stuff. Any longer, and little Jeff's gonna lose all the wind in his lungs.
Winner: Chris Jericho
Lance Storm & William Regal vs. Rob Van Dam & Kane
World Tag Team Championship
No argument about this one. Storm and Regal have continued kicking ass and taking names, successfully moving beyond their association with the Dudley Boyz with the titles still around their waists. Meanwhile, RVD and Kane have been steamrolling their opponents as convincingly as you'd expect a tag team comprised of main eventers to. That's why it'll mean even more to see Regal and Storm go over clean in this one. Instead of beating a couple guys who haven't accomplished anything on their own, they'll have taken out two former World Title contenders. I've felt that the WWE hasn't really understood the premise of tag team wrestling for years now, always throwing teams together at the last minute and hoping for something good. The heels cheat when the ref's back is turned, the faces charge blindly into the ring and keep the ref from seeing it. In the end, either the face in peril makes the big tag and they take it home, or the heel brings a steel chair or belt into the ring and they retain through cowardly measures. It's so formulaic that it's almost sickening.
With these two teams they've actually got the majority of it right. Regal and Storm have cheated in the past, but they've also come across as ferociously competitive wrestlers who can just as easily get the job done legally. On the same hand, RVD and Kane both look like guys who should be wearing gold of some kind. They've broken the cliche of the two former main eventers who suddenly lose half of their strength when put into a tag team. Though there's no illusions about the fact they'll be breaking up sooner rather than later, they still look very strong as a duo.
While Monday may have cast some doubts about their current compatibility, rest assured that RVD and Lance Storm have had very good matches with one another in the past. Regal is a monster when he wants to be (and he currently wants to be), and Kane is decent for a big man. This won't be the greatest tag match in the history of man or anything, but it'll be good fun anyway. I'm looking forward to it.
Winners: Lance Storm and William Regal
The Undertaker vs. Big Show
The only match on the card I'm not looking forward to, and with obvious reason. They've done a good job of promoting this, keeping the PPV collision fresh in the audience's mind with those goofy presents without even putting the Big Show on TV until the very end. I don't like either of these guys, but whatever. I suppose if they've both gotta be on the card, why not put them opposite one another?
Let's be frank; this isn't going to be fun to watch. If JR were announcing the match, we'd be almost certain to hear the words "methodical," "deliberate" and "hoss" at one point or another throughout the match's progression. That's like the holy trinity of suckass. Maybe if he started feeling randy, he could pull out a "slobberknocker," which is a true personal favorite. We're coming up on Wrestlemania, and I'd assume we'll see a rematch there, so I'm gonna go with the Show. Heyman's gotta have another surprise or two up his sleeve.
Winner: The Big Show
Triple H vs. Scott Steiner
World Heavyweight Championship
It should say something about how loaded this card is, that the RAW title match is three matches from the night's conclusion. That's not to say anticipation is low for this meeting, so much as it says the remainder of the card is just that much bigger. Despite the kind of criticism he's received since his abysmal match at last month's Royal Rumble, I think Scott Steiner's still serving a good purpose on the roster. Though I'd much prefer Christian or Eddy Guerrero in the World Title matches, Steiner looks the part a whole lot more than they do. There's no question he'll be laying down again here, so he's effectively adding just a little bit more to the prestige of the RAW title. This is the guy who owned the WCW World Title throughout the majority of their last year in business, and he's doing what he can to make Triple H's belt mean something. For a title that many have said means absolutely nothing, I think that's one hell of a contribution.
I don't think anyone's expecting something off the charts here. And if you are, prepare to be disappointed. Scotty's missing a lot of what made him so exciting in the tag scene all those years ago, and he's still visibly hampered by a decaying body. Triple H is working his way through multiple injuries, and should logically hold onto his title for just one more month before taking some time off to heal. There's no question that this is going to look like two guys trying to work through the pain, because that's exactly what it is. Even at that, this is a match I'd rather sit through than the Undertaker vs. the Big Show.
Winner: Triple H
Brock Lesnar, Edge & Chris Benoit vs. Team Angle
What a nice collection of talent we've got here. I'm a little surprised Edge and Benoit got the nod as Lesnar's teammates, and not Los Guerreros.. but whatever. This is one of those rare "either / or" situations, where they're gonna get a good result no matter who they pick. Benoit's been a machine lately, really forcing himself into the main event scene once again, and Angle's been a tremendous champion. They're doing this Lesnar / Kurt build as well as I'd hoped so far, and this is just another step on the way to that inevitable meeting at WM. I'd imagine we're gonna see a lot of teased physicality between the two of them, only to have Angle frantically tag out or something along those lines.
I'm eager to see what Benoit and Lesnar can do with Team Angle in an elongated environment, and to see how much of their past success Angle and Edge can relive with one another in the same situation.
You know, just thinking about it, this match pretty much embodies why Smackdown is killing RAW with such regularity. You could mix and match any two of these six guys and give us a lengthy feud with a sweet series of matches. Benjamin and Haas are really stepping up in the spotlight, despite some early hesitations, and.. well.. you know what I think about the rest of these guys. This is a tough winner to call, but I'm gonna go with the face lineup. C'mon, you didn't think I'd really choose against Benoit.. did you?
Winners: Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit and Edge
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Eric Bischoff
Thus far, I think they've pushed all the right buttons with this one. They've covered Bischoff's firing of Austin, pretty much nailing down the Rattlesnake's motivation for a return to the ring. They've presented Eric as a somewhat knowledgeable fighter.. maybe more of one than he really is. They've kept us in suspense, awaiting Stone Cold's first big appearance on the big screen. Now it's all come down to the performance and the follow through. I don't think this will work as an attempt to catch the Austin / McMahon lightning in a bottle for a second time. They tried that when Ric Flair was in charge, and I think the audience made it very clear that they're interested in new ideas, not rehashed storylines with different faces. These two could have a very interesting dynamic together, but only if they head for the road less travelled. But I guess time is the only indicator as to the way that's going to play out, hm?
This could really suck. I remember watching Bischoff take on (and beat) Ric Flair, and it was worthless. He really looks like a goon in that ring when he tries to book himself as a serious competitor. Then again, he's not in charge of the end result in this match, and that could really be his saving grace. Eric's been a bright spot on RAW since coming in, losing the demeanor that made him such a bore in WCW and growing a great personality. I can't say how well that new character will translate to the ring, but I'll try to remain optimistic. When you consider he'll be going up against one of the greatest ring generals in history, I think his chances are pretty good.
As an aside, wouldn't it be great if they booked Austin to lose this match, and he walked out again the next night? Not gonna happen, but I thought it was funny.
Winner: Steve Austin
Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock
I'm a big fan of the heel Rocky. With that said, the heel Rock we've seen over the last month isn't really the same guy I was expecting. He's had his moments of greatness ("Lookit the tongue! Lookit the tongue!"), but on the whole hasn't really slid effortlessly back into the Corporate Champion that was such an entertaining guy all those years ago. Regardless, I'll applaud the WWE for finally swallowing their pride and realizing that people are sick of the Rock spewing the same catchphrases he shot at us when we first turned him face. This is one instance where they really wanted to bring him back to enjoy the fanfare and promote his new movie, but realized what a mistake that would have been. Thumbs up to whoever made that obvious call. Hogan, meanwhile, is just inexplicable. This guy was the bane of every WWF "Attitude Fan's" existence when he led the nWo to stardom. He was the butt of their every joke, and mocked (rightfully so) at every turn. So, when the McMahons give him a call and bring him back as a heel, what does the crowd do? They fucking EXPLODE. No jeers, no paper cups thrown at the ring, no piped-in heat.. they jump out of their seats and start to froth at the mouth. I wrote it off as a short time thing, and I think the bookers did too. But then, when he made his return just after the Rumble, the reaction was the same. I really don't know how to explain it, the guy's got an aura. He's still something special after all these years.
I'm not expecting poetry out of this match, but I am expecting a certain amount of electricity. There's a vibe about most of Hogan's big matches, something that lets you overlook the fact that he's really very poor in the ring and just enjoy the moment. It happened with Randy Savage. It happened with the Ultimate Warrior. It happened with Roddy Piper, and with Goldberg. That vibe only intensifies when he's got a clear-cut role to play, as he does this weekend. Hogan's the face, and Rocky's the heel. And I doubt anybody's going to get a mixed reaction from the audience this time. Hogan goes over, moving on to meet Vinnie Mac at Wrestlemania.
Winner: Hulk Hogan
No Way Out has traditionally been a really high impact, meaningful event. In 1999, when it was called "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," it gave us our first match between Vince McMahon and Steve Austin. The next year, we saw Cactus Jack take on Triple H in a Hell in the Cell match. The same year spotlighted the first WWF PPV for the Radicals, Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko. 2001 gave us that classic Austin / Triple H 2 out of 3 falls match, and 2002's event saw the infamous return of the nWo. It's an important event, as it defines the kind of momentum we'll be seeing in the weeks to come with the Federation building toward WrestleMania. Over the last few years, it's almost become an event as big as the spring tradition it precedes. No Way Out is something that's traditionally better than it should be, and this year's model carries that tradition along nicely.
until next time, i remain