Friday, March 28, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE WrestleMania XIX Preview

It's Wrestlemania time again, is it? The event that started the PPV ball rolling, the big time, the main event. This is what wrestling fans live for, the one moment you can be absolutely sure everybody's watching. And, despite a poor year in terms of numbers and creativity, the WWE's pulled out all the stops in giving us yet another stupendous card. All the bases are covered Sunday, all the stars in appropriately massive matchups, and what's really surprising me isn't the importance of these matches... it's the freshness. With just a tiny shuffling of the cards, the promotion has delivered five main event-caliber matches that share one major aspect; they don't feel rehashed. Even Rock / Austin, the match we've seen twice before in the same environment, feels like something new. Of course, that has a lot to do with Rocky's rejuvinated new character, but the fact remains it's an exciting marquee matchup. Throughout all the shit we've put up with over the last twelve months, I've got to hand it to the WWE... when push comes to shove, they still know how to put together a dynamite lineup.

Lance Storm & Chief Morley (c) vs. Kane & Rob Van Dam
World Tag Team Titles

We've got one tag match I don't particularly care about, in The Undertaker & Nathan Jones vs. The A-Train & Big Show, and now we've got another tag match I don't particularly care about, in this collision. RVD and Kane are an uninspiring tag team. The only thing they could do to get any sort of interest from me whatsoever is break up, fight over who's responsible for costing them the tag team titles, and then move on. I've been a rather notable Rob Van Dam supporter over the last year, while my interest in Kane is virtually nonexistant. About five years ago, when he hadn't been involved in so many stupid storylines and blown so many feuds, when his character still made a little sense, when he didn't talk and when his wardrobe still looked OK, I could stand him. Now it's all just an overplayed excuse to shoot fire out of the ringposts and overuse the word "brimstone." Kane isn't a tag team wrestler, he's barely a singles wrestler. Meanwhile, I've enjoyed Storm and Morley's appearances over the last few months, no matter how many times they've wound up on the wrong side of a squash.

With three guys who can carry their own weight and one guy who's been carried through some good fights, this match shouldn't be awful by any stretch of the imagination. The deciding factor, really, will be whether these guys get scared in front of the big crowd or get motivated and put on the show of their lives. Storm and RVD put on some solid matches during their time together in ECW, and Morley's always been a diamond in the rough, but they've all had nights where nothing seems to go right. If we all keep our fingers crossed and the planets align just right, maybe this'll be one for the books. But.... I doubt it. Let's go with the heels again.
Winners: Lance Storm and Chief Morley

Victoria (c) vs. Trish Stratus vs. Jazz
WWE Women's Title

Should be the best Women's title match in the history of Wrestlemania. Which, looking back, isn't really saying all that much. Despite the title's ominous track record, though, Victoria, Trish and Jazz have been busting their humps over the last several months to give us a program that's worth getting excited over. Trish and Victoria's history together has intertwined flawlessly with the title's past around Jazz's waist, as well as "the bitch's" long series of programs against Stratus herself. Though the three-way feud has hit a few bumps through its development, they really hit a home run in my eyes on last week's RAW. A solid intergender tag match, followed by logical storyline development. That works for me, man.

These three should match up very well in the ring, so long as they can function as well in a three-way matchup as they each have the ability to in a regular one-on-one fight. My feelings on Jazz are very well known, I'm a huge fan. She knows what she's doing in the ring, and she knows how to make her offense look horrifyingly convincing. She's got a much more legitimate reason to be pursuing gold against the men than Chyna ever did. Victoria's improved by great strides as a character since her introduction, and remains a solid worker in the ring. She's moved past her initial struggles on the mic, and has learned to really become the character she's portraying. And Trish is, in my humble opinion, the Rock of the Women's division. There are better technicians, but she goes the furthest towards merging marketability, charisma, technique and appearance. She's the glue that holds the whole thing together. The major hurdle here isn't "who should go over," so much as it is "with whom should the victor feud after this match?" There really isn't anyone even in the same league as these three. My pick? You know I've gotta go with Jazz, shitty new intro music and all.
Winner: Jazz

Matt Hardy (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
WWE Cruiserweight Title

What happened to the "Junior" in Rey's name? Did they explain that away in a storyline I missed, or something? Whatever. This is the shot we've all been waiting for. The greatest cruiserweight in history gets his chance at legitimatizing the WWE's division, and the champion he's looking to take the gold off of is no slouch, either. Though my true cruiser dream match involves Rey facing off against TAKA Michinoku, I won't be complaining one bit when that bell rings and we're seeing these two clash. Matt is working Chris Jericho's old WCW "cruiserweight bully" gimmick, defending the title against guys who are visibly much smaller than he is, and doing very well with it. Meanwhile, Rey's been facing off against more and more heavy hitters since his debut on Smackdown months ago, to the point where this match almost seems like a step backwards for him. Seriously, he nearly defeated Kurt Angle at Summerslam, and he's facing Matt Hardy at WrestleMania? Tell me that's not a step back, and you're earnestly joking.

Yet, despite the perceived impact on Rey, this match should be out of the ballpark. I've been a huge fan of both these guys since Rey was dressed up like the Phantom in WCW and Matt was the more solid half of an emerging Hardy Boyz, managed by Michael Hayes. Mysterio knows how to dazzle with highspot after highspot, and Matt knows how to put all those pieces together into an impressive match. God, all Hardy really needs is a big time submission finisher, and his transformation into "Lionheart 2K3" will be complete. I'm looking forward to this match. There's nothing more I can really say, no further compliment I can truly offer. This will be the showstealer of 2003, so don't miss it. And, in my opinion, Matt's got more going for him at the moment.
Winner: Matt Hardy

Team Angle (c) vs. Los Guerreros vs. Chris Benoit & Rhyno
WWE Tag Team Titles

Perhaps more underbuilt than I would've liked. I'm a big fan of both guys, but there's no reason for Rhyno and Chris Benoit to be tagging together, let alone involved in this match. Los Guerreros and Team Angle have been at each other's throats, off and on, for months now. Benoit and Rhyno just kind of surfaced a couple weeks back and now find themselves a title contender. As Benoit's music proclaims; "Whatever." I'm not really a fan of the Eddy / Chavo segments we've been seeing. That little intro video, with their rotating heads and the old Adult Swim theme music, is hilarious, but the segments themselves are just needlessly stupid. They cheat at golf? OK... why do I care? Then again, they haven't revived Chavo's old horse, Pepe, so who am I to complain?

A lot of folks are coming down hard on Haas and Benjamin, but I've really enjoyed them since their introduction. I'm not sure if they should be tag team champions, but the way they were given the belts made so much sense, I can't help but enjoy their run. The Guerreros kicked the living hell out of them all match, but then made the mistake of overlooking which guy was the legal man and were called on it. It was a thinking man's victory, more than it was a fighting man's "W", and it's exactly the kind of thing I could see Kurt Angle himself doing in a similar situation. They're a little green in the ring, but I'd much rather see these guys perform than The Big Show & A-Train or The Undertaker & Nathan Jones. Count your blessings, haters! Team Angle to retain!
Winners: Team Angle

The Undertaker & Nathan Jones vs. The Big Show & A-Train

Let's count the bad gimmicks here; we've got a deranged moritician turned zombie turned lord of darkness turned cult leader turned biker roughneck, a deranged escaped convict turned pupil of said mortician / biker, the estranged son of Andre the giant turned monster truck driver turned immortal giant (I mean, he fell off a roof and wrestled later that SAME NIGHT!!) turned member of the nWo B&W turned smoking giant turned "amazing, tearing through the bottom of the ring man" turned comedy act turned nWo member turned biker hunter, and a guy with a hairy back turned son of George "the animal" Steele turned member of T&A turned member of X-Factor turned guy with a hairy back turned locomotive turned guy with a hairy back. I think that writeup alone should win me "best run-on sentence" in next year's Oratory awards. Whew... I had to take, like, three breaths in the middle of that.

If you're looking for something to miss while you head out to take a piss, this match won't disappoint. Maybe Nathan Jones will turn on his master or something. So that'd be one televised match wrestled, and one turn completed already. Nice.
Winners: The Big Show & A-Train

Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels

Man, I can hear John marking out from here. It's like Kamala and the Berzerker just pulled into his driveway in the same station wagon, and they need to use the phone. At any rate, there's good reason for my single-initial buddy to be shrieking and squealing like an underage girl at an N'Sync concert over the promise of this match. Truth be told, I've been dreaming of this "impossible feud" for quite some time, myself. And, when the storyline kicked off just before the Royal Rumble, I was eating it up like some crazy-ass candy, it was so good. These guys captured everything that makes a good feud with their first set of encounters, but a mistimed start date forced the writers to scramble for an opponent to face off with Y2J at No Way Out, so as to avoid shooting their wad a month early. As a result, the priceless electricity these two shared went away for a couple weeks, in favor of a Jericho / Test / Jeff Hardy series. Now that they're ready to get serious about it, the match doesn't mean as much as it did six or seven weeks ago. Sure, I'm anticipating the match... but not nearly as much so as I was before the whole "accidental striking of Stacey with a chair" thing.

Despite all that, these two need to really give us their all Sunday night, and I have no question they'll deliver. Jericho, especially, needs to erase his poor track record in the past. It always seems like Y2J has tremendous momentum going into a major match like this, but the match itself never gets the job done. He chokes under the pressure. Opposite the Heart Break Kid, though, I'm willing to bet that streak ends this time. These two should match up well together, and with Shawn's documented back problem and Jericho's finisher concentrating on the back so heavily, should have a really intriguing physical story already laid out before them. Michaels really needs to lay down for the younger guy here. It would mean so much for Jericho's career...
Winner: Chris Jericho

Triple H (c) vs. Booker T
World Heavyweight Title

Probably the most controversial match on the card. On one hand we've got the apparent bane of the "smart" crowd's existence, Triple H. Mr. "I'm so unfair, porking Stephanie and altering booking plans for my own betterment," the kind of guy every promotion seems to have. It's like promoters hire these kind of guys, just so the internet crowd has somebody to hate on. And, on the other hand you've got Booker T... a guy so wack, he made it into our banner. It's like David vs. Goliath, for the digital age.

I was really into the racial overtones in the build this match, as I stated on numerous occasions in the RAW Review, because it was really an unconventional way to go about promoting the match. Instead of discovering a silly quirk in Booker's past, playing a comedic video package or taking turns costing one another a match, Triple H went right after Booker personally. He didn't do anything out of left field, anything stupid, he merely came out to the ring the week after Booker's big win in the battle royal, and cut loose with a pretty solid display of psychological warfare. They didn't promote the idea of "white is greater than black," if anything it was completely the opposite. Triple H (the heel) is supposed to be despicable, to embody everything we hate about the world. We're meant to be screaming for his blood, not discussing the finer points of his speech and nodding our heads in approval like a line of bobble head dolls. No matter how ugly racism is, there are still people out there who think it's the right way of thinking, something worth believing in. And, unlike the majority of today's major storylines, this doesn't feel forced.. it's something you can BELIEVE people would come to blows over. The whole point is to get fans behind Booker T and opposite Triple H.

...and though they appear to have toned back the racist aspect of the feud, it's still a large part of why I'm looking forward to this match. Trips and Booker have had great chemistry together in the past, though their encounters have been extremely few and far between. Now, finally on the big stage with one another, I'm eagerly anticipating a large scale clash worth remembering. Both guys can really get around in the ring if they feel like it, but on the other hand both have had matches that are far from memorable. Despite the kiss of death Levesque delivered to his opponent by laying down for a clean 1-2-3 on RAW, I'm gonna go with the challenger here. Fans are getting sick of Triple H, and their interest in Booker is rising by the day. If Vince has ears on him, he'll realize where the fans' hearts are, and... y'know... Carpe diem.
Winner: Booker T

Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
WWE Title

It seems like all I've read since the revelation of Angle's neck injury is mourning and fears about the outcome of this match. It would appear as though everybody's all but written this one off the card, fearing Kurt's either going to kill himself by going through with this or ruin the potential of the match itself by taking on the kind of hype he can't possibly live up to. Personally, I don't think it's going to be as big of a burden as many seem to think. To those who are deeply doubting the possibilities here, I offer one example; King of the Ring, 2001. Chris Benoit wrestled in the main event of this Pay Per View with a debilitating neck injury that would require him to step away from the ring for over a year. But until the next night, when it was revealed he'd be leaving the promotion to undergo the operation, you couldn't even tell. He wrestled a full throttle match against Steve Austin and Chris Jericho that night, and returned a year later without missing a step. So it's with that match in mind that I'm not allowing the news of Angle's upcoming surgery spoil the build for one of the biggest title matches in recent memory.

I think these guys are gonna go in there and burn the fucking house down Sunday night. There's a reason they've saved this matchup for the biggest show of the year.. it's not just a coincidence, like the Title match from RAW's side. These are two guys who made their names by wrestling extraordinarily well. This is a match that's been building since the WWE signed Brock Lesnar years ago, and started him down the path towards a position on the big stage. It's two guys who've been doing this (or something extremely similar) for the vast majority of their lives, and doing it well. It'll merit buying the DVD of this event, when released, entirely on its own. It's just a shame we'll have to wait so long for a rematch.
Winner: Brock Lesnar

Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon
Street Fight: Hulk Hogan's Career is on the Line

Twenty years in the making? OK. I don't really care about this match. I thought it was a stupid idea when I first caught wind of it last summer, and I think it's a stupid idea today. It's not going to mean as much as McMahon / Austin, because there's nothing to make us care about it like there was with McMahon / Austin. They dedicated ELEVEN MONTHS to the build of that one match, so that fans were frothing at the mouth to see it, no matter how many stunners they'd seen Vince take in the past. On the same hand, it doesn't mean as much as Hogan / Rock I, because the shock value just isn't there. The magic was seeping out of those segments with the Hulkster and the Great One, it was a match we never, EVER thought we'd see. I still get goosebumps, thinking about that terrific, swooping camera shot that caught Rocky on the top turnbuckle and Hogan waiting in the ring when they first met eye to eye on that memorable episode of RAW. So, in effect, they're trying to capture two different bolts of lightning in two different bottles at the same time with this match. I'm afraid it's gonna fall flat on its face.

I don't like watching Vince McMahon wrestle, unless his opponent is named Shane. I also don't like watching Hogan wrestle. Period. I don't think a match that promised Chris Benoit utterly and soundly defeating the Hulkster in every aspect of the match could excite me about a Hogan match. Wait, scratch that... that's the one Hogan match I'd be interested in watching. Well, that and Hogan / Austin, the clash of the WWE's two biggest names EVER, which is my pick for next year's main event at Wrestlemania XX. So, OK, I only like watching Hogan wrestle when it's going to mean something profound. Which this isn't. Let's all cross our fingers and pray to the wrestle-gods that the rumors of this going upwards of twenty minutes are just that. Yikes. I know no hell like Hogan / McMahon for that kind of a stretch. I'm feeling punchy, so we'll go with the Hulkster winning this one.
Winner: Hulk Hogan

The Rock vs. Steve Austin

How can you watch two guys fight so many times and never grow tired of it? I can't comprehend how these two got to be so very good at what they do, but I'm more than willing to watch it again. Though Austin's character isn't worth going into detail over, since we've seen it all before, Rocky's making up for all that and then some. His new heel persona has been white hot since debuting last month, and long overdue. Hell, I was calling for the Rock to turn at WrestleMania X7. Still, after years of waiting, this has been worth it. The guitar, the mini-feud with the Hurricane, the new entrance video, the's exactly what needed to be done. It's a perfect package, and it's given Rocky himself (and this feud) new life.

When we look back at this one years from now, it'll be remembered as the night of Austin's judgment. Was he worth bringing back? Can he still do what he did best, or is he all washed up? Despite his unremarkable return to the old, forgotten form outside the ring, I'm willing to bet he's still got some "oomph" left in his step in the ring. The thing is, I'm of the firm belief that Rocky needs this win. He's bone without a definitive victory on PPV for quite some time (I'm not gonna count that tainted victory over Hogan last month), and is on the verge of losing his credibility as a prime time player. So, despite Austin's much-ballyhooed comeback, I'm gonna go with the Great One here. Not only does he need the win, he deserves it.
Winner: The Rock

In Closing...

I think I've honestly said it all. If I wasn't excited before sitting down to write all this up, I'm most definitely excited now. No matter how bad the year, we can always rely in WrestleMania to make all the crap we put up with worthwhile. Unless the WrestleMania in question is number nine. Or number thirteen, apart from Hart / Austin. Sure, we'll suffer through that bad, bad Smackdown hoss tag match. We'll cry for all the wrong reasons during McMahon / Hogan. But all the Hulk / Vince contract signings in the world couldn't add up to anything that's gonna make Angle / Lesnar any less special. All the hairs on Albert's back can't take away the magic of Rock / Austin, or Jericho / Michaels. Just like I was sixteen years ago, when I caught my first 'Mania, I'll be watching this one. Starstruck, and loving every minute of it.
until next time, i remain

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