Ringside Shadows #108: Making Do..
Following up on one of their most eagerly awaited PPVs, No Way Out, the wheels started turning for the WWF once more with their now expectedly spectacular post-event episode of RAW. Much like the big throw down the evening before, the card looks great on paper, but didn't really pan out as well as it could, thanks to a mismanagement of time, horrendous overbooking and a slightly sub-par delivery from the workers. Yet despite the chaos, both shows tied themselves together pretty nicely, and I'll be the first to admit this is a far, far cry from the WWF of half a year ago...
Nitro flailed desperately, and tried to convince us they'd seen the err of their ways by granting us a decent matchup or two throughout the night. They continued Vampiro's whiplash of a push, throwing him right up to US title contention. They teased us with a potential blockbuster in Kidman vs. Booker. They even somewhat intrigued us with Sid vs. Tank Abbott, but in the end the product was left as flat as ever, if not more so. My thoughts on the evening's programs, as well as a bit or two about last night lie in ambush just ahead... keep your head about you.
Nitro Tries to Make Do With What's Left..
The evening started off harmlessly enough, and managed to withhold a bit of interest in the card itself. Kidman vs. Booker had all the potential in the world, as both men needed a proverbial kick in the ass anyway. Since the departure of the old creative team, neither's given nearly the same amount of 'oomph' in the ring as before, and I can't say I really blame them. As far as Tony Schiavone's concerned, everything Booker's done has been in retaliation to his brother, and Kidman doesn't even get the respect of a mention anymore (sans the always interesting Madden word or two). I'd have preferred to have seen their split as a team given more time to mature, but the concept of waiting and developing a storyline seems as foreign to these bookers as a Cantonese lap dance.
All storylines aside, these two stepped in and stepped up, delivering a juicy bit of believable offense. Kidman made Booker's axe kick look credible, even after a prolonged delay.. and then began his trademark comeback. Hell, I was even looking forward to the Shooting Star Press at some point.
Vampiro and Jeff Jarrett are all the reason I really need to watch a match up, and though both were a little bit off in their fight, the booking nearly made up for it all. Vampiro was booked as the solid face, and the crowd really ate it up.. which tells volumes about the improvements Jarrett's made in the past months, considering Vampiro had lost a good chunk of his heat recently. For the first time in many moons, a smile crept across my face during a Nitro broadcast as Vampiro kicked out of the belt shot. Of course the premature ringing of the bell nearly spoiled the ending for me, but you can't blame the bookers for that.
...And Then Shows They've Learned Nothing At All
What you can blame them for is the rest of the evening. That Kidman vs. Booker instant classic I was praising earlier? Ended not with a strong pinfall.. not with a justified DQ.. not even with a double count-out. It was a no-contest, after the Harris Boys did their Sid-like run-in. They put the wrong man over in the Vampiro/Jarrett match (why do you need a US belt, if the title's holder is preoccupied in the main event?) They ran the same main events that've killed their PPV buyrates for the past 2 years... and nobody really noticed. I'm surprised they didn't air an angle portraying a 70 year old woman giving birth to a prosthetic hand (oooh.) On top of all that, they punished their audience for being interested in the matches. Just as one of the evening's matchups reached the boiling point and the audience started to get a bit crazy, somebody in the production truck killed the audience sound! And they wonder why it's so difficult to fill the arenas these days. All that, plus the triumphant return of the Cat! What a great day it really was.
It's the 'Twist of Fate', Samir..
I'll be giving you a lot on the WWF this time around, so I'll try to keep this short.. they've done a superb job in elevating their young talent. I'll touch on this later in the next paragraph, but just from last night's show they've balanced out the Hardys' loss, moved Jericho and Saturn on into a highly anticipated series and thrown Kurt Angle into a lions' den, dropping him right in the middle of the Radicals/Too Cool feud. The only talent I'm really not happy with thus far is Tazz, as he's stuck in the antithesis of good, the Big Bossman. His match with Benoit could've been epic, and served to get both over with the WWF crowd in as little as 5 minutes, but the run-in apparantly could not be delayed. It's a shame, really, as Tazz could fit into this puzzle effortlessly. I guess I'll just have to 'settle' for the possibility of Jericho vs. Saturn, Angle vs. Benoit, Malenko vs. Taylor and Guerrero vs. Christopher.
Why the Current Stuff Clicks
Quite simply, it all fits. The storylines the WWF's writers have put together lately are so intricate and interwoven, things start to fall into place and make sense on their own. Seeing Jericho and Chyna played into the Too Cool angle was priceless stuff, working to elevate everybody involved and stirring the crowd into a frenzy. Everything might not go as I'd like it to (most notably, the Benoit/Tazz match), but I'll accept the bad with the good so long as there's a good worth accepting out there.
The WWF's in the situation right now that most promotions dream of; nearly everyone on their roster is an acceptable main eventer either now or in the near future. The higher ups can literally pick and choose their future right now, and they've quite a collection to choose from. On that same page, the competition for said spot(s) is fiercer than ever, but friendly. The efforts of each guy in the back serve to push their peers that much harder and higher, in hopes of outshining the previous guy. All this, and everything's just healthy competition. Cool.
No Way Out... Didn't Meet My Expectations
I know, I know.. I'm a negative bastard, right? It's true... it takes one hell of a show to impress me, and I don't think much could've done this past Sunday night, after building it up in my mind for weeks beforehand. Sure, the HIAC was memorable... but it lacked the sponteneity that made the King of the Ring match so special. It was a superb idea to give the Hardys and Edge/Christian a full 15 minutes, but both teams weren't wearing their game faces and the match suffered quite a bit as a result. I'll keep these short, and for the first time in human history... I'll award a star-based rating (Oh, lord.. I've descended to the level of the ordinary)
-Kurt Angle over Chris Jericho-
This was quite the opener, and the crowd appreciated it, until they actually started wrestling. Angle started the job of releasing the Jericho of old upon the world again, as the Y2J looked to become innovative again. His lionsault off the ring steps could've been one hell of a spot, had he given it enough push to get more than a foot off the ground. As is, it landed and passed as a kick to the head and Angle sold it like a pro. The false finishes were very well done, and achieved their goal of getting both men over, as well as waking up the audience (who'd just started to nap due to excessive ringwork). I wonder... would Angle have made it to the ropes if Jericho had strapped on the Liontamer, instead of this poor, watered down imitation called the Walls of Jericho? Very nice, and the ending was played well enough to keep each man's heat constant.
-The Dudley Boyz over the New Age Outlaws-
Hot damn, were the fans happy to see D-Von and Buh Buh Ray. For the first time in a good while, the Outlaws were treated as heels. Nice. Too bad that was the only really memorable part of the matchup. Nice spot to start the injury angle (looked mean, but why wouldn't you just put him through a table? It goes with the gimmick so much better), the right team won, and the crowd dug it.
-Mark Henry over Viscera-
I was kidding when I mentioned Viscera as a potential add-on match in the preview... really. I was actually glad when the video feed cut out for a couple minutes, because this was just dumb, with the high point being the crowd's chant of "boring".
-Edge/Christian over the Hardys-
A much slower pace than I'm used to with these teams, and the crowd seemed to feel the same way. Christian was in there entirely too long and they fell into the rut I feared they might, simply rehashing portions of their previous encounters. Sure, Edge's spear from the top was nice but I've seen that one before, and they still haven't hit it quite correctly. Like I said, the match's pace was a bit slow for my liking but when it did take off, the action was intense. The finish was typical Hardys-fare, with Jeff selling Terri's shove as though he'd been shot out of a cannon (and taking a mean face first bump to the rail on the way down) and Matt taking Christian's finisher like a man for the 1-2-3.
-Tazz over the Bossman-
Was this altogether necessary? Tazz was over like a monster in his old stomping grounds, and they send him out there to do a minute-long DQ match against the master of the bad sale, the Big Bossman. Taking the nightstick shot was a decent enough spot, but the surrounding 4 minutes on either side pretty much slowed the night's energy level to a crawl. It takes a lot of shit for me to give a match the dreaded DUD rating, but it would be a struggle to even call this one a match.
-X-Pac over Kane-
This gave us a couple worthwhile spots.. and a bit of ingenuity, as well. I really wish X-Pac had utilized the entryway cage more than for that one brief moment, but it's all for naught I guess. For a matchup that went all around the arena and back again, this one was over rather quickly. The finish was well done, again allowing both men to keep their momentum. In this case, X-Pac took a step up after a somewhat clean victory (well.. ok, it was a bit dirty.. a bit) and Kane doesn't lose a thing.
-Too Cool w/Rikishi over the Radicals-
I'm surprised as hell the WCW 4 were treated this way, especially considering their initial push to the moon. Guerrero was a non-factor, and Malenko nearly jobbed within the first minute. I don't sense a burial in store here, though they do seem to be rapidly losing their vigor... again. Malenko's trying his best to put forward a little personality, playing the role of the little prick, always the hero when the opposition's down, but the first to run when the tides have turned. Either way, I can't complain in a match that elevates one of these teams, because they're both deserving in my eyes. This one had too many knee dives to register any higher than...
-Big Show over the Rock-
Last night marked the first time in weeks the Rock had landed a people's elbow without interference. Just thought I'd point that out, as an attack during the fabled maneuver is becoming cliched. These guys gave us just what was expected, nothing more and nothing less. Both came out of the curtains on fire, but ran out of wind about 30 seconds in and didn't improve from there. The swerve was an added attraction, but one I could've done without. A clean finish may have garnered this one another quarter star. We got nothing inventive, just two guys playing it safe on a 'secondary' PPV.
-HHH over Cactus Jack-
In some ways, I'd give this one stars above the legendary King of the Ring HIAC match.. though in others it pales in comparison. The stakes for this one were, of course, much higher, and the audience was much more receptive than that sad Pittsburgh gathering in 1998. The match was put together much better as a whole, but that isn't saying much considering the second HIAC wasn't much more than 3 big spots and a lot of stalling and rest holds. Gone, however, was the sponteneity. There was no sense of urgency, as though Foley's life hung in the balance this go round. Gone were the physicians (and Terry Funk!) from ringside, pleading with Foley to quit while he was still breathing... in their place was a solitary ref and HHH, kicking Mick in the same manner he would a dead rat.
Even JR's perfected calling of the match was off, as he spouted out nearly the same remarks as that late autumn evening a year back. "My god, he's broken in half!", "Call off the damn match! I'm serious!"... it just doesn't have the same impact the second time around, and I'm a bit ashamed that JR couldn't come up with something a little more.. I don't know, original?
Surely, this was the best match on the card, hands down. However, it's a far cry from the 5* clash my buddy John made it out to be. Mick poured his heart out in this by heading back into the cage one last time, an effort to please his overbearing following. I'll give him all the credit in the world for giving it his all one last time, but his best days are well behind him. Even with HHH putting everything he had into it, I don't think Mick could put together a match on par with Austin/Hart or Michaels/Razor.. both the epitomy of a 5* match today. I'm sorry to see him go, but I'd be even sorrier to see him stay and watch him deteriorate into a Funk or worse... a Hogan.
And that should wrap it up for yet another installment of the drqest column on the networks (boy that was lame, eh?) I've finally pretty much cleared my computer of the e-mail virus I contracted a couple weeks ago, but I've unfortunately lost all the mail I'd collected for print within the week. Sooo.. if you e-mailed me (or John and I) over the past week, I didn't get your mail. Sorry.. hopefully I won't have to deal with this sort of thing any more.
At any rate, I'll be back later in the week to progress on my unending WCW talent evaluations, likely this Friday. There will be no Tuesday Review next week (nor any columns, actually), as I'll be headed to Sarasota, FL for my annual Spring Break on the beach. I'll be back stronger than ever in 2 weeks time though, and as always..
until next time, i remain