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Olympic Hero Kurt Angle

Perry Saturn

Matt Spence's 'The Deal'

Slobberknockers abound
Ringside Shadows #118: The Night that Shook the World?

So, here we are. It's time for the "big" Nitro, and I'll admit.. I'm actually looking forward to it. Not only did Bischoff and Russo do the unthinkable and get me excited enough to leave work early to ensure I wouldn't miss anything (F'n Indiana time zone changes..), but they somehow managed to deliver along the way. With a card and angle lineup that reads almost like an internet wish list, it's no secret what audience they were playing to here. Sure, they tripped a little along the way with the follow through, but the evening as a whole was surprisingly solid.

Meanwhile, Raw countered with an unnaturally mediocre card. The magic was there, but it came and went at its own leisure. The counter-main event of HHH vs. Taka was great (as for why, I'll get to it later), but came on the heels of yet another drawn out intro interview, an apallingly horrible Kat / Terri quasi-angle, and a cloudy tag title match. Then again, they brought out Kurt Angle.. and goddamned, I like Kurt Angle. He's the only man that could work abstinence into a promo convincingly... and is it any surprise he was booed for it? Angle knows how to play the youth, he's got the talent, and he ain't afraid to talk. If I had to put money on a surefire main eventer within two years, I'd skim right over Jericho, Benoit and even Guerrero. Put me down for twenty bucks on this guy, as entire federations have been built around less.

I suppose I've rambled on long enough to call this an intro, so let's get into the specifics of the eve, shall we?

The Angle of the Night

For the first time since that all-too short post Bischoff booking run last summer (you know, the poor fellows that got sandwiched between Eric's firing and Russo's hiring?), I can't wait to see what comes next. While I'll bitch and moan every time I see a uselessly boorish half hour intro, this is one occasion where I'll shut up and admit it was necessary. Though things weren't entirely erased and begun from scratch (You notice how Hogan and Sid were never on camera at the same time? How Sting went right for Vampiro? How Jarrett and Hennig played up their roles in the 'powers that be' saga?), it's about as close as we're likely to get, as anything more would've been confusing. Words can't really describe how much impact that filled ring added to the promo (though Van Hammer was disturbingly featured time and again). Just so long as this doesn't become a weekly event, it delivered that necessarily special atmosphere.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above.. the angles were custom-made for internet consumption. The Hogan / Kidman angle's been a hot subject of late, especially with Perry Saturn's commentary. The backstory behind Flair and Douglas is the stuff of legends. Even the most recent story of them all, Mike Awesome's introduction, was internet-stamped prior to its airing. Not that I'll complain... I mean, these are the kind of things I've been itching to see for ages. I just hope Turner doesn't expect a full blown ratings comeback from it, as we don't make up the majority of the viewing audience. But with all modesty aside, I think the casual viewer could catch on to what we're into pretty easily.

As Matt Spence commented in his earlier column, the whole 'New Blood' angle strikes too closely to the same old nWo for my liking, with the spraypaint as the dead giveaway. Still, the whole thing could work if it's handled correctly. Case in point, Hogan vs. Kidman and Flair vs. Douglas. Ric proved why he's still the man, and always has been by selling an equal amount of Shane's offense.. effectively getting him over as a formidable threat and getting fans really, really into the feud. On the other side of the ball, Hogan only sold Kidman's intial cheap shot offense, while the former Flock mainstay made the Hulkster look like a million bucks throughout the rest of the segment.. selling in a fashion that could draw a comparison to X-Pac. I guess Hogan feels the rub alone is enough, and he's above actually selling any offense. Hell, I'd even planned to make a John Tenta remark here, but Spence beat me to it again! Damn you, Matt!!

All kidding aside, both angles still have a lot of potential.. but it all rides on the long term. If Bischoff and Russo planned more than an intial leadup here and have a blowoff in sight, things could be on the rebound faster than anybody could've foreseen. It's easy to come up with a cool concept, but it's even easier to lose it again on the execution, as the nWo showed us all. Week two's likely to show us what we have to look forward to, much more effectively than this liftoff could. We're off on the right foot, now let's see if we can keep it together long enough to make things interesting again.

Not the Invasion I Was Looking For..

As rumors flew across the web in the days leading up to the big show, one in particular caught my eye.. the ever present ECW invasion potential. As ludicrous as it all sounds, the telltale sign would be the presence of Mike Awesome... and when he was delivered, my eyes were immediately peeled for Heyman at ringside or another such sign. Maybe a Super Crazy interference in a cruiserweight match.. maybe a Tajiri run-in during Jarrett / Hennig. If anything could get these two far and above the WWF's lagging product, it would be a combination of forces... and I'd love to see it.

Instead, we got an invasion of different sorts. Mike Awesome was involved, certainly.. but instead of Little Spike Dudley we got Sean Stasiak. Where I'd hoped to see Masato Tanaka, we got Tank Abbott. Not quite as intriguing, nor as effective, but an invasion nonetheless. Awesome's come in with a ride straight to the top, jumping headfirst into an angle with Kevin Nash. Abbott made a splash as the cold blooded shootfighter that wants a bit of Goldberg (and actually doing a surprisingly good job of it). Stasiak played the flunky of the three, blowing his 'new Mr. Perfect' gimmick right off the bat with the ugliest Samoan drop you'll ever see. So much for that idea..

Waitaminute.. Raw Taking a Page from Nitro?!

Was anybody else reminded of the Rey / Flair encounter of almost precisely one year ago, during the main event of this past Raw? HHH vs. Taka Michinoku picked up right where Nitro left off in this ongoing David v. Goliath battle, and played the card beautifully. Much as I might dislike him in the ring, I'll give HHH all the credit in the world.. he sold this entire match, and did so in a fashion that made Taka's lightweight offense credible. That's more than Flair could say (remember those ugly head scissors he tried to sell?), and he deserves a pat on the back for a job well done. Vince, too, is owed a congratulations for making us all believe the title would change hands.. he had my attention, and I was immediately behind Taka. Hell, he had a captive audience in Southern Florida convinced that Michinoku could pull this one off.. and they would've loved every minute of it. Bravo.

After all the dick sucking that went on there, I couldn't help but follow it up with a complaint. DROP THE WOMEN'S DIVISION!!! It isn't working, Vince. It's never worked, Vince. Segments like last night's only serve to destroy the credibility you've worked so hard to gain, and I'd challenge you to find anyone entertained by it. So why, you may ask, does this fit under the same heading as the last? Guys, Nitro may not have invented the terror of a women's divison that sucks an ass larger than Phatu's... but they certainly perfected it. Here's hoping Bischoff doesn't decide to destroy everything he's begun to rebuild by bringing that crap back into the picture.

Vince Centers on One Man

If I called it a panic button, I'd be lying, because it's classic McMahon. Whether it's Hogan, Hart, Michaels, Austin or Rocky, Vince doesn't seem to have room at the top for more than one superstar. While it could be argued that Helmsley still holds the title, last night's champion wasn't the man wearing the strap. McMahon always has and always will build the federation around one man, and unless Austin can recapture his past glory in a hurry.. the man of 2000 is the Rock. Surprisingly enough, though, Vince was playing the face last night. Personally, I didn't like either man.. but I saw Vince's point. He really did build Rocky.. he really was behind the man's popularity.. and he had a valid argument. The Rock's response? "Uhh... the rock doesn't CARE what you think!! yeah.." Hell, Vince even brought a llama into the argument, proving where all their past year's worth of storylines have been coming from.

Nah, I won't be as conceded as to claim Vince got anything from my columns, or to even claim that he knows of their existence.. let alone spends a moment of his time reading my opinions. I just think it's a bit annoying that I'll have to put a disclaimer at the top of every future PPV preview thanks to this little coincidence. I'm the originator of the llama, and I feel fine.

Apparantly though, enough is never enough for Vince. Not until the Big Bossman's become one of the aforementioned "men to build a federation around". Somebody explain his presence in the main event to me, quick. I need a laugh. And then, as icing on the cake, he couldn't leave well enough alone. As the ending was tailor made for a huge Undertaker return, he sends out... the Acolytes? Sure, sure.. they've more business in the event than the Bossman, and they're getting somewhat over. Just tell me you wouldn't have been left in awe when all the arena lights cut to black, right as HHH readied to deliver that big pedigree on the chair. Tell me that familiar 'gong' wouldn't have been enough to send shivers down your spine. Tell me the Acolytes had more business in the cage match than a returning Undertaker, and I'll tell you where to find a complete tool. Just another case of McMahon holding a trump card and then flushing it down the toilet.

All in all, it'll be good to have a little competition again.. and from the looks of things, it couldn't have come at a better time. Raw's disregard for this big Nitro was blatant, and I'm sure their performance was a test to see just how little they could get away with airing while still carrying a tremendous ratings advantage. Granted, they didn't suffer much from all the hype.. which is enough to cause concern. Until WCW can compete head to head in the ratings, the WWF doesn't have reason to take it out of cruise control and get creative again. As for now they seem content to ride that wave, and though I don't like it.. I can't blame them, either. The ball's in WCW's court now. If they choose to drive all the way to the basket, things could get close in a hurry. If they hesitate, they may as well head back to the showers now.

My neck's been sore all day. Just thought I'd fill everybody in. John and I will be around Friday for our World's Greatest Stampede preview, and I'll be taking this week a bit lighter than usual in hopes of getting a lot of work done with my web site. Thanks to everybody who wrote in with thoughts on my concluded WCW talent evaluation.. it was a lot of hard work, and I'm glad it was appreciated. I should return within the next week or so, with a couple columns outside the bounds of my Tuesday Review and PPV previews, so keep your eyes peeled. It's starting to become a good time to be a wrestling fan again... but don't blink. You might miss something earth shattering.

until next time, i remain


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