Wednesday, March 31, 2004

#73. Draft Fallout, Part 2

After reading about this past Monday's Raw, I can continue to say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Smackdown was screwed. That said, the differences between the brands could not be more evident now. Raw is very much a storyline oriented program. It has a lot of talkers, so a lot of talking is done. It also has a lot of talented stars, but it seems to like the talking just a little more. Smackdown, on the other hand, concentrates more on the wrestling. It has stars that can talk (John Cena built his rep more on his talk than his walk), but it's the wrestling that is ultimately centerstage. So when the newbies arrived last Thursday, most of them were introduced in the ring, as wrestlers. Booker T was the only one treated differently, because they need to develope him into something immediately. The newbies on Raw, however, were more frequently introduced into storylines on their first night (Dupree and Booker T were the only ones with similar treatment on Smackdown, while on Monday there was Edge, Shelton Benjamin, Tajiri to some extent, and Paul Heyman, however brief that played out).

Nidia was first out, nothing much there. I'd hate to think that the highlight of her WWE career will end up being a trailer park relationship with Jamie Noble, but it probably will be, unless she becomes an importan presence as an actual wrestler. Edge, who speared Eric Bischoff as his big intro last week, this week was plugged into a match for Backlash against Kane. I hope this means he's in a holding pattern until Triple H is available, or unless he could turn out to be wasted Kane...

Hunter, meanwhile, is still milking his feud with Shawn Michaels, with Chris Benoit, current world champion, likely an afterthought (why else would he be stuck in another triple threat match??). Hunter still wears the pants on this show, that much is clear. Benoit has essentially walked into the middle of the Hunter-Heart Break Show, and even though he's getting some worth out of Michaels, Hunter is keeping him down by refusing to butt out already. Will there be another match, the next Raw PPV, between just Michaels and Benoit? Hopefully, but the question is, will the two working together have worn thin in two months? Unfortunately, Benoit's introduction to the brand came at an awkward time, as far as Triple H and his ego is concerned.

But from the ashes of Hunter and his Evolution clique comes Shelton Benjamin, the real steal. He's getting an incredible push, nothing his one-time partner Charlie Haas will soon see on Smackdown. What is there for Haas, other than an indefinite holding pattern? Apparently US champion Cena is headed to a feud with Rene Dupree. But what do I know? Just that Benjamin is the greatest beneficiary of the recent redrafting, with only Booker T and Rob Van Dam as challengers. But those two have to reverse recent trends in their careers, not build their careers, like Benjamin. Which seems more likekly to be more fruitful? But what do I know?

Tajiri, meanwhile, was immediately tied into a backstage plot with has-beens Sylvin Grenier, Rob Conway, and Garrison Cade, three spring chickens who will probably never go anywhere (the first two formerly being French faction associates of the aforementioned Dupree). Rhyno got to trounce Lance Storm, who will never go anywhere even with all the on-air attempts to give the poor guy some sympathy. Would he better off on Smackdown, as he claimed? Probably. At the very least, he could team up with Hardcore Holly (back in ECW, Storm was an Impact Player, after all). The two are pretty much the same size, with the same prospects for career advancement (the feud Holly got with Brock Lesnar a few months back was payback for a broken neck). I would rather have seen Strom make the jump than, say, Spike Dudley or Teddy Long. But what do I know?

While pondering the continuing shoehorning of Evolution as far as handing Batista and Ric Flair the tag team titles (and screwing Benoit and Michaels this Monday night) goes, there's Chris Jericho's further feud with Christian and Trish Stratus to consider, and this thing has been going on for months. Just how much longer? How much longer until it's a career? But what do I know? A god long feud is good news, just as long as it isn't being used so long because the writers don't know what else to do with any of them...

The show ends with Benjamin's huge upset over Triple H. One of the best things Hunter used to do, back when he was in his first phase on dominance about four years ago, was give all of the talent a chance to wrestle him. He showed great respect to the locker back then. But starting about two years ago, his ego ran wild and then Evolution was introduced, and all he was was the champion who never loses, and holds the world title for huge stretches of time, to the annoyance of the fans, who turned on the scene's premier star because he didn't know his limits. But lately, I'd say starting with his feud against Goldberg late last year, he began to return to form, showing his willingness to give back, play along with the game instead of dominate it for the sake of dominance (wrestling used to thrive on that, but only as recently as twenty years ago, when Hogan went wild). He allowed himself to submit to the Crippler Crossface at the year's biggest event, and now has let himself be defeated by a relative neophyte. This is nothing but good news for him, and for Raw. The playing field has been leveled. Evolution's tag team victories might have more to do with the lack of actual tag team talent (I really wish that the Dudleys could have stuck around Raw, instead of pollute the equally lacking Smackdown tag team scene, where Scotty and Rikishi reign almost by default, and likely in appreciation for what they've brought to the table previously). While I must again say that splitting The World's Greatest Tag Team up at this time was probably a mistake, I must also reiterate that it was probably good for Benjamin and Haas' solo success, which might balance things out.

And anyway, Just Benjamin's moment alone makes the statement that the lottery screwed Smackdown in favor of Raw all the more potent. Why give Monday a star with such immediate potential? If Thursday is breeding ground, why give up the breeding star with some of the most potential, especially seeing as how it's just beginning to be tapped? The breeding star for veteran swap that was Benjamin for Booker is just unequal, unfair, uneven. I have nothing against Booker, but he doesn't, hasn't, and probably never will have the same cache as a Chris Jericho. And speaking of Jericho and what his feud with Christian could become, whatever happened to Scott Steiner and Test? Are they to be cut loose, rather than be given another chance? Has neither any continued worth, or are they just a few more of the squandered talent WWE likes to litter? Maybe Paul Heyman and his new ECW could use them. Or Jarrett's TNA?

All I know is, the lottery still has not lived up to the hype...Let's see what Thursday has to offer.

Friday, March 26, 2004

#72. Draft Fallout

First, a word about Paul Heyman. Apparently he's off to restart ECW, so the events of last Monday were all a put-on. Good luck to him, and it'll be good to see a real contender for competition against Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Empire, I mean Entertainment. This assuming I understand the situation correctly, and that this ECW really will be independent of WWE. Here's hoping.

Now let's get done to the meat and potatos. Triple H didn't leave Raw for Smackdown after all. I guess the prospect of a feud with Edge was too much for him. Anyhoo, last night we learned that in place of Hunter, Smackdown acquired Booker T and the Dudley Boyz. Booker T I like. He'll finally be able to do something again. He'll be reunited with Rob Van Dam hopefully only insofar as wrestling on the same brand, and if last night was any indication, they will deinitely be traveling down different roads. Right now Booker is getting pushed as competition for Eddie Guerrero's WWE title, as the biggest acquisition of the recent redrafting lottery. He really is, and since Triple H didn't make the lateral move as expected, he's only got Edge as a rival to that title. No one really big got traded, only some minor major wrestlers, riders of the cuff.

If you remember my Smackdown-to-waning-WCW-days analogy from a few entries back (when I feared Undertaker was headed toward Latterday Hogan Mode, which in all probability he may still), Booker is now right back where he started his biggest career push. The five-time five-time five-time WCW champion past his hype inevitably turns to is from the last few years of that company, when he, Scott Steiner, and Jeff Jarrett (plus Sid...and David Arquette) were the last company frontrunners. Steiner stayed on Raw (though I doubt it'll mean much for his career) and Jarrett is still running the show in his NWA-TNA (which I wish would get a regular show already, and not the weekly PPV gig it's currently got, so it could begin to fill the big league void left by WCW and ECW being swallowed by WWE three years ago; the prospect of a returning ECW goes hand-in-hand with this). But Booker is back to a brand that is not exactly seeing a golden era. I'm not saying Smackdown isn't worth watching, but I am saying it's suffering from a lack of consistency, much like the Boston Celtics this season.

Think about it. Brock Lesnar just left town. He was "The Next Big Thing," like Hogan reborn (um, with actual talent), and for the last year or so he was carrying Thursday night on his considerable shoulders. The Undertaker was one of those who kept him occupied, but he's getting on in years, is constantly plagued with injuries, and as such isn't really much more dependable than as a familiar face. The Big Show, who can thank Lesnar for his rebirth in relavancy, can only do so much, and is in fact in need of some downtime to nurse injuries of his own. I read that he wants time off but that the lack of big name talent on Smackdown led to the call that he really couldn't afford that at this time. Maybe Booker T's arrival changed that, maybe not.

Then there's Kurt Angle, who has been working his already tender neck ragid in his four years with WWE, already necessitating surgery once and I think, from some reports, only narrowly avoided again recently. He announced himself as the new Smackdown general manager last night, saying he's willing to sacrifice his own goals as a wrestler for the good of the show. Read between the lines and you'll find he's doing this for the betterment of his health, which is highly commendable. His role as a voice now was no doubt inspired by Steve Austin, who retired from the ring (permantly) last year and has been GM on Raw for months now. The fans still love him, so he gives them what they want, just not in the capacity as a wrestler. Shawn Michaels did that several years ago as well, until he apparently felt he was good enough to compete again on a regular basis. Angle will fight again, but for now he's an asset in this new role, just as a marque presence, if not in a singlet than in a suit, as a suit.

Speaking of suits, there's Bradshaw's character evolution, made possible by Ron "Farooq" Simmons at last retiring. I'm not really sure why Ron didn't walk away months ago, why when Bradshaw was first getting pushed as a singles wrestler again when he made his in-ring return last year complete with a short haircut (beginning to distance himself from his APA past already) they didn't do this right away. But I don't suppose it really matters. Bradshaw has always been a presence, but never really a factor in his own right, so it didn't really matter. I don't know how long exactly storylines cook up backstage, but it was a pretty good confluence for the step forward to be made when the brands were doing a little spring cleaning. More power to him, and I'd like to read his book, after Mick Foley's, of course.

Rene Dupree turned out to be an amusing acquisition. He might prove a useful addition. Rob Van Dam has the fans on his side, and he looked better than I remember him, though still a tad out of step with fluency and believability in the ring. He looks choppy, methodical in slightly the wrong sense, when he's executing maneuvers, bouncing around. But he's exciting, that much is obvious. That's why he's so well-loved. Spike Dudley, however, is not so much. He reminds me of someone who really wants to be a professional wrestler, who has all the moves down, but who would be better suited to one of the regional promotions across the country. He lacks the look, but I suppose he makes up for it in determination and a certain in-ring charisma that works off that determination, and like RVD explains where he is.

The Dudley Boyz, however, are doing exactly what they did four years ago, just without so many tables. They've developed a mystique, I guess, but they're so monotonous. Not very useful additions. Same with Teddy Long, who last night approached tag team champions Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty. If all he's going to do is act as a backstage personality, he's more a drain than an asset. His personality is lacking, limited. I think I'd rather have Ernest "The Cat" Miller acting in this capacity. Miller was around for a few months on Smackdown, but wasted the opportunity with a whole lot of nonsense posturing, dancing like he did in...WCW's waning days. You see where that'll take you, what kind of atmosphere that'll greet that sort of thing. I said Smackdown was in danger of heading in that direction, not that it had become that. And certainly, at the time Miller was telling people to call his mamma, it wasn't as close.

Did you see Mark Jindrak last night? I didn't. Oh great, another "developing prospect" for the brand, like his former partner Sean O'Haire. I'd rather see Orlando Jordan get to actually do something, and not just appear as a vaguely familiar face in the back, than give Jindrak a chance to go nowhere.

I wonder how Raw will fare with its newest stars. No doubt better. Charlie Haas looked good against RVD, better than I might have thought. Maybe splitting up the World's Greatest Tag Team was a good idea, but I still hate the fact that Shelton Benjamin went to the country filled with all the giants. Some might say that Raw better resembles WCW (in its better days) than any era in WWE, but when Booker T calls Smackdown the minor leagues I can't help but agree, there's a problem. I love Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, but they're not enough to elevate the show past the developing stage. It's hard not to call something that has to establish everything a minor league, even comparatively speaking.

Jarrett's TNA could almost be considered major league in comparison...

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

#71. 2004 Raw/Smackdown Draft

Last Monday, or I guess it would be two Mondays ago now, on Raw, Vince MacMahon announced that there would be a new lottery to redraw the two WWE brands, Raw and Smackdown, to freshen things up a bit. So it went last night that...five wrestlers from Raw went to Smackdown, and vice versa.

What? Just five? And these five? That's what my reaction was. I was expecting something a little more radical. It might even have been such a headscratcher if the particular wrestlers chosen hadn't been who they turned out to be.

Rene Dupree, Mark Jindrak, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Teddy Long, and Spike Dudley make the move to Smackdown. Dupree and Jindrak are two wrestlers who are the kind of up-and-comers Smackdown has been ladened with for a year now. There's already Orlando Jordan waiting for some more action and breathing room. Dupree has exactly one thing going for him, and that's his French gimick, which without his partners in crime, Sylven Grenier and Rob Conway, makes me wonder if he's to develp something completely new now. Maybe I can deal with that. Jindrak doesn't have much going for him. Smackdown already has one former WCW 'Natural Born Thriller,' Chuck Palumbo, it's neglecting. Why take on another, especially one that I see very little future for, expect in the kind of tag team work he was doing on Raw? Sure, Smackdown has Jindrak's former NBT tag team partner Sean O'Haire, who last year began to develop a character and even had a working relationship with Roddy Piper going on. But O'Haire wrestled infrequently then, and hasn't really been seen since. They weren't much together then, so I wonder if the creative team is going to put them back together, or create something else for Jindrak to suck wind at. Spike Dudley will be another creative drain, being the kind of one-trick poney he's always been, and an unnecessary drain on the cruiserweight division, given that there's Paul London I'd rather see become better used. Is London even with WWE anymore? I mean, he was excluded from the WrestleMania open (which was thrown in favor of Chavo Guerrero inexplicably retaining, as I've whined about previously). I just dont' understand. And Teddy Long, what's he going to do on Smackdown? I have no idea, and very much doubt I'll be interested. He's not much of a dynamic presence...

Which brings me to the two useful Smackdown acquisitions. One's Rob Van Dam. I'm ambivalent about his prospects; you might have noticed that I'm not as wowed as others by his skills in the ring. But he does do a mean gorilla press. Anyhoo, which brings me to Triple H. My biggest fear is that he will soon supplant Eddie Guerrero for the WWE title, which will have made Hunter's humbling submission loss to Chris Benoit just an excuse to start another reign with another title. I don't know what's in store for him, but I'm wary. A particular reason I'll get to, but at least this opens the door to another feud with Kurt Angle, with whom Hunter had one of his better ones in the past.

Raw gained Shelton Benjamin, Nidia, Rhyno, Edge, Tajiri, and Paul Heyman. I'll say right now that it unequivocally got the better hand. Benjamin has better presence than his now ex-tag team partner in the World's Greatest Tag Team, Charlie Haas, and even got something of a push last week on Smackdown in a mini tournament. I don't see the logic in breaking the pair up at this stage in their careers, but at least they do get the chance to show their wares individually for a change (as a tag team, they'd been underused for months anyway). Maybe Benjamin can have a feud with IC champion Randy orton, or Christian (and conversely with Chris Jericho, I guess). Nidia, one of those Tough Enough winners who haven't been doing a lot of significant wrestling (actually, that'd be just about all of them, but I guess it's still early for such green performers), will finally be in contention for the women's title, which has been Raw exclusive for a year (to counter, barely, the cruiserweight title on Smackdown, though the difference has been narrowing of late). Rhyno, who has been making a career lately of jobbing to John Cena, might see his horizons broadened. Or he might suck Chris Benoit back into Dullsville, where the two suffered a year ago, mostly because they didn't know what to do with Benoit, and because Rhyno was returning from neck surgery, and they didn't know what to do with him either; hopefully that's changed. Tajiri I've always liked. I'm interested to see what becomes of him. He's being separated from the cruiserweights. Maybe that'll give Matt Hardy something meaningful to do. We'll see.

Raw's steals were Edge and Heyman. Edge is returning after more than a year gone due to neck surgery (shades of Rhyno...and Benoit...and Steve Austin...and Lita...and Scotty 2 Hotty...and Hardcore Holly...and Kurt Angle...), and could use the immediate hype showing up on a new show could deliver, although he was never around to do anything on Smackdown. I guess the point is that he won't be able to feud with Kurt Angle, with whom he had his most meaningful previously. So he has some new horizons. Paul Heyman, meanwhile, I really don't like seeing him go (did I mention I can watch Smackdown, but don't have cable so I can't watch Raw?), because I really liked him as an on-air personality. Why waste him on Raw, where all he's really going to do is butt heads with Eric Bischoff, the role Steve Austin's been filling for months now? Right now they're playing that he's quit rather than make the move. I can't be certain that it's a shoot until I see the results for next week's Raw, but it'd make sense to make a fuss over it, given his recent troubles with support on Smackdown. It's another "we'll see."

Furthermore, I don't like the uncertainty of the general manager role on Smackdown, which has been vacated with Heyman's redrafting (or whatever it is he's up to). Sure I'd love to see Austin on Thursday nights. I wouldn't complain. But what if it's Triple H's offscreen bouncing bride, Stephanie McMahon, who was the original Smackdown GM a year ago? I don't think I could put up with a lot more of her screaching...Or it could be someone else entirely, like a welcomely returning William Regal (though I wouldn't place bets on that).

I guess the point is, I'm not all that satisfied with the second brand draft. But it really hasn't had a chance to foment, so maybe some of that is in order.

Monday, March 15, 2004

#70. WrestleMania XX Results

Well, as it turns out, not only was it Goldberg's final night, but Brock Lesnar's as well. Lesnar wants to pursue football. He's young yet, I suppose. And the match wasn't slated for the main event, and the fans didn't really care much for it (maybe since both competitors were on their way out). Undertaker, who returned, seems to be headed to the Dominant Slot on Smackdown, and Smackdown is headed toward Late WCW Country. Shame that this is when Eddie Guerraro is champion...

But now Chris Benoit is champion, too. That's a good thing, like a return to the Bret Hart days. What ain't a good thing is that Chris Jericho was once again screwed. Jericho and The Rock have a lot in common, actually. They both get the shaft more often than not, but maintain fan interest in spite of it, only The Rock is a media favorite and Jericho isn't, and so it hurts Jericho's future prospects more and more each time it happens. This was the biggest night of the year, and the writers decided that it would be a good push forth story developments. Four years ago at WrestleMania 2000 Triple H got the win over The Rock in a fatal four way, which I thought was another crummy ending. The Rock I don't think ever really recovered, and soon went off to pursue film roles, which he's concentrated more and more on. Last night he and Mick Foley lost to Randy Orton (plus the backup of Batista and Ric Flair, who at least got a win at this event for a change, even if it had nothing to do with him). Orton and his Smackdown equivalent, John Cena, both got the wins, and so did Christian, making it a time for the young, I guess, as well as a time for the old (The Undertaker), and guys who have been around but only now started to get somewhere (Benoit, Eddie Guerraro). Then there was Chavo Guerraro, who got the win over Rey Mysterio, who now has consecutive losses at the event to wrestlers who're being pushed and really shouldn't be ahead of him. Matt Hardy is going to be fading more and more. Why is Chavo getting this push? In appreciation of all the years he did stuff and didn't really get anything to show for it? Is that was this is? A token gesture? Is that the current era?

Speaking of token gestures, Rob Van Dam got his victory as well. Ooh! With Lesnar out of the way, RVD can reclaim the top slot in the PWI 500 now!

Sorry, I'm just in a bitter mood right now...Last night should have been unbelievable. Instead, it was pretty much unbelievable. Cudos to Benoit and Eddie Guerraro. They deserve it. It's the rest of the roster that needs something now. Like a swift kick in the pants. Cena could provide it, and it looks like hes being looked on favorably, but he still has a ways to go before he reaches a point where he could properly call himself heavyweight championship calibur. Is Christian going anywhere, besides this feud with Jericho? The cynic in me says no. He's Scott Steiner/Test Redux, and he's dragging Y2J down with him. Undertaker is back again, and maybe he's the next Smackdown champion. No excitement there. Lesnar is gone. There's hope that he will return one day. Goldberg is gone. There's hope he'll return one day. Triple H has a feud with Edge most likely on the horizon...

Ah...I thought last night was supposed to be inspiring or something...Let's just hope that Sid Vicious doesn't rear his ugly head...

Sunday, March 07, 2004

#69. PWI 500, WrestleMania XX

WrestleMania XX is a week away and there are still matches on the card and rumored to be waiting for discussion. Without further adieu...

In 2002 Pro Wrestling Illustrated crowned Rob Van Dam the top wrestler in its annual PWI 500 ranking. In '97, Dean Melanko had managed a similar feat, of being a seemingly non-marque superstar and still attaining this honor, but the reasoning then was that the Man of a Thousand Holds had stood out in a crowded pack. It was an acknowledged upset. This was the year previous to Stone Cold Steve Austin's rise (and subsequent consecutive no. 1 rankings on the 500 in '98 and '99). So what about RVD? How did he manage it, when the same year Chris Jericho was basking in his unified title reign (which he lost to Triple H at WrestleMania in a foregone conclusion; this was Hunter's drumline to dominance for the next several years, which has continued to the present), among other notable accomplishments by superstars just in WWE alone? The answer is simple. RVD has a laid-back persona and incredible flexibility that make up in charisma points whatever he loses in unrefined ring skills and general lack of mic capability. The fans love to watch him roll around the ring, splash people, and points to himself as he mouths "RVD." "Real" fans, the Internet's offical armchair grapplers, and printed page pundits, they all consider him more than worthy to have a run at the heavyweight title that Triple H dominates. Back in the WCW/ECW Invasion angle of 2001, RVD was getting some of the loudest pops (audience approval) of the incoming wrestlers, but was never really given a role to match it. He was never even taken seriously for a heavyweight championship match, despite all this love. In 2002 he accomplished the same kind of minor feats he'd been enjoying since he arrived (I think his biggest claim to fame championship-wise is the distinction of being the longest reigning ECW TV champion, which at one point had him written up in a PWI 500 top ten appearance as having been the last one in living memory, while he still held it). He got named to the top spot without having done anything major, without, it could be argued, earning it. And WWE just kept giving him nothing much to do. The complaint was that he was being held down in favor of Triple H as champion (Hunter having his own say, since he has had a relationship with the boss's daughter for about five years now, and that's culminated in marriage).

The point being? He's never made a decent WrestleMania appearance. This alone is not the big. He recently lost the Intercontinental championship to Randy Orton, an up-and-comer who happens to be aligned with Triple H. He's a champion right now, however, tag team with Booker T (another victim, of a different kind, of the WCW Invasion), but he's stuck in a swamped match at the year's biggest event (well, he didn't even make it last year, so it's a step up) with La Resistance, who will never go anywhere on the Anti-American platform they're stuck on, and rookies Mark Jindrak (actually a veteran of WCW's final days) and Garrison Cade, plus either Val Venis and Lance Storm (oooooh) or the Dudley Boys (who have sorta outstayed their welcome), depending on the outcome of a Heat match. Not exactly a match filled with prestige. Will he still be considered a great wrestler held down by the man (or Tha Man, if you consider Goldberg's successful feud with Triple H)? Of course. He might even leave, as Goldberg is rumored to after next Sunday, soon, as other rumors have put it. I hope he hasn't stuck around for this, however lucrative it is for his standing with PWI. His supporters say he wrestles to the level of his competitor. What does that really say?

Okay, speaking of Orton, he's in a match, too, and he's being swamped. But he's on his way up. This is his first WrestleMania, and he's the star of his Evolution team of himself, Batista, and Ric Flair (Batista and Flair being padding) who will face Mick Foley and The Rock. Orton and Foley have been working hard for months now to establish this match. I suspect there's so much padding because Foley can't really wrestle anymore (years of self-sacrificing bumps as the King of Hardcore did that) and, well, because it's Orton's first really big match. Make him look good, in other words. I remember when he was on Smackdown (as opposed to Raw), as he and John Cena were flailing about without the personas they're both developed now. They were not much to see then, and now they're looking to be the future of WWE, starting from a little higher than the ground up. It's been done before, by Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H (who jobbed big time to the Ultimate Warrior in '96, and look where they both are now). Will Ric Flair finally record a WrestleMania win? Hmm. Well, the Rock and Sock Connection is back. Maybe, maybe not.

Smackdown has its own mishmash tag team match in the works, mostly because it, too, doesn't have any one team that's running a very dominant show. Current champions Scotty 2 Hotty and Rikishi, whom many disparage because they'll never go much further over the fact that one does a move called the Worm that is probably more popular than he is and the other does the Stink Face, which is just notorious. I love Scotty, but he's been relegated to a featured player for so long, he will never go anywhere beyond that (I'm fearing the same thing with Fred Armisan on SNL, and even his starring role in the "Eurotrip" ads might not soon save him). They look to face the APA (Smackdown's answer to the Dudleys), the Bashams (developing heels), and The World's Greatest Tag Team (developing faces). It's really the Bashams and TWGTT's match to lose, because they have the most to. I'm pulling for Benjamin and Haas, who totally deserve it, and a resulting feud with the Bashams and maybe the APA (if the promo they cut Thursday on Smackdown has any indication).

Women's champion Victoria and challenger Molly have been working on developing heat and anticipation, which might be a first for two women's competitors not being pushed as mere sexpots. A welcome development. The other match featuring WWE "divas" is a promotion for the recent Torrie Wilson/Sable Playboy appearance, in which they square off against Miss Jackie and Stacy Keibler (who has made it clear in the past she never intends to pose for the magazine, so making a storyline that claims she did is less than credible and clearly aimed for less noble ends, if that makes sense). It should be noted that none of these girls has been doing much besides this lately. Stacy comes closest, but the two men who were fighting over her months ago, Test and Scott Steiner, aren't currently on the card themselves. Maybe they'll pull a cameo in this match, and further erode their credility. I know Test can't sink much lower without WWE still claiming to be using him. Whatever potential he once had, has long been squandered. He's the hushed corner version of RVD, and one-time courterer of the boss's daughter (who opened the door for Triple H and was never really thanked for it, unless his lingering in mediocrity was that, no thanks).

There's a match with spoiler potential on the card, and it's Smackdown's Cruiserweight Open, in which current champion Chavo Guerraro defends his title against all the little guys who are fit to enter. That means a whole lot of underappreciated Smackdown stars, including Rey Mysterio, Tajiri, Jamie Noble, and Paul London, who lack charisma on the mic but more than make up for it in the ring. Maybe Raw's Matt Hardy, who might now be regretting making the jump, might even show up. He wrestled Mysterio over the title last year at the same event, and at this time has nothing on his plate for the historic card. How far he fell. He would likely have been guaranteed something, maybe even a one-one one encounter with Chavo (which would have squeazed out Mysterio, but we digress...again).

One last (possible) match in this rambling commentary. Eric Bischoff vs. Vince McMahon. Boy does this sound good on paper. They've been rivals on paper since WCW was winning the Monday Night Wars with its nWo freshness. Neither is really much in the ring, but just the thought-that-counts feeling it musters would put it over. Vince has developed himself the ultimate heel persona. It'd be a shame to waste it here.

Well then. One more week.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

#68. WrestleMania XX Preview

It's been a few months again, hasn't it? At any rate, WrestleMania 20 will be here in a scant few weeks, and the card is looking every bit as good as it should, given the occasion.

Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar
This is no huge surprise, as WWE has been building toward this since Royal Rumble in January, even earlier, if you count the encounter at Survivor Series from around the time I last wrote here. The parallels between their careers is unmistakable. What else was Goldberg in his WCW days than the Next Big Thing? What WWE did differently with Lesnar was allow him to lose a little more often, demystifying the mystique they built around him right away. You can be a dominant star and still lose. Maybe it has something to do witn Goldberg's ego. I can't really say. Nevertheless, the two are headed toward a collision, and I'm not sure who they're setting up to win this one. This is a good thing. Goldberg is a Raw superstar. He's just about the only wrestler on that roster who has been able to put chinks in Triple H's armor, although he hasn't done much beyond that (last summer, before that feud got underway, there was talk WWE was so upset at Goldberg's underperformance that they were pinning their woes on him). The big question for him now is this: has he proven that he merits the hype? Is his match against Lesnar a test? Win or lose, where does he go from here? Back to Raw, jump ship to Smackdown? For Lesnar, this match is testemant to where he is, without question. He's making his second WrestleMania appearance, after starring in it last year (and unfortunately, his signature was a botched moonsault). This match could be considered the main event (I'll get back to this later). He's proven that he can get booked to a match on the biggest card and that match not be over a title. And on top of that, like I said, it's pretty much the main event. I think Hulk Hogan did that once, though his big match was against Sid Vicious. Sid did a few things in the years following, but when he was WCW champion no one was taking much pride in that (witness Chris Benoit, but I'll get back to that, too). Anyway, for Lesnar, this is nothing to sweat about. This proves he's made it. For Goldberg, it very well could be a different story. But the two of them together equals, no matter where they are, one of the biggest encounters at WrestleMania since probably Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. I'm talking about both competitors being at the same level (from whichever direction). Shawn Michaels was just getting to the top of the heap in '96 when he took part in the epic iron man match against Bret Hart; that's the last match I think would compare. Steve Austin and The Rock's matches are the next best things, but nobody ever claimed The Rock was dominant in the ring. He might have been, and still is, many things in WWE and beyond, but he was never pushed as the greatest wrestler of the day.

Okay, moving on...

Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit

This is for Raw's world title, and it's without a doutb Triple H's biggest challenge at WrestleMania yet. Either one of the competitors would have made it that, but both of them puts the match off the charts. Yet I wouldn't call it main event material simply because it's been blunted like that, made into a triangle match. Benoit, who should have been at the point by now where he wouldn't have to depend on someone else to bulster one of his matches (after more than a year's past classic Royal Rumble encounter with Kurt Angle, has been a world champion, just before he left WCW for WWE some four years ago (he defeated Sid for it). And he's proven time and again he's one of the best if not the best wrestler working in America today, in terms of technical skills if not bravado. It's precisely because he lacks bravado that he's been kept back all these years, and because he lacks the prestige of Triple H or Shawn Michaels that he needs them both to be allowed into such a forum as a world title bout at WrestleMania. Last year he was involved in an inconsequential tag team match, this just three months after his match with Angle. This will be the fourth time Michaels competes for a world title belt on the year's biggest card (there were the Kevin Nash, Hart, and Austin encounters previously), and first in over half a dozen years. He's worked hard to get back to this point. You can go see his effort last year against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania for evidence. he and Triple H have been friends and foes for years now. They just had a match against each other at Royal Rumble. Triple H more than deserves to be up here, dominating Raw as he has been for over a year now. And so does Michaels. And definitely so does Benoit. But all together? I don't know. Benoit jumped ship from Smackdown to get here. Should he have?

Eddie Guerarro vs. Kurt Angle

This is the match that resulted from Benoit going to Raw. It enabled Guerarro, equally worthy of finally entering the spotlight, to defeat Brock Lesnar last month for the Smackdown title and set up an obvious match with Angle, who for months had been working as an intermediary for no particular reason between Eddie and his cousin Chavo. This match could be seen from more than a mile back. It's the stage it was to take, the forum, that took me by surprise, though not after Benoit skipped over to Raw. I saw it coming. I've been following wrestling for over a decade now (it was WrestleMania 10 that took place when I was really getting into it). Guerarro and Angle are two of the better wrestlers I've seen in all that time. Angle lost the title a year ago when he needed neck surgery, which put into doutb how good a match he could put on against Lesnar, an encounter many had salivated over given the two's similar amateur backgrounds. This time Angle's victory would seem a synch, but they've just set him up on television as the heel. Not too many of those have come out on top at WrestleMania, and most of them were Triple H. Eddie deserves this run, and a month as champion seemed to be the most he could ask for. It's not a matter of how long he could last as champion, but how long the brass would allow him to go. Right now it seems the confidence is high for Latino Heat. He benefits from the kind of charisma Benoit lacks. The fans love him. Is this main event material? Even with Eddie so deserving and such a crowd pleaser, he's not at the level where you'd pin such a task on him. Maybe this is a stepping stone. Or maybe Goldber/Lesnar really is the main event.

There are a few other match-ups worth mentioning. The nonfighting Smackdown US champion Big Show stands for perhaps his greatest singles showing at WrestleMania when he takes on John Cena, who has been getting a generous push for quite some time now without actually going anywhere. Cena should win this, and thankfully he's reached a point in the ring where he deserves it. As far as I know, this match hasn't been declared yet (I don't get Raw, as I don't get cable, and so these developments are made aware to me on delay), but Christian and Chris Jericho should be meeting each other in the ring. This is not much news for Jericho. He was undisputed champion a few years back, but has struggled to follow that up with anything else. He gave a good fight to Michaels last year, but was denied the crucial victory. If not for that (and possibly Triple H and Goldberg, and maybe even Chris Benoit), he'd without a doubt being having a bigger match than this. But it's a good thing for Christian, who could use a good singles fight to elevate his status. If I got what I wanted, Jericho would land at Smackdown following this PPV, and Edge would finally return and maybe go to Raw like it has been speculated, and I would be fine with that. There's also Undertaker's return, as the Dead Man once again, and he should have a good match with Kane (a WrestleMania rematch, in fact), since Kane has improved exponentially in the past year as a presence in the ring, since he lost his mask and truly became a monster, as he was supposed to be all along.

In nonwrestling news, I've begun to soften my view of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's more to great achievements than just the trappings of writing and specific storytelling ability. He gave us a grand vision. Sometimes that's all you can ask for. Good for him and his Academy Awards accolades.


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