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.

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