Wednesday, July 28, 2004

#85. Prod Oasis, Trip to Alabama, Ric Flair Record

I think I've got my profile showing now, and I've listed my website in it.  Currently, I'm one of those bastards who has let my website relapse into dead space.  The last update was way back in September of last year.  The situation is, the computer I was generating the website from is no longer connected to the Internet, and that will not be changing for the indefinite future.  The main interests of the site were providing access for non-Lower Decks (at the OL message board specifically) patrons to stories I'd written, falling under the categories of Star Trek fan fiction (I'm under the delusion that what I write is anything but run-of-the-mill) and a running project featuring a personally created science fiction reality.  Truth be told, I've written more of the Star Trek (Copernicus) adventures since September than Prod Oasis (the name of said property), but lately have begun writing more Prod Oasis and possibly put Copernicus into retirement.

I just corrected myself, rewriting "turth" to spell "truth," though "turth" sounds pretty interesting, too.  (This is the kind of writing Scouring Monk originated with, btw.) 

Anyhoo, I'm hoping the profile might generate interest in the blog, or at least interest I can be aware of.  Then again, I spent over a year hoping interest would develop around Age of Mouldwarp (the website) and that never developed, either.  I'm a filthy, filthy dreamer...

Back to business, then.  Before I took my siesta last week (to Alabama, where Cracker Barrel, Krystal, and Krispy Kreme rule in place of [I'm not sure what would be the Maine equivalent of Cracker Barrel], McDonald's, and Dunkin' Donuts), I went ahead and looked up the present activities of Orlando Jordan.  It appears he's been taking some personal time.  It also appears that he has his own official website, where you can read all about his extensive appearances at house shows, PPVs, and Smackdown (and by extensive I mean minimal).  But I think I read at powerwrestling that he had a house show match or two as late as early July against Rene Dupree (the last man he wrestled on Smackdown), one of which I believe he even won.  And he's also strung some victories on Velocity.  And there's the fact he's been wrestling with WWE for barely a year.  I'll give him more time, and in the meantime will stop agitating here.  If he develops into something, fine.  But the man currently nicknames as OJ.  Can't be good...

Speaking of WWE (imagine that!) I recently visited its official website and came across a page, 200 Words, which apparently features regular columnists.  The current topic involved debating who would, or at least could, break Ric Flair's record of 16 world championships (taken from his totals in NWA, WCW, and WWE).  Flair is a hot topic these days because he's become the latest wrestler to release his memoirs.  The greatest heat this has generated comes from things he's said about Mick Foley (who he says couldn't hold a candle to him) and Bret Hart (whom he more or less completely trashes).  Foley is a different kind of wrestler ("glorified stuntman," is the general idea of Flair's opinion) than the Nature Boy, much like Larry Bird was a different kind of player than Michael Jordan (nobody ever said the Bird could fly, alas), so I won't spend too much time thinking about that, but as for the Hitman remarks, Space Mountain went sky high on that target.

He disparages the man's legacy by saying Hart couldn't run the show when he was given the chance in the 90's.  And you know what?  I can agree with that.  He headlined three WrestleManias, at least in theory, IX, X, and XII.  At IX, he lost the world title to Yokozuna, who quickly lost the title to Hulk Hogan (and I do mean quickly).  At least one of those developments doesn't sound good for Hart.  Sure, he had the ego to hang with Hogan, but in terms of drawing power, he couldn't cut it.  This was reiterated at X, when he won the title back from Yokozuna (who'd vanquished Hogan to WCW to regain the title), and the most buzz went to...Owen Hart, who had defeated his brother earlier in the card in a family feud match.  Aside from the fact that X is still one of the most anonymous WrestleMania cards, that makes Bret's best years less than thrilling so far.  Then there was XII, which should have been his showcase, even if Shawn Michaels stole the glory and the title.  But when the dust settled, the controversial "sudden death" finish discussed to death, the buzz and the momentum still HBK.  A year later, Hart finally achieved his Mania playing second fiddle to rising star Steve Austin.

It wasn't long after that he made the jump to WCW amid the Survivor Series scandal, and Bret "The Poor Sport" Hart began to act as pestulently as his ego had always hinted at.  Surprisingly, this did not endear him to the fans.  It took him two years to enter contention for that WCW world title, and it was Chris Benoit who helped him get there.  And Goldberg who provided the excuse for the meltdown. 

Hart has remained a mostly popular name in wrestling since his retirement, but mostly thanks to those who still remember "Bret Screwed Bret" vividly and because his brother Owen died so tragically.  Maybe the stars simply didn't align for favorable enough conditions so the Hitman could be remembered better, or maybe Bret really did screw Bret by taking for granted everything he got instead of being grateful.  Flair further criticizes him by saying much of his legacy rests with the Hart Foundation, which indeed his final championship run rested with.  This wouldn't even be a bad thing if Davey Boy and Anvil had been more than props.  The Horsemen and Evolution have more than demonstrated how a stable can uniformly triumph instead of merely support.

The 200 Words folks, meanwhile, had a variety of opinions.  The most obvious was that no one would ever break Flair's record.  The next most went to Hulk Hogan, who by my estimate is only a few shy (and in my opinion really shouldn't be able to, but NWA-TNA might provide the necessary platform).  Thirdly comes Triple-H, who already has 8.  He could easily stick around long enough to at least double that.  He's remained remarkably healthy throughout his prime, considering the number of colleagues who have gone down to the neck plague.  (The hamstring injury doesn't count.)  I have no problem endorsing this possibility.

Then there was Randy Orton, who has yet to come up with his first, but is young enough so this doesn't really matter.  It all depends on his stamina, I suppose.  The last belongs to Ric's own son, David Flair.  This was the biggest joke, past Hogan.  David simply doesn't have the wrestling spirit.  His father is the epitome of the wrestling spirit.  It's the reason he's been around for so long, remained relevant for so long.  Ric Flair is practically synonymous with professional wrestling.  Unless he can find that kind of spirit, David doesn't have a chance.  Not one iota.  He'd be lucky to acquire even one world championship before he hangs up his tights.  No, I haven't seen him lately, but what I saw in WCW seems plenty to judge this book on.  He doesn't have the heart, the motivation, or the spirit.  You can't make it on name alone in this business.  Ask the Armstrongs.

Eddie Guerrero is David's antithesis.  His family has been in this business for years.  It's in his blood.  And he's the son to carry on the legacy, to really excel in it, because he feels the fire within him.  Chavo Jr. ain't bad, but he lacks the flair, if you will, Eddie brings to the ring day in and day out.  He's won his first world title.  The second one is not far away.  I know Undertaker is scheduled to face (and probably defeat) JBL at Summer Slam and Eddie to confront Kurt Angle, but come next WrestleMania, Latino Heat will have reascended the pile.  Who knows where he could go from there?  To challenge Nature Boy's record?  Maybe not, but definitely his legacy.

Chris Benoit is the same way.  He defeated Triple H this past Monday in an iron man match, sixty minutes of highlight reel (I was regretably not able to see) sure to cement his second world championship run (after the WCW fiasco) as one for the history books.  Unlike Bret Hart, Benoit has the ability to demand attention based on his wrestling alone, and he's come to the world title with a following of equal demand to see him at the top.  There's no taking this for granted.  He's a champion who fights tooth (no pun intended) and nail, and has spent the first five months of his reign proving his worth by going toe to toe with the man many believed had staked his permanent claim on the Raw title.  Triple H has wisely done as no one ever did for Hart.  He's made Benoit legitimate.  It's Randy Orton who will be facing the Crippler at Summer Slam.  Hunter will be busy settling scores with Eugene.  I tell ya.  We're in a new golden age.

Brock Lesnar could be part of it again, and arguably he's got the greatest chance past Triple H to challenge Flair's 16-time record.  He's still young.  I haven't heard anything about his NFL aspirations in this pre-training camp season, so I don't know what his immediate future holds, but any return to WWE will undoubtedly hold a few more world titles for Lesnar, who was not called the Next Big Thing simply as a publicity stunt.  Of all his complaints upon his exit, I like two the most.  I like the fact that he's a family man and I like the fact that he complained about the prospect for yet another feud with Undertaker.  Come on.  Let's get creative.  The lack of which killed Bret Hart's career...

Jeff Jarrett, currently ruling NWA, could conceivably challenge the record.  He's already got a half dozen or so, from reigns in TNA and WCW.  It's not like he's going to retire soon, and he's always a perennial favorite to regain the TNA title, him and A.J. Styles (and Ron Killings, apparently, but not Raven).  Maybe he could even return to WWE one day.  Hey, stranger things have happened, a lot of them associated with Roddy Piper...

John Cena is another who has the possibility, carrying on the proverbial torch from Steve Austin, who had a late start when WCW dropped the ball and foreshadowed Kurt Angle, with injuries hampering his prime.  Angle, btw, depending on how well his new style goes over, probably still will not be able to contend.  He's worked himself too ragged, unfortunately.  Cena, though, will be a world champion probably within the next year, and it won't be his last.  And he's young, too.

Booker T has five under his belt already, but has spent three years waiting for another.  Y2J keeps getting passed over, too, but he might have a chance to change that against Randy Orton, if Orton wins the title soon.  If he could get back on track, Jericho could be another contender.

Or the 200 guys might have struck one right note.  Maybe no one will.  And maybe no one should.  16 is a big number, especially in an era where pro wrestling is trying to emerge from some of its worst excesses.  If this really is a golden era, championship runs should count for something, not simply mount up.  The Rock has 6, but most of those were ridiculously short.  People might not have enjoyed seeing Triple H as champion for nine straight months, but the fruits we're now seeing are worth it, at least in my opinion.  It's not like he portrayed a completely dominant character in all that time, and I think I read in Pro Wrestling Illustrated that the best champions make you believe there's a possibility they could lose.  Some would argue that Triple H weasled out of this factor in a number of ways, but the fact remains his dominance in the ring has never meant he dominated in the ring.  And I thought the whole point of professional wrestling was to be entertained, especially by the matches themselves.  That's what people love about Benoit, Guerrero, Angle.  Triple H belongs in that company.  He shouldn't be excluded because he plays his character so well.  Bret Hart?  Maybe the problem was, beyond the sharpshooter, he never developed anything past his ego to set him apart...And that's how you really screw yourself...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

#84. Ken Jennings, Wrestling, Movie Stars

Some settling, now. Brock Lesnar's botched aerial move from WM XIX was a shooting star press, not a moonsault. The important thing is, he failed to make it all the way around again and pretty much landed on his head. And never quite recovered professionally for it. It could be argued that Kurt Angle, who risked permanent paralysis to participate in the match, gained more from it than "The Next Big Thing," which is not inherently a bad thing, given how much Angle deserves to be seen as one of the premier if not that premier WWE personality of the current era, covering so well the fields of personality and ring performance as he has since he debuted more than four years ago. A year after this match, neither is still wrestling, because Lesnar grew tired of the personal strain WWE life can have and Angle's decision to have a 'ess invasive neck surgery than others (Chris Benoit, Steve Austin, Edge, etc. etc etc.) chose. He came backs within months, but has shown far less resiliency than at least Benoit, who is as much a machine as that Ken Jennings fellow from Jeepardy! (Congrats on passing the million mark, Ken. You have a long way to go yet, not to mention a near-guaranteed victory in the tournament of champions.)

I've heard too often that Lesnar walked away from Vince McMahon's opportunity of a lifetime because he hadn't grown up with the love of pro wrestling in his heart. The same argument followed Goldberg. But it's hard to put any stock in that when we also have Angle, who resisted entering WWE after his '96 Olympic victory (unlike, say Mark Henry, and look where that's gone) because he didn't think well of pro wrestling. He changed his mind and has the undying respect of guys like me. What's the difference between Angle, Lesnar, and Goldberg? All three were very quickly pushed into the championship scene after they first entered sports entertainment. All three were made out to be very big deals, before anyone had any real reason to consider them as such. Lesnar and Goldberg were big men, power players who seemed to be groomed to replace other power players, while Angle had the benefit of a broader definition, mainly because he entered in shape not much different than a Christ Benoit or Chris Jericho, both of whom he wrestled at his debut WrestleMania in 2000.

It was only natural, then, that he was going to be embraced more fully, and I don't think it has much to do with how well he was at developing a rapport with the audience, with his three i's and his insistance at being their Olympic hero right from the start. Da Man and NBT had mystique on their side, which Angle could never have, and they had the skills to back it up. People just began to ignore that fact when it became unpopular to support them. Goldberg was developing into quite the technical proficianist in WCW when he needed to eveolve his character. Maybe it's true that WWE only half-heartedly pushed him, and that was yet another contributing factor in his failure there. Whatever the truth, it's now a matter for historians, for all three, as to their overall impact. Angle might never wrestle on a regular basis again, Lesnar might never come back, and Goldberg is the least likely of all three to see Vince's playground again (though he seems to enjoy Japan well enough, where he could possibly have that dream match with Steve Austin).

It's funny how much Lesnar's departure demanded such a dramatic overhaul of Smackdown. There'll be those, and they'll probably be dominant right now, who will argue it was as much Angle's in-ring demise (at least for now) as it was Brock's sudden exit that pounded the third nail in the coffin and necessitated another Undertaker-like revival, and they would be kidding themselves. Angle has gone away before, most notably for the two months it took to recover from his ill-advised alternative surgery (or maybe he's just run himself too ragged in too short a time in establishing his legacy), and the show ran on without him just fine. There was Lesnar to carry things, give Thursdays meaning. But without Lesnar, it seemed as if there was no longer direction, and it took a lottery draft and the elevation of two lesser (by no means a phrase to insult either) stars to recover the ground. And to Smackdown's credit, the reinvention has gone quite well, even with Undertaker's latest, lackluster push (where're the complaints about that?).

It helps that it has Angle and John Cena to provide plenty of spark, most times together (oh, how I wish the two could spar again, as they did in 2003 to far less significance), and Eddie Guerrero as an immensely worthy champion. JBL has done a remarkable job, thanks in no small part the commitment to develop it, in creating Guerrero's ultimate nemesis (at least in this stage of his career). Booker T has become a dependable sub-main event performer. No, I would call him mid-card talent. In fact, he exists almost permanently in between, a counterpart to Y2J on Raw, which he could never have done on Mondays itself, given how many other wrestlers there who would love that honor. And RVD has finally developed his own niche in WWE, not as someone being pushed for any title, but as a guy who can give anyone, among those he's been given the opportunity to do with, a run for his money. He's never going to become the next Booker T, the next Y2J, the next HBK, not with his relaxed style, but it's enough to prove his worth as a dependable presence. Maybe a few months down the road he'll receive another shot at the heavyweight title, and really that's the most anyone can expect as forward momentum at this point in his career. He never even held the ECW heavyweight title, after all. It's the thought that counts, a whole lot more than it ever does with Kane.

Okay, there's also the matter of a number of wrestlers I've been dying to be used more whom I found on the injury list. Big Show and Kurt Angle, I've know about. Old news, and it's good that Thursdays have not suffered in the least from Show's absence, which is not as disparaging as it would have sounded two years ago. A-Train (a name D-Von once wrestled under, I've recently learned) is another, but he's never going anywhere on Raw anyway, so it doesn't matter. He was doing so much better on Thursdays, an had much, much more to lose than Matt Hardy in the transition. Christian was a surprise, as was Shelton Benjamin, but those were entirely welcome explanations, given how much they'd recently proven themselves and how rotten any other explanation would have been as a result. Scott Steiner and Test are two more, Test looking at the same neck surgery as too many others. His ring style has really be comparable? or am I missing something? These two are the opposite of Christian and Benjamin, unfortunately. Christopher Nowinsky, Blue Blood Tough 'Nuffer, is example of the danger of letting people who want to wrestle get in so easily. How many of those reality show stars will ever really amount to anything? He's been suffering Troy Aikman Syndrome, otherwise known as Concussion Land...

Wait a minute, Eddie's on this list?!? Hopefully his hamstring won't cause him to miss any time. That's be bad for Thursdays. I love JBL (more than I ever did Sid), but wouldn't like to see him champion for too long. I'd argue a massive push for Charlie Haas long before that. Jamie Noble is also working through the pain, and has recently gotten new ring attire. This former Jung Dragon deserves continued success in WWE, and it's a good sign for him that maybe his redneck persona is being slowly retired. Johnny Nitro, Shaniqua, and Matt Morgan are all developing their craft in OVW. Nitro I haven't seen wrestle, haven't heard much of him wrestling. Shaniqua is one of those Tough Enough champions who really didn't deserve it, and as I hear it will probably not be around much longer anyway. Morgan, who couldn't finish his TE year, could develop into the most significant alum.

Rico I knew about. Hopefully when he returns he'll have improved his characterization. Rikishi the report, which I got from, doesn't say what's ailing him. Perhaps a distinct lack of direction? Rodney Mack is another OVW rehabber. Will probably never go anywhere. Shawn Michaels is probably resting, but unfortunately is looking to return to find Garrison Cade syphoning off him for another attempt at superstardom. Ultimo Dragon never went anywhere, and now he's taking that and going back to Japan. Trish Stratus is the last of note (not counting a number who won't really be wrestling again, a.k.a. Rocks and McMahons). The report wonders how her absence affects the women's division. I already have an answer to that...

I also took a look at who's wrestled recently on Velocity and Heat. You can check off the names of Rene Dupree, Nunzio (in a match together that probably resulted from The Great American Bash), Funaki, Sakoda (still around after all), Billy Gunn & Hardcore Holly (now a full-time team, apparently, the League of Drop Kickers), and the Bashams; Tyson Tomko, Val Venis (who is officially never doing anything significant again), Maven (might eventually claim title of most significant TE alum; at least he's building a base for himself), Chuck Palumbo (apparently in his Monday-roster debut, finally), Rosey & the Hurricane (Helms desperately needs a new gimmick if he's ever truly going to fly), some jobbers (Vin Vain & Aaron Schlosser), William Regal, and Steven Richards (will never be signicant post-RTC). There's that.

Speaking of the Hurri-push, he had another chance Monday to show his wares, against Ric Flair. Euegene wrestled Benoit before receiving, ahem, vengeance from Evolution. Is Euege as a character a negative thing, or has he now transcended that? Something to consider as Nick Dinsmore continues to enjoy great WWE success portraying a mentally retarded individual.

Speaking of mental retardation, I read an article in the Boston Globe the other day in the regular "Life in the Pop Lane" column that insisted today's cinema stars can't hold a candle to the idols of yore. Yet another example of being unable to gain perspective, as has been such a problem for popular culture in the modern era. It seems the stars who helped establish TV and movies as something worth remembering will be remembered with suffocating nostalgia for years to come. Somebody has the mistaken impressive that the widely embraced stars of yesterday are inherently better than the widely embraced stars of today, and for reasons I have yet to decipher...The trend of the Retro Utopia continues.

And that's it, probably for more than a week. I will not be going back to the weekly update, and besides, I won't even be in town next week.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

#83. State of Raw, John Cena, JBL, Big Brother

I believe I went on at some length last time about Smackdown, so how about something about the state of Raw? Sounds great.

The first item is pretty obvious. He did it with the title itself for over a year, and now Triple H seems to be suffocating the contender scene with the World heavyweight championship. Sure, Chris Benoit has also wrestled Shawn Michaels and Kane on a high profile basis in the five months he's held the title (five months already??), but Hunter was a part of each of those feuds. Is he still "establishing" his successor? On the upside, I'd read on the Internet that he wasn't interested in an extended feud with Benoit, so maybe in some strange way this development could be seen as a sign of respect for the Rabid Wolverine.

The other upside is of course Eugene, who has "become" a member of Evolution. At the very least this has given Hunter a chance to once again truly be seen as the Cerebral Assassin. Just reading what's been going on on Mondays makes me realize this is the most interest Triple H has been since that sham wedding with Stephanie MacMahon. Does the fact that he recently married her for real have anything to do with it? Batista, meanwhile, is having his first real chance to be pushed as a singles star, and the man he's doing it against is the hardest working and best sport in the industry today, Chris Jericho. That make-or-break match happens this Sunday (tomorrow) at Vengeance, the only WWE pay-per-view this month (as opposed to last month's double shot), and the last before Summer Slam, one promo for which features D-Von's former deacon. Who wins that? It's hard to say. Y2J has recently put Christian and Tyson Tomko behind him. On paper, I don't see a huge difference, beyond momentum, between Tomko and Batista. Then again astute critics like Pro Wrestling Illustrated were saying two years ago that there wasn't that much difference between Batista and Brock Lesnar (or Rico) and look where that's gone.

And speaking of results, can the Crippler defeat Triple H again? It depends what WWE sees in their futures. As in, does Benoit really have one without the title?

Last time I wondered if I'd left anyone out, and I had, Matt Hardy. He's got a feud with Kane going on, the first time he's been relevant on Raw, since he made what at the time seemed like an ill-advised jump from Thursdays, where he was succeeded by Chavo Guerrero in the cruiserweight scene. Lita, of course, is in the middle, leading me to wonder if the Monday team has as much confidence in Hardy as Smackdown as it comes to building Hardy's character. (I also remember wondering if he was ever going to make it big, or if he was going to sink to the level of glorified jobber, a part he looks ripe for, especially lately.) Where can he go on Raw? And did I dream it, or is Jeff back in the ring and tearing it up in NWA-TNA? Nah, must be a dream.

Batista, Randy Orton, even Tomko are all rising talents Monday has embraced, due in no small part to plush positions the likes of which Luther Reigns on the brand rival (is that what they are?) also enjoy. Shelton Benjamin, meanwhile, is still in exile. He may be working Heat for all I know. And that would be a damn shame, and a damn waste of talent. Much like poor Charlie Haas is experiencing on Smackdown since his partnership with Rico apparently belly-flopped.

Why these individual stars, nonaligned as they are, are held back and cliques like Evolution make such ready prominence for wrestlers is another matter to consider. Last night (on tape) watching Smackdown I saw Paul London finally gain WWE signifance when he and Billy Kidman capture tag team gold from the Dudleys. Other cruiserweights saw some action in a six-man tag team match, involving Chavo, Akio (whatever happened to Sakoda?), Jamie Noble, Rey Misterio (who has been on quite a roll in recent weeks), Spike Dudley, and Scotty Too Hotty (who finished his first Worm in years!), which was nice. It just seems as if the creative teams are forced to work in some of the lesser known talent in cycles, as well as the smaller championships, because there isn't enough time in two hours to cover everything. WCW expanded Nitro to three hours, and that wasn't too hard, and too bad, since it resulted in Raw to go to two. With a portion on the viewing audience not receiving the cable shows and the results not being covered as widely, two hours of WWE wrestling is being lost, along with the impact the talent therein could be making.

Instead, there's squandered potential (yes, I realize you could say these guys are obviously not worth following if they haven't made their impacts already, but plenty of wrestlers take time to build, and need to air time to do it in) and wrestlers like Orlando Jordon who fall right through the cracks. In what was probably his last appearance on Smackdown, Jordon was finally given the benefit of entrance music, and an actual entrance to boot. Or he might have had to job to Dupree after that. A little too little, too late. All I know is, the man who made his biggest impact as a backstage prop name wrestlers walked past is no longer even doing that. Was he not worth the investment? John Cena didn't look it, not even after he got the gimmick that would make him a star, but more on that a little later.

Is Edge going to go anywhere after this Intercontinental title push, or is he becoming the next Booker T, the Next RVD? And speaking of cycles, there was so much push in the women's division earlier in the year, and Trish Stratus became the most dynamic star there, and now what? Okay, so Nidia is finally wrestling, but is that really an indication that the division is finally being taken seriously? The Thursday cruiserweights get more respect. Heck, Rodney Dangerfield gets more respect!

Then we come to last night's Smackdown. Kurt Angle, GM, has finally done it. He's ended The Doctor of Thuganomics' US title reign, thanks in no small part to Mr. Reigns himself. Kenzo Suzuki is the other up-and-comer benefiting from Cena's generosity (it wasn't a year ago he was still fighting to establish himself, which he finally did at WrestleMania XX, as a serious presence and true WWE superstar). Who will benefit from Angle's maniacal bent? Booker T? Reigns? Suzuki? Dupree is apparently ready to start a feud with Rob Van Dam (who took care of the "Reflection of Perfection," draft drainer Mark Jindrak, minus counterpart Theodore "Player" Long, early in the night), so his feud with Cena is apparently over and done with. Good to see both of those still have something to do, RVD especially if only to satiate his many fans. He might still be growing on me, but he still needs to tighten his skills. His match tactics on Thursday suited him well, letting Jindrak dominate early and then taking advantage of the fatigue he waited for.

The other current Smackdown saga continued as well, as JBL, still WWE champion (at least until next week) looked to look impressive again by crushing the generic Mexican wrestler El Gran Luchadore, who this time seemed to split in two (a la Eric Angle), becoming not unlike Mr. America when he started moving like Eddy Guerrero. Great show. The steel cage match is highly anticipated, and it looks to be fitting the bill of the Thursday counterpunch to the Monday PPV as was the habit last year. Smackdown is definitely finding its grrove, and it's thanks to guys like Rey Misterio, Eddy Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero Rene Dupree, John Cena, Booker T, RVD, the Dudleys, and JBL. Oh wait, did I just name all the regulars? The good thing about that is that those who aren't stars right now have the chance to be in the future.

Just look at Cena, or Randy Orton. Both were given their chances early on and neither was looking all that impressive, but the years rolled on and they eventually found themselves, and once they did that they were able to get comfortable enough to really break out. Cena at the Royal Rumble in 2003 (which I recently got on DVD so as to watch the much-hyped and deservably so Kurt Angle-Chris Benoit match that gave the creative team incentive enough for what the Crippler is experiencing this year) was a joke. Yes, Cena at the Royal Rumble in 2003 was a joke. It was the worst kind of rapping imaginable, the kind that had people rightfully hoping he'd soon get over whatever Vanilla Ice he'd had for a late night snack. But you'll notice as he's matured, both in the ring and in character, that not only is his rapping improving but he's growing less dependent on it to establish a rapport with the (increasing becoming his) fans. Cena in 2003, when he was Lesnar's first post WM XIX challenge, was nothing to write home about. Cena in 2004 is like the Rattlesnake of 1996 post-King of the Ring.

Other notes from that night included Lesnar's less-than-enthusiastic reception upon winning the rumble. He took care of Undertaker and then only got the crowd on its feet when Taker came back into the ring. I guess it's true. The guy was pushed too far too fast. He might have deserved it, earned it, in the creative team's eyes, but not in the fans'. And his chance to do that was at WM XIX, and his missed that moonsault. He just was never going to get it after that.

During the rumble itself it was apparent that Test was practically someone at the time. But that went nowhere once he got tangled in with Scott Steiner, who earlier in the night laid a brutal fight on Triple H. It was vintage Big Poppa Pump, but it was also the beginning of the end for the Genetic Freak in WWE. Maybe it was a reaction to Triple H more than it was to Steiner, but the two PPV matches seemed to only work against him. I haven't seen the other one, mind you, but when I hear things like Steiner is past his prime and that's reason enough, then I begin to wonder. Maybe he wasn't taken seriously because he was WCW's last dominant star. Those guys from the waning days get very little respect, and that's unjustified. Hogan, who made an ass of himself, still gets the biggest love when he returns to WWE, but anyone else, forget it. Even Jeff Jarrett and his efforts with NWA-TNA get little respect. It's always about the other wrestlers making waves there, like the X division or A.J. Styles or Raven's post-WWE revival. It's a WCW curse.

And then I read in one of the sub-division PWI rags a debate as to whether or not WM XX was one of the all-time greats. Call me a fool (and if anyone at all reads the Monk, they probably do), but it was. I don't even need to have seen all the other 19 to make that call. But what do I know?

Here's something, maybe. I tuned in to the premiere of the new Big Brother, and then quickly tuned out. That's the worst casting job for that show yet, and I've watched it from the beginning. What were they thinking?


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