The Little Things 01.02.03: Best Of RAW 2002

Well as tempting as it may be to take the week off for a recap show, I am in a good mood and I have some good material as well. But first, I will kick off the column with something I could not contain:

Guess Hoo’s Back

UVa 48, WVU 22

My alma mater proved that it belonged in a better bowl game than what it got. I am having a great deal of difficulty reigning in my expectations for next year. I’ve already heard that Matt Schaub is on the short list for Heisman candidates next year and the words BCS and national title are even being mentioned. Man, I’m getting dizzy. Not since the Moore to Moore connection (Swawn to Herman, for the unenlightened) have these words been uttered around Charlottesville.

Ah, I do feel good. I don’t really fear any retaliation from bitter Mountaineer fans, because I’m seriously doubting that email, the Internet and other technological advances have made it up to Morgantown yet. Ha!

Now, onto the wrestling. We’ve had a very lively debate on tag team wrestling going on for a couple of weeks. From the mail I’ve received, it seems there is one group who believes that the “See What Sticks to the Wall”, random matching method of tag team formation, while often inconsistent, tends to produce the teams with the most entertainment upside (Rock ‘n Sock, etc.).

Another camp believes the traditional method of tag team wrestling, where teams have their own identities, movesets and other mannerisms is the better way to go. It is not surprising that the groups tend to differ in age, with the older fans fitting into the latter group.

My opinion would lie somewhere in the middle. Both methods have produced very memorable duos and clunkers as well. The best approach would be to use both methods but be reasonable in selecting who goes where and why, but then again, such a reasonable expectation seems 50/50 these days, doesn’t it? What is your view?

Charles in Charge

This week’s Readers’ Pick comes via my good friend Bill, ’01 graduate of Harvard University. His intelligence and optimism towards professional wrestling provided the inspiration for this column, so it is only fitting that the column feature some of his brilliance. This week, he picks up on the work of the often-unnoticed refs:

All wrestling fans offer warm thanks to those competitors brave and daring
enough to risk their bodies for our enjoyment. Even a “resthold” specialist, like the Big Show or (in days of yore) the Mighty Hercules, endures more physical punishment than we could ever imagine tolerating. More glowing still is our praise for those fine “little guys,” the referees, when they do their job well. Poor Tim White is still recovering from the impressive spot when he was hurled in a cage several months ago. Sure, it’s often a ref’s job to take a spot, just as it would be for any wrestler; but, when they
excel, they ought to go noticed.

Last night, the only thing that stood out for me in the main event of the evening was one such magic moment, as Little Naitch took a stiff shot on a “misdirected” kick from Lance Storm. He sold like a champ, and I’d be amazed if the blow didn’t leave him a bit banged up. Aside from lauding his courage, however, the spot was another reminder for me of what I miss most about the Pre-Sports Entertainment age: the feeling of real atheletic
competition. The great NWA of the late 80’s used this angle as its weapon against the McMahon onslaught: their matches felt real, and all the details of their shows were engineered to help one suspend disbelief. This trait, in fact, made the early career of Jim Ross: he was the greatest announcer of his day because he understood how to convey to a listening audience all the strategic moves that were implicit in a match. To me, this was the most important aspect of that vague term “psychology” that smarts like to employ.

While it is neither possible nor wholly desirable to close Pandora’s Box, Robinson took me back in time for a split second last night. His selling of the move as if it had actually killed him (a la the great Tommy Young) made me think, for the first time in a long while, that I was watching a wrestling match, a real contest. He did this more effectively than a great technician like Chris Benoit has been able to do. Why? The little details, once the stuff of the everyday, are precisely what we don’t see so much anymore.

That all pretty much speaks for itself, so I will move on to the Little Five turned out for the best of RAW, 2002:

1. Testing, 1-2-3

I am never going to give up on this one, so don’t try to change my mind. Was I not the only one watching Hogan/Rock at Wrestlemania who was BEGGING for a test of strength to start the match? It would have expertly provided homage to the original clash of icons in Toronto at Wrestlemania, Hogan/Warrior. I no doubt felt the match was awesome, probably the most memorable match since the infamous Montreal screwjob, but it still was missing this small detail in my mind.

2. Rey of Hope

Ah, with the featuring of Smackdown! matches on this show I can make some comments on a few wrestlers who do the little things on the other show! Rey Mysterio comes to mind immediately. From the moment he surges up through the entrace ramp, Rey brings his signature look, moveset (619, West Coast Pop, etc.) and enthusiasm to every match. It’s a shame that he will probably never rise above the role of cruiserweight/guy who occasionally wins one against Goliath in Vince’s World of Big Men, because I’m cconfident he would make an extraodinary WWe champ (in the same vein as Mankind did, the unlikely hero). Hey, it worked once and if you don’t believe me, think about his memorable feud with Kevin Nash in WCW. Now think if it had been for the world title

Speaking of details, I can 100% agree with WWe’s initial decision to put the mask back on him, despite this flying in the face of past storylines and wrestling tradition in general. While I think tradition must be adhered to to a large degree, WWe is first and foremost a business. Thus, when a situation arises such as this where a small piece of tradition can be sacrificed for economic upside, you go for it. Hell, I’d buy a mask myself for Halloween if WWe were smart enough to sell them.

3. Black-Harted

This part of the show really sank my spirits. I was one of the few who believed that the Owen Hart tribute show in 1999 was NOT done in an attempt to grab ratings following a controversial and tragic moment in wrestling. After this Monday, I am reconsidering.

The Owen Hart tribute in and of itself was a great idea. Every match from the opener to Stone Cold’s salute was done in good taste and the testimonials from the roster were all genuine and moving. So why not leave it at that? Why trot it out on a 2002 recap show where its only purpose is quite obviously to make you watch the upcoming 10th anniversary special? At a time when ratings are down, the motive is both obvious and crass. Sure, it deserves a large spot on the anniversary special, but it had no place on this recap show. I find myself less able to defend Vince MacMahon after this show.

4. Shining Star

This is the stuff that makes the Rock who he is. Somehow during his match with Brock and all of his other matches, I never noticed he pretends to shine up the ringpost before he catapults an opponent into it. It’s just like listening to a piece of great music – every time you are exposed to it, you can pick up on a new detail and enjoy it.

5. Somebody Call My Agent!

I promised reader Steve Middlehurst a spot if Paul Heyman ever made an appearance on Monday night. Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Take it away, Steve:

he’s become a standout in my mind though. Perfect man to introduce Lesnar, and his “Go loose” to Lesnar after getting hit with (I think) Rolling Thunder was one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard. More than that though, look at what he’s put himself in front of in 2002. First person to take the Van Terminator in the WWE (although I
personally think the Van Terminator when Van Dam takes the chair with him should be given a V2 suffix. “Think you’ve seen it all?” “Wrong.” ). Rock bottomed through the announce table. Going to get an F5 at some point. Wanted Taz to unload on him after that Vince promo going in to the Survivor Series last year. The list goes on and on.

This to me is real dedication to the business. Not only is he doing a hell of a job backstage (the big show’s over for lords sake, if Heyman’s as responsible for that as the rumours say, someone take a “Heyman is God” sign to the next PPV please) but he’s taken some of the most dangerous ‘finishers’ in the WWE and cut some classic promos on the way. MVP 2002? Of course not, that’s just silly, but maybe not as far off the top of that list as people might think.

Managers taking bumps, just like refs, is pretty impressive. It shows an “above and beyond the call of duty” dedication that Steve is talking about. Hell, just plain seeing managers at all these days is noteworthy to me.

That’s it for the year. I would like to thank Widro and Ashish for giving me this forum and for all of the readers that checked in and helped start some good debate on this quasi-sport we all love. I look forward to more of it in ’03.