As I said last month, by the grace of Widro I got my column back, and now this month, by the grace of Widro I am back again”¦Widro be praised.
Also by the grace of Widro I’m doing this a day late because I’m battling a cold, so let’s get right to it”¦
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “mark” enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smart” knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each pay-per-view I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The Mean” between the two.
Thanks to everybody who sent along kind words after my Mean for Unforgiven (in particular Scott Keith), letting me know I’m not a washed up hack who must be relegated to writing about men in spandex who aren’t real.
I got two requests for this month:
1-Scope the wrestling boards here on our forum and elsewhere to be more on the pulse ÃƒÂ¢¾Ã‚Â¢ of the smart fans; done.
2-To provide more of a recap for matches. Well, I’m not so much a play-by-play guy”¦but luckily here on the Inside Pulse, we have quite a few people who are. Read PK’s live coverage, Scott’s rant or (I hope he did one) Ken’s report and then come back here for some further analysis.
Now onto it”¦
Match #1: Eddie Guererro d. Luther Reigns (with Mark Jindrak) (Guererro pinfall on Reigns via frog splash)
The Mark: The crowd loves Eddie, but are still fairly clueless as far as who Luther is. To the marks, Luther is just a fairly big guy (but not as physically impressive as say The Big Show or Batista) who wears black tights, doesn’t talk much and hangs around Kurt Angle. Given time and a few good matches or interviews, Luther may be able to get over with the mark fans, but as of so far, he’s not there yet. Luther also has what I call “generic OVW offense syndrome”; every guy trained by Jim Cornette and brought up through OVW has more or less the same fundamentally sound by unexciting offensive repertoire. So far John Cena, Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas and Batista have been able to break out of this mold, but guys like Tyson Tomko, Mordecai, Garrison Cade, Mark Jindrak and Luther here have still yet to break out into their own characters, and thus when they go on offense they all look relatively the same; not impressive if you’re a mark. Speaking of Jindrak, his presence at ringside does nothing for Luther as he was brought up from Velocity with no buildup and the crowd has long forgotten his meager WCW accomplishments or days of teaming with Cade on Raw.
The Smart: This match is going to kill the decent reception the IWC has been giving Luther for a few reasons. First and foremost, Guererro is an IWC sacred cow along with Benoit, and his relegation to the opening match is not going to go over well and Luther will shoulder some of the blame, deserved or not (Benoit was also in the opening match at Unforgiven, but he was in there with two beloved veterans in William Regal and Ric Flair as well as an up and comer the smarts love right now in Batista). Second, I go back to the “generic OVW offense syndrome” as Luther had more or less free reign to strut his stuff this match (Eddie was there and willing to bump) and for whatever reason stuck to the pretty dull basics. Many smarts were viewing Luther as “Smackdown’s Batista,” a big guy with potential to break out and become a valuable player, but this match most likely stunted his momentum.
The Mean: This was a poor choice for an opener (in contrast to the excellent Benoit & Regal-Flair & Batista match from Unforgiven) as nothing was going to deflate the crowd quicker than watching one of their favorites in Eddie Guererro get beaten on in unspectacular fashion for several minutes before making a last minute comeback. It was Luther’s show and he didn’t step up to the plate, playing it safe with sound but dull moves and not taking advantage of having a pro who can bump with the best of them out there to work with. The finish, with Eddie stealing a police baton from one of the security guys at ringside and then using a chair for the bait and switch in order to nail Luther with it before going for the frog splash, could be seen a mile away from the smarts watching at home, but I imagine most of the people in the crowd couldn’t really keep track of what was going on and found the finish confusing, wondering where Eddie got the baton.
Ben’s Take: Luther is the type of guy WWE and Smackdown in particular needs right now as he is a decent worker both in the ring and on the mic who should be able to draw heat from his association with Angle and step up as a U.S. title contender and handy upper mid-carder to have around. This match simply didn’t help his cause as, again, he didn’t do anything spectacular on offense when he had the chance to separate himself from the pack. The finish doesn’t help anybody as Luther got beat and Eddie went over somebody the fans don’t care about. I’d also say this match killed the crowd for much of the evening.
Dawn Marie backstage
Ben’s Take: Dawn Marie may be the hottest diva on Smackdown in my humble opinion, but unbelievably enough, her acting skills seem to have visibly declined since the glory days of her Al Wilson angle”¦I’m serious. She brought an over the top camp humor to those segments that is sorely lacking here.
Match #2: Cruiserweight champion Spike Dudley (with the Dudley Boyz) d. Nunzio (with Johnny The Bull) (pinfall via outside interference by Bubba Ray Dudley)
The Mark: The crowd was absolutely silent when Spike came out. This lends credence to my (rather obvious) theory on little guys as heels that I developed during X-Pac’s heyday: the crowd has trouble booing a guy so small that he doesn’t seem like a credible threat. Kudos to WWE for trying to compensate for this by making Spike the annoying little punk who still wins because his brothers cheat to help him, but the bottom line is he still needs to go out and wrestle the matches and he’s a bump machine, he’s got no offense to speak of, the death knell for any good heel. Nunzio didn’t get much more of a reaction, but for reasons I can’t explain, I think he and JTB still have potential as babyfaces.
The Smart: The IWC had a fascination with the idea of heel Spike when it first occurred simply because it was such a different twist, but the ever pragmatic smarts quickly saw that this can’t work for long in practice and have soured on him, especially as Cruiserweight champion. Nunzio has had a decent smart reputation on and off over the years, but it always seems to gradually fade to apathy due to lack of exposure and success.
The Mean: The crowd didn’t enjoy watching two guys smaller than most of them who are not doing Misterio gymnastics beat each other up and there was no psychology here for the smarts to feast on. In a cruiserweight division where you’ve got the likes of Rey Misterio Jr., Billy Kidman, Paul London, Chavo Guererro Jr., Shannon Moore and Akio and have wasted Ultimo Dragon and Jamie Noble, not to mention the fact that The Hurricane and Tajiri are doing nothing of note on Raw, Spike and Nunzio are the not the guys anybody wants to see out there on PPV wrestling for the belt. Another finish that could be spotted a mile away didn’t help matters.
Ben’s Take: The F.B.I.’s greatest potential right now is as a tag team; Nunzio can bump, JTB is good on offense, and though many don’t realize it, these guys can actually work the mic pretty damn well; put them in the Tag division as babyfaces and they’ll do alright. Michael Cole & Tazz sound foolish pimping the “only on Smackdown!” aspect of the Cruiserweight division during a match where two guys under 200 pounds are wrestling like their heavyweight counterparts but without the endearing power moves.
The Undertaker title wins packages
Ben’s Take: They always exclude the Ric Flair interference from the highlight of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Taker beating Hogan for his first World title; understandable, but funny for those who remember. Also weird that they even bothered to show the Over The Edge ’99 match in which there’s really no way to hide Shane McMahon’s interference and fast count.
Match #3: Billy Kidman d. Paul London (pinfall via Shooting Star Press)
The Mark: The crowd seemed confused how to react to Kidman, as the logic behind his heel turn (he doesn’t want to hurt people) has been clumsily handled; luckily, the teasing of the Shooting Star Press is a fantastic heat grabber. London is far more over with the crowd than I thought he would be, which is a nice testament to his hard work. They were still far more over together as a tag team, but after this match, I’m thinking this is a WWE gamble that could actually work if they don’t fumble the ball.
The Smart: Paul London is an internet darling; the IWC would love to see him go further but are realistic in thinking even the U.S. title is a longshot. Surprisingly, despite being a hard worker and a consistent go to guy, Kidman has never been as over with the smart crowd as he sometimes gets with the marks unless he’s being mentioned as a partner or foil to Rey Misterio Jr. Still, one would think smarts would appreciate Kidman more following this match as he displayed some truly awesome psychology and worked better as a heel than he ever has in the past.
The Mean: What a fascinating match to watch from an analysis perspective as far as the evolution of Kidman as a heel. In the past, Kidman has tried a heel turn several times (most notably in his feud with Hulk Hogan back in WCW) and failed spectacularly. This seemed another turn doomed to failure simply because the storyline made no sense (Kidman felt bad about hurting somebody and London gave him crap about it”¦era of the anti-hero or not, that should make London the bad guy). However, after a haphazard start which had me thinking they made a huge mistake in splitting up two spot artists who were much better as a tag team, once Kidman took control of the match and began brutalizing London’s ribs, something really cool happened: Billy Kidman emerged with the makings of a truly bad ass heel. The crowd got more into this match than they had been into either of the previous ones thanks to a combination of the veteran Kidman knowing how to mess with their heads and London bumping like a maniac and selling every move perfectly. The smarts at home had to love Kidman’s psychology and London’s aforementioned pinball tendencies. Kidman’s tease of the Shooting Star Press and then refusal to do it is an awesome cheap heat tactic; I was worried that his eventual use of the move would turn him face, but the way he executed it plus his mic work after and the savage attack convinced me he can run with this as a heel for quite some time.
Ben’s Take: I totally thought this was going to be London’s breakout match, but Billy Kidman of all people shocked the hell out of me by displaying more potential than he has since coming over from WCW three years ago. I might be alone here, but did both Kidman’s in-ring and mic work remind anybody else of a freshly heel turned Owen Hart circa 1994? My hat is off to both these guys for doing exactly what they needed to in order to put on the hot match the crowd was waiting for and make me (and hopefully the rest of you) care about both their characters. I really hope WWE is able to recognize that they’ve got something special here in an uber-motivated Kidman and move him up the card now rather than just feed him to a returning Chavo (who should remain a heel anyways); I wouldn’t mind seeing him as the next U.S. title contender. London also helped his case here and should continue being used on Smackdown rather than Velocity; he could revitalize the Cruiserweight division if they give him the belt.
Ben’s Take: I’d like to thank JBL for asking why we were seeing all these Undertaker highlight clips and saving me the trouble of doing so”¦but this was a pretty crappy interview from a guy whose interviews are normally his strong suit.
Match #4: WWE Tag Team champions Kenzo Suzuki & Rene Dupree (with Hiroko & Fifi) d. Rob Van Dam & Rey Misterio Jr. (Suzuki pinfall on Misterio via ropes-assisted rollup)
The Mark: This would have been the perfect opening match as you’ve got four guys who are very over due to a combination of cheap heel heat and staying power. Also, this was a great fast moving match that really woke up the crowd (and you have to give credit to the champs for more than keeping up with the challengers). RVD has become both more motivated and more over with the crowd since teaming regularly with Misterio. Both heels are also quite good at keeping the crowd in it.
The Smart: Smarts have really soured on RVD as of late, citing his reliance on a very limited moveset and a lack of motivation; I personally think the teaming with Rey has gone some way in solving both these problems, but I’ll have to see if the IWC agrees with me following reviews for this match. The smarts have always been kind to Rey as he risks life and limb for their entertainment and they seem to appreciate it. Early reviews on Dupree were good while those on Suzuki were poor, but the IWC has been fairly quiet taking a sort of wait and see stance sine they formed a regular team. This match was a spot fest, but well executed one and not a sloppy mess, so I believe the smarts will be fairly kind to it.
The Mean: All four guys seem very comfortable in the ring with each other and it paid off in a good match that I think marks and smarts alike should be able to enjoy. Misterio really brought his working boots to this match and that seemed to encourage the other three (particularly RVD) to step up their game. It would behoove WWE to keep this feud going for a bit as it is making all four guys look strong and should set any of them up perfectly for an eventual singles push (again, with RVD, putting him out there in good matches with Rey at this point would seem to be the only way to salvage his tremendous potential and maybe get him back to the main event level he seemed ready for two or three years ago).
Ben’s Take: Tazz, my favorite announcer in the business at the moment, truly excels when Fifi is at ringside. I also have to give credit to Kenzo Suzuki, whom I absolutely hated as a worker when he debuted, because he has really improved leaps and bounds to be able to keep pace with the other three people involved in this match (and yes, I did enjoy his Springsteen). On my own markout note: I’ll never get tired of that Misterio/RVD stereo over the top rope flip spot.
Match #5: Kurt Angle vs The Big Show
The Mark: The crowd was nuts for Big Show upon his return a month ago, but the pop is already starting to fade. Take my “small heels” theory and invert it for “huge babyfaces;” giants like TBS as babyfaces can only work if they’re booked as special attractions (Andre), vulnerable in some way (they always seemed to do a good job of this with Rikishi when he first debuted and also did alright with Kane for a bit) or are The Undertaker; TBS is none of these things. His slow style does not lend itself to the longer matches needed to be a main event babyface as the crowd gets bored watching him manhandle his opponent and not squashing him if he’s not doing it in a sadistic way to set up the babyface comeback. Kurt Angle will always be over as a heel (though I have to say I’ve been disappointed in his interviews of late).
The Smart: The IWC has never liked The Big Show, but seemed to be willing to give him a chance this time around if only because Smackdown is severely in need of big stars; I think this match may have blown his shot at smart acceptance for the first time in a long while. I thought Angle would always be untouchable as far as being a smart favorite, but I have to think his recent foray into backstage politics could hurt that; it hasn’t so far, but we’ll have to wait and see. The IWC still looks to Angle to be able to carry the proverbial 500-pound broomstick, so this match could hurt him as well.
The Mean: The Big Show is simply incapable of carrying the babyface portion of the match with his limited offense and the crowd loses interest when he dominates nearly the entire match. Babyface Big Show equals a slow boring match and Angle’s sudden burst of offense in the middle did little to make this match not feel like the type of one sided squash it shouldn’t have been. I have a feeling the smarts will crucify this match because it was a squash, but it will be interesting to see who they blame: TBS for dominating or Angle for not being able to carry Show (which in itself is disappointing since he has shown the ability to do so in past matches between the two).
Ben’s Take: Ironically, despite a bad match, Big Show looks like he’s in better shape than he’s been since his WCW days and the new bald look actually works for him. Angle won’t be hurt by the loss since he’s essentially bullet proof as far as mark credibility, but I don’t know what they have planned next for TBS. In a completely random note, the crowd actually popped for Teddy Long’s music prior to that waste of time false finish, which indicates he may be doing a better job as GM than many are saying.
Carlito Caribbean Cool hype package
Ben’s Take: A bold prediction: this guy actually has the charisma and skill (he is Carlos Colon’s son) to get over.
Match #6: John Cena d. U.S. champion Booker T to win the title (pinfall via FU)
The Mark: Cena is easily the most popular guy on Smackdown or Raw right now while Booker T remains an effective and over heel. These two were the right guys for an extended series as the crowd cares more about the characters than the matches themselves and will get into it even if they’re wrestling for the hundredth time. Both men did a good job keeping the crowd into it all the way by cranking up their intensity and selling. Not much psychology, just a good brawl, which the marks always appreciate. Give credit to Cena for having the conditioning to make his babyface comeback look good and to Booker for building to it well. Easily the most over match on the card as far as the crowd was concerned.
The Smart: The IWC has been calling for some time for Cena to again live up to the potential he showed as a heel and I think this match was a step in the right direction. He doesn’t use psychology, but he’s established a character that doesn’t require it. He may not be as polished as a Benoit or an Angle, but he rarely blows spots and makes up for shortcomings with an intensity and rapport with the crowd unseen since Steve Austin and The Rock. I’m sure the smarts will be concerned with what happens to Booker T now as he is a guy the IWC has seen as getting the short end of the stick since he lost to Triple H back at Wrestlemania XIX and after really helping to elevate Cena, he deserves a better reward than fading into the background or the tag division. Also, smarts have to appreciate the little things like Cena and Booker covering Booker failing to roll through on a crossbody by making it seem like they were battling over the rollup rather than repeat the spot.
The Mean: This was John Cena’s coming out party, no doubt about it. I wouldn’t rank it among the all time classics, but it served it’s purpose of getting Cena over and putting out a match that would cement his credibility with the marks and renew it with the smarts. Unlike some of the other matches in this series, both men came out looking strong, so it will be interesting to see where Booker goes from here.
Ben’s Take: I was initially opposed to a Cena win here, as I thought it was time to move Cena beyond the U.S. title and Booker could give the rub to somebody else, but after watching this match, I’m convinced this was the right decision as Cena has too much momentum right now and a high profile loss here would have stopped him in his tracks. If they don’t give Cena the Royal Rumble victory and build to Cena-Angle as the Wrestlemania main event on the Smackdown side, they’re nuts; Cena is clearly the man right now and the guy WWE needs to pin their future on. Side notes: it’s been said a million times, but referee Charles Robinson adds immeasurably to every match he officiates; also, it’s possible Tazz was referring to Todd Grisham when he accidentally called Michael Cole, “Todd,” but the possibility of a Pettengill reference is a hundred times more hilarious.
Match #7: Charlie Haas, Rico & Miss Jackie d. The Dudley Boyz & Dawn Marie in a Mixed Tag match (Rico pinfall on Bubba Ray Dudley via moonsault)
The Mark: Excellent choice as a match to precede the main event as it gives fans a chance to catch their breath after the U.S. title match but also doesn’t deflate them. I didn’t realize quite how over the team of Haas & Rico (particularly Rico) was until watching this match. The Dudley Boyz may not get much of an initial response anymore after years of running the treadmill, but they both still know how to work the crowd. The combination of Rico and Bubba Ray Dudley should be required viewing for any rookie looking how to get the crowd into a match. The girls were used well as they were teased enough that the crowd went nuts whenever they’d go at it. Smart choice to put the babyfaces over and put the crowd in a good mood for the main event.
The Smart: The IWC seems to have more or less given up on The Dudleys, but will still pay them the respect of knowing they’re pros who can get it done. A small but vocal Rico faction seems to have found its way into the smart crowd and there’s no doubt they’d love to get behind (no double entendres intended) Haas if WWE gives him the exposure. I think the smarts will appreciate this as a crisp and fast moving tag match with a good mix of comedy, athleticism and catfighting to get the crowd psyched before the main event.
The Mean: I really enjoyed watching this match and it sold me bigtime on the team of Haas & Rico; they’re a perfect blend of pure skill and entertainment. This was also the type of match that really makes you appreciate the Dudleys for being able to step up their game and work the crowd when necessary. And give credit where credit is due: Jackie Gayda has come way further than anybody ever expected she would since her infamous debut in 2002.
Match #8: WWE champion John Bradshaw Layfield d. The Undertaker in a Last Ride match
The Mark: No match is a better study in the contrasts between the mark and smart than this one. In the eyes of the mark, The Undertaker and JBL are the prototypical babyface and heel they want to see. They absolutely love The Undertaker as they always have and JBL has done everything necessary to get the crowd to absolutely despise him. Like him or not (and I don’t), JBL has the gift of gab when it comes to inciting the crowd and a unique kind of charisma that has made for an excellent heel champion”¦if you’re a mark. This match was better than their SummerSlam encounter from a mark perspective for all the reasons one would expect: more blood, more tables breaking, etc. They restricted it to a brawl, which is their strong suit, and the crowd seemed more than satisfied. Heidenreich was also far more over with the crowd than I expected he might be when he interfered. Good mark match.
The Smart: I expect the match itself will get a “more of the same old crap” label from the IWC, but the fact that the match took place at all, that Bradshaw remains champion after three months, and the Heidenreich interference will all get more jeers. Smarts do not feel that Undertaker belongs anywhere near the main event, that his age, slowed style and return to an outlandish gimmick should have relegated him to special attraction if he’s not willing to put over younger guys and make stars. Bradshaw can’t work in the ring and has a terrible backstage reputation; for him to remain champion with his attitude and the way he conducts himself in public is a slap in the face to nearly everybody else on the roster, regardless of how good he may be on the mic. Heidenreich has proven nothing other than that he can eat up time on a program; his look isn’t even that impressive when stacked up against other guys; inserting him into the main event just to create another victim for The Undertaker is not going to sit well.
The Mean: A tough call here, as this match gave the crowd what they wanted but most likely sent the smarts into a rage. Ultimately, I don’t think anything that happened here will be bad in the long run if WWE goes in the direction I think they are planning. The Undertaker not getting the title here takes him out of the title picture, which is what they need to do right now. Bradshaw is being built well as a heel champ and whoever knocks him off will be the man. Heidenreich is harmless because The Undertaker is going to squash him. I had though they would put the title on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Taker here and have Angle take it at Survivor Series and then start building to an Angle-Cena Wrestlemania. Instead, I’m guessing either Guererro (happy smarts) or Big Show (angry smarts) beats Bradshaw then drops to Angle (either makes sense as both feuds are already established), setting up Cena to be the man at Wrestlemania. The only thing that could screw everything up at the moment is if they use that scenario but have Undertaker going over at Wrestlemania. I can’t emphasize enough that Cena is the guy who needs to have the ball handed to him right now. The only reason I would have preferred to see ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Taker go over here is because it would have given Cena-Angle a longer build, but the scenario I outlined above can still work.
Ben’s Take: This was not a great pay per view by any means, but if used well, developments here could pave the way for a good next few months of Smackdown. If used correctly, Kidman could be an excellent heel. If given the chance, Paul London could reinvigorate a sleeping Cruiserweight division. If they keep their feud going, RVD/Rey vs Rene/Kenzo could fueld the Tag division for quite some time. If they play their cards right with the main event scene, John Cena could literally save this show by Wrestlemania. It’s all in the hands of the bookers right now.
And those cries of agony you hear emanating from Canada right now are indeed Scott Keith’s reaction to the prospect of a Bradshaw-Big Show program over the WWE title.
In the mean time, thanks for reading.