December 29, 2003
Scott Steiner . . . is broken down and years removed from his best work, and, somehow outworks half the people on this TV show.
Ric Flair . . . proves that he’s more than willing to strictly enforce the rules, despite being ‘The Dirtiest Player in the Game.’
Triple H . . . easily puts on the better performance, but, it’s not enough to salvage an underwhelming main event.
SCOTT STEINER vs. ROB VAN DAM
If this happened in 1996 or 1997, then it’d probably have been good. But, Steiner is too broken down by this point, and RVD wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t good enough to make up the difference. Although Steiner completely whiffing on the attempt at the foul is right up there with his faceplant off the apron at Badd Blood as far as embarrassing moments goes, the aftermath is actually pretty good, with Steiner clearly angry, and connecting on another low kick and then throwing RVD to the floor. It doesn’t make up for it by any stretch, but, Steiner’s aggression is completely credible. It also helps that RVD does a great job of selling while Steiner is working him over, even something simple like the elbow drop seems like it’s taking a lot of out RVD.
In that sense, it’s disappointing that Steiner didn’t get to use more of his bigger moves. He didn’t need to do the Steiner Screwdriver or Frankensteiner, but it’d have been nice to see RVD take one or two more big bumps to give the impression that Steiner could possibly finish him off. Then again, RVD’s comeback and eventual win looks like it comes so easily, that it’s probably just as well that Steiner didn’t do any of his big spots. All it takes for RVD to make his comeback is getting the boot up on a corner charge. Steiner basically puts himself into position for the rolling thunder, and the split legged moonsault. There was a nice moment when RVD seemed to want the frog splash, but Steiner got to his feet too fast, so RVD did a jumping kick to knock him back down, and that was enough for the frog splash and the pin. Yes, it’d have helped if Steiner was more mobile, but, the overall issue was the match being so lopsided. If RVD was able to make a longer and more believable comeback, this would have been perfectly fine, and considering the state of Steiner at this point, shockingly watchable.
BUBBA RAY DUDLEY/D-VON DUDLEY vs. EDDIE CRAVEN/RUSSELL SIMPSON
This is all angle and only goes for about ninety seconds. Flair is the guest referee, and Ross makes fun of his khaki pants, although I think Bubba’s yellow camouflage shorts are more of an eyesore. Bubba mocks Flair and then Flair disqualifies him for a closed fist.
RANDY ORTON © vs. BOOKER T (WWE Intercontinental Title)
The distraction by Kane that allows Orton to retain is stupid enough, especially considering that it didn’t lead to anything meaningful between Kane and Booker, but this had issues of its own other than the booking. The work itself just doesn’t look very smooth, especially the backslide near fall, and Booker’s heel kick and Orton’s stungun are both ugly too. The stungun was probably the best spot of the match, but it looked really awkward. Orton also spends too much time falling back on rest holds like the headlock and chinlock, where it’s clear that he doesn’t seem to know what to do next. The old adage may be that the heel carries the match, but, Orton definitely wasn’t ready to do that at this point.
TRISH STRATUS/LITA/STACY KEIBLER vs. MOLLY HOLLY/VICTORIA/MISS JACKIE
There isn’t much to see here from a wrestling standpoint. The only ones who really add anything are Trish and Molly. Trish is basically there to be the hot tag and win the match. But, the few things that we see from Trish are much better than anything from Stacy or Lita. It’s nice to see Molly being so willing to bump and sell, but, you’d think the women’s champion would have more to do other than that. The bit afterward with Victoria laying out Molly with the belt is more interesting than the match, and it would have been easy to find a way to put that into the match, such as some sort of mis communication and Victoria getting upset and clocking Molly.
TRIPLE H © vs. SHAWN MICHAELS (World Heavyweight Title)
As nice as it is to see the main event get so much time, it seems to be more of an indication that the people within the WWE have a certain amount of respect for the World Title (or at least the concept of the title), than it is anything else. Both Shawn and HHH have had their share of great matches, but, they don’t seem to have the same chemistry working with each other that they do with Foley, Vader, or Rock. They manage to churn out some nice touches and fun moments, but, they spend far too much of the match trading punches and chops. It speaks somewhat to the longstanding rivalry between the two of them, but, this isn’t played off as a grudge match or something filled with hatred. It’s presented as a straight up wrestling match for the title, and the ratio of wrestling to brawling isn’t very good.
It takes some time for the match to really feel like its going anywhere, with neither man getting any real advantage, and when something happens that makes it seem like things are going in that direction, HHH will start slugging away with punches, and Shawn returns fire with chops and it goes back to square one. Shawn’s ability to maintain the headlock despite HHH’s attempts to whip him into the ropes, both of them taking bumps to the floor, and Shawn’s dive into HHH and Flair are all cases where it’d have been easy to slow down and let one of them control the match for a bit, and none of them leads to anything. There’s also an extended counter/reversal sequence, that only serves to show that these two have no business trying to work in that sort of manner. Hell, one of Shawn’s better moments was the first truly heelish moment of the match, when he kicked the second rope and fouled HHH when the ref was looking the other way.
After Shawn takes a second bump to the floor, it finally looks like the match is going somewhere, with HHH working over Shawn’s back. The work itself isn’t anything amazing, from a wrestling standpoint, but HHH has enough of a dickish flair to make up for it. The elbows to the back are as vicious as can be, and the extended abdominal stretch sequence, with Flair lending a helping hand, gets the crowd worked up wanting to see Shawn make the comeback. Of course, he still spends far too much time worrying about throwing punches, and they work the silly Pedigree “escape” that involves HHH having to let go in order to take the back drop. Shawn’s comeback is predicated on HHH hurting himself doing his jumping knee, but, there’s no real basis for it. It’d have been just as easy for HHH to miss the strike and tweak it on the landing, or for him to whip Shawn into the corner and try the knee, and have Shawn move out of the way so that he hits the turnbuckle. Shawn’s figure four is a great revenge spot for the earlier abdominal stretch, but, that’s all that Shawn really does. Shawn’s kip-up renders the back work meaningless, and after the Pedigree reversal spot, HHH stops selling the knee. I’ve never been a fan of finishers being used for near falls, but, HHH hitting the Pedigree and not being able to take advantage because of his knee would have made sense.
The home stretch is nothing that hasn’t been seen before a million times in WWE main events. It seems like Shawn is going to win when he gets the forearm and then the diving elbow, which always leads to the superkick. But, the ref gets bumped, and HHH hits Shawn with the belt for a good near fall, and Shawn gets one of his own when HHH tries to use the exposed buckle and Shawn reverses it on him. The actual finish sees HHH coming off the middle rope so that Shawn gets the boot up to go back on offense. Shawn hits the superkick seemingly for the pin, and then it’s revealed to be a double pin, which means HHH retains the title. There’s simply no reason why Shawn couldn’t have gone over cleanly and won the title, they had the upcoming Royal Rumble to switch the title back, if it was necessary for HHH to be champion going into Wrestlemania, and it’d have been the perfect way to cap off the year and send the crowd home happy with Shawn winning in his hometown. It’s plain to see this isn’t anything bad, but, considering how much time it got and the lousy booking (and the lazy execution of it), it’s hard to not come away from this feeling disappointed.
Conclusion: The fact that 2003 Scott Steiner stands out as one of the better performers on this show should tell you all that you need to know. The main event is certainly watchable, but, considering the buildup and atmosphere, it still comes off below par.