August 24, 2003
Well, after watching the Smackdown! episode with the awesome cage match angle, it was only a matter of time before I picked up and reviewed this show. I’ve mentioned several times before that I’d stopped watching the WWE at this time, and the more of these shows that I watch, the more that I feel like I made the right call.
Eric Bischoff . . . finally gets a match with a McMahon, five years after challenging Vince at Slamboree.
Brock Lesnar . . . absolutely schools Kurt Angle in terms of working a smart match.
Triple H . . . earns his PPV paycheck by taking a twenty-minute nap and wrestling all of three minutes.
RENE DUPREE/SYLVAN GRENIER © vs. BUBBA RAY DUDLEY/DEVON DUDLEY (World Tag Team Titles)
Until the finish with the Rob Conway run in, there isn’t anything here that especially stands out, and there isn’t anything that would prevent this from happening on RAW. This is your average formulaic tag match with the hot opening, the heel-dominated middle portion, and the hot tag that runs to the finish. Aside from the cheap shot from Grenier and Dupree’s backdrop suplex, every halfway decent spot here is from the Dudleys, and it’s not like they did anything outstanding, they just did their usual stuff. Of course, La Resistance only has about a teaspoon of talent between them, so it’s probably for the best, just look at the punches they throw that wouldn’t break an egg. It says a lot when the only things that La Resistance does that gets any sort of reaction are their finisher, and Dupree pulling out the ref after the 3D that allows the Conway run in. A clean finish is always preferred on PPV, but the crowd heat more than justified the feud continuing on for another month.
THE UNDERTAKER vs. THE A-TRAIN
Like the previous match, there isn’t anything that happens here that would separate it from what they do on TV. It’s a lot of big men throwing punches and kicks mixed in with the usual overbooking that isn’t really needed, it’s just as easy to get from points A to B without it. The one nice touch is Train working over UT’s ribs, it was a given considering that UT’s ribs were heavily taped up and it’s apparently been an ongoing issue (both Cena matches featured Cena doing the same thing), and it also creates some doubt to the finish since Train’s finisher targets the ribs and midsection. UT doesn’t dig out too many big guns here, but he doesn’t really need to, this is supposed to be a grudge match, so UT sticking with the fists is just fine in that context. The real surprise here is the best bump of the match is from the referee when he gets hit with the clothesline from A-Train. They tool around with a chair and UT kicks it into Train’s face and hits the chokeslam to win. It’s impressive, in a way, that A-Train could work a simple and, at-times, smart match, although it’s hard to praise him too much for simply hitting the bulls eye on UT’s midsection several times. Of course, the punch line is that the only point of this match was to continue a feud between Stephanie McMahon and Sable, two non wrestlers.
ERIC BISCHOFF vs. SHANE McMAHON
I’m remembering why I wasn’t watching WWE at this time. We’re now zero-for-three with clean finishes and two-for-two with PPV time being wasted by continuing angles with non wrestlers. Shane’s intensity is a welcome addition, and it’s not a Shane McMahon appearance without a stuntman bump (in this case the elbow off the top through the Spanish Announce Table), and with those out of the way the rest of the match is nothing more than Bischoff kicking Shane, and the run ins from Coach and Austin, to cover up the fact that Bischoff and Shane really don’t have anything to do. Once again, this could have been easily done on TV, the real feud is Kane/Shane anyway (stemming from Kane giving a Tombstone to Linda McMahon), there’s no reason why this match couldn’t be done on RAW as sort of warm up for Shane, the idea being that if Shane wants to get Kane in the ring, he’ll need to go through Bischoff first. But instead we get Bischoff throwing kicks while Coach gives his own commentary, Austin running in to even the odds, and Shane’s elbow for the win. It’s probably a small blessing that the McMahon family ego stroking matches are getting out of the way early so as not to cloud up the important ones.
EDDIE GUERRERO © vs. CHRIS BENOIT vs. RHYNO vs. TAJIRI (WWE United States Title)
You would think a match that goes almost ten minutes with Eddie, Benoit, and Tajiri would be pretty good, but not on this night. The match isn’t bad by any means, but the structure (more accurately, the lack thereof) holds them back quite a bit. The match does have some good moments and original spots, but they’re hard to really appreciate in this sort of match because everything is all go-go-go. The early portion of the match is littered with instances of pin attempts after even the most rudimentary move (powerslam, vertical suplex, chop, clothesline) and the pin being broken up while Cole and Tazz harp about the single fall rule and how important it is to keep an eye on everyone else. But that’s about as deep as the match gets until almost the end. The wrestlers seem to forgo any sort of real storytelling in favor of throwing out those sort of spots and exchanges. There’s a quick moment where Benoit charges full speed ahead at Rhyno and starts wailing away, which is a nice reminder of Rhyno costing Benoit the title the month before, but it’s over as soon as it’s there.
What winds up being probably the best moment of the match is the spot that kicks off the finish run, which is when Eddie is hooking Tajiri in the Lasso from El Paso, while Benoit locks Rhyno in the Crossface. It’s a common place spot for tag matches, but its appearance here is fairly unique, and Eddie is great in it, debating whether or not to let go so he can break up the Crossface. One thing that these sorts of matches require is timing and creativity which is something they’re clearly not lacking in, such as when Tajiri attempts his handspring elbow and winds up kicking Eddie and knocking him off the apron, and there’s also the spot when Benoit puts Tajiri in a three of woe and leaves him there so that he can hit the diving headbutt on Rhyno. Rhyno’s elimination from the match is another good moment, due to the rather unpredictable nature of it. Rhyno hits Eddie with the Gore while he’s got the title and knocks himself out. The previous TV angle saw Eddie lay all three of them out with belt shots, so it’s not surprising that he brought it into the match, but he probably planning on using it to part someone’s hair and knock them out, and then Rhyno went and made it easier on him. With Rhyno out of the picture, Eddie simply waits until Tajiri and Benoit are out of the way and then swoops in and hits the Frog splash. This is fun enough for what it is, which is just a quick exhibition, it’s just too bad that they waited until the match was half over before they started bringing out the good ideas.
KURT ANGLE © vs. BROCK LESNAR (WWE Heavyweight Title)
With the bar they’d set for themselves, not with their previous matches together, but with the cage match angle and by following that up with Brock destroying undercard wrestlers, this can’t help but disappoint. Both wrestlers are disappointing in their own ways. Kurt in his usual ways, and Brock’s big failing is personality wise. Aside from the early moments when Kurt gets under his skin by out wrestling him, “The Real Brock Lesnar” isn’t here at all, instead we wind up with a competitive (and mostly clean) match. It’s really too bad, because the one time Brock let it out was excellent. Brock was clearly frustrated at Kurt getting the better of him, so he staged a walkout and took the title, forcing Kurt to chase him down, and that triggered a brawl, which Brock very easily got the best of Kurt in.
While Brock may be underwhelming as a crazy heel, his in-ring performance is more than welcome, almost every good moment or smart touch is courtesy of Brock in some form or another. On the surface this looks like just another Angle match where the primary goal is to throw each other with suplexes, and yes, Brock does play that game, but he’s also smart enough to not fall completely into the trap. In addition to obliging Kurt by throwing him across the ring with suplexes, Brock makes it clear that he’s not doing so just to do so, and not just because it’s an Angle match and that’s how things are done, but that he’s got a game plan in mind, which is wearing down Kurt’s midsection, which will also, incidentally, also help soften up Kurt for the F-5. In addition to the big suplexes, Brock also throws in several spots to show that, including a running knee to the gut, his body scissors sleeper, his backbreaker spot, and the mandatory heel spot where he misses the charge and goes into the post, although before that he successfully hits several tackles to Kurt’s ribs.
Kurt can’t seem to do anything as sensibly as Brock, even when Brock is giving him good openings to take the match in that sort of direction. Kurt paying back Brock for all the rib work by tearing apart Brock’s shoulder would perfectly fit into the mentality of their feud, but it never happens. It looks like it will when Kurt starts hitting shoulder tackles, but then he hits three big Germans. Brock sells his shoulder the whole time, but there’s nothing from Kurt to suggest that he was doing the Germans for that reason, it’s no different from Kurt doing it to Edge or to Benoit, its a spot Kurt likes and he felt like doing it. It’s the same thing a bit later when Brock’s leg is hurting. Instead of doing something to wear down Brock for the Ankle Lock, not to mention that the best way to take down Brock is to take him off his feet (and the early portions featured Angle getting the best of him on the mat anyway), Kurt decides to build to an eventual Ankle Lock tap out with, what else, the Ankle Lock! Brock even sells his ankle after the first one, but Kurt doesn’t do anything else to it other than keep going back to the hold.
Kurt’s treatment of the Ankle Lock is something that I’ve been critical of, and this isn’t any different, and it’s another case where Brock shows how much smarter he is. Again, the only thing that Kurt does to build to the hold is the same hold. The first time it’s applied Brock crawls to the ropes and Kurt pulls him back, and Brock responds by rolling through. The second time is when Vince uses a chair to break the hold, and the third time has Brock crawling and getting the ropes on all four sides, and Kurt keeps pulling him back and finally Brock taps. That’s five separate times that Brock had legally broken the hold, and instead of modifying it or doing something else, Kurt just helps him get to the ropes and then pulls it back. Compare with how the F-5 is treated. It’s attempted four different times. The first time features Kurt shifting his weight and landing knees first on Brock’s head (most likely a blown spot), the second time Kurt counters into a DDT, the third time Brock hits it, but can’t cover because he’s selling the effects from the Ankle Lock, and the fourth time Kurt lands on his feet to counter and then takes Brock down into the Ankle Lock and winds up winning. Brock keeps the move protected and nothing that happens could be construed as doing anything to disrespect or devalue the move.
Honestly, Angle’s performance here makes him look like a sort of Ric Flair clone, he really seemed to be trying to do nothing more than work the same sort of match he always works. Brock lacking the brutal and crazy heel character was definitely a let down, but he was at least making an attempt to work a smart match, given the experience difference, not just in wrestling period, but also as far as working important matches like this, that should simply not be happening. I can only hope that Brock was able to clear up his issues for their iron man match the following month. ***
ROB VAN DAM vs. KANE
Why is this higher on the card than the WWE Title match? Aside from the sadistic bumps that RVD takes, there’s nothing special about this at all. RVD is his usual self, which is good for selling and bumping, but that also means he’s his usual overly flashy and crowd playing self, which shouldn’t be the case in a grudge match. Rob should be trying take Kane’s head off, not doing his pose before doing a spin kick off the apron. Aside from him falling off the corner when he tried to dive onto RVD, there’s nothing from Kane that especially stands out, the only big bump he takes is the seesaw ladder spot, that’s mandatory in matches like these, and he doesn’t even seem to take it that well. He’s fine at bringing the pain, but its RVD’s selling and bumping that makes it work so well, not anything that Kane did. It is a bit refreshing to see a big match without finisher overkill. One Tombstone from Kane is all that it takes. Of course it was on the steps, so it better be able to do the job.
TRIPLE H © vs. SHAWN MICHAELS vs. KEVIN NASH vs. CHRIS JERICHO vs. RANDY ORTON vs. GOLDBERG (World Heavyweight Title - Elimination Chamber Match)
Say what you will about the way Goldberg was booked for the majority of his WWE tenure, but this was one of the very few times the WWE got it right. The bit with the sledgehammer ends things on a sour note, but there really wasn’t much else that they could have done. Goldberg getting eliminated any other way would make him look worse and there really wasn’t much (if anything) to the Goldberg/HHH feud so it was too early to give him the title. Instead Goldberg runs through everyone else (except Nash who was already eliminated before Goldberg entered), leading to the HHH/Goldberg showdown, and Goldberg spends a good three minutes beating on HHH before he gets hit with the sledgehammer when he goes for the spear to give HHH the cheap win. Goldberg’s eliminations speak for themselves. Orton wasn’t anything more than HHH’s errand boy here, but had been making a name for himself. Jericho was an old rival of HHH and a former champion, and Shawn had been a thorn in HHH’s side for over a year now. And Goldberg just ran right through them in very short order.
As far as actual wrestling goes, this isn’t the type of match you look for a lot of actual wrestling in, the fun is in the drama and the booking. Although Michaels and Jericho do treat the fans to some good action in the opening stages, and they, thankfully, don’t go off the deep end like they did at WrestleMania. But as far as storytelling goes, that’s in the booking, and not in the wrestling. There is one remarkably smart touch to the match, the way that Shawn’s superkick is treated and protected. Goldberg isn’t the only big guy in the match though, there’s also Kevin Nash. When Nash enters he quickly starts mowing guys down, he looks to finish off Jericho with the jackknife powerbomb and Shawn hits the superkick and Jericho gets a jackknife cradle and eliminates him. Also when it’s time for HHH to enter, he gets hit with a superkick almost right away and falls back into his chamber where he remains until it’s down to him and Goldberg. Goldberg is the one guy smart enough to avoid the superkick, and winds up eliminating Shawn as a result. Of course, there is some goofiness as well. After hitting Nash with the superkick Shawn collapses and is down for a good five minutes (which conveniently saves Shawn from Nash’s temper tantrum from losing so quickly, and only leaves Jericho and Orton to take that abuse). What did Shawn take that was so devastating? The last thing that happened before the superkick was Shawn getting hit with one of Nash’s punches to the forehead.
It’s easy to bash on HHH for the booking here, and it’s certainly kind to him. He gets to take a nap in the chamber and then wrestle for all of three minutes and give Goldberg his first loss. But, credit where it’s due, HHH’s bumping and selling for Goldberg is very good, and it’s further illustration of how this match was one of the few times Goldberg was booked correctly and effectively. The match and finish probably aren’t ideal for what fans wanted to see (which was the end of HHH’s reign of terror), but given the circumstances, it was the right call.
Conclusion: Seven matches and zero clean finishes, not quite the results that any PPV should have, let alone the second biggest show of the year. It’s clearly a step up from previous effort like Badd Blood, with fun stuff like the chamber and the WWE Title match, but it’s hard to recommend the show as a whole with so much junk.