March 30, 2003
This is the first of four ‘re-reviews’ that I plan on doing, and since I’ve already reviewed several WWE PPV shows from 2003, it’s slightly topical. Besides there’s always the hope that the upgrade from PPV to DVD will feature some sort of improvement.
The Undertaker . . . goes into a two-on-one match with his unbeaten streak in as much danger as ever.
Chris Jericho . . . has a match with Shawn Michaels that’s worse than his match with HHH.
Steve Austin . . . calls it a career by going one-on-one with The Great One for one last time.
MATT HARDY © vs. REY MYSTERIO (WWE Cruiserweight Title)
Considering that Matt was the champion going into the match, this is rather oddly worked. Mysterio basically dominates Matt at every turn, to the point that Matt can’t get anything going without Shannon Moore helping him. It’s the sort of occurrence you’d expect to see out of a non wrestler like Coachman or Heyman, but not an actual wrestler, let alone the guy who’s coming into the match with the title. Matt is good about stooging around for Rey, and basically walking himself into Rey’s spots, and in turn Rey puts over the few things he gets hit with, namely the Side Effect and Twist of Fate, rather well. The spots they use mostly look good, the only one that looked the least big ugly was the Splash Mountain reversed to Hurricanrana, most likely due to Matt not being used to having to use power moves. The match puts over Rey about as strongly as it can, considering he had to lose, and Matt has zero chance until Moore runs interference or until he counters the victory roll and grabs the ropes. It’s not bad that they wanted to put over Rey, while keeping the title on Matt, but there were better ways to do it without essentially castrating the champion.
THE BIG SHOW/A-TRAIN vs. THE UNDERTAKER
The fact that this is a two-on-one match (UT was supposed to team with Nathan Jones but he was attacked before the match, thankfully) is pretty much the only reason why there is any heat to this. It’s not as if anything thinks Show or Train is going to end UT’s unbeaten streak. UT makes that clear in the first two minutes when he’s able to fend off both of them, including avoiding several ambush attempts. There isn’t a whole lot that UT can do to the two big guys, and neither Show nor Train has lots of offense, so for the most part they just plod along trading punches and kicks. The only moves that get any respect are UT’s chokeslam to Train in the first two seconds, and UT does a passable sell job of Train’s bicycle kick. UT attempts a couple of submissions in the Fujiwara armbar and Juji-gatame but they’re applied so poorly that they get next to no reaction. And Jones’ running in to take out Show and set up Train for UT to finish him off with the Tombstone makes even less sense, since UT wasn’t exactly in grave danger of losing to begin with.
VICTORIA © vs. JAZZ vs. TRISH STRATUS (WWE Women’s Title)
Not only is this the first clean finish of the night, it’s also the first match to really contain some intensity. But that’s about all. The match itself is little more than an exhibition without any real story or theme, despite Trish having had past rivalries with both Jazz and Victoria being right there for something to base it on, but there’s precious little long term selling. Trish is pretty good at putting over the beating that she takes from Jazz and/or Victoria, but nothing they do (nor anything Trish does for that matter) has any real long term effect. Despite having her knee wrenched in a half crab and an STF, Trish has no problem throwing kicks, pulling off her handstand hurricanrana, and even doing the Stratusfaction. It seems like all three of them were too busy trying to keep the match going, instead of letting anything develop. The only move that really seems to get put over strong is the Chick Kick, seeing as it eliminated Jazz for good from the match, and one to the midsection was enough to KO Victoria and give Trish the title again.
EDDIE GUERRERO/CHAVO GUERRERO vs. CHRIS BENOIT/RHYNO vs. CHARLIE HAAS/SHELTON BENJAMIN © (WWE Tag Team Titles)
It’s almost fitting that this followed the Women’s Title match, because it has workers who are eons more talented and experienced than the three women, but the match itself has the same basic flaws. Lack of meaningful selling and no real story. This is yet another case where the workers could have slowed down a bit and let something, anything, develop. As it is, it’s chock full of blind tags and regular tags to the point that the participants in the match are always changing and it’s next to impossible to build any real momentum. The best part of the match not-so-coincidentally features exchanges between Benoit and Eddie. They’re as intense as they’ve ever been, and their exchanges are also easily the best looking ones of the match. The best individual spot of the match was Benoit tossing Eddie into the air and catching him on the way down and applying the Crossface.
They’re not without problems though, namely in the selling area. Watch and shed a tear as Chris Benoit, the man who missed the previous WrestleMania due to a neck injury more or less no-sells a brainbuster so he can meet Eddie up top and do the superplex. Yet, Benoit is almost KO’d by a Shelton superkick to the chest area. The Gore is what ultimately finishes the match, but Rhyno and Benoit don’t win the titles. Team Angle retains, despite doing next to nothing. Team Angle doing nothing and stealing the win works fine for being heels, but it gives them as much credibility as champions as Matt Hardy got in the opener. And the WWE Tag Titles are quite a bit more important than the Cruiserweight Title. The match has it’s share of pretty spots, but nothing outside of the Gore is put over to any great extent.
CHRIS JERICHO vs. SHAWN MICHAELS
There are quite a few similarities between this match and the match Jericho had with HHH at the previous WrestleMania. While that was one of the better matches of the show, it wasn’t without some obvious flaws, and several of those same flaws pop up here. What’s mostly lacking is a memorable performance from Jericho. He stooges relatively well for Shawn, and does a decent job when attacking his back, but that’s really the only times when Jericho excels here from a wrestling standpoint. His reactions when he’s repeatedly unable to put Shawn away are nice touches, and his reaction when Shawn gets the upset win with the cradle is excellent as well.
While Jericho is good even though it’s relatively flawed, Michaels is barely even good. The opening bits where Shawn out wrestles Jericho were fun, but mostly due to Jericho’s stooging, rather than anything Shawn did. They were intended to establish Shawn as a better wrestler than Jericho, although I’m at almost a total loss for the last time Shawn beat someone in a straight wrestling match with straight wrestling. The transition to Jericho attacking the back was rather weak too. Why exactly would anyone attempt a dropkick on the floor? It’d have been just as easy to have Jericho reverse an Irish whip into the guardrail or the stairs. Shawn’s selling of his back ranges from decent to horrible. He’s good when Jericho is actually pounding him in the back or has him trapped in a submission such as the Walls of Jericho. But just as fast he’s selling like death, Shawn will do his kip up and start trading fists with Jericho, and just to make sure it’s all the more worthless, Shawn will pull off something like his moonsault, the elbow off the top, or bridge out of a pin attempt just makes it that much clear how his back is really feeling. Shawn does the cradle that he uses to pin Jericho almost directly after taking a flipping bump into the corner.
It should probably have dawned on them that something wasn’t clicking, the way the crowd was mostly dead, with only real exception being when Jericho would work over Shawn’s back, and when something that’s relatively unique was done, such as Jericho’s aping of the Sweet Chin Music. And despite being the first match of the show that’s really based on a feud, there’s a noticeable lack of brawling going on. The finish works on a certain level, with Jericho’s paranoia getting the better of him and getting outsmarted by Shawn, but it also kills off the Walls even more. It’d have been just as effective to have Jericho get cradled while doing the hold, or have Jericho turn into the superkick while he was jawing with the ref. This would probably been a neat match if it was 1996 Shawn and 1998 Jericho, but they’re both far away from those days.
TRIPLE H © vs. BOOKER T (World Heavyweight Title)
With the exception of the ending, this probably ranks as one of HHH’s more giving performances. The storyline leading into this was that HHH wasn’t taking Booker seriously, and after getting pinned by him in a tag match on RAW, he’d evidently learned his lesson. Most of the first half of the match is HHH bumping and selling for Booker. HHH is able to take advantage of Booker T’s crowd playing and get in some quick offensive bits of his own, but Booker is able to take back control relatively quickly. Booker never learned his lesson though, and his crowd playing causes him to miss an attempted Axe kick and HHH dodges a sidekick, and pulls down the ropes, in a move straight out of the Flair play book, and causes Booker to hurt his knee.
When HHH works over Booker’s knee, the match slows down a good bit. That’s not really a bad thing though, because it’s nice to see HHH doing a thorough job of wearing down the knee, with some unique offense, when was the last time HHH used an Indian Deathlock for instance? And Booker’s sell job was pretty damn good as well. One of the best moments was when Booker finally learned his lesson about crowd playing and caught HHH by surprise with the Axe kick, but couldn’t make the cover in time. HHH gives the Houston Hangover a good sell job as well. The ending leaves a bad taste in the mouth, although not as bad as it could have. Booker at least sells his knee after the Pedigree, rather than just take the bump on his knees and act KO’d like others do, but the delay and rather lax cover by HHH sure don’t do Booker any favors. Nonetheless, it’s still a rather fun match, and up until the stupid ending, HHH was pretty good. ***
VINCE McMAHON vs. HULK HOGAN (Street Fight)
For as much as Hogan and Vince aren’t capable of doing, they realistically have the best match they could have possibly had. Neither Vince nor Hogan really tries to do anything very complex, so the work is mostly simple. Vince isn’t terrible at tearing Hogan’s arm apart, and Vince going after the arm after Hogan missed the corner charge attempts to make the missed charge mean a bit more. They take their prop shots like men (even the Spanish announcer). And Hogan sells legdrop through the table and the pipe shot from Piper like total death. But it’s Hogan, so it doesn’t matter what happens, because in the end it’s the Hulk-Up and legdrop that will seal the fate of his opponent.
Of course being Hogan and Vince, there are still problems, Hogan blows off the shoulder once the weapons come into play. Vince’s legdrop through the table (the biggest spot of the match) looked really ugly. Vince’s attempt to chuck the ref over the top rope was downright embarrassing, and Piper killed any suspense of his shocking return by spitting on Hogan a good two minutes before clocking him with the pipe. Neither was able (nor willing) to bring any real wrestling to the match, so there’s a distinct lack of flow to the match. It’s lacking a certain sense of charm, which could probably have come from Vince clowning around a bit for Hogan, or any real comedy for that matter. This doesn’t even sniff the match Hogan and Rock had the year before, but, age and talent considered, they should get some credit for at least doing a few things well.
THE ROCK vs. STEVE AUSTIN
As you might expect, this is a typical Austin-style WWE main event match. There’s a ton of punching, mudhole stomping, and with the exception of their trademark stuff like the Rock Bottom, People’s Elbow, Thesz Press, and Stunner, not a whole lot of wrestling. There’s one nice segment where Rocky chop blocks Austin’s knee, and goes to work on it, culminating in the Sharpshooter, which he doesn’t apply any better than normal, but at the least the hold is given a bit of meaning behind it.
What this does have in its favor though, is exactly what Hogan/Vince lacked. It’s got tons of color and personality to it. There’s plenty of funny moments, such as Austin flipping off the ref when he tried to force a break, and Rock putting on Austin’s vest. They both do a nice job selling the punches, always reeling back, and Rocky takes his usual totally overblown bump for the stunner. The ending boils down to the usual WWE finisher fest, with Rocky surviving two Stunners, and Austin surviving two Rock Bottoms and a People’s Elbow. But Rock just picks Austin back up, sums up all his strength and plants him with another Rock Bottom, complete with a good sell job by Austin, to finally end the match. They’ve had better matches, but this was still a good match, and good opponent, for Austin to call it a career with.
KURT ANGLE © vs. BROCK LESNAR (WWE Heavyweight Title)
While this is pretty clearly the best match of the show, it’s not without a few problems, and not just Brock nearly killing himself with the SSP. What the match is really lacking in is a big performance from Brock. Brock does a nice job at putting over the work that Angle does to his ribs, which carries the bulk of the match. Brock also throws in a good rolling cradle as an Angle Slam counter, but Brock doesn’t get in much of any offense, other than his basic power moves (powerslam, Military press) so it looks odd when Brock just grabs Angle and goes for the F-5. Where Brock really excels in the match is the selling of his ribs. The only glaring exception is when he no-sells the first German, and Angle responds by kneeing him in the ribs. Anyone who steps in the ring with Brock is basically the underdog by default, so there needed to be some reason to make anyone doubt Brock’s chances, and the injured ribs are as good as anything else.
The injury makes Angle’s suplex-heavy offense that much more dangerous, and Brock’s selling makes it all the more clear how much danger he’s really in of losing the match. And aside from his usual array of Germans, Kurt also throws in a German into the corner, an overhead belly to belly, and a Super Duper German, with Brock doing a full back flip. Angle also adds a couple nice submissions such as the half crab and his STF variant, and of course the Ankle Lock makes an appearance, but as per usual for Kurt, it’s pretty quickly devalued. Kurt’s first attempt has Brock fight him off, the second attempt has Brock get the ropes and Kurt turns it into the half crab to keep working the ribs. The final time is when Kurt throws in the grapevine, and Brock, while dragging Angle, still makes the ropes.
And of course there’s the spot the match is most famous for. One might think it’d be silly for a guy with hurt ribs to come off the top period, let alone with a Shoot Star Press. Angle had already survived the F-5 twice, and Brock needed something big to finish the job. Besides, it’d have been one hell of a “WrestleMania” moment to see 290 lb. Brock flying like that. The real travesty is that after Brock wiped out, which was due to the distance rather than Brock’s execution, it just took another F-5 to put Kurt away. Brock could have just learned from Austin and Rock, and just picked Kurt back up for another F-5 and saved himself the embarrassment and potential injury. They both also could have learned from Austin vs. Rock and injected some personality into things. After the second F-5 fails to get the win, and with his injury, things never seem hopeless for Brock. And despite putting him through the ringer, Angle never seems at all worried about losing. Even with the blown ending, it’s still the best match of the night, but that’s mostly due to the quality of what preceded it, rather than any merit it has on it’s own. ***
Conclusion: The undercard is more or less a total waste, but all four of the main matches have something about them to like in one form or another. It’s not must-see stuff, but they’re good enough for a mild recommendation.