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March 31, 2008

WrestleMania XXIV thoughts

I don't know how WrestleMania XXIV came across on television, but it definitely was an entertaining show live at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., last night. Obviously, the most memorable match on the pay-per-view extravaganza was Shawn Michaels defeating Ric Flair to close the curtain on Flair's 35-plus-year career.

There really was no doubt beforehand what the result would be, but it still was an emotional experience to see Flair's final match, although it was time. I am not ashamed to admit that I had tears in my eyes for the first time in my 34 years of attending wrestling matches. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed Flair's induction into the WWE Hall of Fame and his last match.

The match that attracted the most mainstream attention -- boxing champ Floyd Mayweather versus The Big Show -- far exceeded my expectations, and I liked the finish of Mayweather using brass knuckles to knock out Big Show. The way it ended, it seems like a good bet that Mayweather will be back for more appearances in WWE. I think this match will turn out to be a win-win, as Mayweather probably will have some wrestling fans curious about his next pay-per-view fight, and WWE will get coverage from the mainstream sports media.

While The Undertaker's win over Edge for the world heavyweight title was a predictable result, the match was very well done. There also were a couple of surprising finishes, as WWE champion Randy Orton retained his title in the triple-threat match, and CM Punk won the Money in the Bank ladder match.

The announced attendance was 74,635, which was said to be a Citrus Bowl record. I have only been to one other stadium show, and that was The Great American Bash event in 1986 at Washington's RFK Stadium, which was more than half empty from what I remember. I definitely have seen livelier crowds than last night's, but it was still a fun atmosphere and quite a spectacle with all the pyro and fireworks.

Fortunately, the weather wasn't as bad as I feared, as it rained at times but never came down too hard. There were some technical difficulties, as the lights surrounding the ring went out for more than 20 minutes, but it did not affect the show. In fact, some people sitting near me thought less lighting made the action look more dramatic.

Here's a match-by-match look at last night's show:

The Undertaker defeated world heavyweight champion Edge to win the title: The match started a little slowly, but once the pace quickened they took the fans for quite a ride. To me, the match wasn't as dramatic as it could have been because I knew there was no way The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania was ending this year -- or possibly any year. Still, the last half of the 24-minute match was really good and packed with false finishes. Edge looked very strong in defeat, as he kicked out of Undertaker's chokeslam and Tombstone Piledriver. However, he couldn't survive Undertaker's unnamed submission move, and "The Dead Man" moved to 16-0 at WrestleMania.

Floyd Mayweather defeated The Big Show by knockout: I had no idea what to expect going into this match, but I thought it was a home run. The amazing size difference, coupled with the fact that one participant was wearing boxing gloves and trunks and the other was wearing a wrestling singlet, definitely made the match stand out as something unique. Big Show received polite applause but no boos when he was introduced, while Mayweather definitely got more jeers than cheers. They did some big man-little man spots early, with Mayweather using his quickness to evade Big Show and get in a few shots to the body. The crowd started to get restless when Mayweather had Big Show in a sleeperhold about five minutes into the match, but then things picked up when Mayweather's entourage began to get physically involved.

When Mayweather's crew pulled him out of the ring and began to escort him to the back, the crowd heavily booed what it thought was the finish. But Big Show fought off the entourage and brought Mayweather back to the ring. Mayweather later tried to take out Big Show with chair shots before eventually knocking him out with brass knuckles on a punch that actually did connect with Big Show's chin. The way the finish was laid out made Mayweather's win believable and allowed Big Show to save face in defeat. Mayweather looked pretty good for someone who had never been in a wrestling match, and he played the heel role very well.

WWE champion Randy Orton defeated John Cena and Triple H: Cena came out first, with a marching band playing his entrance music. That came off pretty corny and took away from what usually is a dramatic entrance. He received more boos than cheers, but it was nowhere near as negative of a reaction as he got Saturday night at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.

The match was fast-paced and well laid out. At one point, Cena caught Orton in the STFU, and Orton was about to tap out. Triple H, however, grabbed Orton's hand and prevented him from doing so. He did that same spot at WrestleMania XX when Chris Benoit had Shawn Michaels in the Crippler Crossface. After Triple H hit a Pedigree on Cena and covered him, Orton broke up the pin attempt by kicking Triple H in the head. He then covered Cena for the win. The crowd -- myself included -- was shocked that Orton won. Since it was Cena who was pinned after Triple H hit his finisher, this likely sets up Orton vs. Triple H at Backlash next month in Baltimore. I think keeping the belt on Orton as a surprise last night was a good call, but I suspect he won't be leaving Baltimore with the belt.

Beth Phoenix and Melina defeated Maria and Ashley in the BunnyMania lumberjill match: The women basically played second fiddle to master of ceremonies Snoop Dogg and Santino Marella. I thought it was strange that the heels came out to Melina's music. Isn't Phoenix the champion? There was a mass exodus by the fans to the bathroom and concession stands during this match. It ended when Phoenix pinned Maria. Marella not only got decked by Jerry Lawler, but he also took a clothesline from "Snoopy The Dog." After the match, Snoop Dogg put a liplock on Maria. Isn't he supposed to be a family man in his reality show?

Shawn Michaels defeated Ric Flair: This match told a great story. The crowd was definitely pro-Flair, but Michaels wasn't really booed that much, although whenever he chopped Flair the crowd yelled "Boo" and when Flair chopped Michaels they yelled "Wooo!" One early spot of note saw Flair go to the top rope and actually hit a cross bodyblock rather than getting tossed to the mat, which is the usual result. Another interesting moment occurred when Michaels was about to deliver Sweet Chin Music and he couldn't bring himself to do it. In a scary moment, Michaels looked like he really hurt his ribs when he landed hard on the announce table after doing a moonsault from the apron that Flair ducked. Either Michaels was doing the greatest sell job in the history of wrestling or he was hurting bad. We were only five minutes into what figured to be a historic match and I wasn't sure if Michaels was going to be able to finish it. Several minutes later, Michaels attempted another moonsault onto the floor, and Flair seemed a little out of position and didn't really catch him.

Flair later pulled out all of his classic moves that earned him the nickname of "The Dirtiest Player in the Game." He gave Michaels a low blow and a thumb to the eye and tried to pin him by holding his tights. After several near falls and Michaels twice surviving the figure-four leglock, Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music. He then put himself in position to hit another one. Flair made it to his feet and told Michaels to bring it on. Michaels, with a sad look on his face, said, "I'm sorry. I love you," before delivering Sweet Chin Music again for the win at the 20-minute mark. After the match, Michaels cradled Flair's head and whispered something to him. Flair began crying before he got up from the mat. He received a standing ovation from the crowd, which chanted "Thank you, Ric." I had expected he and Michaels to embrace after the match, but Michaels quickly headed back up the ramp so that Flair could have all of the attention, which was the right move. I'm guessing that Flair gives his farewell speech tonight on Raw and has his moment with Michaels.

Kane defeated ECW champion Chavo Guerrero to win the title: Bell rings. Chokeslam. Pin. New champion. Time of the fall: nine seconds.

Batista defeated Umaga: This match went just eight minutes and it was OK, but nothing special. Batista struggled to get Umaga up for the Batista Bomb, but he made it look good enough and that was the finish.

CM Punk wins the Money in the Bank ladder match over Carlito, Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho, Mr. Kennedy, John Morrison and MVP: There were some great spots in this match, most of them executed by Morrison and Benjamin. The two that stood out the most were Morrison doing a moonsault with a ladder in his hands from the top rope onto several wrestlers on the floor, and Benjamin being dumped off a ladder and flipping over the top rope onto another ladder. When MVP was on the verge of winning, Matt Hardy did a run-in, attacked him and left. Punk grabbing the briefcase for the win definitely wasn't something that I saw coming. I might be reading too much into this, but I wonder if WWE was trying to send a message to Jeff Hardy -- who was the heavy favorite to win this match before his recent drug suspension -- by putting over a guy who lives the "straight-edged" lifestyle.

JBL defeated Finlay in a Belfast Brawl: The two veterans engaged in a good, stiff fight. The highlight was Finlay doing a dive through the ropes -- something he doesn't do very often -- and getting hit by a trash can lid. JBL got the win after hitting Finlay with a kendo stick and the Clothesline from Hell. Hornswoggle didn't play a part in the finish, and Finlay didn't get his heat back after the match, which was surprising.

Kane wins a 24-man battle royal to earn the ECW title shot: Before the pay-per-view started, this match was broadcast live on wwe.com. The eliminations came at a furious pace, starting with Deuce and Domino, who were out almost before the match started. The final two were Kane and Mark Henry, with Kane winning by clotheslining Henry over the top rope.The crowd popped big for Kane's win.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:12 AM | | Comments (29)
        

March 30, 2008

Highlights from WWE Hall of Fame news conference

Well, there's good news and bad news here in Orlando, Fla. The good news is that the Internet at my hotel came back this morning, so I am actually sitting in my room typing this. The bad news is that the weather forecast calls for isolated thunderstorms throughout the evening. I have been told that a structure has been built over the ring at the Citrus Bowl, so the wrestlers will be nice and dry tonight. The rest of us, however, won't be so lucky. And umbrellas are not permitted in the stadium. Oh well.

With some time to kill before heading over to WrestleMania XXIV, I figured I would recap some of yesterday's WWE Hall of Fame news conference, which took place prior to the induction ceremony. A number of current and former WWE stars took part in the event, as well as Floyd Mayweather and Shane McMahon.

As I wrote yesterday, Flair's emotional comments to the media about his induction into the Hall of Fame and his career possibly coming to an end this weekend are something that I will never forget. I was less than 10 feet away from Flair when I asked him the first question, which was what his thoughts were on perhaps wrestling his final match Sunday. With tears in his eyes, he looked at me and said, "Well, it's the biggest match of my life, because if I don't win ... " At that point, he broke down before continuing. "If I don't win, I won't be able to do this anymore. This is what I love. It's what I've been trained to do my whole life."

He then lightened the mood when a reporter asked how he was managing his emotions. "I don't think I'm doing a very good job," he said with a laugh.

While Flair's comments were the most emotional, Carlito's were the most entertaining. Unlike every other performer who participated in the news conference, Carlito seemed to be totally in character. Either that or the guy is just brutally honest and perhaps disgruntled. There have been rumblings about Carlito regretting his decision to stay with WWE rather than let his contract expire.

When asked if he would consider turning over his title shot to Flair if he wins the Money in the Bank ladder match, Carlito said: "No, that's a stupid idea. Ric Flair, don't get me wrong, he is a legend. He did a great thing for sports entertainment and the world of wrestling, but it's time for him to retire. I'm not crazy about Shawn Michaels. It should have been a retirement match for both of them. Whoever wins or loses, please get the [heck] out of the ring."

Carlito was then asked what it was like for him to work a program with Flair. "Whatever," he said. "You know, he's a legend, he's great. I didn't really have anything to learn from him. I've been in the wrestling business my whole life, so I kind of know the ins and outs and how to act inside the ring. It's like when your parents try to give you advice on how to be cool or something. It's just stupid advice. It makes no sense. It's just a complete waste of time."

Carlito seemed like he was biting his tongue when he was asked what it will take for him to get to the next level in WWE. "Uh, that's a good question but I'm going to keep my mouth shut on that one. I don't want to get myself in trouble again this year," he said, referring to landing in the WWE's doghouse at last year's WrestleMania after he voiced his frustration publicly about being left off the card.

Floyd Mayweather was pretty entertaining, too. The way he rattled off the names of WWE wrestlers from the past and knew wrestling trivia -- such as what year Flair began his career and when Flair's birthday is (the day after Mayweather's) -- proved that he definitely is a big wrestling fan. He also knows how to give a good quote. He made a bold prediction that tonight's pay-per-view, featuring his match against The Big Show, will do more buys than last year's WrestleMania, which did a company-record 1.2 million buys (Mayweather mistakenly said 1.4 million), thanks in large part to Donald Trump's involvement.

"Donald Trump, you're good at what you do," he said. "He's the best at building hotels and condominiums. ... But when it comes to pay-per-view, this is something I do.This is something that I understand. He did 1.4 last year. This year, we'll break it. We'll break it, don't worry. Just sit back, relax and strap on your seat belts, because I'm gonna take you on a long ride. It's possible I could be here to stay."

WWE champion Randy Orton had an interesting response when asked about how he has matured. "I've definitely matured a lot in the course of my career here in WWE," he said. "When I started out ... I had a lot of issues with maturity. I was 19, just breaking in, we're traveling the world. There's a lot of things going on out there. The last few years, I've been able to ground myself. I got married. I really feel like my career's just blossoming now."



Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:07 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 1

Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XX, 2004)

If I had compiled this list prior to the Chris Benoit tragedy last summer, this match would have been my top WrestleMania moment. And while it still is the most memorable WrestleMania moment for me, the reasons for its significance have become more complex.

First, let’s go back to 2004. Having long been an admirer of Benoit’s talent and work ethic, I was thrilled to see him in the WrestleMania main event, and I was especially excited about the fact that he was probably going to win the title from world heavyweight champion Triple H and I was going to be at Madison Square Garden to witness it live. I’m a big Michaels mark, but this clearly was Benoit’s time. The sellout crowd in New York thought so, too, as it was definitely pro-Benoit even though Michaels also was a babyface.

I have been going to live shows for more than 30 years, and this might be the best match I was ever in attendance for. The three incredibly talented veterans engaged in an action-packed match that featured a combination of wrestling and brawling. To add to the drama, Michaels’ head was busted open, and he bled a gusher. Triple H also was bleeding from the forehead. After Benoit dumped Michaels over the top rope, Triple H grabbed Benoit and attempted to execute a Pedigree. Benoit, however, reversed it into a Crippler Crossface. Triple H stayed in the hold for over a minute before finally tapping out. The crowd erupted, and Benoit immediately began crying.

Eddie Guerrero, who had made a successful WWE title defense against Kurt Angle earlier in the show, then entered the ring and celebrated with Benoit as confetti fell from the ceiling and Benoit’s theme music blasted over the sound system. The two longtime friends had both taken the road less traveled to reach the top of the wrestling world together. Next, Benoit’s family – including wife Nancy and young son Daniel – made their way into the ring, and Benoit hugged and kissed them both. I got chills watching the emotional scene unfold before my eyes.

If only the story could have ended there.

Needless to say, that scene now evokes chills of a much darker nature. Four people (including one child) who were in the ring that night are dead. For that reason, the image of Benoit and his family celebrating in the ring will forever be etched in my mind.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:58 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

WrestleMania XXIV preview

Predictions for tonight's WWE pay-per-view:

WWE champion Randy Orton vs. John Cena vs. Triple H: It would be a huge surprise if Orton retained the title, especially because he has already gone through all of the top babyfaces on Raw. So that leaves either Cena or Triple H. Cena is on the verge of shooting his next movie, so I expect Triple H to become a 12-time world champion tonight. Triple H hasn't held held a world title -- excluding his reign of a couple hours in October -- since losing the world heavyweight title to Batista at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. As Triple H has said repeatedly, it's time for the king of kings to get back on his throne.

World heavyweight champion Edge vs. The Undertaker: An even bigger surprise than Orton retaining would be Edge leaving the show tonight as champion. I think Edge and Undertaker will have a good -- possibly great -- match, but I just don't see WWE ending Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak. Before Undertaker got injured, it's pretty common knowledge that WWE had been planning a lengthy title reign for him after he defeated Batista for the title last year at WrestleMania. He'll get the title back tonight and extend his streak to 16-0.

Floyd Mayweather vs. The Big Show: There hasn't been as huge a buzz about this match as WWE was hoping for, but a lot of people are curious from a "train'wreck" perspective. This one is really hard to predict, especially because WWE has never made it clear what the rules of the match are. One would think that Mayweather didn't agree to work with WWE to lose, but, on the other hand, how can WWE put the 5-foot-8, 150-pound boxer over its 7-foot, 441-pound giant? Perhaps there will be some outside interference (Rey Mysterio?) or some other kind of disputed finish. My guess is that Big Show is winning here in some fashion.

Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels: To many fans, myself included, this is the real main event. As Michaels admitted to me in an interview last week, he is feeling the pressure to have a great match. Michaels always delivers on the big stage -- or any-sized stage, really -- and I expect nothing different tonight. I think Flair will rise to the occasion as well. I would expect at least a 20-minute match, with Flair getting a lot of near falls before eventually succumbing to Michaels and ending his fabulous 35-plus-year career. The post-match scene, which is sure to include tears from Flair, Michaels and many fans in attendance, figures to be another classic WrestleMania moment.

Money in the Bank ladder match (Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, Chris Jericho, Mr. Kennedy, John Morrison, MVP and CM Punk): Before Jeff Hardy's suspension earlier this month, he was the heavy favorite to win this match. Now, all bets are off. In my opinion, three men have a legitimate shot to win: Jericho, Kennedy and MVP. Personally, I would like to see MVP go over and get to the next level, but I don't think it's happening. There has been speculation that Kenney will win, cash in his title shot after the triple threat WWE title match and leave WrestleMania as the champion.I don't think that's happening either. I'm going with the biggest star in the match, and that's Jericho. I also think there is a possibility that Matt Hardy might show up as a surprise entrant.

Batista vs. Umaga: This is the one match in which I don't expect a clean finish. There have been reports that Umaga will soon switch brands and join the Smackdown roster to continue the feud. I'm expecting a good brawl ending in a double disqualification.

Finlay vs. JBL (Belfast Brawl): After JBL brutalized Hornswoggle on two occasions, one would think that Finlay gets revenge here in his type of match. JBL is the bigger star, however, and I don't think this feud is ending tonight, so I'm going with him.

ECW champion Chavo Guerrero vs. battle royal winner: The 24-man battle royal to determine Guerrero's challenger will be broadcast on wwe.com before the pay-per-view starts. I don't have a strong feeling about anyone winning the battle royal. My first thought was Kane, but then I began to think that maybe the spot will go to a rising star rather than an established one. The problem is that I don't see too many rising stars in the battle royal. Kofi Kingston has potential, but it might be too early to plug him into a title match. Oh, what the heck. I'll go out on a limb and pick Kingston to win the battle royal and Guerrero to retain the title.

Maria and Ashley vs. Beth Phoenix and Melina (BunnyMania lumberjill match): I would rather see Mickie James teaming with Maria than being a lumberjill, but, oh well. Phoenix is by far the most believable wrestler in the match, so I'll go with her and Melina.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 10:25 AM | | Comments (3)
        

WWE Hall of Fame report

It was an unforgettable night at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony last night at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla. It was memorable mostly because of the return -- for one night -- of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and, of course, for the induction of Ric Flair. Unfortunately, the behavior of many of the fans in attendance put somewhat of a damper on the experience for me -- more on that later.

Johnson -- who was here to induct his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, Peter Maivia --into the Hall of Fame, got a tremendous response from the crowd, which he had in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked on the stage. He started off by grabbing the microphone and delivering one of his many catch phrases: "Finally, The Rock has come back to Orlando." By the time he was finished, which was about 40 minutes later, he had done all of his catch phrases.

In a scene reminiscent of Hulk Hogan's induction a few years ago, the crowd kept chanting, "Please come back!" and "One more match!" while Johnson was on stage. He hinted that he would consider another match with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who was in the audience nodding his head in approval. Johnson also said that there were three guys he wanted to wrestle but never got the opportunity to -- John Cena, Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels.

Johnson made a few jokes at Cena's expense, mostly cracking on his movie, The Marine. He did it with a smile and a wink, but I have to think that was a receipt for Cena's recent comments about Johnson not giving back to wrestling. Johnson made it a point last night to say that, "I not only grew up in this business, but I love this business."

While I was thoroughly entertained by Johnson, apparently he must have gone on too long, because JBL and Dusty Rhodes both made cracks about it later. JBL said that Johnson forgot the most important two words in wrestling: go home. And Rhodes said that "we've got a good two-hour special if we ever need it."

Triple H also took a jab at Johnson, his former in-ring rival. When giving the induction speech for Flair, Triple H said: "No disrespect to The Rock -- oh, I guess I'm supposed to call him Dwayne now -- but before there was "trailblazing and eyebrow-raising," there was "kiss stealin' and wheelin' dealin'." Triple H got a few boos for the "Dwayne" comment, but he laughed it off and said, "Come on, I'm joking. I love the guy." Actually, I think it's always been apparent that Triple H is somewhat insecure and jealous when it comes to Johnson. It's time to get over it.

Unquestionably, the main event of the evening was the induction of Flair. He was choked up from the moment he went on the stage. Actually, he was choked up earlier in the afternoon at the Hall of Fame news conference. Before he could get his first word out, he started crying. Watching Flair talk about his career possibly ending at WrestleMania XXIV in front of a small gathering of media members is something I will always remember.

Flair's speech last night lasted one hour and 10 minutes. He got teary-eyed a few times, but he got through it and seemed to really be savoring the moment. He tried to mention everyone who meant something to him or played a significant role in his 35-plus-year career. When talking about various members of the Four Horsemen, Flair mentioned Chris Benoit, which drew applause. I'm guessing that comment won't be on the DVD. He also said was that "Austin is the biggest star in the history of WWE. I'm tired of saying Hogan's the biggest star all the time."

On three occasions, Triple H walked over to the podium and whispered in Flair's ear to wrap it up. I can't speak for everyone in attendance, but I could have sat there until the sun came up listening to Flair tell stories. Fittingly, Flair punctuated his speech with a "Wooo!"

Those were the highlights. Now for the lowlights. I attended the first two WWE Hall of Fame ceremonies in Baltimore (1994) and Philadelphia ('95) when the event was in a banquet setting. It was attended mostly wrestlers of the past and present, their families and some media members and people who knew someone in the company. The events were classy, suit-and-tie affairs.

The Hall of Fame has grown to the point in which WWE can fill an arena and charge fans for tickets. I suppose it's a smart business move, but it definitely diminishes the "classy aspect."

Many of the fans at the Amway Arena last night should be ashamed of themselves, as they exhibited all of the negative traits of the stereotypical wrestling fan. They were extremely disrespectful of the speakers and they behaved like they were at the arena to see a house show. They dressed like it as well, even though the dress code was "business attire."

At an event such as this, you shouldn't boo the talent, even if their character is a heel. Of course, the fans last night booed some babyfaces, too, namely Cena and Batista. While the latter got more jeers than cheers, it was nothing compared to the reaction to Cena, who was booed out of the building and serenaded with vulgar chants. Whether or not the fans like Cena's wrestling character, they should at least show John Cena the person some respect.

Cena has always taken the mixed reaction in stride and said all the right things about fans having the right to cheer or boo who they want. Last night, however, Cena looked shaken by the incredibly mean-spirited response. I just don't understand it. He has a passion for the business and an incredible work ethic. And, by all accounts, he's a good guy who hasn't let his success go to his head. He's a decent wrestler, as well, so for those last night who chanted "You can't wrestle," you obviously have no clue about the business.

As horrible as the crowd's treatment of Cena was, the biggest show of disrespect came from the morons who were yelling, "Speak up!" when one of the late Gordon Solie's sons was trying to give a speech about his father.

Here's my suggestion to WWE regarding future Hall of Fame ceremonies: Jack up the ticket prices. Maybe it will keep out the riff-raff.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:47 AM | | Comments (26)
        

March 29, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 2

The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8, 2002)

This was a dream match that fans never thought would happen, as sports entertainment’s two biggest crossover celebrities faced off. After appearing in the first nine WrestleManias – and headlining almost all of those – Hogan was returning to the extravaganza for the first time in nine years. It also marked the first time that Hogan was a heel at WrestleMania.

The atmosphere at the SkyDome in Toronto was unlike anything I have ever witnessed, as the crowd was buzzing and flashbulbs were popping during the pre-match stare-down between the two iconic figures. Once they locked up, it was clear that the crowd of nearly 70,000 was overwhelmingly behind Hogan even though he was a heel entering this match. The fans cheered wildly when Hogan was on offense, and booed vociferously when Rock was on offense.

Like most of Hogan’s matches, it wasn’t a technical wrestling classic, but “The Hulkster” and “The Great One” took the fans on a thrilling ride, highlighted by a sensational finishing sequence. After both men kicked out of the other’s finisher, Hogan missed a second legdrop, and Rock hit two Rock Bottoms and the People’s Elbow to score the pinfall.

After the match, Hogan, who was clutching his injured ribs and had a sad puppy dog look on his face, offered to shake Rock’s hand, and Rock accepted the gesture of sportsmanship. Just like Hogan’s match with The Ultimate Warrior 12 years earlier – coincidentally, a match that also was at SkyDome – his humility in losing overshadowed his opponent’s victory.

Rock then began walking back up the ramp, when, suddenly, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, Hogan’s partners in crime in the nWo, hit the ring and attacked Hogan. Rock came back and made the save. Then, when Hogan started to leave the ring, Rock stopped him and encouraged him to do his pose-down routine for the fans, who ate it up. Rock and Hogan then headed back to the dressing room together. From the ring entrances to the post-match activities, Rock versus Hogan was truly something special.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 28, 2008

Inside the Impact Zone

After attending the TNA Impact taping tonight at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., I now understand why the crowd at the Impact Zone is always so enthusiastic. No, it's not because the fans who demonstrate the most spirit are selected to go backstage -- although I'm sure that doesn't hurt. It's because the taping is a fun experience.

It's been a while since I've been to a wrestling show in an intimate setting -- the Impact Zone actually seems bigger on television than it does in person -- and I forgot how a small but hot crowd can sometimes create a better atmosphere than a luke-warm crowd at a sold-out arena. One thing is certain: the people at the Impact Zone are very passionate about the product, and their enthusiam is contagious.

As has been the case with Impact for several weeks now, tonight's show was all about in-ring action and promos, with the backstage vignettes and comedy skits kept to a minimum.

I don't want to get too much into specifics about the show, as it won't air until Thursday and I don't usually write spoilers. I will say that Matt Morgan came across as someone with major star potential, and Sting got the biggest pop of the night.

Before the show, I had an opportunity to conduct sit-down interviews backstage with Kurt Angle, Gail Kim, Robert Roode, Rhino and Kevin Nash. Yes, I said Kevin Nash. Even though I had a bad experience with him when I was the editor of WCW Magazine -- and I've been critical of him in this blog -- he couldn't have been any nicer. I sort of feel guilty now for being so tough on him. I will begin posting the Q&A's after I get back to Baltimore next week.

I also got the chance to meet up with some people from WCW that I haven't seen since the company was purchased by WWE seven years ago, including Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett, Mike Tenay and Jeremy Borash. It was great to catch up with them, and I also had the pleasure of meeting TNA owner Dixie Carter. She doesn't appear on television, but she is very visible at the Impact Zone before the taping begins, talking to fans and shaking hands.

When she came over to me and asked who I was, I told her my name and where I was from. She smiled and said, "Oh, I know you. I read your stuff." That caught me off guard, since much of what I have written about TNA hasn't been positive. The best reponse I could muster was, "Oh, really. That's great." When I saw her after the show, I ran into her again and she thanked me for coming and shook my hand. This time, I said, "You read my stuff, and you're still smiling and shaking my hand?" She said, "Well, there's been one or two that I didn't care for."

Overall, it was a good first night in Orlando. I want to thank Ross Forman of TNA for setting up the interviews and being so helpful. The only glitch on the trip so far -- and it's a pretty big one -- is that the hotel that I'm staying in lost Internet access tonight, and I was told that there's a chance it could be down all weekend. It's a minor miracle that I was able to post this. Hopefully, the problem will be resolved tomorrow. If not, I'll keep my fingers crossed for another miracle.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 11:46 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Greetings from the center of the wrestling universe

I landed a couple hours ago in Orlando, Fla., for what promises to be a huge weekend of wrestling.

In less than an hour I’ll be heading to Universal Studios for the TNA Impact tapings. Tomorrow, I’ll be spending some time at WWE Fanaxcess before attending what should be a very special WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony tomorrow night.

Of course, all of that leads to Sunday and WrestleMania XXIV at the Citrus Bowl. I am planning on blogging after all of these events.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to watch last night’s TNA Impact, so there will be no post about the show this week.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:51 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 3

Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (WrestleMania III, 1987)

To truly enjoy this match, which took place before an announced crowd of 93,173 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, one can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story line. Even though Hogan and Andre had faced each other numerous times in the pre-Hulkamania era, and even though Andre wasn’t really undefeated, WWE promoted this match as an epic, once-in-a-lifetime battle between the reigning champion and his former friend, the unbeatable giant.

At that stage of his career, Andre couldn’t do much in the ring, but the match had been built up so well and was so highly anticipated that the crowd was incredibly forgiving. Andre methodically remained on the offensive for much of the match before Hogan made his famous comeback. Hogan stunned Andre and then scooped him up and delivered the body slam heard around the world. “The Hulkster” followed up with his legdrop finisher and pinned The Giant to a thunderous ovation. Having watched Andre wrestle for 14 years at that point, it was the first time I had ever seen him slammed or pinned.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:27 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 27, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 4

The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania VI, 1990)

For the first time since Bruno Sammartino challenged Pedro Morales in 1972, the top two babyfaces in WWE faced each other for the WWE title. The raucous sold-out crowd at SkyDome in Toronto seemed evenly split in its support for WWE champ Hogan and Intercontinental champ Warrior. While the two larger-than-life figures were anything but skilled technical wrestlers, they put on an exciting match that far exceeded expectations in terms of quality.

After nearly 20 minutes of action, Hogan began “hulking up,” a familiar routine in which he dramatically rallies just as he appears on the verge of defeat, becomes impervious to pain and finishes off his opponent. Hogan knocked down Warrior with a big boot to the face, then prepared to hit his famous legdrop and retain his title – the same finishing sequence fans had been seeing for six years. Only this time, the Warrior moved just before Hogan landed on him. Hogan was momentarily stunned after crashing to the mat, and Warrior quickly took advantage. He bounced off the ropes, hit a splash and covered Hogan to win the title. It was the first clean pinfall loss Hogan had suffered since returning to WWE late in 1983.

After the match, Hogan, with tears in his eyes, presented the belt to Warrior – the symbolic passing of the torch – and the two muscular superstars embraced. “The Hulkster has just taken one giant step towards immortality,” commentator Gorilla Monsoon said. It was an emotional moment for wrestling fans, as Hogan, riding in a cart back to the dressing room, saluted Warrior, who was in the ring basking in his victory. Because fans had such a connection with Hogan, the moment turned out to be more about him losing than as it was about Warrior winning.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:02 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 26, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 5

Donald Trump vs. Mr. McMahon (WrestleMania 23, 2007)

Two of the most famous – and cheesy – hairdos in popular culture were on the line in this battle of billionaires. Rather than physically fighting each other, Trump and McMahon each selected a WWE star to represent them in a match in which the losing billionaire would have his head shaved. Trump picked Bobby Lashley, and McMahon went with Umaga. The bout itself was nothing special, but the post-match scene was surreal.

After Lashley emerged victorious, McMahon was forced into a barber’s chair and shaved bald by Trump, Lashley and special referee “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In a matter of seconds, the WWE chairman’s trademark pompadour was no more. Even though I was certain before the match that McMahon would be the one losing his hair, it still was amazing to actually see it happen. Having grown up watching WWE in the mid-1970s, I never could have imagined that Vince McMahon, who for years did play-by-play and interviews but never got involved in angles, would one day be getting his head shaved in the middle of the ring.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:29 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 25, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 6

Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XIX, 2003)

Because WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, wrestlers often push the envelope when it comes to high-risk maneuvers so that they can be immortalized with a “WrestleMania moment.” Lesnar got his moment in this match, but it wasn’t because he hit a spectacular move – it was because he missed. Watching on television, I thought for a few seconds that I was witnessing a tragedy in the ring when Lesnar mistimed a Shooting Star Press and landed right on his head late in the match.

Up until that point, it was Angle’s safety that I feared for. Suffering from serious injuries to his neck and spine, Angle ignored his doctors and delayed surgery until after his WWE title defense against Lesnar at WrestleMania. Angle held nothing back during the match, wrestling his usual high-impact style. I cringed every time he took a bump, but the scariest moment in this match – or perhaps in any match I have ever seen – occurred shortly after Lesnar climbed to the top rope seeking his big moment.

Lesnar did not get full rotation of his Shooting Star Press and he took a sick bump on his head. I thought for sure he had broken his neck, but, amazingly, he escaped with a concussion and a lot of soreness in his neck. “How is Lesnar not dead?” said a stunned Tazz, who was doing commentary. Lesnar, who was scripted to win the match, had a dazed look on his face and was bleeding from the nose, but somehow he managed to get to his feet and hit his F-5 finisher for the victory. After the match, Lesnar still appeared glassy-eyed when he and Angle hugged each other. Six weeks later, I interviewed Lesnar about the incident and he said that he didn’t remember anything that happened after leaping off the top rope.

Lesnar accomplished a lot during his short pro wrestling career, but he also was involved in two dubious WrestleMania moments: landing on his head in 2003, and he and Goldberg getting booed out of Madison Square Garden in 2004.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:39 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

Flair shows he’s still ‘the man’

In what was very likely his last appearance on Raw as an active wrestler, Ric Flair stole the show last night as only the “Nature Boy” can.

Flair gave one of those impassioned promos that longtime wrestling fans have seen him do hundreds of times yet never get old. The live crowd in Columbia, S.C. – the heart of Flair Country – reveled in the moment, as Flair engaged in a verbal sparring match with Shawn Michaels, his opponent at WrestleMania XXIV Sunday. Michaels told Flair how much he respected him, and then began reciting one of Flair’s signature catch phrases. Before Michaels could complete it, however, Flair abruptly cut him off and told him to shut up.

Flair took offense to what he perceived as Michaels being condescending to him. He then threw off his jacket and really got rolling. Flair even brought out the old NWA world heavyweight title belt and mentioned former opponents such as Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, Sting and Bruiser Brody.

The segment already was great at that point, but then Flair and Michaels took it up yet another notch. After seeming to reach some common ground, Flair and Michaels shook hands. But Michaels wasn’t finished. He compared Flair to Old Yeller and said that, just like the dog in the old Disney movie, Flair needed to be taken behind the woodshed and put out of his misery, and that’s what he was going to do to him at WrestleMania.

Flair responded in classic fashion. With a crazed look in his eye and veins popping out of his head, he stomped on his jacket and ripped open his shirt as he got up in Michaels’ face, slapped him twice and screamed, “Go ahead. Take out Old Yeller right now!” Flair showed great intensity, while Michaels remained calm and then walked out of the ring to a chorus of boos.

This confrontation really made viewers want to see these two go at it. It looks as if Michaels will play the subtle heel role, but by the end of Sunday’s match, I’m sure Flair and Michaels will be friends again.

Flair also had a big moment later in the show. In the eight-man tag match main event, Flair scored the victory for his team when he forced Randy Orton to tap out to the figure-four leglock. It’s a questionable booking decision to have the WWE champion submit to a wrestler who isn’t in the main event with him at WrestleMania, but since it’s Flair, WWE gets a pass. …

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

The video package on Flair was well done, but, as I have said before, I think it would have been a nice touch to have had comments from past and present foes of Flair’s. I also think WWE should have done a video package on Michaels, focusing on his past WrestleMania performances as well as the fact that he is in the awkward position of trying to end his idol’s career. I thought for sure we would see that famous photo of Michaels as a teenager holding up a Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine with Flair on the cover and Michaels emulating his pose. …

WWE also did a nice job on the video package for the triple threat main event for the WWE title. John Cena and Triple H had a good verbal confrontation backstage, too. …

The opening segment, in which Cena, Orton, Triple H, Big Show, JBL and Umaga all cut promos, was an effective way to promote several WrestleMania matches all at once. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Triple H was scripted to come off looking like the biggest star of the segment. He also got to enter the ring last during the main event. I think Cena should have had that honor…

It was great the way Umaga grabbed the microphone and looked unsure how to use it. His character would really benefit from having a mouthpiece. I’ll never understand why Armando Estrada was taken out of that role. …

The Big Show has done a great job of making the Floyd Mayweather angle seem like a shoot in his promos and training videos. Big Show hasn’t actually turned babyface – he was on the heel side in last night’s main event – even though he comes across like one in the video packages. …

It was announced that Candice Michelle is out of the BunnyMania match at WrestleMania after undergoing surgery yesterday to repair her broken clavicle. Ashley made her return and will take Candice’s spot as Maria’s partner against Beth Phoenix and Melina. I guess having Ashley in there makes sense with the Playboy theme and all, but where is Mickie James, who is more over than any of these women? It might be wishful thinking, but I hope Mickie not being on the card is part of a story line for her after WrestleMania. …

Poor Santino Marella. Not only did he have to sell for 58-year-old Jerry Lawler, but also for Maria and Ashley.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 2:34 AM | | Comments (21)
        

March 24, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 7

Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania XII, 1996)

The buildup to this 60-minute Iron Man match for Hart’s WWE title was so basic, yet so effective. In Michaels and Hart, WWE had perhaps the two best workers in the business at that time on it roster, and that’s what this match was all about – proving who truly was the best of the best. Both men were babyfaces, but there was a sense of underlying professional jealousy between them – which seemed to be part work, part shoot – that added some tension to the mix.

The winner of the match would be the man who scored the most pinfalls in 60 minutes. Michaels thrilled the crowd before the contest even started when he made perhaps the most exciting entrance in WrestleMania history, as he appeared in the rafters and floated to the ring on a wire. The match gradually built to a dramatic finish, with neither wrestler able to secure a fall heading into the final minute.

With about 35 seconds left, Hart locked on the Sharpshooter, but Michaels managed to hold on as the time limit expired. It was determined, however, that there had to be a winner, so the match went into sudden death overtime despite Hart’s protest. Less than two minutes later, Michaels caught Hart with a superkick to win his first world title. As someone who had been a big Michaels fan since his Rockers days, I got caught up in the moment watching on pay-per-view and cheered as if my hometown team had just won the World Series or Super Bowl.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 4:49 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 23, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 8

The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania VII, 1991)

The feud between the two eccentric former WWE champions came to a resolution in a match in which the loser had to retire. Retirement matches hadn’t been overdone yet back in ’91, so many fans truly believed that one man’s career was going to end with this match. Savage was a tremendous performer in the ring, and on this day, the Warrior rose to the occasion as well.

They battled back and forth for over 20 minutes before the Warrior ultimately prevailed, scoring a clean pin on the “Macho Man.” As exciting as the match was, however, it was the aftermath that truly was unforgettable. Savage’s manager, Queen Sherri, was furious with him for losing. Savage still was shaken up and had yet to get up off the mat when Sherri began kicking him and screaming at him. At that point, Elizabeth – Savage’s ex-manager and former flame who had been estranged from him – charged into the ring, grabbed Sherri by the hair and tossed her out of the ring.

When Savage got back on his feet, he saw Elizabeth, who had tears in her eyes. After a few tense moments of indecision, Savage and Elizabeth embraced and the crowd went wild as “Pomp and Circumstance,” Savage’s entrance music, played. The camera panned the crowd and showed a few women – and even one young man – crying. The emotional reunion of Savage and Elizabeth had completely overshadowed the Warrior’s big win. “What a woman, and what a man!” commentator Gorilla Monsoon shouted.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 4:21 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 22, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 9

Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WrestleMania X-7, 2001)

The two biggest stars during wrestling’s resurgence in the late ’90s had wrestled each other before – including in the main event at WrestleMania XV two years earlier – but this was their first match against each other with both of them as babyfaces. The atmosphere at the jam-packed Astrodome in Houston was electric for the highly anticipated clash of megastars.

Austin versus Rock in a no-disqualification match for Rock’s WWE title was as good as advertised. They waged a bloody battle and thrilled the crowd with numerous false finishes, including a sequence in which each man used the other’s finisher for a near fall. During the latter stages of the match, WWE chairman Mr. McMahon came down to ringside and – to the shock of everyone – began assisting Austin, his arch enemy.

“Stone Cold” made three unsuccessful pin attempts – twice after chair shots and once after a stunner – before he snapped. Austin proceeded to pound the fallen Rock with 16 chair shots to his chest and back to finally get the pinfall and win the WWE title. Then, in a surreal scene, Austin and McMahon shook hands after the match and drank beer together, as an outraged Jim Ross cursed on the air and said that “Stone Cold is shaking hands with Satan himself.”

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:07 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 21, 2008

Q&A with Shawn Michaels

Shawn Michaels has earned the monikers “The Showstopper” and “Mr. WrestleMania” for his show-stealing performances on sports entertainment’s biggest stage. On March 30, Michaels will compete in his 15th WrestleMania, but this one is perhaps the most special to him. Michaels will be facing Ric Flair, the man he idolized as a youngster, in a match that very likely will be the final one of Flair’s legendary career.

shawn.jpg

I spoke briefly with Michaels about the match and his legacy at WrestleMania in a phone interview this afternoon.

You have wrestled Ric Flair before, but can you put into words what it means to you to be facing him at WrestleMania in what could be his final match?

There’s just an emotional thing here for me and for Ric that I think is probably hard for a lot of folks to get a hold of. I’m going in there with a guy that, when I was 16 years old, I sat in front of the TV and I said, “Gosh, I want to be just like him. He embodies everything I want to be. Everything I picture the wrestling life to be, he’s it.” Fast-forward 20-some-odd years later and to be a grown man and be able to call him my friend – we’ve gotten so close with each other in the last several years – and then for him to handpick me to try to get him his greatest moment. I take it so seriously and so personally because of what he’s meant to me in the past and what he means to me now as a friend, and what he’s created in this industry. I know there are so many people that believe he ought to be honored and set apart, and to be the guy that needs to get that done, on the one hand, it’s wonderful. On the other hand, I go, “Gosh, I wish I wouldn’t have been calling myself ‘The Showstopper’ and ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ all these years. I’ve really worked myself into a shoot this time.”

I’ve always gone into WrestleMania, and most of my matches and pay-per-view matches, where no matter what I was feeling on the inside – there have always been nerves and things like that – but I always went in on the outside feeling 7-feet tall and bulletproof. This is the first time that I’m visibly shaken. Can I honor him? Can I do what I really believe he deserves, and can I make it happen for him? Because I want to. There’s a strange emotional thing going on for me that I’ve tried to detach myself from as best I can, but it’s still there. There’s still a part of me that’s 16. Everyone wants me to bring my best, and to do that would mean him leaving this industry forever. Being the guy that did that, and I recognize that there’s a whole show that goes with that, but bittersweet is the only way that I can describe it. There’s an inner conflict going on with me the likes of which I’ve never really had before because there are so many real emotional levels with me. The idea of Ric Flair not being in this industry is something that I don’t even know if I’m prepared for.

I remember a TV match in 1991 or’ 92 that you had with Ric when you were still part of The Rockers. You were a young guy at that point and not yet a singles star. What was it like to work with your idol at that stage of your career?

He had been in the company for a short time and that was our first chance to get to meet each other. That was when I first began to tell him sort of how I felt about him and his impact on my life. At that time I hadn’t become an established anything yet other than a tag-team guy. I think it was one of those things that he had probably heard before and was flattered by. When we went out there, it was business as usual for him. Obviously, me, I was giddy, and it was the fastest eight minutes of my entire life. It wasn’t that long of a match, but it was something at that point in my life that I held very precious. It was like, “Holy cow, I’m in there with ‘The Naitch.’ I’m in there with this guy that I watched.”

The thing that always sort of brings me back to reality is that I’ve got this buddy, Kenny, who was there with me when I was 16 years old watching Ric. And he called me way back then and said, “I can’t believe you wrestled Ric Flair.” And, of course, now to fast-forward so many years later, and we still talk, and he’s like, “Holy cow, Shawn. Can you believe it? He might be having his last match.” There’s still a part of me that I keep tucked away and hidden here in Texas that’s still 16 and chatting with my buddy Kenny about the fact that I’m wrestling Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV. I was giddy then. Now, when I talk to Kenny he gets me giddy about it. But the harsh reality is that Ric Flair has always been a part of this business for as long as I can remember. Of all the interest that I’ve ever had in this line of work, he’s been involved in some aspect of it. And the idea of him not being in there – I feel like the old couple that when one of them goes, the other one loses their will to live a little bit. And I really have to wonder, as goofy as it sounds, how much more I’ll want to go on if he’s gone.

I’m in the midst of counting down the Top 20 WrestleMania moments on this blog, and, not surprisingly, you have been involved in several of them. If you had to pick just one, what would be your favorite WrestleMania moment that you were a part of?

Wow. Gosh, that’s always been a hard one for me. I suppose I always have to go back to the ladder match [with Razor Ramon in 1994] because I think that’s the one that sort of put me on the map. That’s the one where people said, “You know what? This guy could be a player.” I really have to credit that one for taking me to that next level. I don’t know that any of those other WrestleMania moments would have been possible had I not been in that match.

The plan for the main event at last year’s WrestleMania was John Cena vs. Triple H, but you were inserted in Triple H’s spot after he got hurt. Had he not been injured, what was the plan for you at WrestleMania?

At that time, like every other WrestleMania, there were a couple different ideas. That’s sort of how it’s been with me every year. … The last call I got before Hunter went down was, “Well, we’re thinking about maybe you and King Booker, but we’re also thinking about maybe putting you in the Donald Trump thing. How would you feel about that?” I was like, “Well, Donald Trump and Vince [McMahon] will probably get all the focus and it doesn’t really matter who you put in the match.” Those were the two talked-about scenarios. Just like it was with every other WrestleMania before that, I was like, “That’s fine.” I landed in the main event at WrestleMania XX, which wasn’t really a discussed thing. They brought to me the [Kurt] Angle match years ago. So, things have just slowly gotten better each time. The only one that I’ve ever requested on my own was [with] Vince McMahon, because, for one WrestleMania, I wanted to be in a match where I didn’t have all the pressure of having to tear the house down.

Although it still did.

And I appreciate that, but it’s a lot easier to go in when the sights are set sort of low. Again, that’s when that whole “Showstopper” and “Mr. WrestleMania” thing works against you. I’m at a point in my life now where I don’t know that I enjoy the pressure-cooker as much as I used to. So, I’d love to have a WrestleMania where all the pressure in the world wasn’t upon my shoulders. Apparently it’s not going to happen this year, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to a day, if it ever comes, when I can maybe be just “plus one other exciting match.”

Photo of Shawn Michaels (left) and Ric Flair courtesy of WWE.com.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:03 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Q&As
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 10

Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIII, 1997)

The climate in wrestling was changing when this match took place. Fans were turning against traditional babyfaces and getting behind no-nonsense, vicious heels, and Hart versus Austin was a microcosm of this shift. In a no-disqualification submission match, “The Hitman” and “Stone Cold” engaged in an intense brawl that had one of the most dramatic finishes in WrestleMania history.

With Austin bleeding profusely, Hart locked on the Sharpshooter for what seemed like forever. While Hart’s opponents usually submitted quickly to the move, Austin, screaming in pain as blood poured down his face, refused to give up. Eventually, Austin passed out and special referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match.

The double turn was complete after Hart continued to attack Austin after the match before Shamrock stepped in and Hart backed down. When Austin regained consciousness, he refused any assistance as he limped out of the ring and headed back up the aisle while the fans chanted his name. WWE’s “Attitude Era” was officially underway, and Austin was its poster boy.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

Now that’s how you book Kurt Angle

The defining segment of last night’s TNA Impact occurred when Jeremy Borash walked into Kurt Angle’s dressing room and asked him what he thought of the latest development with his wife and A.J. Styles.

Angle violently grabbed Borash and said that he was through with all that. He was nearly frothing at the mouth when he said, “No more fun! No more games! No more BS!”

Ah, music to my ears.

It looks like TNA has figured out that the buildup for the Angle-Samoa Joe match at the Lockdown pay-per-view on April 13 needs to have a serious tone, with the focus placed entirely on the two competitors. The last time they wrestled on pay-per-view, the focus was on Karen Angle, who double-crossed Joe and made him look silly.

After Angle’s interview with Borash last night, he had an MMA-like sparring session in which he quickly dispatched of four opponents. He was especially stiff with the last guy, as he busted him open with a series of strikes to the head. After it was over, Angle held up his bloody fists and cut a promo on Joe.

That was a tremendous segment, as Angle is at his best when he’s portrayed as an intense, no-nonsense fighting machine. When given good comedic material, he can make viewers laugh, too, but the drawback is that laughs don’t translate into pay-per-view buys.

Will this new approach spike the buy rates? I don’t know, but I do know that what TNA was doing before – having main event angles full of comedy, swerves and convoluted story lines – wasn’t working.

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

For the third consecutive week, Impact was more wrestling- and promo-oriented and less reliant on comedy skits. As I’ve said before, comedy is an essential component of wrestling, and I enjoy the “sports entertainment” aspect of the business. The problem with TNA was that there was too much comedy, and a lot of it – in my opinion – just wasn’t funny. I hope TNA sticks with this new direction, because Impact has gotten a lot better recently. Either that or TNA supporter and Ring Posts reader Jack from Hebron finally wore me down. …

The big angle at the end of the show was the revelation that Sting was returning next week. Using Sting for special appearances rather than having him on every Impact episode and pay-per-view is the right role for him at this point. …

I really like the “Rough Cuts” segments with B.G. James and Kip James. TNA needs to do things that differentiate it from WWE, and these realistic interviews are a great way to accomplish that. If TNA was just doing a typical wrestling angle with these two, I wouldn’t be the least bit interested in it. But these segments humanize them and actually make me want to see them wrestle each other.

Even though this is a story line, it seems like there either is or has been some real tension between the former New Age Outlaws. I did have one minor complaint: B.G. James is supposed to be the babyface here, but I don’t think a babyface should talk about blowing off going to the gym with his partner because his priorities have changed. While it’s admirable that B.G. wants to spend time with his family, it makes it look like he’s less dedicated to the business than his partner, who seems justified in turning on him. …

The video package on the history between Christian Cage and Rhino was well done. The old clips of them together from early in their careers were a nice touch. I thought it was unintentionally funny, however, when Mike Tenay, conducting a sit-down interview with Cage and Rhino, told Cage that if he tried to embarrass Rhino, he would never be allowed on his interview set again. No more interviews ever with Tenay? Cage’s proper response should have been the Scott Hall “Ooh, I’m scared” facial expression and hand gesture. …

The Black Machismo-SoCal Val vignettes in which Sonjay Dutt keeps showing up on their dates are pretty amusing. …

Dutt’s slip off the top rope during his match with Homicide didn’t at all look like a planned spot, but it quickly became apparent that it was by the reactions of Homicide and SoCal Val. …

When LAX attacked Dutt after the match and stole the money out of his tambourine, Salinas was sticking the bills down her top. I wonder if that’s the first time she has had singles stuffed in her cleavage? …

When Booker T. said that Robert Roode was going to be facing a living legend, I figured Larry Zbyszko was coming back to TNA, but he was referring to himself. …

Gimmick infringement alert: Brother Devon ripped off Tazz’s catch phrase when he said, “Beat us if you can. Survive if we let you.” …

Kaz had the move of the night when he delivered a reverse piledriver to Petey Williams. …

The videos for the return of Consequences Creed have been good. For those who don’t remember, he took the place of Adam “Pacman” Jones as Ron Killings’ tag-team partner at the Bound for Glory pay-per-view in October. …

It appears that Eric Young thinks that Super Eric is a different person. Great. Now we have two characters in TNA with split personalities.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:56 AM | | Comments (7)
        

March 20, 2008

Matt Hardy blogs about Jeff’s tragedy

Matt Hardy posted a blog on his myspace site about the fire at his brother’s house last week that claimed all of Jeff Hardy’s possessions as well as his dog’s life.

As has been reported previously, it was Matt — whose house is close to Jeff’s — who first discovered the fire. It is both compelling and heartbreaking to read Matt’s first-person account of how everything transpired and the effect it has had on Jeff and his girlfriend, Beth.

Being a dog lover myself, the loss of Jeff’s pet especially hits home. To say Jeff has had a rough time recently would be a gross understatement, but he is very lucky to have his brother there to support him.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:04 PM | | Comments (16)
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 11

Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania III, 1987)

The Hulk Hogan-Andre The Giant WWE title match was the box-office draw for this event, but the Intercontinental title bout between rivals Steamboat and Savage perhaps stole the show. This match between two of the best workers of their era is considered by many not only to be the greatest match in WrestleMania history, but the greatest match ever in WWE.

Steamboat and Savage kept the fans on the edge of their seats with a thrilling contest that had 13 near falls in the final six minutes. In the end, Savage’s attempt to leap off the top rope and hit Steamboat with the ring bell was thwarted by George “The Animal” Steele, who was in Steamboat’s corner. Seconds later, Steamboat caught Savage in a small package to win the match and the Intercontinental title.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:35 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 19, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 12

Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X, 1994)

Ladder matches have become a staple of WrestleMania in recent years, but Michaels and Ramon created the blueprint with this intense, physically demanding match. At stake was the Intercontinental title. There was a dispute over who was the rightful champion, and both men had a belt in their possession. Michaels and Ramon used the ladder as a weapon in one innovative spot after another. The move that stands out the most was Michaels leaping off the ladder and hitting a splash on Ramon.

The finish was pretty creative, too. Ramon knocked Michaels off the ladder, and “The Heartbreak Kid” crashed into the ropes and got his foot tangled. With Michaels tied up, Ramon climbed the ladder and seized both belts for the victory. Although Ramon won the match, it was the tremendous performance by Michaels that people most remember.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 18, 2008

Remembering Gary Hart

Gary Hart, who died Sunday of an apparent heart attack at 66, was most known for being one of the top heel managers of the 1970s and ’80s, but he was actually much more than that.

Hart, who worked as a manger in World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas as well as Southern NWA territories such as Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas, also was a key figure behind the scenes. He was the booker in World Class during the company’s glory days in the ’80s when The Von Erichs and The Freebirds were box-office gold, and he also booked the first Starrcade in 1983, when Ric Flair regained the NWA world title from Harley Race in a steel cage match and Roddy Piper defeated Greg Valentine in a dog-collar match.

Hart never worked in WWE, but he did spend some time in WCW as the manager of a stable that included the legendary Terry Funk, The Great Muta and “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer. He also managed such wrestlers as Bruiser Brody, Abdullah The Butcher and The Spoiler.

The first time I saw Hart as a manager was in 1982, when I watched him on World Championship Wrestling on TBS right after my family got cable television. He managed The Great Kabuki at that time and formed an alliance with Piper, who did color commentary with Gordon Solie. Hart wasn’t as flamboyant, witty or over-the-top as some other managers of that era, but he did come across as an evil genius.

I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but those in the industry who worked with him have said that he wasn’t evil in real life, although when it came to booking, he certainly was a genius.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 8:49 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 13

Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 21, 2005)

Expectations for a match between two of the greatest workers of all time were incredibly high, but Angle and Michaels came through and lived up to the hype. The two ring generals took fans on the proverbial rollercoaster ride, with perhaps the most memorable high spot of the match occurring when Michaels spring-boarded from the middle rope high in the air and onto Angle, who was sprawled out on the announce table.

After Michaels managed to escape from an anklelock a couple times, Angle clamped it on once again. Michaels stayed in the hold for two minutes, desperately trying to free himself before dramatically tapping out. Watching on television, I was stunned, as it was the first time that I could recall Michaels ever submitting. The crowd gave both men a well-deserved standing ovation after witnessing a classic.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:59 PM | | Comments (7)
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A unique edition of Raw

Last night’s Raw definitely wasn’t a run-of-the-mill episode. There were a couple things I had never seen before and a few things that had me scratching my head, but it was entertaining overall.

The main event, which pitted rivals John Cena and Randy Orton against the entire Raw roster – as ordered by Triple H, who was in charge for the night – was pretty clever. Despite being vastly out-numbered, Cena and Orton rose to the occasion and systematically pinned one wrestler after another. Eventually, the remaining wrestlers all ganged up on them, which resulted in a disqualification. So, the line in the “record book” will read: “Cena and Orton defeated entire Raw roster by DQ.”

Sure, it was a mass burial of a good portion of the roster, but most of the guys who were pinned were already buried anyway. What the match succeeded in doing was to strongly put over Cena and Orton, which is exactly what should happen less than two weeks before the triple threat main event between those two and Triple H at WrestleMania XXIV. The angle also played up the cunningness of Triple H. Hey, they don’t call him “The Cerebral Assassin” for nothing. (Of course, they also call him “The Game” and “The King of Kings.” Just how many nicknames does one guy need?)

The only thing that could’ve made the angle better would have been for Triple H to have offered the guys on the roster some incentive for winning. For example, he could have said that if Cena and Orton lost, whoever didn’t get eliminated on the roster was guaranteed to get a title shot some time in the next year (or something along those lines).

In addition to two men taking on a whole roster, there was another unprecedented occurrence. I’ve seen wrestlers steal other wrestlers’ title belts and various props (The Undertaker’s urn, Big Bossman’s nightstick, etc.), but I had never seen a wrestler attack a rival and steal his Subway sub, as Santino Marella did to Jerry Lawler. Now that was funny.

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

The street fight between Mr. McMahon and Ric Flair had a great finish, as Flair splashed McMahon through a table for the victory, but the way the match was laid out was a bit strange. McMahon busted Flair wide open and used a variety of weapons to dominate the match, but he just couldn’t put away “The Nature Boy.”

First of all, with Flair being a participant in one of the top matches at WrestleMania, it doesn’t make sense to have him suffer a beating at the hands of McMahon. How can fans seriously believe Flair can beat Shawn Michaels, a superstar almost 20 years his junior, if he gets his butt kicked by the 62-year-old WWE chairman? Secondly, how believable was it that Flair, at 59, could keep kicking out of pin attempts after getting hit in the head with garbage cans and kendo sticks? I think a better way to have booked this match would have been for McMahon to attack Flair from behind on his way to the ring or even backstage and bust him open before the match started. Then Flair could rally and pull out the win. …

Now that Floyd Mayweather is clearly a heel, I’m surprised that WWE isn’t trying to make Big Show into more of a babyface. I don’t expect Big Show to suddenly turn into Ricky Steamboat, but WWE could at least make him a subtle babyface. I think it would get fans more into the Big Show-Mayweather match if they could like Big Show in addition to hating Mayweather. I realize that Big Show needs to be a heel after WrestleMania, but they could always have him be more of a “tweener” now and then have him become a full-fledged bad guy later. …

Big Show and Chris Jericho had a good verbal confrontation to start the show. Big Show has been much improved on the stick since his return. Jericho seems to be showing more subtle heel tendencies every week. His look of indecision when Big Show challenged him to a match was priceless, and he heard some boos when hit Big Show with the Intercontinental title belt and got disqualified. During that match, Big Show potatoed Jericho, who ended up with a nice welt on his head. …

Speaking of being potatoed, JBL was pretty stiff with Colin Delaney. I understand that JBL was supposed to look like a bully, but a couple of his clotheslines appeared as if they could have done serious damage. …

One other JBL thought: When he was talking about hating the Irish, did he forget that his idol, Vince McMahon, is Irish? Oh well, it’s just one more hole in a story line that is filled with them. I’m still waiting to hear how JBL found out that Hornswoggle was Finlay’s son, and why Hornswoggle didn’t know that Finlay was his father. …

When a graphic was shown with Cena and Orton on one side and the entire roster on the other, Jericho, Michaels and Mr. Kennedy were prominent in the roster shot, yet none of them was in the match. …

Candice Michelle suffered an injury to her left shoulder during the tag-team match pitting her and Maria against Jillian Hall and Victoria, wwe.com reported. She appeared to be slightly favoring her left arm after the match. The story said she potentially re-injured her clavicle, which she broke during a match with Beth Phoenix in October. …

CM Punk and Carlito had a good TV match, with Punk going over. …

In the midst of a handicap squash match pitting Umaga versus Paul London and Brian Kendrick, Kendrick walked out on his partner, perhaps signaling a heel turn and a potential program between the two high fliers. The problem is that London and Kendrick have been buried for so long that fans are probably past the point of caring about them …

I’m still not sure what exactly Kim Kardashian does, but after seeing her for the first time, I’m a big fan.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:58 AM | | Comments (13)
        

March 17, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 14

Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XX, 2004)

If this match had occurred a couple months earlier, it would have been a dream match, pitting two powerhouses who had similar meteoric rises to the top against one another. Instead, it was memorable for quite a different reason. I was in attendance at Madison Square Garden, and the atmosphere during the Goldberg-Lesnar match was surreal. It was widely known for a while that this was going to be Goldberg’s last match in WWE, but then word leaked out just prior to the event that Lesnar also was leaving after the bout to pursue an NFL career.

The crowd never gave either man a chance, emphatically jeering both and chanting “you sold out,” “this match s****,” “boring” and “na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” Goldberg and Lesnar were both visibly frustrated by the crowd’s reaction. The only person in the match who was cheered was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the special guest referee. Goldberg ended up getting what amounted to a meaningless victory. After the match, Austin delivered stunners to both men, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:11 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 16, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 15

Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper (WrestleMania VIII, 1992)

As big a star as Piper was in WWE, the “Rowdy Scot” had never held a title in the federation until winning the Intercontinental championship less than three months before this match. Hart, who had made the transition from highly accomplished tag-team wrestler to rising singles star, was a former Intercontinental champ. What made this confrontation even more compelling was the fact that Piper and Hart, both babyfaces at the time, were friends – both on and off camera.

The climax to an exciting back-and-forth match, which perhaps was Piper’s best ever during his WWE tenure, saw Piper grab the ring bell and prepare to smash a fallen, bloody Hart over the head with it. But Piper, once one of the most hated heels in wrestling, couldn’t bring himself to do it, and he tossed the bell aside. Piper’s moment of indecision gave Hart time to recover, and “The Hitman” went on to defeat Piper and regain the title. It was the first pinfall loss Piper had suffered since joining WWE more than eight years earlier, and it was the biggest victory of Hart’s career to that point. Hart and Piper embraced after the match and left the ring with their arms around each other.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 1:42 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 15, 2008

More devastating news for Jeff Hardy

In the same week in which he was suspended 60 days for his second violation of WWE’s drug policy, Jeff Hardy was dealt another stunning blow when his house in Cameron, N.C., burned down, wrestlingobserver.com reported.

The report stated that Hardy and his girlfriend were not home at the time of the fire, but he lost virtually all of his belongings as well as his pet dog. The cause of the fire has not been determined by fire officials. Hardy lived in a double-wide trailer.

It’s hard to imagine one person having to deal with personal and professional problems of such a large magnitude all at once.

The blog entry regarding Hardy’s suspension that was posted on Tuesday has generated more comments by far than any posting since I began the blog last May. Most of the comments have been from Hardy fans who were concerned about him and vowed to continue supporting him.

Hardy will need that support even more now.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 4:29 PM | | Comments (133)
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 16

Edge vs. Mick Foley (WrestleMania 22, 2006)

In the buildup to this hardcore match, Foley talked about how he had accomplished a lot in his career, but he never had a “WrestleMania moment.” He got it during this match, when Edge speared him through a flaming table for the victory. In a brutal encounter that featured thumbtacks and barbed wire baseball bats, another memorable spot occurred when Foley applied the “Socko Claw” – with Mr. Socko wrapped in barbed wire – to Edge's girlfriend, Lita, who received a bloody lip. In the end, Foley did what he has done several times in his career: he helped make his opponent into a bigger star. He also added to his own reputation as a “Hardcore Legend.”

Posted by Kevin Eck at 2:59 AM | | Comments (3)
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March 14, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 17

Roddy Piper vs. Goldust (WrestleMania XII, 1996)

Hardcore matches and falls-count-anywhere matches that go all over the arena and even outside the building have become passé, but that wasn’t the case when Piper and Goldust battled in a Hollywood Back-lot Brawl. In this instance, the match actually started outside – in a Hollywood back lot – and ended inside the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. The fight began with Piper brutalizing Goldust with a baseball bat, but Goldust eventually gained the upper hand, jumped into his gold Cadillac and struck Piper with his car. After Goldust sped away, Piper got into a white Ford Bronco and chased after him.

Later in the show, WWE showed stock footage of the infamous O.J. Simpson low-speed chase, as Vince McMahon did the voiceover and acted as if it was Piper chasing Goldust. Eventually, the match ended up in the ring, where Piper disrobed Goldust, who was wearing black lingerie. The humiliated Goldust ran back to the dressing room and Piper was declared the winner. It wasn’t exactly a wrestling match, but it was definitely unique and entertaining.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 5:01 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

Karen Angle’s bombshell is a dud

At last Sunday’s pay-per-view, it was announced that Karen Angle would make a huge announcement on last night’s episode of TNA Impact.

Besides the fact that TNA books backwards – the TV show should tease something that makes you want to see the pay-per-view, not the other way around – Karen’s “bombshell” was nothing we haven’t seen before, as she told Kurt Angle that she wants a separation.

That’s it? I was hoping she was going to reveal one of wrestling’s great mysteries, like how Kevin Nash keeps getting booked in pay-per-view main events.

Karen first told Kurt she was leaving him back in August – on her very first appearance with the company. Of course, it was all a big swerve to make Samoa Joe look like a fool. So is the separation for real this time? Honestly, I don’t really care at this point. Hopefully, Joe won’t invite her to sit ringside during his title match with Kurt at the Lockdown pay-per-view and get double-crossed again.

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

For the second week in a row there was more emphasis on wrestling and less on bad sketch comedy. …

It was nice to see Team 3-D – who helped Tomko and A.J. Styles lay out Christian Cage and Nash at the end of the show – back in a serious angle after being used as comic relief recently. …

Brother Ray cut a great promo on Jim Cornette earlier. One of the things he said was that if he saw Shark Boy on the show, he was going to kill him. For once, I was really hoping to see Shark Boy. …

Brother Ray also got over with me when he attacked some big guy from Survivor named Joel. I know TNA is looking for mainstream publicity by using this guy, but I can’t stand most reality shows and I don’t want to see these D-list “celebrities” involved in wrestling. …

Samoa Joe cut what might have been the best promo I have ever seen him do, as he talked about his upcoming match with Angle. And he was even dressed like a main-eventer. …

The “Rough Cut” segment with B.G. James and Kip James was good again this week. It’s nice that they were being honest when they said this, but I thought it was odd that B.G. talked about being fired by WWE and Kip admitted that he was released by WWE. Why would TNA want to broadcast the fact that the only reason these guys are in TNA is because the major league company no longer had any use for them? …

Angle and Kaz had another real good match. I find Kaz much more interesting when he’s wrestling guys like Angle and Cage rather than Rellik and Black Reign. …

Speaking of Rellik and Black Reign, it’s a joke to have them beat The Motor City Machine Guns. I know TMCMG are in the doghouse, but come on. …

Super Eric is just a much-less-entertaining version of The Hurricane. Maybe he appeals to the 5-and-under demographic. …

One second Velvet Sky and Angelina Love were helping Roxxi Laveaux with her makeup, and the next second they were beating her up. Did I miss something?

Posted by Kevin Eck at 4:15 AM | | Comments (7)
        

March 13, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 18

Butterbean vs. Bart Gunn (WrestleMania XV, 1999)

The Brawl for All Challenge between the rotund heavyweight boxer and Gunn is the only shoot match in the history of WrestleMania. Had it been scripted, WWE certainly would have come up with a much different ending. Gunn, best known for being one-half of the Smokin’ Gunns tag team, had gained a reputation for being a real-life tough guy after he won WWE’s Brawl for All tournament, which consisted of shoot matches that were a hybrid of wrestling and boxing. So, WWE booked a Brawl for All match between Gunn and Butterbean at WrestleMania.

Even though Butterbean was far from a championship-level boxer, Gunn was no match for him. Butterbean knocked down Gunn within the first 30 seconds, and less than 10 seconds later he caught Gunn flush in the face with a big right, snapping Gunn’s head back and knocking him out cold. The ferocity of the punch elicited a collective gasp from the crowd, which I witnessed firsthand, as I was in attendance at the First Union Center in Philadelphia.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:51 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 12, 2008

Stacy Keibler memorabilia update

For those who have contacted me in regard to last week's post about Stacy Keibler making some of her personal wrestling memorabilia available on eBay, I have more details. Stacy sent me the following e-mail today:

I was delighted to learn about the interest in my things being offered on eBay. As you can imagine, I have accumulated so much during my 7-year run in wrestling. I would love to keep everything, but it's simply a lack of storage space.

It was great for me to reminisce and at the same time be able to give back to my loyal fans who have appreciated my contribution to wrestling. There is a variety of dresses, skirts, shoes, boots, lingerie and bikinis.

We are finalizing the certificate of authenticity and articles should be ready to go in about 2-3 weeks.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 5:43 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 19

Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XIX, 2003)

This was a dream match for me, as Michaels and Jericho are two of my favorite performers. They didn’t disappoint, putting on what was perhaps the best match of the show. Rarely have I ever wanted to see Michaels lose, but this was one of those occasions. I thought Jericho’s career really could have benefited from a win over Michaels on the big stage, but it didn’t happen. Jericho, who was a heel at the time, did get his heat back after the match, however. When Michaels extended his hand as a show of appreciation for the great match they had just had, Jericho responded with an embrace, followed by a low blow to Michaels, who did a tremendous job of selling it.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 2:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

March 11, 2008

Top 20 WrestleMania moments

Before the news of Jeff Hardy's drug suspension broke today, I had intended to begin posting a list of the top 20 WrestleMania moments. As I said in an earlier post today, WrestleMania will go on without Hardy, so I see no reason not to do it. Beginning today and running every day through March 30, I will count down the top 20 WrestleMania moments. It is not intended to be a definitive list, but rather a compilation of the WrestleMania moments that made the biggest impressions on me.

No. 20: Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XIV, 1998)

There were several interesting story lines revolving around this match for Michaels’ WWE title. Foremost among them was the WWE’s decision to pay Mike Tyson a reported $3.5 million to be the enforcer referee for the match. That investment – which wrestling pundits predicted would not pay off – turned out to be one of the wisest decisions WWE chairman Vince McMahon ever made. Tyson’s presence spiked the pay-per-view buy rate and played a key role in WWE surging past WCW in the Monday Night War. This match – which Austin won and Tyson counted the pin – was the official coronation of “Stone Cold” as the top star in the business.

It also marked the last time that Michaels would wrestle for four years. While most people figured out that Austin was scripted to win, there was a lot of intrigue surrounding Michaels. Because of Michaels’ injured back – which would require surgery and seemingly end his career – there was some question as to whether he was physically able to work the match. There also was speculation that Michaels – who had gained a reputation for weaseling his way out of dropping titles – would refuse to do business. Michaels, however, put on a gutsy performance and put over Austin clean in the middle of the ring.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 6:01 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Top 20 WrestleMania moments
        

Jeff Hardy’s drug suspension

Well, we know now why Jeff Hardy, perhaps the hottest wrestler in WWE over the past few months, dropped the Intercontinental title to Chris Jericho last night on Raw. Hardy has been suspended for 60 days by WWE for a second violation of the company’s drug policy, wwe.com reported this morning.

This is a devastating blow to the career of Hardy, who seemingly had turned his life around after battling with personal issues in the past. He had finally become the main-event-level wrestler that many observers thought he was destined to be when he entered WWE with his brother Matt a decade ago.

Hardy, who was the odds-on favorite to win the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania XXIV on March 30 and was likely to get a run with the WWE title at some point this year, now won’t even be on WWE’s biggest show.

One of the main reasons for Hardy’s recent ascent was his daredevil-like style, which naturally raises the question of whether the toll it has taken on his body has anything to do with the drug policy violation. In an Associated Press story, WWE spokesman Gary Davis would not say what drugs were involved.

“My body feels weak in a lot of places,” Hardy told me in an interview last January. “I know I’ve got herniated discs in my neck and my back, which isn’t extremely serious — they could lead to being serious. I’ve got [bone] chips in my elbows. I can’t wrestle a match without getting my ankles taped because they feel like they’ll shatter on me. Recently, I think I got a chip in my right kneecap, which is really starting to bother me.”

WWE has been criticized by fans and some pundits for not putting the title on Hardy at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in January or making him part of the WrestleMania main event. But, in hindsight, WWE absolutely made the right call. How embarrassing and disrputing would it have been to have the WWE champion or a WrestleMania main-eventer suspended three weeks before the event?

Hardy now will have to rebuild his reputation again from square one. The big question is whether WWE will ever trust him enough to give him a run on top. Recent history suggest it’s not impossible. We need to look no further than current WWE champion and WrestleMania XXIV headliner Randy Orton, who has had his own issues in the past. And a few months ago, TNA brought in Scott Hall — whose alcohol and drug problems are well documented — and booked him a a pay-per-view main event, which he no-showed and then ended up back in rehab.

Hardy’s setback has definitely put a damper on what is always the most exciting time of year for WWE. But WWE and WrestleMania are bigger than any one individual, and the show will go on and likely be a huge success. I just hope that Hardy can eventually overcome his demons.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 2:34 PM | | Comments (269)
        

WWE pulls double switch with Mayweather, Big Show

The Floyd Mayweather babyface experiment is over, and WWE’s big-money angle for WrestleMania XXIV looks to be back on track.

With wrestling fans loudly rejecting WWE’s presentation of Mayweather as the babyface in the build-up for his match with The Big Show, the company did the smart thing by going with the flow.

Last night on a special three-hour episode of Raw, the cocky, obnoxious Mayweather clearly was portrayed as the heel during the official weigh-in. Big Show, who had a lot of heel heat himself after brutally attacking Rey Mysterio twice recently, won the crowd over by bringing out his “posse,” which consisted of most of the mid-carders – both babyfaces and heels – in the locker room.

The message was simple, clear and effective: Mayweather was an outsider who was going to make more money in one night than most wrestlers would earn in their entire careers, and he was flaunting it.

After some verbal sparring, Big Show grabbed Mayweather, pressed him over his head and tossed him outside the ring onto a group of wrestlers. Mayweather landed awkwardly and did a great job of selling his elbow. A melee ensued between Mayweather’s entourage and the wrestlers, and Shane McMahon ended up getting knocked down hard.

The scene had a chaotic, realistic look to it, just like the initial confrontation between Mayweather and Big Show last month at the No Way Out pay-per-view. The angle last night definitely had the crowd buzzing, which WWE has to be happy about after last week’s Big Show-Mayweather angle was met with indifference.

Here's video of last night's encounter.

Other thoughts on last night’s “WrestleMania Rewind” edition of Raw:

Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy had their second outstanding match in the past 15 days. I have to admit that the finish, which saw Jericho get the clean pin to capture the Intercontinental title for a record eighth time, completely caught me off guard. Since Jericho had defeated Hardy two weeks ago, I thought for sure Hardy would win this one. I’m not sure where WWE is going with this, but it should be careful not to have Hardy do too many jobs. In his past four high-profile singles matches (against Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels and Jericho twice), Hardy is just 1-3. …

It wasn’t a classic like their match on Raw in London last year or their meeting at WrestleMania 23, but John Cena and Michaels had a very good television main event, which ended in a no-contest when Orton interfered. Cena and Michaels work very well together. Then again, Michaels pretty much works well with everybody. …

The WrestleMania match that has had the best build-up has been Michaels-Ric Flair. Their promos last night were right on the mark. No one needs to turn heel for this match to get over, and, in fact, I think a turn actually would hurt it. WWE has done a great job of establishing that Flair and Michaels have mutual respect and admiration, but also that they both are competitive and will go all out to win at WrestleMania. …

In an effort to make the Big Show-Mayweather angle seem more realistic, Shane McMahon was less in character than usual. When Big Show and Mayweather first got in the ring together, McMahon reminded me of his father (when Vince was an announcer before he became the Mr. McMahon character) by saying, “I’d appreciate some decorum.” …

It was a good idea to try to add some sizzle to the Batista-Umaga match at WrestleMania by having them trade blows, but I’m still not all that excited about it. …

There must be something to the rumors about CM Punk being in the doghouse. It seems like he has been losing quite frequently lately, including last night’s defeat against Edge. I did like the finish, which saw Punk charge after one of the Edgeheads only to get caught by a spear from Edge out of nowhere. …

After the way Finlay beat down Mr. Kennedy, I was wondering if Kennedy is in the doghouse. ..

Melina committed an obvious gimmick infringement when she pilfered ODB’s “I’m not just another pretty face” catch phrase. …

Jerry Lawler finally got his wish, as there was a wardrobe malfunction in the Melina-Maria match. He probably wasn’t too excited, however, as it was just Maria’s sash failing to stay securely around her waist. …

So, WWE brought in Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik to face Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (who work for WWE as backstage producers) just as an excuse for Jillian Hall to do her bad singer gimmick? It’s not like I actually wanted to see them wrestle – the Sheik looked like he could barely walk – but why even bother flying in Sheik and Volkoff for that?

Posted by Kevin Eck at 4:06 AM | | Comments (24)
        

March 8, 2008

Edge, Flair show what could have been

Last night’s Smackdown started on a high note, as Ric Flair was the guest of world heavyweight champion Edge in a “Cutting Edge” segment. While Flair and Edge engaged in a spirited verbal confrontation, which included Flair slapping Edge across the face, I couldn’t help but think about how great a Flair-Edge match for the title at WrestleMania – with Flair’s career on the line – would have been. As they showed last night, Flair and Edge play off each other very well.

I do think that the Flair-Shawn Michaels match at WrestleMania will be special, but I really wish that Flair’s final run was about his pursuit of the gold belt that he is synonymous with. There’s certainly nothing wrong with an Edge-Undertaker match-up at WrestleMania, but, honestly, is there anyone who thinks that Edge has any chance to win?

Edge would be in the opposite position against Flair. The cocky and talented champion in his prime would be the favorite, and the 59-year-old Flair would play the role of the revered legend who overcomes the odds and rises to the occasion on the big stage one last time. Talk about a WrestleMania moment.

There were rumors a while back that Flair’s retirement story line was indeed going to involve “The Nature Boy” trying to win his 17th world title. However, some members of the WWE creative team supposedly were against the idea, and they apparently convinced Vince McMahon to go in another direction.

It’s unfortunate, because I think the buildup for Flair-Edge would have been awesome. WWE could have put together some great video packages of Flair’s career highlights and included new comments from friends and foes from Flair’s past such as Dusty Rhodes, Rick Steamboat, Harley Race, Roddy Piper, Arn Anderson, etc.

Even without all that, I think if Flair was given the mic time, he alone could talk the fans into buying the pay-per-view. Plus, Edge is a tremendous heel, and if he were to brutally attack Flair in the weeks leading up to the match, and just show complete disrespect for Flair’s legacy in his promos, I’m betting that fans would be dying to see him get what’s coming to him.

The more I think about it, the more I think WWE missed a great opportunity.

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

The Big Show, who brutalized Jamie Noble, is doing a great job of coming across as a huge, nasty bully. It’s too bad he isn’t facing a popular babyface at WrestleMania. Judging by Big Show’s promo, it appears as if WWE has realized that Floyd Mayweather just isn’t going to get over as a babyface. It will be interesting to see if WWE tries to turn Big Show into a babyface, or at least a “tweener.” …

I thought Batista and MVP had a decent match, but I’m not sure where this is heading, as it was announced that they would be wrestling again next week in a no holds barred match. Batista is set to face Umaga at WrestleMania, but MVP still doesn’t have a match with just three weeks to go before the show. I’m guessing that MVP will be in the Money in the Bank ladder match. The other possibility is that he would face Matt Hardy, but I would think that Hardy would have already made his return to television if that was happening. …

You know how sometimes you’ll hear a song that isn’t really your style, but it’s kind of catchy and you end up liking it even though you won’t admit it? Well, I’m admitting it. I can’t get Jesse and Festus’ entrance music, “Biscuits and Gravy,” or whatever it’s called, out of my head. …

As far as the divas competition that began with a swimsuit contest last night, if anyone other than Maryse wins, it will erase whatever doubt remains that wrestling is fixed. We know Victoria has no shot, but I thought it was kind of ridiculous that she suddenly became an uncoordinated klutz and fell off the middle rope. Cherry showed some personality and made the polka dot bikini and white socks combination work for her, while Michelle McCool pandered to the crowd in Cleveland by wearing a LeBron James jersey. McCool is getting the biggest push among these women, but I must be missing something because I just don’t think she has “it.” …

It was announced that Kim Kardashian is going to be a guest hostess at WrestleMania. Should I know who she is? …

Best audience sign of the night: “Batista, will you be my baby daddy?”

Posted by Kevin Eck at 6:12 AM | | Comments (6)
        

March 7, 2008

Fewer skits = good Impact

Last night on TNA Impact, the focus was on wrestling and Sunday’s Destination X pay-per-view, with less emphasis on comedy and no backstage story line running throughout the show.

It all made for an entertaining episode. Time will tell whether this was just a one-week fluke or if there has been a change in philosophy regarding the creative direction.

The main angle of the show saw the participants in Sunday’s six-man-tag main event face off in three singles gimmick matches. The premise was that the side that won at least two of the contests would get to have a 3-on-2 edge for the first five minutes in the match at Destination X.

The three matches were fine, but the booking was a little questionable. After splitting the first two matches (which I will get into shortly), it came down to a non-title steel cage match between TNA world champion Kurt Angle and Christian Cage. I never get tired of seeing these two wrestle each other, and they delivered once again.

I was surprised at the finish, however, as they went over the top of the cage at the same time and appeared to hit the floor simultaneously. I thought for sure the referee would award the match to Angle, but instead he determined that Christian was the winner, so the babyfaces will have the 3-on-2 advantage. Don’t the heels almost always get the advantage in these situations, and doesn’t it make sense that they do?

The other two matches in the best-of-three series saw Kevin Nash defeat A.J. Styles in a street fight, and Tomko beat Samoa Joe in a first blood match.

I don’t have a problem with Tomko winning, and the way it was done – Joe bled slightly from the arm after using it to block a chair shot – didn’t hurt Joe. But Nash pinning Styles is just plain wrong. At this point in Nash’s career, he should be putting over Styles. Oh well, at least Styles wasn’t forced to put on a chicken suit.

I liked the idea of the three-match series, but I would have altered the match-ups and had Tomko beat Nash and Joe beat Styles. …

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

When Angle and Cage went over the cage, we never got to see their feet hitting the floor. That tells me that either Cage really didn’t land first or the camera man just missed the shot. …

Angle got over with me when he told Styles in the opening segment to “take off that stupid crown.” Well, somebody had to say it. …

Nash cut a promo in which he imitated Hulk Hogan. It’s a good thing for Nash that he isn’t an X Division wrestler, or Vince Russo would make “The Kevster” be Nash’s new gimmick. …

The “Rough Cut” segment with B.G. James and Kip James was a great idea. I have always liked these kinds of “real life” interviews to build up a match. …

Another episode, another fantastic promo by Father James Mitchell. Being something of a horror movie buff, I thought it was great that he referenced a line from Dracula when he said, “Judas Mesias never drinks … wine.” As an aside, Mitchell’s character reminds me of the lead villain from an obscure vampire flick of the early 1970s called The Deathmaster. …

Speaking of Mesias, his losing streak continued after getting beaten by Rhino. I think Mesias has potential to be an upper-tier character, but it’s not looking good for him at the moment. …

I actually feel sorry for Dustin Rhodes for getting saddled with the awful Black Reign character. I wish Russo would come up with some elaborate story line that allows Reign to transform back into Rhodes. Maybe a series of sessions on the couch with Dr. Nash would do the trick. …

The battle royal, with the winner getting to determine the stipulations for his match at Destination X, was anything but predictable. It came down to Curry Man and Rellik (that’s Killer spelled backwards), with the hot and spicy masked man getting the win. …

After Shelly Martinez (Salinas) got squashed by Awesome Kong, I couldn’t help wondering if she wished she were still in WWE. Hanging upside on the ropes like a bat is a lot easier on the body than getting tossed around the ring by Kong.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:37 AM | | Comments (9)
        

March 5, 2008

Want some of Stacy Keibler’s stuff?

Stacy Keibler is doing some spring cleaning, and that means cleaning out her wrestling closet.

The former WWE diva-turned-actress said she is about to make some memorabilia from her personal collection available on eBay, including photos, DVDs, magazines, posters, trading cards and items from television shows and personal appearances. Keibler said that she will donate a portion of the sales to her favorite charities.

In other Keibler-related news, the former Rosedale resident will appear on an episode of ABC’s October Road on Monday at 9 p.m. She also just finished shooting a Reebok commercial with NFL players Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Johnson and Torry Holt that will air in the next two weeks.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 5:50 PM | | Comments (0)
        

ECW raises the bar

ECW champion Chavo Guerrero and CM Punk put on the best televised match of the week last night on ECW. I know, it’s only Tuesday, but it still was a great match and better than anything that was on Raw Monday night.

The Guerrero-Punk program has been OK, but it was starting to get a bit stale because they have wrestled each other numerous times. However, last night’s match – which Guerrero won – was by far their best one, and now I’m actually looking forward to seeing them meet again.

Both guys worked hard in what was a high-impact match that told a good story. I really thought Punk was going to win the title, and the fact that Guerrero retained was a little deflating. No offense to Guerrero, who is a fine worker, but unless WWE is planning to “graduate” Punk to Raw or Smackdown, I don’t understand why he isn’t wearing the ECW belt around his waist.

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

I’ve never been overly excited to watch Tommy Dreamer, I can’t stand The Miz and I wasn’t particulalry interested in Colin Delaney, but I enjoyed the tag-team match that pitted Dreamer and Delaney against Miz and John Morrison. I have gradually started to warm up to the Delaney underdog story line, and I thought Delaney showed some personality when he attacked Miz and Morrison with a chair. Delaney definitely has the likable-nerd thing working for him, and this is the perfect role for Dreamer. …

Shelton Benjamin and Stevie Richards had a good match in which Benjamin prevailed, but Richards was competitive. It’s pretty amazing that someone as talented as Benjamin has yet to get past mid-card status. Perhaps a valet or a manager would help get him over the hump. As for Richards, I think the crowd would really get behind him if given the right story line. …

Kelly Kelly and Layla had a nice pull-apart in the back. It was again teased that Kelly Kelly will be next year’s Playboy cover girl. If she keeps improving and WWE decides to give her a major push, Kelly Kelly could end up becoming the company’s top diva. By the way, has she dumped Balls Mahoney?

Posted by Kevin Eck at 3:27 AM | | Comments (6)
        

March 4, 2008

WWE’s Mayweather dilemma

Floyd Mayweather is no babyface. He isn’t one in boxing and he is miscast as one in WWE, which was never more obvious than on last night’s Raw.

Mayweather, who was live via satellite, had a verbal confrontation with The Big Show, his opponent at WrestleMania XXIV. Once again, he came across as a heel and the fans certainly treated him like a villain. As long as Mayweather is on the scene, John Cena doesn’t have to worry about being the babyface who gets the most jeers in WWE.

WWE should have seen this coming when considering Mayweather’s boxing persona and the fact that he is an outsider coming into WWE. Mayweather wasn’t done any favors either by the manner in which he was booked in the initial angle — bringing an entourage against one man and then all of them running away from an angry Big Show.

I’m not sure what WWE can do about this. The creative team could try to come up with a plot device in which Mayweather and Big Show do a double turn, but I don’t think there’s much that WWE could do to get people to cheer for Mayweather. Or, perhaps WWE could try to make Big Show more of a “tweener” and just let the fans cheer and jeer as they like.

Beyond the negative reaction to Mayweather, the larger problem is that fans just don’t seem very interested in this angle, which has to be disappointing to WWE because it has made a financial investment in Mayweather. Last night’s “mixed martial arts” match in which Big Show tossed around boxer Brandon “The Thrill” Hill, who was about Mayweather’s size, did not get over with the live crowd.

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

It was great to see Randy Orton get the last laugh again by laying out Cena and Triple H for the second straight week. Orton has been projecting a superstar aura that is equal to that of his two opponents. …

Cena and Mr. Kennedy had a good match. Kennedy got in a lot of offense before losing and Cena brought his “A” game. .…

The buildup for the Ric Flair-Shawn Michaels match has been very good to this point. Michaels changed his mind and said that he didn’t want the match, but that if Flair persisted, Michaels would have no choice but to end Flair’s career because he won’t give anything but his best effort at WrestleMania. When Michaels slipped into his cocky “HBK voice” and said, “This is WrestleMania,” I expected to him to follow with, “and at WrestleMania, The Heartbreak Kid lays down for nobody.” That was Michaels’ famous line prior to his match with Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV.

Jeff Hardy continues to get tremendous pops from the crowd. It’s not just young girls either; he has a lot of guys cheering for him. Chris Jericho played subtle heel in a “Highlight Reel” segment with Hardy, and it was a nice twist — pun intended — to have Hardy deliver the Twist of Fate after suckering Jericho with a handshake. Hardy needs to keep doing things like that to demonstrate that he has more of an edge to him now. …

The Hornswoggle story line has so many holes in it that I would swear Vince Russo wrote it. I hope WWE will eventually fill in the blanks. Why did Finlay conspire with Mr. McMahon’s family to make him think Hornswoggle was his son? Why wouldn’t Finlay tell Hornswoggle that he was his father in the first place? How did JBL find out about it? What was the secret that McMahon and Finlay alluded to in January? (I think we’re supposed to pretend that one never happened.) …

The “What?” chant is so five years ago. Enough already. …

This just in: Mike Adamle still stinks. I’m surprised that WWE — to my knowledge — has never tried to recruit TNA’s Jeremy Borash. …

For longevity alone, Mae Young, the latest inductee into WWE's Hall of Fame, deserves to be in. I’ll never forget some of the crazy bumps she took when she was in her late 70s, including being power-bombed through a table by Bubba Ray Dudley. I would love to forget that she gave birth to a hand, but I don’t think WWE will let me. …

Why do NASCAR drivers keep showing up on my wrestling programs? At least on last night’s show we didn’t have to hear Hermie Sadler “interview” anyone or commentary by that awful NASCAR announcer.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 9:33 PM | | Comments (18)
        
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The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
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