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SmackDown! Losing It? And
Other Weekend Ponderings....
December 6, 2002

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Alright, at the top, let me apologize in advance if I come off particularly cranky today...  last night was like the third straight Thursday in a row where I got Stupid Drunk (a honor usually reserved solely for the weekends), and it's only my sense of duty that has me battling a pounding headache to bring you the finest in pro wrestling analysis.

Making matters worse: this new band I'm playing in on the side (for now, dubbed "The Whorphans," although I'm strenuously objecting) had our third show last night.  Now, consider we've had maybe a half dozen practices in the last three or four weeks (which is OK, cuz we're all total professionals), and have never gone on stage until after midnight (which is cool, because I never thought I'd be able to say "Thanks to Mitch Mitchell for opening up for us, tonight," especially after only a half dozen practices). Unfortunately, this gives certain band members too much time to knock out the jitters with whiskey, if you catch my drift.  We are the poster children for Drunken Imprecision.  Not only am I battling the hangover, I'm battling the disappointment in our performance that drove me to my excessive post-show consumption in the first place.

Again, I only mention it because you need to be warned that the tone of the following column is probably more pessimistic than it, strictly speaking, needs to be:

  • So I just got done watching my tape of SmackDown...  and I find myself wondering if the three or four months worth of magic have finally worn out.
    Think about it:
    Who was the big mover and shaker on the night?  Albert, who put Rey Mysterio on the shelf, and now seems to be in line for a PPV feud against Edge.
    How did they choose to end the show?  With a silly, unimportant -- albeit admittedly tantalizing -- skit featuring Dawn Marie trying to seduce Torrie Wilson.
    What did they substitute for T&A in the trademark Tazz-hosted Non-Wrestling Segment of the Night?  A freakin' free-style rap contest featuring Rikishi (who "won" even though his raps were nowhere near as hilarious as John Cena's) getting Tazz to toss out years of character and gimmick building by dancing like a jack-ass.
    And, of course, who remains the SD! brand's world champ?  The Big Show.
    Now consider this... in my RSPW year-end award voting, my three Least Favorite Wrestlers of the Year were Big Show, Albert, and Rikishi.  I'll have my full ballot and reasons later on as we hit the Year in Review season, but for now, just accept that those were my picks...
    Now, quickly, do a few calculations and tell me: was last night's SD! the sort of show that I'm going to rave about?  Nope.
    You lop off the final 90 seconds, and the first 90 minutes of the show, and you had yourself an absolutely outstanding effort in the main event.  Edge and Kurt Angle were especially tremendous.  But being able to isolate the one killer segment while questioning much of the rest of the show?  Well, that's really more how I've been feeling about RAW, lately.  SmackDown! strength has been it's top-to-bottom quality.
    And that's something that now seems to be evaporating.
    Now, I realize that -- for as amazing as SD! has been since about August -- you can't just keep putting Edge, Angle, Mysterio, Benoit, and the Guerreros in every segment.  A core set of "smart" fans would love it, but it'd get stale and the audience at large would probably zone out.  I accept that you need to put new faces into new stories... but the decision making process on SD! in the last few weeks has been spotty, I think.
    Maybe I am just having my judgment clouded by my personal tastes.  Wrestlers of whom I'm simply not a big fan are getting pushed, and it annoys me.  Meantime, sone of my favorite wrestlers on the entire roster (and ones who can pop a crowd, no less), like Matt Hardy and Tajiri, were not seen or heard from even once last night.
    But I would like to think that whatever biases I have, there are reasons for...  for instance, the most entertaining thing about the Big Show right now is that he's got Paul Heyman doing a bang-up job doing his talking and storytelling for him.  But when the bell rings, Heyman's not of much use; and neither is Show.  Or Albert: for all his physical power and agility (at least, I've heard Michael Cole tell me about those things), he's never once given fans a reason to care about him; coming out of nowhere to inexplicably attack Rey Mysterio with a chair, setting up a PPV loss to Edge and his return to Velocity will not change that.  And Rikishi: my problems are not so much with him or his gimmick; they're with Rikishi's gimmick being foisted upon others who should not be dancing around like idiots.  Much as Kane should not be attempting Spin-a-roonies, Tazz should not be dancing with Rikishi.
    I acknowledge that the job of isolating and then effectively pushing the right fresh talent with the right new angles is probably the hardest thing the creative team has to do.  Heyman and his cadre of writers on SD! had it real easy for a while: just give us every possible iteration of the aforementioned six guys in matches, while also using them in the majority of backstage and interview segments.  But now that we've set up most of the stories for those six guys and are running short of different ways to put them against each other in the ring, there's a lot less reason to saturate the show with them.
    Thus, the effort to introduce new names and stories... but for the most part, the effort runs only half the gamut.  And not the best half... the half that goes from "uninspired at best" all the way down to "highly questionable."  Since the re-invention of Matt Hardy as "Version 1," it's been slim pickin's.  Albert's out-of-nowhere push last night strikes me as a particularly hair-brained scheme (nobody is gonna buy into the guy who's fresh from an unspectacular four months of outings on Velocity, so even the densest of marks will be anticipating his being dispatched very quickly by Edge).  And Bill DeMott's return?  Put it in the "uninspired" category...  Tough Enough is not longer a popular enough show (ratings have halved this season) to give its trainers or winners a significant "rub," and that's really all DeMott had to offer beyond the typical "I deserve better" ranting.
    Questions of picking the right new talent aside, I could also go on for ages about the execution of the Dawn/Torrie material...  note that I can muster no moral or ethical objection to two hot babes gettin' it on, even if this is ostensibly a WRESTLING show.  What's bugging me is the placement of the final skit: the Torrie/Dawn/Al Wilson thing has been, hands down, the most awful storyline on SD! the last two months, but it's been relegated to little nooks and crannies in the middle of the show.  But now, all of a sudden, it's main event material?  Why?  
    It's like they're saying, "Hey, two girls making out is HOT! It's CONTROVERSIAL!  So it's clearly the MOST IMPORTANT THING that happened on the show tonight!".  And thus, it goes on last, relegating the incredible efforts in the four-way main event to an after-thought.  I'm sorry, but simply taking Al out of the equation and making Torrie and Dawn into the romantic coupling does not put this storyline within light years of being important, main event type material.  Do the storyline, that's fine... just put it somewhere where it won't detract from the rest of the show.
    And before I wrap up my thoughts on SD!, I do want to at least attempt to temper my frustration with some very deserved praise for the Angle/Edge/Benoit/Eddie main event.  It was a spectacularly constructed match, psychology-wise, which is what put it over the top.  You're always gonna get great in-ring work from these four, but the flow and feel of the match was handled perfectly.  Edge was already the lone true babyface in the match, and having him attacked before the bell only enhanced his standing with fans.  After Benoit and Eddie were eliminated (and if you HAD to find a complaint, it's that the match wasn't even longer so that Benoit and Eddie could show us more), the Edge vs. Angle stuff was incredible.  I think the fans really thought Edge was going to win against all odds (and it makes sense: if I had been sitting there, I'd have figured that the babyface Edge would somehow prevail so he could face the heel Big Show at the PPV), and all the near falls and teases they gave us were incredibly dramatic.  But alas, in the end, Angle wins and goes on to the PPV, where he'll probably have to be sacrificed (much like Rey) so that he can get a storyline reason for time off to go have knee surgery.  Edge and Angle had a couple really good PPV matches earlier this year, and were on opposite sides of tag matches more recently, but their work last night might rank as their best yet.  Superb 25 minute match.
    [If anything, although Edge lost the match, it seemed like another "breakthrough" performance for him... although I begin to question how many of those one can have before one should be working PPV main events rather than aspiring to work them.  But I digress; between Edge's promo and the intangible feel that he should have won, it becomes doubly frustrating that he's now got nothing better to do than a feud with -- ugh -- Albert.]
    But like I've said, the main event was really just about the only 25 minutes of the show where I felt like SD! was hitting on all cylinders and getting it exactly right...  
  • The overnight rating for last night's SD! was a 4.2, which puts UPN (for now) at third place among the six major networks for last night.  Since we can probably discard anomalous data from last Thursday (it was Thanksgiving), let's just compare to two weeks ago, when SD! drew a 4.5 overnight rating.
    We'll have a final rating in time for Monday's column...
  • OK, it's Roddy Piper time...  if you read Scotty's recap of the latest NWA-TNA show, you know Piper made a surprise appearance to confront Vince Russo.  Now, let's try to be reasonable about this, and just toss out the probably-inappropriate reference to Owen Hart, which was probably just made in the heat of the moment... let's focus on the primary reason Piper was there.
    He was there to champion good, old-fashioned, ol' timey rasslin'...  Vince Russo would later retort that ol' timey rasslin' sux, and he's here to give us tits, ass, and vulgarity.  A simple enough storyline for fans to follow, I guess.
    But where it gets interesting is the insistence of the parties involved that the whole thing was basically an unplanned shoot.  Piper was told to just go out there and say his piece, and did not appreciate it when Russo and the Harrisses came out and stood around; Russo was similarly "unscripted" when he came out and delivered his response.  Nobody knew what to expect, TNA officials just put it together to see what would happen when you combined those elements.  Or so they all claim.
    Now, I don't want to get into a whole big thing here, but I'll mention this:  in an online commentary, Piper outlined his side of events, and closed with the old adage, "For those who believe, no explanation is needed.  For those who don't believe, no explanation will do," as a way of addressing those work-or-shoot issues.
    I'd suggest a slight re-working of that cliche for this case:  "If it's a shoot, it's a retarded way of running a company.  If it's a work, it's another misguided work-the-smarts campaign from the mind of Vince Russo."  Seriously: just putting real-life enemies on TV without any planning is just plain stupid.  But developing some involved storyline for them and then PRETENDING it's all real is only slightly less so.  Trying to get fans to believe is a good thing, I think, but not when it's applied to meta-stories like this.  With few exceptions, the good stories are the ones about the wrestling, not about the people who run the wrestling company.
    My prediction:  Russo's faction of BG James and the Harris will find some excuse to start pounding, unfairly, on Champion of Ol' Timey, Jeff Jarrett... when suddenly, who should appear, but a returning Sean Waltman, led by Piper.  Maybe Scott Hall, too?  Yeah, that's just about right...
  • As alluded to above, Rey Mysterio is expected to be out for the rest of the year, following minor knee surgery.  The storyline on SD! will explain his absence for the next three or four weeks, after which Rey should be back and better than ever.  I mean that literally: the great work Rey's been doing the last few months has happened with him hampered by the bad knee.  A healthy Rey should be even more spectacular.
    And I guess on that same note: Kurt Angle is also going to need knee surgery...  and like I said above, I'm betting the farm that that means Angle loses at Armageddon next weekend, and that Big Show causes him to sustain some horrible injury to give him a storyline reason to be away from action for about a month.  Angle's time table would then have him back just about in time for the Royal Rumble.
  • WWA has announced that the event being taped for PPV this weekend in Scotland will be headlined by a Lex Luger vs. Sting match for the now-vacant WWA Title.  Another WCW Alumni match-up pits Konnan against Disco Inferno... Jeff Jarrett has also joined the tour and will participate on the PPV taping.
    US fans can look for the event to air at some point in early 2003.
  • Ron "Faarooq" Simmons has quietly retired from in-ring duty.  An injury a month or so back put the kibosh on his tag team with D-Von Dudley, and now, reports are that Simmons will simply segue into a role as a road agent.
    It's pretty much the same thing that happened to Dean Malenko...  he quietly faded into the background, and then after a few months, he started appearing as one of the "WWE Officials" in golf shirts who try to break up brawls.
  • Last thing today is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time:  somebody has actually made a video to the "Captain Lou's History of Rock 'n' Roll" from the original Wrestling Album.  Somebody posted the link in the OO Forums, and I think WrestleCrap.com pimped it in the last week, too... so I finally figured I'd check it out.
    High-frickin'-larious, is all I can say.  You will bust a gut, I promise.  And I'm with the reviewer who insisted that "Jive Soul Bro" should be up next!
  • Alright, I'm done for today.  For this week, actually.  See y'all again on Monday.  I promise I'll be in a better mood:  Sunday will give me plenty of hangover-recovery time, and then by Monday I'll be back to my usual optimistic self, able to find some sort of compelling reason to get excited about RAW!
    Later on....


Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

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