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Solid SD!, International Update, Goldberg
Good to Go, and a Rebuttal...
July 18, 2003

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


I wouldn't be The Rick, and this wouldn't be a trying-desperately-to-pad-the-column Friday if I didn't, right here at the top, make SOME kind of mention about the Sports Anguish I felt upon seeing a bottom-of-the-screen scroll at the bar last night about Ken Griffey Jr. being out for the season.
So there, I mentioned it.  It sucked.  But truth be told, I think I felt more Fantasy Sports Anguish than Real Sports Anguish.  I mean, in real life, the Reds are fading fast, and at least this way, Jose Guillen's probably gonna stay in town and play every day for the rest of the year.  Plus, and I'm never gonna be one of those Griffey bashers, the Reds DID have a winning record during his previous two absences this year, so...  on the other hand, in my fantasy baseball leagues, I've maneuvered to get Griffey on my team, drafting him late in mid-season leagues and trading for him while he was on the DL, confident that those were good value moves.  I mean, c'mon: 12th round for Junior?  Or Desi Relaford for Junior, straight up, when I had a DL slot open?  These are the moves of a truly amazing Fantasy General Manager!  Or so I thought.  Now, trying to divest myself of Junior in the leagues I had him in, the best I can do is Jeromy Burnitz.  Blargh.

And don't even get me started on the cognitive dissonance I felt when I heard Benetiz went to the Yankees.  My stud fantasy closer on THREE teams, now a set-up man... but my Yankees' weak-ass bullpen, now stengthened.  Oy, my brain hurts.

Alright, I've tortured you long enough.  Here's the rasslin':

  • Last night's SmackDown! was largely inoffensive.  I mean, I'm still as baffled as you are at the creative team's apparent belief that anything good can come out of Stephanie vs. Sable, but other than that, SD! was rock solid.
    The Benoit/Hardy match was, well, it was just a taste of what those two could do.  Given six or seven minutes, the match had that artificially-accelerated feel to it, but tell me that the last half of the contest wasn't the sort of thing you'd like to see stretched out for a few more minutes at the end of a 15 minute match...  you can't, can you?
    So that one was good, but I'm gonna do an unpopular thing and say that I was still a little let down by the short time slot they got, and wound up feeling pretty strongly that the main event was the best match of the night.  The dramatic tension was build up a lot better just by virtue of having twice as long to simmer, and once Zach Gowen hit the ring to help Kurt Angle out, it was full speed ahead.  The closing segment -- steel steps to Big Show's head, and then the sweet catch-the-superkick-and-whip-Benjamin-around-to-take-out-Haas spot, leading up to the ankle lock on Benjamin -- was exceptionally creative and convincing as a way for Angle to actually win a 1-on-3 match.
    That leaves us with this little flow chart: Lesnar beat Angle to win the WWE Title.  Big Show has beaten Lesnar in non-title situations (as recently as last week).  But now Angle has scored a win over a team including Show.  That's pretty solid as a set-up for a three-way PPV match.  I say next week what you do is simple: Lesnar and Angle together against Show and the World's Best Tag Team.  They have a good match, but it goes to a schmozz when Lesnar and Angle have a miscommunication and start brawling.  Get Show into the mix, and have him land the knock-out blow on both guys (since he's the one of the three that nobody really takes seriously as a potential champ) as your last visual before the PPV match.
    Of course, I don't see it happening quite that way.  Trying to put myself in the creative team's shoes, it'd be really hard to not just do an even-sides six-man tag as the main event next week, with Lesnar/Angle joined by Zach Gowen.  Unfortunately, Mr. McMahon has kind of bled over from his feud with Zach (which I enthusiastically endorse as a very good first PPV feud for Zach, even as the rest of the internet rails against it, presumably because Vince isn't a real wrestler or something) into the Angle/Lesnar/Show issue.  That did mean that Vince and his two promo segments last night got to be a little much... and Zach's involvement in the main event then means it'll be possible for the same thing to happen next week.  
    You know what'd be funny is if they gave us the Lesnar/Vince match next week, and then as a secondary attraction, Vince forced Zach Gowen to face Show/Haas/Benjamin.  Except that it's really not time to over-expose Zach (his first real match as a member of the roster should be reserved for vs. Vince at the PPV), and also, there's just no realistic way for Zach to get out of that match with anything other than a major ass-kicking.  Better to hide him in tag matches or limit him to run-ins to keep up his value as a special attraction. And putting him in what'll be less a wrestling match and more a Sports Entertainment Segment against Vince at the PPV doesn't hurt, either.
    But now I'm getting way off topic with the arm chair booking and what not.  The point I meant to convey is that I liked SmackDown! well enough, even if there was a little more Vince than was really necessary and even if I found the Sable/Steph foodfight to be exceptionally fast-foward-able.  It'll be getting my endorsement by a healthy margin in this week's Battle of the Brands.
  • The overnight rating for last night's show was a distressingly low 3.7.  That's just about the same as last week's FINAL rating (which had an overnight in the low 4's).  This week's final number may settle more than half-a-point lower than last week's.
    I know there was a pre-emption on UPN in Los Angeles, so that will affect the overnights (which only measure the top 20 metered markets) to a greater degree than it will affect the final ratings (which include all 200-plus metropolitan areas in the US).  But still...  we'll probably end up looking at a drop in viewership this week.
  • The SD! tour of Asia is in full swing.  First thing I gotta mention is that I got it wrong on Wednesday: it's not a three-show tour, it's a four show tour.  Mariko Tanaka wrote in and let me know that added a third show in Japan after the original schedule had been released.  They added a second night in Yokohama when the first show there sold out quickly.  The added show actually took place yesterday, while the originally-scheduled Yokohama show took place tonight.
    Arrrgghh, again with the crazy verb tenses!
    First show was Wednesday in Bangkok.  It was headlined by a Vengeance PPV preview: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle vs. Big Show.  Very well-received match, with Show dominating the early stages of the match, building up to the inevitable hostility between Angle and Lesnar.  Finish came down to Lesnar hitting Angle with the F-5 for the win.  Also in Bangkok:  Eddie Guerrero and Tajiri teamed up (I guess they're a few weeks behind on TV there?), but lost to Haas/Benjamin...  Rey Mysterio (who was over huge) beat John Cena (who lost most of the non-English speaking crowd with his raps)...  Benoit/Rhyno beat Kidman/Matt Hardy...  Torrie Wilson won a 4-diva bikini contest... Ultimo Dragon beat Jamie Noble...  Billy Gunn beat Sean O'Haire... and A-Train beat Spanky.
    Last night's added show in Yokohama was also headlined by Angle/Lesnar/Show, with the same exact finish...  but the semi-main was different, as apparently Japan is up to speed on TV, and they got Eddie vs. Tajiri in an outstanding match (Eddie won).  Also:  Mysterio (again, hugely popular) beat Kidman...  Haas/Benjamin beat Benoit/Rhyno...  Cena (babyface) beat Gunn (heel)...  Funaki beat A-Train... Dragon beat Noble... Matt beat Spanky... and Sable won the bikini contest this time 'round.
    And the show that took place tonight was switched around a bit.  It was Lesnar over Show in a one-on-one main event.  Two best matches were:  Angle/Tajiri over Eddie/Cena, and Dragon/Mysterio losing to Haas/Benjamin.  Also: Benoit beat A-Train...  Matt beat Funaki...  Kidman beat Spanky...  Gunn/Torrie beat Noble/Nidia...  and Rhyno beat O'Haire.
    Last show of the tour is tomorrow in Kobe, Japan.  Then the long flight back in time for tapings in California.
  • Goldberg update: whatever the hell is wrong with the guy's arm, apparently the company really does expect him back this weekend.  Although he was pulled from a couple of cards (reports conflict, as he might not actually have been scheduled for Friday or Saturday night shows), the Fed is still hyping Goldberg vs. Triple H as the main event of Sunday night's house show in San Jose.
    Not only would that be strong indication that Goldberg/HHH is still the plan for SummerSlam's main event, but it would also indicate that this upcoming RAW is when we'll finally see them set that program in motion after two weeks of Goldberg's absences.
    I guess it also means that whatever wrong's with HHH's leg, he's just gonna work through it.  He did seem affected by it during Monday's match, so hats off to him.
  • Terry Taylor was let go from his job as a WWE road agent this week.  Taylor has, at times, been a key contributor to the creative directions of both WCW and the then-WWF while both were massively popular (as well as back to WCW again when they started sucking, but nobody's perfect).  I can't imagine why his contributions would not be welcomed in these trying times, although there are rumors of severe personality conflicts between Taylor and management.
  • Closing the week, I'm gonna spend a quick couple paragraphs rebutting the rebuttal that Jeb Lund did yesterday.  You remember the one: where that mutinous ingrate actually dared to take issue with the opinions of the Almighty Rick.
    Actually, we're probably closer in our opinions on the matter of The People v. Kane Setting JR on Fire than our columns would suggest.  For one, when Jeb says, "I enjoy the fact that Rick will argumentatively twist himself into many uncomfortable positions to get his readers to see that a show might be redeemable," he's probably closer to the heart of the matter than at any other point in his column...  you see it is my mission -- or is it my persona?  my character?  oh, the pain of Living the Gimmick! -- to find silver linings here and there where they don't really exist.  On Monday night, the nicest things I could say were all related to the execution side of the JRBQ...  so I said them, and perhaps even amplified them a bit so that my critique regarding how dumb the idea was in theory wouldn't be quite so harsh.
    I make very, if any, apologies for trying to maintain a positive attitude.  If nothing else, I think it's a good exercise to try to put yourself in the creative team's shoes... they aren't TRYING to put out a shitty product, people, and sometimes if you step back and look at the big picture instead of getting bogged down in talking about just what you hated, you can gain a better understanding of what was going through the writers' minds and what they were trying to accomplish.  Granted all I could come up with Monday was praise that should probably go to the stunt co-ordinator, and not the creative team, but still... I was trying.
    Back to Jeb, who also said, "The gas can should never have been introduced in the first place. For one thing, shouldn't Kane have just gestured at JR and set him on fire, using those mystical fire abilities he has?"
    I retort: again, utilizing my it-was-still-pretty-dumb-in-theory argument, I'd agree the gas can should not have been introduced at all.  Because the burning of JR should not have happened at all.  But given that JR-on-fire was gonna happen, I'm very glad they axed the supernatural fire skills of Kane in favor of gas and matches.  Those were really dumb in years past, and here, they would only have added onto an already formidable list of dumb things about setting JR on fire.
    But: I am willing to meet Jeb halfway on this...  in retrospect, maybe giving us the tease of the gas can wasn't a good idea at all, and making the burning of JR seem more like a spontaneous act would have been more "random act of a monster" and less "semi-pre-meditated act of some guy with acute pyromania."  And although having Kane point and have a bolt of lightning come out of his finger to set fire to JR would be retarded, I'd even be OK if, instead of matches, you equipped Kane with some kind of new gimmick that allows him to shoot fireballs in a somewhat mysterious fashion (I think both the WWF and ECW had used those flamesticks in the past, although they weren't always reliable, and one even put James Mitchell in the hospital), and then had JR/Stuntman be gimmicked himself so that the fireball causes him to catch on fire.  Yeah, that would have beat the way they handled it on Monday...
    Jeb also said, "Me, I've never been consumed by fire. But I do have that pesky reflex-arc thingy that sends commands directly to my reptilian brain and causes me to recoil from fire without thinking about it.  Even if JR has some kind of Aristotelian detachment that allows him to be party to events without becoming physically or emotionally involved in them, couldn't he have rolled around? You know, stop-drop-roll? How about a sudden case of the Jimmy-legs?"
    To which I'm gonna have to reply "Sorry, buddy."  I bought it as presented, which was Kane knocking JR out with a right hand.  I mean, the guy had a good 30-45 seconds to assault crew members and mug for the camera, and if JR had even a whit of consciousness, he'd have been crawling off the set while that was going on.  But no.  Because he was knocked out.  I also have not been set aflame, but I'm willing to posit that, if insensate, I wouldn't be selling it with the Old School Twitching.  By the time the fire brought JR around, he had been extinguished.  At that point, some slow motion writhing began.  Not massively dramatic, I know, but I'll buy it.  Maybe that makes me a sucker, I don't know.
    Jeb continues, "No matter how we interpret and reinterpret this segment in an effort to find its best possible historical and future 'character' or 'clip' value, it still doesn't pass the 'Oh, gimme a break' test."
    This was Jeb's retort to my Wednesday opinion that the fire was executed well enough that future use of the clip would NOT result in giggling and snickering at how lame it looked.  And it was based primarily, if I may infer, on the fact that Jeb's really pissed off about the lack of twitching and writhing.  That alone makes the clip laughably bad to Jeb.  It doesn't to me, for reasons already outlined.  Also: I do believe there are ways to present the footage (dramatic stop motion things, set to spooky music, etc... the full gamut of production tricks) so that people who didn't see it the first time around, but heard about it, will be satisfied by how it looks.  What I'm less sanguine about is that -- going back to the in-theory side -- fans will ultimately care as much about Kane setting an announcer on fire as they would have if he'd shot a fireball at RVD, or something like that.  But I maintain that the footage itself is of value if they do have good ideas on the follow-up front.
    Jeb, again: "There were a myriad of ways in which the WWE writing staff could have made Kane vicious, intimidating and psychologically complex without foisting all these questions and forced-rationalizations on us. There were many ways in which our curiosity or emotions could have been heightened without requiring us to explain the 'worth' of it or seek the ultimate (non-immediate) point of it. It could have been unconditionally good."
    On this, we are agreed.  Setting JR on fire was far from the wisest way of getting the Kane character over.  But that's the theory argument, and on that one, I've made myself quite clear.
    Finally, Jeb states, "[Rikishi as Austin's vehicular assassin] was, regardless of whatever shine we put on it, stupid. So is this. And it's not our job to make it better."
    OK, I'll accept that.  But maybe not for the reasons Jeb meant.  Here's what I mean: Unless WWE wants to start cutting me checks and letting me sit in on meetings so I can spout off  BEFORE bad ideas make it to air, I've got no business acting like I CAN make it any better.  My "job," insofar as it can be called that, is to watch.  I'm a fan, therefore I observe; the only way I can affect the product is by tuning out to particular shows or performers in hopes that, if others do the same, the decline in viewership results in a change in creative direction by the company.
    I think what Jeb meant is that when we switch from fan to the arm-chair booker mode that is common among wrestling columnists, we have a responsibility to call a spade a spade.  I certainly can mount no rational justification for intentionally misrepresenting the wrestling product to readers... but I'd shy away from fully endorsing the "it's not our job to present the silver linings, if one can be found" line of thought, too.  It's just too easy an excuse to turn into... I don't know, one of those guys who hates everything about wrestling, but apparently still sees fit to watch it for 4 hours a week.  I don't get those people.
    So while I've got no illusions about actually "making it better," I think I'll keep doing my standard exercise of trying to see the good with the bad.  Hey, like this: Rikishi as the driver of the car that ran over Steve Austin wasn't so much "stupid" as it was massively underwhelming.  And even with the incredible disappointment I felt upon that revelation, I WAS happy that it meant the end (however briefly) of the dancing fat man gimmick.  That was a Good Thing.  See, it's INGRAINED, man.  I'll find silver linings ALL NIGHT LONG, baby.  Whoooo!
    Coming next week: why Tugboat's Hulk Hogan Friendship Bracelet Campaign kicked ass!  Or maybe not....
    See you again on Monday.


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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