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   Sat, March 15, 2003



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COMMENT





Bout could be a back-breaker
By TJ MADIGAN


There are still a lot of question marks hovering over the lineup for Wrestlemania XIX but the tentative card for the March 30 mega-event is finally starting to take shape.

The big story is Kurt Angle's last-minute decision to go ahead with his title defence against Brock Lesnar, despite doctors' orders to undergo immediate neck surgery. He's working through the pain, not to mention the nerve damage, caused by two herniated disks pushing against his spinal cord and was scheduled to take a year off to overcome the injury.

The WWE had planned a short, risk-free match on Smackdown to switch the title, leaving Lesnar to defend against Chris Benoit in a babyface match at 'Mania.

Instead, Angle has volunteered to drop the strap to Lesnar at the pay-per-view as originally planned, holding off the crucial operation until April.

Sadly, it emerged this week the big reason Angle is so adamant about performing is because his upcoming surgery might only be the beginning of his problems.

At some point, the Olympic hero will need further fusion surgery on his vertebrae -- a second extremely serious operation that will realistically prevent him from wrestling again.

The additional surgery could be delayed for five or even 10 years to prolong his in-ring career but there's also a chance it could become more urgent.

In the event Angle needs to go under the knife before his scheduled return in 2004, he understandably wants his final match to be on the biggest pay-per-view of all time, instead of a throwaway Smackdown title switch.

Talking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week, Angle acknowledged he will be risking "a worse neck injury, paralysis or maybe even death" by competing but said he and Lesnar would be taking precautions to protect his condition.

All eyes will undoubtedly be on Angle come March 30 but the rest of the Wrestlemania pieces are finally starting to fall into place, too.

The Goldberg negotiations seem to be deadlocked, so the WWE is running full steam ahead with Rock and Steve Austin to top the bill. The Rattlesnake is currently 2-0 against Rocky at 'Mania and logic suggests he'll be going over for the third time at Safeco Field. As one of the true greats of the era, I'd love to see The Rock do something other than job out to everyone he goes up against but considering he'll be vanishing back to Hollywood next month to begin work on his new movie, Walking Tall, it doesn't make a lot of sense to build him up as an indestructible super-heel.

Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon will be the Wrestlemania semi-main, with a retirement stipulation if Hogan loses. I don't see any possible outcome other than the Hulkster going over clean with a legdrop and a decisive 1-2-3.

Meanwhile, Raw's world title will be decided when Triple H defends against Booker T. The feud hasn't been given a lot of time to develop, so I'm expecting HHH to hang on to the title, making Booker chase the belt for a big payoff at a future pay-per-view. Then again, since they've pushed the racism angle so heavily over the past few weeks, there could be a major backlash if Booker doesn't do some serious damage to the Cerebral Assassin.

Moving down the card, Matt Hardy's cruiserweight title will be on the line against Rey Mysterio in what should be one of the best matches of the night. The original plan was for Billy Kidman to get involved and turn heel on Mysterio but Kidman injured himself at the Smackdown taping on Tuesday, so plans are on hold until he's cleared to wrestle.

Chris Benoit, who was inches away from main eventing the entire show, has now been booked in a triple threat for the Smackdown tag titles, teaming with Rhyno to go up against Los Guerreros and Team Angle.

Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels is in line to be the Wrestlemania show-stealer, while Undertaker and Nathan Jones vs. Big Show and A-Train looks set to be the bathroom-break match of the night.

I'm guessing the Dudley Boys will be extracting revenge on Chief Morley at the show too, most likely in a six-man tag scenario, with all three Dudleys teaming up to take on Morley, Lance Storm and William Regal.

The card will probably be rounded out with Trish Stratus vs. Victoria vs. Jazz in a three-way for the women's title.

This leaves several big names with no obvious opponents for the show, including Scott Steiner, Rob Van Dam, Kane, Jeff Hardy, John Cena and Maven.

Outside the ring, Brian Kendrick will probably be involved in some backstage skits with Stephanie McMahon, and rock band Limp Bizkit is scheduled to be the feature celebrity guest.

Wrestlemania will be a four-hour show, live on pay-per-view from Safeco Field in Seattle.

Calgary fans can also check it out at select bars and Famous Players locations throughout the city.