Saddledome Smackdown lacks sizzle
JASON CLEVETT -- SLAM! Wrestling
CALGARY -- On paper, Saturday's Smackdown! brand house show at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary looked awesome. The main event Wrestlemania rematch of Kurt Angle defending against Brock Lesnar had the potential to be the best house show main event in Cowtown since Bret and Owen Hart put on a classic for the belt nine years ago.
Combine that with a appearance from Vince McMahon, the usually wrestling-crazy Calgary was expected to draw well. Instead, less than 5,000 fans were in attendance, and there were still floor seats available at the last minute. Although the crowd was at times vocal, such a small draw may affect plans to hold a PPV and TV in Alberta in 2004. The show itself had a few good matches and wasn't bad, it was hardly memorable and many fans left the Saddledome unhappy.
The aforementioned main event started off well with chain wrestling as both men demonstrated their amateur backgrounds. After that however, it started to slip as both men seemed to be going through the motions. The match was solid, and it was a good match, but not to the level both men have shown in the past. This was especially disappointing from Angle, who always has the best matches on the show. Lesnar kicked out of the Angle slam, F-5'd Angle into the referee and covered him as the crowd counted to four. A small package by Angle sealed the match for the champion.
The show started off well with a fantastic five-minute opener between Ultimo Dragon and Spanky. A number of innovative spots and fast paced action in this one made me salivate at the idea of them going twenty minutes on a pay per view. Then I realized the likelihood of that actually happening. What a waste of two talents. Dragon won the match with his flipping reverse DDT after blocking the sliced bread #2. After the match came the first card change of the match, as Eddie Guerrero defended the US Title against hometown star and RAW member Lance Storm. Although the match started slow, it was a well built match with a number of near falls. Storm evidently was having a blast in front of a hometown crowd, despite them being torn on who to cheer for, and Eddie always seems to have fun in the ring. Guerrero did more trademark cheating, throwing a chair into the ring, grabbing a second one, and blasting Storm across the back while the official was disposing of the first chair. A brainbuster and a frog splash sent the hometown hero home without the title.
The next match was a fatal four way tag team match for the tag titles. The Basham's, The APA and Matt Hardy & Shannon Moore challenged the World's Greatest Tag Team. An entire section of the floor caught the attention of the APA by parodying The Bloodhound Gang and chanting "Faarooq, Faarooq, Faarooq is on fire." The crowd seemed not to care about the Bashams, but were solidy behind Version One and his MF'er. After a series of finishes, including a nearly botched clothesline from hell on Haas TWGTT snared the win after a superkick from Benjamin while Charlie held a Basham up for the move.
The less said about the stupid bikini contest between Sable, Dawn Marie and Nidia the better. All three are supposed to be heels, and this type of exhibition may pander to the males in the crowd, but brought the show to a grinding halt. Leave it to Rey Mysterio and Jamie Noble to bring it back up again with a fast paced rematch from when the WWE was in town in October. Rey hit a number of his trademark high spots, much to the crowd's delight. To no one's surprise, Rey took the win. The downside to having a show with four championships defended is that it makes four of the seven matches on the show predictable. Regardless, Rey and Noble had the crowd in the palm of their hands for the entire match.
Following the intermission Edge came one of the loudest ovations of the night. He was obviously touched as he spoke about how hard the last fifth months of his rehabilitation had been, promising that in seven months after he returned he would be bringing the WWE Championship to Calgary around his waist. Plans are already in effect for Edge's championship good luck charm, Greg Oliver, to go on tour upon the superstars return. [Editor's Note: Oliver was on hand when Edge first won the Intercontinental belt in Toronto, and at his first tag title win in Anaheim.] Before heading off, Edge wanted to give Calgary fans something special, so for the benefit of those with flash photography, he did a special pose ... for 5 seconds only.
John Cena has just as much heat in Calgary as he is everywhere else, although he must have been tired going into his match with Billy Gunn, having done an autograph session in Richmond earlier in the afternoon and then having to dash to Calgary. Although Gunn has added a few nice moves to his repetoire, the crowd was still apathetic towards him. Cena would take the victory in the match (thank God!) but Gunn would then make us suffer by mooning the crowd. A classy fellow he is.
The Rhyno vs Chris Benoit submission match could only be described as a severe disappointment. Another one that looked good on paper, putting a brawler who has no submission moves in his arsenal just doesn't make sense. The crowd was very vocal when Rhyno applied the sharpshooter, and ecstatic when Albertan Benoit would apply the move a few minutes later. The inevitable finish occurred when Rhyno went for the gore and Benoit side-stepped and applied the crossface for the tap out. If I recall correctly, that was the exact same finish to their RAW match in Calgary in 2001. An original finish would have been nice.
In an attempt to boost house show sales, Vince McMahon graced Calgary with his presence as a guest of Brother Love's. After acknowledging that members of the Hart Family were in attendance, he said he was looking forward to the next generation gracing WWE rings. That being said, things quickly degenerated as Zach Gowan joined the show and McMahon and Love gleefully played keep-away with his leg. "Leave my ring or I'll toss your leg into the rafters" McMahon told Gowan, before he and Love turned their back on him. Predictably, Gowan's response was to climb the buckles and take both men down with a corkscrew moonsault when they turned around. He cleared the ring and was left standing as McMahon fled to the back.
It was after this that the one moment of the evening that will stay with me occurred. Gowan was heading down the isle when he noticed a young fan by the barricade, obviously afflicted with cancer. Gowan stopped, hugged him, and snapped a picture.
Hopefully, that moment will affect that young boy the same way that meeting Hulk Hogan effected Gowan many years ago. It's seeing moments like that, and the effect that a brief moment of meeting a wrestler can have on someone, that makes me a fan.
Jason Clevett is from Calgary (obviously) and this was his 22nd WWE event. His favorite house show memories are seeing Bret and Owen Hart face each other, laughing at Randy Myers eating popcorn out of a bucket he found on the floor at tonight's event, and meeting childhood hero Jake "The Snake" Roberts backstage in 1996. He usually enjoys house shows. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.