April 27, 2006
Finlay the hero in Smackdown Belfast show
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling
BELFAST - After what was a very entertaining RAW brand show on Tuesday, expectations were high that the WWE's Smackdown crew - led by arguably much better ring technicians in Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and hometown boy Finlay - would at least replicate the quality of show that their counterparts had produced the previous night.
Match #1 Booker T (w/Sharmell) vs Bobby Lashley
Before the first match of the evening, ring announcer Tony Chimmel was stripped of his duties by Sharmell, who took great delight in announcing the arrival of her husband Booker T. When he regained the use of the mic, Chimmel introduced the physically-imposing Lashley, for a nice pop.
This bout was built quite slowly, which was interesting because the monster that Lashley had become in his feud with Finlay was not present here, in his place the laid-back, nice guy Lashley. After a little stalling, things began to pick up when Sharmell hit Lashley with a low-blow, and Booker T scored a near-fall with the Book End. Lashley rebounded however, and as Booker T attempted to vault over him in the corner, he was caught on his shoulder and driven into the canvas with a running powerslam for the victory.
Winner Bobby Lashley
Match #2 Road Warrior vs Paul Birchall
On several of the previous stops on the European Wrestlemania Revenge tour, The Road Warrior - it is remarkably difficult not to refer to him as Animal! - had come up against Tatanka. So I was initially pleased not to hear the Lumbee Indian's entrance music, until I realised that the theme played over the house PA system was Paul Birchall's. This was not a good match, as Birchall's offence in particular lacked credibility, which isn't a good sign for his babyface career. In a short match, Birchall scored the pinfall with a roll-up.
Winner Paul Burchill
Match #3 Tag Team Championship: MNM vs Paul London & Brian Kendrick
Earlier in the evening, I got the chance to have an extremely quick word with the newly named "Hooligans", who delighted in the fact that I'd actually seen them compete in Ring of Honor. And certainly, if there is a tag team opponent in the WWE that can help them reach that standard again, it is MNM. Mercury and Nitro continue to impress with each week that goes by.
Brian Kendrick opened this match for the babyfaces, hitting a succession of ranas, but it wasn't until Paul London got the hot tag that the crowd really picked up. In a move that got a particular "oooohh!" of appreciation from the crowd, London drop-kicked Nitro and then landed on Mercury with a moonsault, all in one fluid manoeuvre. His offence was short-lived, however, as when he went for a sunset flip from the apron, Melina grabbed Nitro's hands, pulling him down on top of London for the three-count.
Match #4 Gunner Scott vs Tatanka
Although he is clearly considered part of the Smackdown roster, it appears that WWE Creative don't have too many ideas as to what to do with Gunner Scott, perhaps known better as Brent Albright from OVW. Recently, he has been on television as a babyface, grabbing a "lucky" win over Booker T, and yet here he was, working as a heel against the Native American Tatanka.
This was a decidedly average match, although well-paced. But especially after the "wow" factor of some of Paul London's flying attacks, it didn't have any good wrestling manoeuvres at all. In the end, Tatanka pinned Scott with what only can be described as a variation of a spinebuster, picking Scott up half-way towards a slam, before driving him down onto his back.
Match #5 Cruiserweight Championship Match: Gregory Helms (c) vs Nunzio vs Funaki
It isn't possible to know how many people in the Odyssey Arena had read the reports from previous shows on this tour, but such was the apathy towards this match, it seemed like the crowd were just waiting for The Great Khali to emerge and destroy the cruiserweight combatants. Either that, or they care as much about the Cruiserweight title as the WWE themselves do. That apathy was undeserved however, because all three men put excellent effort into the match, which included a spectacular three-man sunset flip into a German suplex spot.
Eventually, Khali did make his way down to the ring -- to general shock at the sheer size of the man - where he battered all three wrestlers, causing the no-contest.
Winner No contest
Match #6 William Regal vs Finlay
Northern Ireland maybe the only place on the planet where Finlay is as beloved as Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit. But that is exactly the type of reaction that "The Belfast Bruiser" got upon his introduction. He seemed in good mood, even allowing himself a wave to the crowd, in front of whom he hasn't wrestled for 20 years. Interestingly, too, he worked the match totally as a babyface.
There was lots of audience participation in this bout, with Regal playing up his disgust that fans could cheer for a man as dastardly as his opponent. Regal even got on the microphone and provoked Finlay's father, Dave Finlay Sr., a former wrestler in his own right. Finlay Sr. needed no excuse to get involved and belted Regal, before allowing his son to take over, eventually finishing the Englishman off with the Emerald Fusion.
Match #7 United States Championship: JBL ( c ) vs Chris Benoit
After an altercation between Krystal Marshall and Jillian Hall - which left Tony Chimmel suffering a slap from Hall - JBL grabbed the microphone and went on a five-minute tirade against the Irish fans, the crux of which might not always have been historically accurate, but it sure did the trick. Although I'm certain that he would have been received vociferously in any case, JBL's antics only ensured that it was Benoit, and not he, who was treated like a "wrestling God."
As chants of "Eddie!" rang out almost constantly from the crowd, it was Benoit who scored with the big moves, executing a superplex and a diving headbutt from the top turnbuckle, before hitting the Three Amigos trifecta of suplexes.
Benoit's dominance continued after a ref bump, and he even made JBL tap to the Crippler Crossface, although no referee was present to confirm the victory. By the time that a second official hit the ring, JBL had gained control of the contest, although when he was denied a three count, JBL disposed of that referee, too. Eventually, after thrusting a chair into the throat of Benoit, JBL hit the ropes and delivered the Clothesline From Hell for the very tainted victory.
Match #8 Orlando Jordan vs Matt Hardy
At this point in the evening, the crowd were expecting to see the main event, and when Orlando Jordan emerged for his bout with Matt Hardy, there were many in the crowd who were only interested in seeing this bout end as early as possible. Thankfully then, it was relatively short, with neither wrestler able to get anything from the crowd, until Hardy hit the Twist of Fate for the pin.
Winner Matt Hardy
Match #9 World Heavyweight Championship: Rey Mysterio (c) vs Mark Henry vs Kurt Angle
The main event of the evening was announced by Ken Kennedy, who for the second time removed Tony Chimmel from his microphone. For good measure, he then spat water in his face. Not a good night for our Tony.
In any case, aside from Finlay, the loudest reaction of the evening was saved for champion Rey Mysterio. He, along with Angle, double-teamed Mark Henry at ringside in the early going, allowing them to virtually wrestle a singles match as Henry recuperated. At one point, to keep the "World's strongest man" at bay, Angle grabbed a chair and walloped Henry in the back with it. There wasn't a single member of the audience who thought that it didn't really hurt!
Back in the ring, Angle tried on two occasions to hit Mysterio with the Angle Slam, but at the second time of asking, found himself on the wrong end of an arm-drag that sent him flying through the ropes. With Angle on the outside, Mysterio was quick to capitalise, hitting Henry with the 619, followed up by a Frog Splash, for the pinfall.
Winner Rey Mysterio
I am glad to say that, for the second consecutive night, the WWE brought a very good show to Belfast, one that was largely appreciated by the 8,000-strong, sold-out crowd. Certainly, there wasn't anything here that had the heat of RAW's John Cena vs Triple-H main event, but that was largely because everyone was pro-Rey, in a way that certainly wasn't the case with Cena.
Speaking with SLAM! Wrestling this week, WWE International's Vice President for Marketing, Jonathan Sulley said "We can virtually guarantee a sellout when we come to Belfast. The Irish fans in particular love WWE wrestling."
And whilst the WWE continue to offer up entertaining shows such as this, that fact is unlikely to change.
Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports, and soccer. He is a regular contributor to www.dvd-reviewer.co.uk, and can be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.