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  Mon, Oct 14, 2002



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Theatre of Pain
No-frills WWE still a solid show

By TJ MADIGAN -- Calgary Sun

  Pro-wrestling house shows tend to be hit or miss affairs. Sometimes you get a TV-quality lineup from a roster that goes all-out to entertain.

Often times, though, you get a group of grapplers who barely bother to take semi-decent bumps, secure in the knowledge that their laziness will never be beamed to living rooms around the country.

When you take out the elaborate lights, fireworks and storylines that accompany a TV taping, untelevised shows can easily look like little more than muscley men with fake tans pretending to punch each other.

Luckily, the WWE boasts one of its strongest rosters ever and when the Tour of Defiance rolled into Calgary yesterday afternoon, the action was as intense as any house show I've seen.

The proceedings began with Tajiri taking on Funaki in a pretty standard curtain-jerker, which ran about five minutes. Tajiri eventually scored a clean pin after a lethal-looking crescent kick but surprisingly, they didn't give Funaki any mic time to play up his 'No. 1 announcer' gimmick.

Next up, Teddy Hart and Harry Smith, two of Stampede Wrestling's up-and-comers, gave a performance that was up there with the better matches on the show. The Saddledome crowd were really into the bout, popping big when Smith got the 1-2-3 after nailing Hart with a vicious powerslam. Hart has an excellent look with fantastic timing and mannerisms, while Smith (the son of the late British Bulldog) is a powerhouse with a great grasp of the fundamentals. Their familiarity with each other may have been an advantage but they still put on a hell of a show and raised a lot of eyebrows. I've seen these guys on Mat Rats, I've seen them at Stampede Wrestling, and having seen them in a WWE ring, I have little doubt the big time awaits.

Bull Buchanen was out next, losing to Val Venis in a filler match.

Tag action followed, with John Cena and OVW's Shelton Benjamin losing out to Shannon Moore and Billy Kidman. Cena is a natural heel and these house show matches should be his audition for a move to the bad guy ranks.

D-Von Dudley was up next, ripping on Calgary, the Hart family, and the Flames (cheap heat seemed to be the order of the day) before hometown hero Lance Storm cut him off. Storm was terrific in the ring, dominating D-Von while the Saddledome crowd chanted '403'. In an obvious tribute to a certain local legend, Storm put Dudley away by locking in the Sharpshooter. Needless to say, the audience erupted when D-Von tapped out.

WWE champion Brock Lesnar stormed to the ring next, insisting he wrestle immediately so he could get away from Calgary as quickly as possible. He may as well have worn a sign on his chest saying 'Please boo me'. Chris Jericho came to the ring to a monster pop, putting up decent offence before Lesnar went over with the F-5. It was the right result for business but almost sad when you consider it was 10 years ago this weekend that Bret Hart upset Ric Flair to win the WWF strap at a Saskatoon house show. Jericho broke character after the match to thank the fans.

Rey Mysterio (huge crowd pop for his Calgary debut) was up next, losing to Cruiserweight champion Jamie Noble in a carbon copy of their showdown the night before in Edmonton. Chris Benoit then beat Matt Hardy with the crippler crossface, before we got down to business with the bra and panties match. Torrie Wilson, again recycling the previous evening's action, beat Dawn Marie by stripping the ECW diva down to her bare essentials.

The penultimate event was the "one night only" reunion of Edge and Christian. They battled the Guerreros in a hot tag match, which ran a good 12 minutes. Eddie bumped like a maniac and ended up bleeding on the Saddledome floor after he was hardway cut while cracking heads with Chavo. He finished the match after a brief time-out, losing when E&C scored with a double-spear and pin. After the final bell, the Toronto duo allowed the Calgary crowd to capture a little bit of nostalgia by performing their infamous five-second pose.

It was a little surreal seeing all Canadians on the card in babyface roles but at least the WWE recognizes the crowd is happier this way and since it's not taking place on television, they never have to acknowledge it happened. Sadly though, the Saddledome was less than one third full, with all the upper decks completely empty. No return-date was announced, but it's likely they'll tape TV here again early next summer.

Hopefully by then, as Jim Ross might say, business will have picked up.


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