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  Friday, March 15th, 2002



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DONNIE ABREU
By NICK TYLWALK
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
Editorial Column
WrestleMania, slamdunk or air ball?

Down the Ramp

By NICK TYLWALK -- For SLAM! Wrestling

The seconds are ticking down on the clock. It's all come down to this. You've worked too hard all year to fail now, especially since everyone is watching. You know you can do it. Even though people have their doubts, deep down you know you have the talent to pull this off. Not much time left - no time to get nervous. Take your best shot and give it everything you've got.

Sorry about that. I have this column to talk about wrestling, but even three days away from WrestleMania thoughts here in the States inevitably turn to the NCAA basketball tournament. While I was nursing my bronchitis this afternoon (the most unpleasant yet most legitimate excuse I've ever had to stay home from work to watch the first round), it struck me that the WWF is going into the biggest pay-per-view of them all looking a lot more like a low seed than the number one it's made out to be. Think Hampton, not Duke.

To extend the analogy even further, the storylines leading up to WrestleMania have been suffering from their own special brand of March Madness. We had The Rock bounce back from attempted vehicular homicide but stay down when hit by Hulk Hogan's legdrop. We had a husband and wife feud that pushed the head writer while rendering the undisputed champion a mere afterthought. Coming down the stretch we even had dog doo and board meetings. Momentum is important at this time of March and the WWF doesn't have it.

Making matters worse, head coach Vince McMahon seems to be off his game. After a great run last year, McMahon has scrapped a few of his reliable plays and enters the big dance with a host of questions. Critics whisper that the coach and his staff have the most depth they've ever had but don't know how to manage it. How will older players like Scott Hall handle extended minutes? And while Coach McMahon has a proud winning tradition - like his title runs in 1987 and 2001 - you only have to go back to 2000 to find an early exit for Vinnie Mac and company.

Fortunately, the cupboard's not completely bare. McMahon has a few players looking to prove themselves on the sport's biggest stage. Think freshmen Rob Van Dam and Booker T won't be busting it on Sunday? Wasn't this the moment that Triple H worked so hard for when he rehabilitated his torn quad? If the WWF doesn't make a run, it won't be for a lack of effort.

The crowd factor also works in the WWF's favor. A partisan crowd of more than 60,000 fans will be pulling for the underdog to pull off the upset. They've even got hometown boys Chirs Jericho, Christian and Edge to support. The big dance hasn't passed through Toronto in a while, so the sixth man should be very evident on Sunday night. Wrestling's own Dickie V - good ol' J.R. - will be on hand to call the action.

Bet you never knew hoops and wrestling had so much in common. I've pretty much run this metaphor into the ground, but there's a heartfelt sentiment beneath all the goofing. Despite the many naysayers out there predicting otherwise (and I've been one of them on occasion), I still think WrestleMania will be an event worth watching. I was looking forward to attending it in person until disease and logistics reared their ugly heads, but I'll be watching anxiously on TV when 8 p.m. rolls around Sunday night.

Call it hopeless optimism if you want. I'm still clinging to hope that the writers have some tricks they haven't shown us yet. Maybe Hogan has one decent match left in that "Immortal" body, and maybe Jericho and Helmsley tear the house down with a minimum of involvement from you-know-who. Just like you never know how the brackets will turn out ahead of time, you can't judge a WrestleMania until it unfolds before you.

Look at that, I managed to milk one more basketball analogy after all. Let me leave you with one more. If you're on the fence about whether or not to order the pay-per-view, gather some friends together to split the cost or find a bar that's showing it. Yes it might not live up to the hype, but it could just as easily be the WWF's one shining moment.

Previous Columns

March 1 ... WWF return a test for Hall
Feb. 22 ... WWF return a test for Hall
Feb. 15 ... Nick who?




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