EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, May 25, 2001
Jericho & Benoit strengthen WWF and each other
I don't want to talk too much about whether this means the WWF has turned the corner. Smackdown! also had all the makings of an excellent show, but whether or not the fans perceive this as a change or just a fluke will really depend on what happens up to and including the next pay-per-view. Just as it took time before fans started getting bored of WWF wrestling, it will take time for them to warm to it. Still, such an improvement -- really, the whole show was better than previous efforts -- in such a short period of time shows that the World Wrestling Federation is both paying attention and on the ball.
The first reason you'll remember this match as a great one is that it was closer to pay-per-view length. Most television matches now top out at five minutes, though even the shortest matches this week were longer than usual. Television main events, at least those not ending in screw jobs, tend to last about eight or ten minutes. Of course, WWF pay-per-view main events can go as long as forty-five. When I saw the clock read five minutes to the hour as Steve Austin and Triple H were being introduced, I groaned and prepared for a short and useless mess. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Raw went longer than usual, ending a full fifteen minutes past eleven o'clock and resulting in a good fifteen minute match. That's a rare gem, these days.
Of course, a long match isn't a blessing unless it's also a good match. Fortunately, that was the case here. It was a well-scripted, well-choreographed piece of wrestling, and hard not to enjoy. I'm not calling it a match of the year necessarily, but it was certainly great to watch.
Also on the plus side, both Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit looked better than ever. Teaming them up has lent each of them credibility that neither had on their own. Benoit is the more believable grappler of the two, and I have to admit that sometimes Jericho's moves seem weak. Meanwhile. Y2J is clearly the more popular and sympathetic character. Their strengths were used perfectly, their weaknesses were cleverly hidden, and I think they rubbed off on each other. Somehow, when this reign is over, Benoit will seem more charismatic and Jericho will seem more vicious.
Equally, this match represented something of a renewed push for both men. Each has had brushes with the WWF title, both winning it and having the win reversed that same night, but neither has really benefited from it. Their pushes, while often strong, have never been consistent. On Monday night, Steve Austin and Triple H sold for them the way heels are supposed to sell, and everyone looked good in the process.
In fact, even Austin's heel persona began to develop more fruitfully. In this match, his cowardice was more entertaining than it has been, and his feud with one Chris or the other should be interesting.
Either way, it seems as though things are a little fresher in the WWF, as this is a direction we've never really taken and a road we've never been down. And for once, there are implied matches down the road (singles bouts between members of Monday's warring tag teams) to look forward to instead of groan at.
Unfortunately, some of those matches won't happen any time soon, as not everything went rosily on Raw. Triple H, somehow misstepping and planting his leg incorrectly. He tore his left quadracept muscle, will have surgery in the very near future, and will probably miss the entire summer, maybe more. That, and the fact that what could have been Undertaker's Last Ride as a WWF heavyweight title contender has ended prematurely, were the two black spots on Monday's otherwise perfect match.
Though the injury is probably the more grave of those two happenings, it's also there that we find the silver lining. Triple H deserves accolades for continuing the match even though he knew he was injured, even though he could tell he was making it worse. The match would not at all have been the same if Triple H had called for a quick finish, though no one would have questioned that decision. Instead, he gave far more than 100%, and that more than anything else, I hope, should put to rest all of the rumours that he's trying to keep other wrestlers down. He sacrificed his own well-being to make sure that a match that makes Jericho and Benoit look good could finish as intended. That takes guts and class, though if he made the injury more serious, it may not have been the wisest idea. Truth be told, I'd rather have Triple H back and in perfect condition sooner than later than watch a better match finish, but the gesture is appreciated nonetheless.
In fact, there was some debate amongst those watching Raw with me as to whether the injury was legitimate or not, and I confess that I was uncertain. Maybe that goes to show just how good an actor Helmsley has been in the past.
Triple H has been a real force in the WWF over the past year and a half, and it won't at all be the same without him. Still, if Monday Night Raw's main event is any indication, the World Wrestling Federation has turned a corner and it will be more exciting than ever when he returns. We shall see.
I'd like to send a special shout out to TSN for censoring the incredibly violent missed sledgehammer shot by Triple H at the end of that match. If I had been forced to witness the brutal terror of Triple H accidentally hitting his own partner, I'm not really sure I could have gone on functioning as a good Canadian citizen. Meanwhile, two nights later on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, I got to see Buffy beat the living snot out of a villain using, you guessed it, a sledgehammer. I mean, Buffy really pounded her foe, until she was prone on the ground and bleeding and most of her bones were broken. But Buffy, who had issues or something, just kept hitting her. It looked much more realistic than one of Triple H's hammer shots, and there was a lot more blood. Oh, and shortly after that, another protagonist suffocated the poor girl.
But a sledgehammer shot on a wrestling show -- no way! Thanks, TSN!
Here's the mailbag. SM, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I am not a big WWF fan largely due to its very predictable product and its very large lack of wrestling. The top stars right now are so banged up that punch, kick, help me I need a run in, is the only 'wrestling' that is being marketed. Admittedly, there are a few that perform remarkably but they are increasingly becoming the rarity.
My big beef however is with the gullible factor. I have watched wrestling for years because a friend of mine was always a huge fan and got me into it. I realize that everything is scripted, and some of the scripting is very good, but some is awful. I was watching Raw last night (something that I never do but I was bored and decided to watch) and in the Tag Team Championship match once again I was reminded why I am turned off of wrestling.
My beef is why can the heels not use tags blatantly and faces can't? When the faces make a legal tag and the ref does not see it he moves Heaven and Earth to push the 'illegal' man out of the ring. Immediately afterwards the heels just switch and the ref turns around, claps his hands in the air as if to ask 'did you guys tag?' and action continues because the ref automatically assumes that there was a tag. He doesn't have to see the heels tag, only the faces. Must be a rule or something. I feel that they have to come with some uniformity in the matches, and bring back some realism. What ever happened to some of the old finishing moves? They suddenly became less potent? Remember when the DDT meant 'THE END'? Now it is blown off like a slap in the face, but some stupid elbow is enough to leave even the most hardy asleep for hours. Come on people, even kids are asking these questions. Get back to some reality and quit assuming we are all so gullible. Maybe it is you, WWF, that are the gullible ones."
I understand your sentiments, for sure. Still, there's something to be said for the very things you criticize. I'm as big a fan of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit as the next guy, but The Rock and Steve Austin can put on one heck of a good brawl. I think it's just a matter of putting on the right mix of intriguing stories, brawling, technical wrestling, and high-spots.
As for heels versus faces in the eyes of the referee, that's just about suspense. It may seem stupid on paper, but it's one of the most effective techniques for getting the crowd involved. That may imply gullibility to you, but when I go to a live show, I'm there to cheer and to react and to get into it. It's all a story. We watch corny television shows, corny movies, and a lot of people love that. Well, some things in wrestling are a tradition, and there are certain ways that heels cheat in a tag team match. I don't like to see it overused, but I think the way that referees are used right now is just about perfect. My only beef with referee treatment is how someone like Undertaker or Triple H can just pound on a referee and he won't disqualify him. But all of the other stuff is wrestling tradition.
As far as wrestling moves go, I don't think that finishers are really getting less potent. The Rock's not even around right now, and just about every other top WWF wrestler has a credible finishing maneuver. It's just that the pace of matches is faster and harder now, so rarely is a DDT a finishing move. But if you really need to see DDT finishers, watch Raven matches.
Scott Francis, from Franman2001@aol.com, writes:
"Great column this week as usual. Anyway, I just wanted to point something out about the recent WWF grand slam winners. HBK was the only one to do it in 1997 and there hasn't been another until recently. What's so strange is that both HHH and Kane became grand slam champs within a month. So much for the grand slam being an elite achievement. Seems like kind of a shame to me. Oh well, I guess it just goes to show how much titles flip flop these days."
Michaels was considered a grand slam champ because he had won the heavyweight, Intercontinental, tag team, and European titles. Triple H also has won those titles, so he's definitely a grand slam champion. Kane, though, I believe won the hardcore title instead of the European title, so I'm not sure if that counts. Either way, you've answered your own questions -- two stars do it in the span of a month, and it sort of becomes less elite, and thus less worth mentioning. Plus, there's now some ambiguity as to what titles count as grand slam. After all, if it's any four, then would lightheavyweight, European, hardcore, and tag team titles do it? That's my point.
Anyway, that's all for this week. Thanks for writing in and have a great weekend!
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