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  Friday, March 15, 2002



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Rookies ready to shine
Lesnar, Orton impress at Axxess

By DONNIE ABREU -- SLAM! Wrestling
Brock Lesnar.

TORONTO -- Friday's daytime edition of WWF Fan Axxess gave me the opportunity to contrast the old and the new. On the west end of the building is the WWF Hall OF Fame display and the "legends" autograph area. Great stars of the past like Tony Garea, Pat Patterson, Gerry Brisco and Killer Kowalski have been on hand to sign souvenir books and pose for pictures. On the south side of the building, a ring has been set up and several matches staged. Thursday's bouts resembled what you might see on an episode of Sunday Night Heat: B level wrestlers taking on virtual jobbers. On Friday, things were a little different, as fans got a sneak peek into the future.

Two WWF developmental talents competed at Friday's daytime session of Axxess - those being Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton. Both men have been wrestling on dark matches at RAW regularly for several months now and have impressed fans all over the United States. Their matches in this very small venue represented the first time many Canadian fans had seen these blue chippers.

I couldn't help but think back to a match I watched at a house show in Toronto back in late 1997 - early 1998. Young Adam Copeland (Edge) battled Christian Cage (today simply known as Christian). Both men were very new to the company and at that point had not been on any WWF broadcasts. Despite the chants of "boring" and "You're not Jericho" (directed to a dancing Copeland) the two Orangeville natives worked hard to win over the audience, which they did to some extent. Had the fans only known the individuals they were watching would go on to become some of the hottest properties in the company, they may have shown a little more respect.

Fast forward to March 15th 2002.

Lesnar was out first to work against little Spike Dudley. It was a decent match that featured the very small man take a tremendous pounding from the 6'4", near 300 pounder. When Lesnar was introduced the most common response from fans in attendance was "Who?" ... and many called him a Val Venis 'wannabe'. Some fans even started a faint chaint of "We got screwed", obviously unhappy with the fact that they weren't getting to see a Superstar they were familiar with. When Dudley hit the ring, the crowd was solidly on his side and hoping the little guy could find a way to topple this giant. Lesnar played the part of the heel to perfection, taking time to mock his opponent and the fans who decided to trash talk him. Lesnar executed all of the expected power moves for a man of his size and strength (gorilla press, powerslam, powerbomb, etc) and also showed some nice sequences of chain wrestling.

Lesnar, who won the NCAA National Wrestling Championship in 2000 can obviously mat wrestle with the best of them - including Kurt Angle - but having spent the last 18 months working on his craft has undoubtedly learned how to use his size and superior strength to get himself over in the Federation and with it's fans.

He eventually picked up the win after dominating for ten minutes or so. He finished Dudley off with a fireman's carry into a diamond cutter - much like Marc Mero's TKO. Unlike Mero's version however, Lesnar swung his opponent with tremendous velocity and literally drove him into the mat. As he walked out of the ring victorious, a small "Brock - Brock - Brock" chant broke out from the same section that had been mocking him. Apparently he had won a few non-believers over.

Orton's Axxess match came against former ECW Heavyweight champion, Justin Credible. On a side note - Credible looked to be in tremendous condition and doesn't look at all like he has missed four months of TV time. Orton, unlike Lesnar, came to the ring and played to the crowd. His traditional boy-ish look got him over very quickly with the female contingent and he worked hard to gain the respect of some ECW-chanting Credible fans. Orton, who stands 6'5" and weighs 245 pounds does not physically resemble his legendary father Cowboy Bob Orton at all. Randy is well muscled with several tattoos and an exciting in ring style. Yes, there were a few missed spots in the match - but overall most fans in attendance were very impressed with young Orton - who was recently named Pro Wrestling Illustrated's 2001 Rookie Of the Year.

Some of his signature moves include a dropkick into a back flip (very impressive) and a wheelbarrow suplex. He picked up a win against Credible after nailing a flying body press from the top rope.

We understand that wins and losses don't really mean anything in professional wrestling - but it was clear that both men were elated to have picked up a pinfall victory on this day. What was also clear was that there will be many more pinfall victories for both in the weeks, months and years to come.

All indications are that Orton and Lesnar will debut on WWF television after the much- anticipated roster split.

SLAM! Wrestling attempted contact with several WWF representatives for comment but unfortunately they declined.

More on: WrestleMania 18
More on: Brock Lesnar
More on: Randy Orton




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