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Check 1, Check 1 2, Sibilance, Sibilance. Check Check 1, Sibilance.
Right square in the middle of the whole Invasion thing, the WWF put on what is traditionally its second biggest show of the year. On paper it seemed like it had all the makings of a great show: Kurt Angle and Steve Austin were right at the beginning of their feud, the returning Rock squared off against the man who many felt was his most ideal WCW opponent, Booker T. Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam seemed poised to hurl themselves about for our amusement once more. And the WWF continued its streak of using various Hot songs by Generic Nu-Metal Bands, so there was that. I think you remember the song…
LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR! This song still haunts my nightmares. The opening video package is a little less than usual, basically just the asylum antics of the Drowning Pool video in between various clips of Wrestlers yelling and falling and what have you. No Freddie Blassie, no ripoff Doors covers. Drat.
Live from San Jose, California, we have now heard this song three times as we are introduced to our hosts, Jim Ross and Paul Heyman.
1. WWF Intercontinental Championship: Lance Storm © vs. Edge Storm begins by being serious for a minute, which at least is a reasonable explanation for him coming out first. We are shown the first of many shots of the respective lockerrooms, as every victory was assumed to have implications both for the wrestlers as well as all the other wrestlers in the various warring factions.
This match was part of a semi-trend in the midcard around this time of having matches based around body part psychology, the type of thing that could fit in on any card in America, just about. There’s also the dynamic of Edge being able to outbrawl Storm, who manages to stay in control for most of the match given his technical skill. I’ve always been partial to matches where Storm has an extended offensive sequence, as it’s fun to hear him yell at his opponent about how much he sucks and all that. Most of the middle of the match involves Storm working over Edge’s abdomen, which makes sense given Storm’s half-crab finish, which is teased a couple of times. This also leads Edge to try selling his stomach as though he’s got some stabbing bloat pain going on. There’s also some fun reversal sequences, eventually leading Christian to come out with the night’s first interference, accidentally spearing Edge, then getting superkicked by Storm. Edge manages to kick out, then blocks a superkick, hits his DDT finisher, whatever he was calling it back then, and gets the pinfall. (11:17) This marked the second consecutive PPV where Storm and Edge managed to put together a fine little match to start off the show; at Invasion, they tagged with their regular partners and probably had the best match of the evening. One of the few 2001 Midcard highlights that didn’t involve flinging people off ladders or somesuch.
Oh what fun, it’s Michael Cole speaking with Test and the Dudley Boys, who remind people who they’re facing. Test calls Cole a little bitch and tries to explain why he left the WWF because of being assaulted for being the mole or something.
Lillian Garcia with Chris Jericho, wearing his North Carolina colors. Jokes about Stephanie being a slut, the aura of confidence, breast jokes, you get the idea.
2. Spike Dudley (with Molly Holly)/Faarooq/Bradshaw vs. Test/the Dudley Boys Z’s are for suckers. Or, I suppose, suckerz. We are reminded of how Test aided 2/3 of the Jersey Triad in scoring the tag belts off the Acolytes. Test walks to the ring as if to say “I am tall and arrogant so as to hide my feelings of rejection. Damn you Bradshaw, for pummeling an innocent man.”
Your referee is Evil Nick Patrick. Spike and the Acolytes mostly run into trouble when squaring off against the Dudleys, but they manage to assert control whenever Test lopes in. Spike does his normal routine of getting the shit beat out of him and occasionally fluking into some offense, before ending the match being hurled through a table. Bradshaw hits various Texas-sized things throughout. Your run-in for this match is Shane McMahon, who does his spinny chairshot thing as Evil Referee Nick Patrick’s back is turned, leading to the cover for the pinfall. (7:18) Buh Buh yells in victory. Heyman credits the victory to Shane. It’s OK, but it’s still very much the second best match on a good Smackdown, except with a couple more minutes to work with. You don’t really need to see this in order to live, but if you do, you won’t have to gouge out your eyes to recoil from the horror of it all.
The WWF locker room is not keen, but they instead take solace in Edge’s victory. Hey, it’s Grandma Edna! On the phone. Ooh, she doesn’t love Christian as much.
Shawn Stasiak and his tiny tiny pants come into the Austin family waiting room, where Debra is waiting, as one would expect. Wackiness ensues. Debra is all angered. Stasiak is “Goofy as a Pet Coon”, says Ross, a colloquialism which always sounded semi-wrong to me.
3. WWF Light Heavyweight Championship vs. WCW Cruiserweight Championship: Tajiri vs. X-Pac X-Pac is in the Purple Light, Uncle Kracker period here, and looks every bit the greasy bastard he was meant to be. Tajiri brings most of your requisite Cruiserweight Championship Match spots, including a pretty Asai Moonsault which earns him an ECW chant, because we all know what an impact Extreme Championship Wrestling left in San Jose. X-Pac does manage to hit a pretty nice Tope Con Hilo, so I can’t really hate him for that. Jim Ross blathers on about how great the Crusierweights are, as if to suggest, “See, I really DO mean what I say in the Ross Report! Hey, wait, here comes Albert. He’s a hoss, is that one. He’s a promising young stud.” Heyman, I’m assuming, was probably talking about how the Alliance enjoys it when WWF wrestlers beat each other up, because most of his sentences here find some way to include references to the Alliance or one of the McMahons or something. Anyhow, that hoss Albert is indeed your run-in of the match, earning himself a fresh spray of Tajiri red mist. Of course, this is all the opening X-Pac needs to give Tajiri a low blow and hit the X-Factor for the Three Count and two shiny belts. (7:34) This was one of those matches that sort of made you hope that maybe there could be something to come out of this. Of course we all knew it was probably futile, but it’s a nice solid match, and X-Pac seemed like he was caring again, and Tajiri was all exciting and got a good response. X-Pac got hurt again at some point after this, and in a scene out of the Simpsons, since Quarterback Bart X-Pac was injured, the only recourse Coach Homer McMahon saw was to forfeit the Junior division. Eh, it sounded funnier in my head.
Perry Saturn’s at WWF New York. His mop is missing. I am at a loss for words.
Rhyno is with Stephanie, wearing some sort of tarp. She adheres to the Stephanie Heel Hair principle, as the crimping iron is indeed in full nappy effect. Here’s a look at how they trashed the old Smackdown set. Ah, I missed the old Smackdown set. The hand thing freaks me out.
4. Rhyno (with Stephanie McMahon) vs. Chris Jericho Hey, it would seem this match’s third most important participant is Rhyno. Go fig. This was in the waning days of where Jericho was not very interesting.
Supposedly Chris Jericho received (or, if you’re Jim Ross, “scored”) a concussion after Rhyno hit something approximating a gore on the outside to counter a Jericho leap. One would tend to support this idea, as Jericho’s work gets a little scary after this, notably on a Quebrada which was likely saved from total disaster only by Rhyno being there to catch Jericho, whose foot had slipped on the rope. Right after this, Jericho attempts a flying move of some kind off the top rope, but again he slips and falls to the mat. It got to the point where I was terrified to see Jericho go back up again, though he gave us all a sigh of relief when he hit a second-rope dropkick. Despite all this, Rhyno managed to keep me interested, breaking out all manner of goofy older stuff, including a body scissors, an airplane spin, and a top rope splash without even a hint of an attempt at the frog motion. Seriously, though, unless you can do a proper-looking frog splash (Los Gringos Locos), just stick with the regular splash. It looks cooler. It does.
The story of the match was that Jericho has never beaten Rhyno before, and since Stephanie McMahon hated Jericho, the Man-Beast was enlisted. Thusly, when Jericho and his wobbly head start to put this match away, Stephanie becomes the interferer for this match, which leads Jericho to kiss her, because…hell, I don’t care. Rhyno misses a Gore, Jericho reverses into the Walls of Jericho, Rhyno taps, Jericho has overcome his demons, Stephanie shrieks. (12:33) First replay shown: The kiss. Rhyno’s goofy work kept this from becoming entirely like when you see a video of your friend or cousin or something performing and they’re like, really awful, and they keep fucking up, and even though it’s maybe not their fault, it doesn’t mean you don’t feel really uncomfortable watching it with them sitting right there. Being that we’re fresh off the Olympics, this was like watching a figure skater who’s not good enough to pull off the Triple-Triple combination or something, but they keep trying it.
Hey! It’s the Rock! He assures William Regal he’s 100% for his match against Booker T. Shawn Stasiak injures himself at some point in the midst of this.
5. Ladder Match for the WWF Hardcore Championship: Rob Van Dam vs. Jeff Hardy © Oh goody. Van Dam out to his normal confusing response. They cheer the holy hell out of him once he’s actually out there doing his flippy crap, but they’re kinda anemic when he walks out. Weird. Jeff Hardy is greeted with the girly shrieks. Ah, fuck actual recapping, let’s just bullet point what you came to see. Your top ten Spots of this match, in chronological order, as rated by the Death-o-meter system…
attempts to go from the top rope to the floor with his famed Flying Jump
maneuver, but Van Dam moves out of the way. Hardy splats against the barrier.
Your enjoyment of this depends on how much of this interests you enough to want to see it. If you’re a ladder freak, this is probably worth your while. There’s not a whole lot else besides the bullet points, at any rate.
Shane has a present for Booker. It’s a set of bookends made from the announce table Booker Bookended Rock through a week or two before.
“Love Theme from ‘The Lowering of the Cage’ ” leads us to a montage of the stalker angle. Ah, crap. At least it shows footage of Kanyon in the DDMe wig. Misty water-colored Memories…
6. Cage Match for the WWF and WCW Tag Team Championships: Chris Kanyon/Diamond Dallas Page (WWF Champions) vs. Undertaker/Kane (WCW Champions) There’s really only two things that held my interest in this match. First, Kanyon bumps like some sort of crazed mental person, doing so in a wacky-in-its-own-right way kinda like the Rock. He’s fun to watch sometimes. And second, once Kanyon leaves the party, Kane spends part of the match sitting on the top rope, arms reaching up to the top of the cage. It just looks silly. Other than that…I suppose it has a story to it, namely “Undertaker assaults Page for looking at his woman funny,” with the subtext of “Kane also hits Kanyon because Kanyon’s friend looked at Kane’s sister-in-law (half-sister-in-law) funny.” I suppose they succeeded there. Of course, just because it has a story doesn’t mean that story has to be enjoyable or anything. This is ten minutes and fifteen seconds of stuff you can deal without. If you’re trying to edit this down onto a T-120 in SP or something you can skip right past this and onto the next match.
But not this. Rock is talking with the Trainer(!) and continues to do so even after Stasiak dives at him. Showing the Athletic Trainer is a sure way to get me to love you.
7. WWF World Heavyweight Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin © I’ve always wondered why this match was disliked by so many people. Yeah, I suppose the ending is less than stellar. But really, if you think a match can go from Great to Suck just because of Evil Referee Nick Patrick, you’ve got some problems. There’s so much good stuff that happens before the wackiness.
The match starts with brawling on the outside, and while it seems a rather trite beginning on one hand, it makes sense when you see that the first punch is thrown by Austin. Early matwork would benefit Angle and his amateur skills; Austin knows better than to play to Angle's greatest strength. On some level, there is a definite archetypal clash this match represents, and perhaps it is best signified by the appearances and attire of the two men. Angle wears the amateur singlet as always, giving the reminder of the wrestling style he once dominated; Austin chooses the simple black trunks used by pro wrestlers going all the way back at least to the stuff they show on ESPN Classic at 4 in the morning. Austin is as much a symbol of dominance at the professional style as Angle is at the collegiate and Olympic levels. Austin shows this further by taunting Angle with the belt, holding the physical reminder of his status while walking with the braggadocio of the flashy pro.
The bell sounds and Angle immediately hits a double leg takedown, then some more strikes commence. Corner mayhem ensues as Angle takes the early lead with un-Olympic strikes; archetypes aside, it's still conducted in a pro setting. The early moments of the match see Austin gain advantage using all the various moves that the stereotypical “Cagey Veteran” would use, and the match stays enough of a brawl to give Austin the confidence he’s been lacking since the loss to HHH at No Way Out all but told him, “The wrestling has passed you by. It’s time for something else.” Austin, for whatever reason, refuses to believe this, and so he clung to the belt at all costs, doing all the things he would never have done two years before, when he felt untouchable, like he could beat anyone, anywhere, anytime.
As the match rolls forward, Austin finds himself able to take control only when the match is outside the ring, avoiding Angle’s skill by dragging him to a place that is foreign to the former amateur. Every time Austin takes his chances back inside the ring, whether in an attempt to pin his opponent, or merely seeing if he had worn down Angle enough to put it away, he inevitably loses his momentum, and again forces the match to the outside. When he realizes that he just might be able to win this match by wearing Angle down on the outside, he grabs the top rope, drops to the mat, and rolls out, in a way only Steve Austin does. It’s a signature thing for Austin, something he seems only to do when he's enjoying the hell out of himself; there was a bunch of stuff from the HHH feud where he does this, after gleefully pissing off the Game once more. He's having fun, or at least trying to show it, for maybe the first time since he lost at No Way Out. The Austin who grabs the rope and rolls out is the Austin who screwed with McMahon for all those years, the one who knew he could beat anyone. He already thinks he's got Angle beat, and perhaps tries to rub it in, with three consecutive suplexes on Angle. But Angle ducks a fourth, and responds with seven rolling German suplexes. The first Austin-killing move of the night has been unleashed, the move that forced Austin to use his last resort in his match with Chris Benoit. He even calls for a timeout after the sixth, just as he did back in Edmonton.
Angle tries to put it away too soon, though, and Austin again falls back on his craftiness, turning the tide with an eyepoke, which leads to a superplex, which leads to the first stunner. But Angle has got something in him on this night, and he kicks out at two. Another stunner follows, but Angle, whether by luck or skill, rolls out before Austin can pin him. Of course, Angle has fallen right into Austin’s zone. Still, Austin does not roll out of the ring with the same sort of joy he did a few minutes earlier.
The next segment of the match pretty much consists of Angle getting the crap beaten out of him outside the ring. They only reenter the ring to try for a pinfall, and then Austin immediately tosses Angle back out of the ring. He rams Angle’s head into the turnbuckle, and into the announce table, a reminder of Angle’s trouble with head trauma, dating back to Summerslam a year before. it almost seems as Austin's play on the outside is an attempt to drag this match back into the WWF main event style of his prime, the time before the Radicalz, the rise of HHH, and even the debut of Angle took choking with the mic cord out of the title match lexicon. Austin raises Angle up, and smiles at the bloody mess of Angle's face. He seems to enjoy gazing into the bloodied, plucky good guy who always pulled it out against the odds, and he really seems to enjoy walloping a dazed Angle. If anyone knows how to beat the plucky bleeding hero in an Attitude-era title match, it's the man who used to be that hero. The situation is now one where Austin is all but the master and Angle all but a novice; now Austin is enjoying himself again. Austin goes for the kill, hitting a suplex over the barrier onto the concrete. But then something goes off inside Kurt Angle.
Angle manages to snatch Austin’s foot as the champion climbs over the railing, and he grabs onto an ankle lock, screaming and cursing, and it seems like he’s enjoying himself, in spite of all the blood on his face. He hadn’t really ever been in a situation like it before, but he seems to enjoy it on some level, and he manages to keep on fighting. Still, he knows where his advantage is, and he drags Austin by the ankle, up the ring steps, back into the ring. Austin manages to avoid turning this into another of his weaknesses, the extended submission sequences that drained him when he faced Chris Benoit and The Rock.
Austin bails outside, selling the foot like it was useless. But Angle comes out to chase him, and puts the nail in the coffin, hitting a belly-to-belly suplex right in front of the announce tables. Angle, already given the space on the inside, has now taken command of the outside, leaving Austin with nothing. Austin escapes again, but to the inside, where he knows he’s hopeless. Angle even manages to finally hit his moonsault, but Austin kicks out.
For the rest of the match, Austin runs through his desperation options, locking on the Million Dollar Dream, his ultimate last-ditch move (well, until he brings back the Hollywood and Vine, which would rule so hard). Even then, Angle manages to maneuver to his advantage, gaining a couple of nearfalls even as Austin’s arms lock tight around him. Even on offense Austin can’t win. Austin gains just enough confidence from breaking Angle’s offensive roll, and he hits the Third Stunner of the match. But Kurt Angle would have kicked out of anything: he has this look on his face after kicking out of total surprise, his mind amazed at what his body did. Austin tries once more to demean Angle with some slaps, but his attempt at a fourth Stunner is turned into an Olympic Slam. Austin needs the belt too much to just stay down here. Ankle lock, but Austin fights and claws to the ropes. And that’s when the ending started.
Austin had no other way to hold onto the belt. He could have tried to run away, but Angle would have dragged him back. He could have tried to use a chair, but Angle would have kicked out of anything. He had to do something that Angle could do nothing about. So he hit some referees. And Evil Referee Nick Patrick knew why. (DQ, 22:32)
This is one of the best examples of a WWF match which rewards you for having watched the earlier stuff; certain parts of this might be lost on someone who hasn’t seen the Summerslam where Angle concussed himself, or the one where Austin’s neck first became such a weakness. In the middle of the generally bland Invasion angle, I always managed to keep interest, because every week when Stone Cold Steve Austin did something, I had the feeling that somewhere down the line, it would be referenced in one of his matches later down the line. The character progression of both men throughout the story of the match is absolutely top-flight, and I have no problem saying this is the second best WWF match I’ve seen from 2001, behind only the Smackdown Austin-Benoit. I missed a whole lot of late year PPVs, though, so there’s that.
So there’s still another match, then.
8. WCW World Heavyweight Title: The Rock vs. Booker T © This was the feud many were anticipating since the WCW purchase was announced, and with good reason: In the waning days of WCW, Booker was positioned as something of the Turner-brand Rock, the popular, charismatic champion with an absurd crowd-pleasing move and a uranage finisher. This match plays on this almost too much, as Booker’s status as “Rock Ripoff” had been heavily advanced, right down to that Most Electrifying Maneuver in Sports Entertainment thing, and the informal redubbing of the champion as “The Book”. The WWF chose to use this feud as a means towards asserting their superiority over the fallen Turner Empire, a means of pissing on the grave of WCW, much as the rest of the Invasion was.
To emphasize just how much they were pushing the Booker as Fake Rock thing, listen to the announcers, as Heyman basically spouts everything said about the Rock in 1999, exchanging “The Book” for “The Rock” and “Spinaroonie” for “People’s Elbow.” Jim Ross basically acts nauseous that someone would even attempt to rip off the Rock so blatantly. I guess they do an OK job of trying to push the point of the match, but they neglect what has got to be the Primary rule of Broadcasting: Don’t be so damned annoying. Anyhow, the match…
If you approach this match armed with the thesis that it’s a representation of how the WWF overcomes all, there’s a bunch of stuff that sticks out. Rock comes out with the early lead, Booker fires some heavy shots and takes command. But instead of keeping the vise on Rocky, Booker just plods around, unwittingly, as the Rock slowly regains himself, until all of a sudden the Rock is in charge. At this point Booker and Shane get desperate, but it’s just too late, and their bad habits can’t be covered up. “The Book” claimed to be The Rock, but all he really did was steal a move and some catchphrases, just a cheap ripoff. Even if you don’t really agree with that suggestion, the WWF pretty much rammed it on down throughout the month of August.
If I had some more old Nitro tapes and enough marijuana to start going off on bizarre tangents, I’d probably start seeing this match as pure allegory, with Shane’s ill-fated distraction during the Sharpshooter being some kind of reference to WCW’s attempt to respond to losing their grip on the Ratings War with any number of unsuccessful quick-fix gimmicks. Actually, all Shane really does in general is try to disrupt the Rock’s momentum, and all he does is end up lying on his back. The Bookend perhaps serves as the Russo era, where WCW assumed the road to Ratings Love lay through the direct copy of things made successful by the WWF. I guess some of this has to be total bullshit, but it’s just kinda weird that in a match between The Rock and his WCW imitation (according to the WWF, because hell, history is written by the winner), the WCW version takes a seemingly insurmountable lead at the beginning, only to just sort of plod around as the WWF version slowly built momentum until no manner of Shane distractions or nWo revisions could do a damned thing. Besides, reading too much into matches is FUN. Axe kick by Booker, Spinaroonie, Rock kips up, Rock Bottom, 1, 2, 3. (15:19) The Rock is the winner of the Monday Night Wars, or, if you prefer, the WCW Championship.
You should probably see this if you haven’t. You should probably see this again if you saw it once and thought Austin-Angle was ruined by the denouement, because the Nick Patrick thing sure as hell wasn’t the True Climax, or that the Cage Match was so bad that it ruined the rest of the show. There’s a hell of a lot of good wrestling in between all the retarded booking.
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