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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, June 30, 2000

King of the Ring full of surprises

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Last Sunday night, after dinner, I picked up my girlfriend and we headed to Nickel's in Montreal. For a change, they were the only place we could find showing the latest WWF pay-per-view offering, King of the Ring. We ordered a pitcher, found stools with a good view of the giant screen, and sat down to watch the royal drama unfold. Granted, we thought there might be more to the main event, and granted, some of the night's stuff unpleasantly surprising, but let me tell you something. I had a good time anyway.

Here are a few reasons that King of the Ring wasn't quite so bad as some would have us believe.

First, Kurt Angle as king. You and I both read up what's going on in the world of wrestling on the internet, so we both probably saw it coming. I wrote a column about it last week and made Angle my choice, but I was far from the first to do so. It shouldn't matter whether we saw it coming, though. King Kurt was a smart choice to make and everything pointed to it. I know that I would prefer a strong king through predictable means than a really silly choice that shocks me.

In the long run, especially, Angle will prove the smart choice. Already, his push is panning out and paying off.

Besides, there were only two other realistic choices -- Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. If Jericho had beaten Angle in the first round, the finale would have been equally obvious, and as for Benoit, that's my next point.

The World Wrestling Federation, without sacrificing the end result, managed to surprise us on more than one occasion during the tournament. Having Chris Benoit, who seemed all but finals-bound, lose in the opening round totally surprised me. At first, as others were, I was disappointed. After all, I could no longer look forward to great Chris Benoit bouts.

Ultimately, though, the choice was a good one. They had him drop the Intercontinental title on Smackdown!, and have tweaked his less-than-successful push, making him go from ruthless-guy-who-wants-his-title to ruthless-guy-who-doesn't-care. He's the new loose cannon, capable of winning titles but not really caring. Two previous holders of that role -- Brian Pillman, Steve Austin.

In previous King of the Ring tournaments, goings-on not even involving the finals have had a lasting impact. In 1998, for example, D'Lo Brown debuted his chest protector, helping Rocky Maivia score the win over Dan Severn. That action robbed us of the desired Severn-Ken Shamrock final and replaced it with the already-seen combination of Rocky and Shamrock. People weren't too happy then, but it proved worthwhile and catapulted D'Lo into, well, I guess the midcard.

Maybe Benoit's change of gimmick will also prove worthwhile.

And there's more.

Fine, the results of the tournament robbed us of such four-star classic potentials as Benoit-Jericho, Guerrero-Benoit, Guerrero-Angle, and Guerrero-Jericho. Nonetheless, a lot of wrestling on the card, short as it was due to time constraints and many more matches than usual, were terrific. Val Venis wrestled two strong contests, and certainly upped his value as a wrestler in my eyes. Rikishi did a great job, considering expectations I had about his stamina. Crash Holly was very entertaining to watch the whole night. Kurt Angle was no slouch, either. I enjoyed a lot of the matches.

Wait, I'm not done.

We were all watching the main event match, an admittedly somewhat anticlimactic contest between six of the most over personalities in wrestling, when Stephanie, who also writes about wrestling, turned to me (without taking her eyes of the action) and said "You know, this match really doesn't compare to the tag match earlier tonight." She was talking about the four corners match for the tag team titles, her pick for match of the night, and I responded "Strange you should say that, since you haven't looked away for two seconds."

Truly, the main event of a WWF pay-per-view rarely has as much to do with actual wrestling as it does with telling a story. I agreed with her. Watching that match, I couldn't help but think there's no way this is even close to match of the night, despite a clear lack of five-star bouts. But still, I wasn't bored at all. Neither was she. Nor was anyone else in the joint. In fact, one of the reasons that Shane McMahon's insane bump got such a reaction, at least from us, was that everyone had their eyes glued to the screen at the time.

WWF main events have become this surreal experience where the two guys in the ring, invariably two of the most talented folks in the business, weave their tale without the need of actual wrestling moves. Hey, we've been engrossed by half-hour brawls in pay-per-view main events this year.

Fine, King of the Ring wasn't the greatest show of all time. And fine, maybe I expected a little more. But as far as the so-called five pay-per-view streak of great WWF pay-per-views being over, I say hosh posh. Backlash wasn't that good.

I'm not saying it was great, or that you enjoyed yourself -- I'm not telepathic. I'm saying I had fun watching it. I wasn't bored and I didn't feel like I was wasting my time. That's something. It's not fair for people to assume that no one liked it.

If you need any more proof that King of the Ring was at least good to someone, go read John Powell's review of the show. I don't think I know of a harsher critic, and he surprised me on this one.

Now let's see how your predictions fared. Here's the mailbag.

No winners this year, unfortunately. Better luck with the Royal Rumble.

Honourable mention does go to jonatham, from He writes:
"Hi Eric, Given the two storylines both Angle and Jericho are having with Triple H right now, I think Jericho is actually more in line to win this thing. His grudge is more intense, while they are now just sowing the seeds for 3H/Angle.

So here's how I think it will play out: Angle v. Jericho - Jericho, maybe with Triple H's help, and, if not, at least to Triple H's great amusement.

Crash Holly v. Bull Buchanan - Buchanan, I like Crash, a hell of lot more than Bull in fact, but they are straining credibility having him this far in the tourney as is.

Chris Benoit v. Rikishi - Rikishi returns the job, maybe with help from Val Venis.

Val Venis v. Eddie Guerrero - Chyna screws Eddie over here. Val needs the nod a little more than Eddie, and Benoit-Guerrero is a killer match they are probably going to build to eventually.

Jericho v. Buchanan - Jericho, with Bull returning the job Jericho did for him a few weeks ago.

Benoit v. Venis - Benoit, maybe with help from Rikishi, though I would rather that he did it himself.

Benoit v. Jericho - Benoit returns the jobs that Jericho has done for him, sending Jericho to the next level, and putting Benoit right on the cusp. It's an interesting tourney, about ten times more interesting than the main, which, I think, is guaranteed to suck."

Good job calling the Venis-Guerrero match.

Michael Naumko, from, writes:
"Hi Eric. I just wanted to point one thing out to you. In your tournament predictions, you said that Angle would be 'all tired' by the third match. I would just like to point out one thing, Angle IS an Olympic level amateur wrestler/athlete. That means he wrestles six minute amateur matches. Amateur matches are a lot more demanding than a pro match. It is go for six minutes straight; no teasing the crowd while catching your breath, no rest holds and the physical action is real and more demanding. I wrestle both for an indy fed, and for a high school team (pro and amateur respectively) and amateur matches are by far more demanding. Angle will have no problems with stamina. Just thought I'd point it out."

I wasn't aware that Kurt Angle was still training for the Olympics. I was under the impression that he wrestled in 1996, four years ago. I also wasn't aware that pro wrestling is so easy to do at such lengths of time.

That's it for this week. Thanks, everyone for reading. Thanks for writing. Have a great week!

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