SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, April 6, 2001

Reflections on a great Wrestlemania

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Wrestlemania has come and gone. The Stone Cold era is finally over. WCW is no more, but at the same time, under the guidance of Shane McMahon, it's going to be alive and kicking. Paul Heyman has settled as what seems to be a permanent replacement for Jerry Lawler. TLC II has passed without casualty. New faces have been inducted into the WWF. Triple H and Steve Austin are buddies. The Rock is suspended. With so much going on, where do I start?

Wrestlemania was a great show. I don't like to call shows the best of all-time, because to do that I'd have to have a really objective way of analyzing them. Without a doubt, though, Wrestlemania was a fun card. Going into the Wrestlemania weekend, folks seemed to think -- with reason -- that this particular episode of the yearly wrestling phenomenon has actually been underhyped. In truth, that may have been part of the secret of its success. We all went in expecting a big extravaganza, but we didn't know exactly in what form. What we did get is a great assortment of superb matches, with the filler taking up minimum possible time.

Personal highlights include the following, in no particular order. First and foremost, I thought the finish to The Rock/Stone Cold match was breathtaking. I'm not evaluating Steve Austin's heel turn here, except how it was executed in that match, which I thought was extremely well done. At first, it was subtle, with Austin showing his mean streak -- a streak he showed fairly consistently as a face anyway. Slowly, Austin grew increasingly agitated with Rocky until finally Vince McMahon came out and sealed the deal. I personally didn't like that McMahon was standing in the ring the entire time -- that just struck me as odd. Still, the psychology involved, the tremendous effort on the part of both men, the energy of the crowd, and the excitement of all those near-falls made this one of the most memorable matches ever for this fan.

In addition, TLC II was excellent. I'm not sure I preferred it to its predecessor, simply because some of the spots seemed overly contrived, but the spots were marvelous nonetheless. Edge's spear of Jeff Hardy from many feet in the air was magnificent, even if the way Jeff got there was less so. Also, having Edge and Christian win the titles again really surprised me, and I do love surprises. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle put on an excellent match, and really got the crowd into their amateurish (I mean that in a good way!) sequences. I enjoyed Undertaker/Triple H more than I thought I would, and the same can be said for several other matches.

In retrospect, though, I wish I hadn't watched Heat, because through five hours of wrestling programming, I really didn't need to see all of those promos -- showed on Heat and then again later between matches on the pay-per-view itself -- twice. In all other respects, though, I appreciated the extra length of the show.

At some points, I found Paul Heyman's announcing incredibly irritating and missed Lawler on colour. That's not because Heyman yelled a lot, though, but because every time he started to talk he always had a lot to say, and never took a break to allow Jim Ross to talk. So whereas Ross and Lawler would shoot their commentary back and forth, Heyman and Ross kind of just did their own thing for a few minutes, then passed the floor to the other. Still, Heyman does know how to get a point across and isn't afraid to take Ross to task.

Stone Cold's turn, though not unexpected, was well done in my opinion. Well, at least as far as Wrestlemania goes. His explanation on Raw -- "I don't need a damn explanation" -- obviously wasn't much of an explanation. I have a theory that the WWF might not bother explaining his heel turn until they get out of Texas, where it will probably go over better. For now, he's speaking through action and association. Austin may ultimately make as good or better a heel than he does a face. That may sound strange, since he was one of the most over faces ever, but his feud with Vince McMahon was more about their chemistry than Austin as a face or McMahon as a heel. Austin as a heel, in general, against no particular opponent, is just as good in my books. I'm still waiting for a better explanation, though.

I'm glad that no one was hurt badly in TLC II, and I'm glad they got the following night off, but to me it didn't make sense that neither The Rock nor Steve Austin got RAW off. I understand why, of course, but it didn't make any sense. When I was watching the main event at Wrestlemania, I almost thought that Austin was setting up an injury angle by beating down The Rock so furiously. To see Rock ready to compete in a cage match the following night, while perhaps the best thing to do business-wise, didn't click for me.

I'm also happy that the WWF hasn't rushed into anything where WCW is concerned. Building the promotion back up on its own two feet, with the help of the WWF's superior branding and production capabilities, is the right way to go in my mind. While the mark in me wants to see some real interpromotional competition, I realize that it will be that much sweeter if WCW is a more functional entity again. Also, it's nice that the WWF hasn't hotshotted to get WCW stars on WWF television just yet.

All in all, it seems as though things are settling down nicely after a few weeks of very rocky terrain. I remain hopeful that Jerry Lawler, as well as most of the rosters of the former WCW and former ECW, all find gainful employment, perhaps in the new WCW. Other than that, it would seem as though Vince McMahon's purchase of WCW, given that the WWF put on one of its finest pay-per-views in a long time right in the midst of all that excitement and distraction, may not after all signal the end of the world as we know it.

More coverage of the WrestleMania X-XSeven

Here's the mailbag. writes:
"Maybe you can file these in your site's 'Wrestling things that make you go 'hmmm':

In a no DQ match (like say, Rock vs. Austin at WM X-7), how come a guy has to break a submission hold when the other guy makes it to the ropes? What if he doesn't break it? He's not going to get DQ'd. You're allowed to 'tap out' in a no DQ match aren't you?

My other question is this:

How come when a ref gets knocked out on RAW another one from the back always comes in to make the count for him, but when one gets knocked out at Wrestlemania he can lie there for 20 minutes, several pinfalls will be missed and not another striped sole will venture anywhere near the ring?"

I've got two answers for each of your questions. The first, the real answer, you probably don't need much help figuring out. The second, the explained, justifiable kayfabe answer, I'm just guessing. After all, nobody really knows.

The real reason that refs get replaced extremely quickly on RAW but less so on a pay-per-view, I think, is that there is much more time on a pay-per-view to make your point, to tell your story via the match. RAW features a lot of matches under three or four minutes, so bringing out a new ref quickly is the only way to actually end the match short of having the ref wake up immediately, which wouldn't sell the blow. On a pay-per-view, meanwhile, usually only one ref will ever set foot in the ring for an individual match -- when another does, it's usually a wrestler or a McMahon in a striped shirt.

The only possible kayfabe explanation I can think of is that the "rule" is that only one referee can call a match, and that the rules are more heavily enforced on pay-per-views, which are sort of more "formal" than RAWs, where rules are bent.

As for your question about the ropes, I was just thinking that myself while watching Wrestlemania this weekend. If you think about it, everything that's normally illegal in a no-DQ match is allowed, but the ref tries to stop pretty much everything anyway. I think no-DQ just means you can't be disqualified, but not that the ref doesn't try to maintain order. After all, you might ask yourself why Stone Cold bothered to wrestle, if it was no-DQ -- why didn't he just show up to the ring with a chair? Well, because no-DQ doesn't imply hardcore.

Perhaps not entirely satisfactory answers, but the best I can do. Maybe a column organizing all this kayfabe stuff sometime in the future would do some good.

Basaraba, from, writes:
"Vince McMahon doesn't know what to do with the talent he's got now, with all the tag matches and three- and four-ways he throws at us. What's he going to do with all the better talent he just acquired?"

Nothing. If he doesn't use them in WCW, I don't suspect he'll import a whole lot. I think the WWF talent problem was exemplified at last year's Wrestlemania, where almost no match featured fewer than three people, and many had six or more. This year's was more toned down, which I guess means less workers get their big WM bonus, but it was certainly better for the fans. Surely McMahon knows he can't hire any more guys without making some cuts or not using everyone. I think he does.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in. See you next week!

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