SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, July 27, 2001

Angle derailed by Rock's return

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Stone Cold Steve Austin's heel turn at Wrestlemania left many folks scratching their heads. The end of the night's main event against The Rock was well executed, and certainly made the fans believe that Austin was a heel, but never was the turn satisfactorily explained. In that sense, it's almost good timing for The Rock to have missed a few months. Had he and Austin continued their feud -- which, thanks to Austin's antics, would certainly have taken a turn for the more vicious, the match-up would have been a waste as Austin was still building his new character.

The Rock, though, left to film his big movie, and Austin was paired with Triple H. That, actually, didn't work so well either, and Austin continued to struggle with his new heel persona, despite being the WWF champion and center of attention. Triple H's untimely injury, while unfortunate, did give Austin the opportunity to redefine himself. Austin played the role of comedic heel well, and Kurt Angle made a good match for him.

One of the big rules of main events is that face turns and heel turns should sell big money matches, not vice versa. A feud with The Rock would have gotten Austin over as a heel, for sure, but there is more money to be made getting Austin over as a heel first and then having him feud with Rock. Using Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho to do that was a good idea. Of course, the face/heel line was blurred even more when the WCW/ECW invasion entered the picture, and Austin became a face by default. This, also, would have been a poor time to feud with The Rock. Fortunately, at InVasion, Austin turned solidly heel and joined the WCW/ECW alliance, leaving him free as a heel to feud with The Rock. The timing could not be more perfect.

Actually, the timing could not have been worse.

With The Rock returning on Monday, it seems almost inevitable that he'll join team WWF and feud with Austin, even if it takes two weeks of teasing his possible alliances before that happens. Rock has been advertised heavily in SummerSlam promos, and Austin has the WWF title. Rock's WWF title. All of this means The Rock will probably return and find himself in a match with Austin at SummerSlam. Booked well, that match will probably draw a good buyrate, too. So far, so good.

The problem is, now is not the time to have The Rock feud with Austin. Now is the perfect opportunity for Kurt Angle to step up to the spotlight and take a shot at Austin and at real megastar status. I don't think Angle, who has improved steadily for months and months now, has ever been more popular than he is now. In fact, I don't think he's ever really been a face until now. After his recent performances at InVasion and on WWF television over the past few weeks, he has been positioned as the Next Big Thing.

Angle just about defeated The Dudley Boys and Booker T all by himself, only to be thwarted by Steve Austin. It was he who was poised to pin Booker T at InVasion, only to be foiled by -- you guessed it -- Stone Cold. He even faced Austin in the middle of the ring, man to man, one on one, beat him down, and forced him to flee. Kurt Angle has positioned himself as the hero of the WWF, not only by jockeying for leadership of Team WWF with Vince McMahon, but also by proving his words in the ring. The fans, consequently, have never been more behind him. He's also never had more reason to feud with Stone Cold.

Not only is this a singular opportunity for Kurt Angle, but it's a chance for the WWF to build another star the stature of Austin or Rock and secure their own future.

That's why this is the worst possible timing for the return of The Rock. As the WWF's biggest draw, and the man who Austin beat for that heavyweight title at Wrestlemania, all eyes will be on him when he makes his return on Monday. Clearly, it wouldn't do justice to him or the fans to have Rock feud with anyone but Austin. It's inevitable. It's destiny. It's wrong.

The logical choice is still to have Austin and Angle main event SummerSlam. If anything, Kurt Angle has more bones to pick with Steve Austin than does The Rock. It's not like there's nothing else for The Rock to do. He could feud with Booker T over WCW's heavyweight title, a combination that would not only generate interest but also elevate Booker T to where he belongs.

Instead, we'll probably see Austin take on The Rock at SummerSlam. Maybe Kurt Angle will make it a three-way, or we'll see a tag team match between WWF's Angle and Rock and WCW's Booker T and Austin. The WWF would be missing out if they took that route.

Kurt Angle should main event SummerSlam. He deserves it. I don't have to tell you this, but that's 'true, damn true.'

Here's the mailbag. writes:
"I just wanted to say that I completely agree with what you said about Jericho. I fell in love with the guy during WCW. He had a cult following there that seemed to get bigger and bigger as the months past. He was both funny, yet dangerous. I miss his old whiny crybaby bratty routine. WWF has watered him down and yet he is still my favourite. I would love to see him turn heel but the only way to do that nowadays is to leave the company since there are no longer heels in the WWF.

Your sad but true statement about Edge and Christian is something I hope WWF pays attention to. These guys could have really hot careers in the WWF but they need to be made more dangerous."

The WWF is treading a fine line between comedy and action. Comedy makes the hours pass by more quickly on Raw, and helps to make the WWF seem to take itself less seriously, but for some reason WWF bookers and writers seem to think that a funny wrestler can't be dangerous. Consequently, they're booked that way, and the result is what you call a 'watered down' Chris Jericho. Well, the WWF has built Kurt Angle to be both funny backstage and a wrestling machine in the ring, so I don't see why they can't do that with anyone else. It's up to them.

Robert Vollman, from, writes:
"I've been reading your columns religiously for quite a while now, and read your insight into a number of issues. I'd be interesting in hearing your insight into the following question. It is obvious that Internet users seem to have a greater appreciation for cruiserweights than your average fan. Personally, I've always found it difficult to suspend disbelief during cruiserweight-style matches, and feel that they don't have enough psychology or story-telling to appreciate them myself. Why do you suppose Internet users/writers are so big on cruiserweights, or, conversely, why doesn't the average fan appreciate cruiserweights?"

I have had that qualm myself in the past. For me personally, it really depends on the cruiserweight. Watching Jeff Hardy wrestle, if anything, makes my cringe even more than the bigger wrestlers. Dean Malenko is another example of a cruiserweight who makes his own offense seem believable, largely through psychology. Some of them, though, for example Scotty Too Hotty or Essa Rios, seem more like acrobats to me and don't do much for me.

I think the key, like any other class of wrestler, is not to categorize all of them. It would be foolish to say that 'all heavyweight wrestling matches are believable.' The Big Show vs. Hulk Hogan, for example, might not exactly fit the bill of 'believable', let alone 'good'. Equally, some cruiserweights have a good sense of psychology and others do not.

The difference is that the cruiserweights often seem to be pushed without regard to their combinations, with the idea that it's a lightheavyweight match and that's all anyone needs to know. Meanwhile, heavyweight combinations are planned down to the smallest detail, and only the people who work best together are usually paired up. If that same care were taken with cruiserweight matches, and we were shown realistic combinations, I think you might like them more. That's my opinion, at least.

That's all for this week. Thanks for writing in. Have a great weekend!

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