Ice Palace – Tampa, FL – TV Rating – 4.2
Six days away from the King of the Ring pay-per-view so naturally the opening pre-show video focuses on World Champion Steve Austin…and his battles with Spike Dudley last week. Jim Ross and Paul Heyman welcome us to the show to remind us that we’re less than a week away from KotR so there are quarter-final matches from the KotR tournament tonight. Also, we have the main event of The Dudley’s challenging the Chris’ for the World Tag Team Titles tonight. But what’s that… Dudley’s music? Are we getting that match first? No, we are not. Spike Dudley and his girlfriend Molly Holly make their way to the ring.
Spike gets the microphone and says that he would have been content with his shot at Austin and the World Title on Smackdown but for Austin going after Molly with a chair. So he’s going to do something he thought he’d never do…call out Austin for a face-to-face. After a dramatic pause, Austin does indeed answer the challenge. Austin says he’s not about to let a “two-dollar punk with a five-cent haircut” challenge him to a match but Spike retorts that he just has. Even Austin has to chuckle at that one. Austin gives Spike some credit for calling him out when no one else in the back would do it but he’s still not getting a title shot and what is more Molly is still a bimbo. Spike demands he retracts that statement as Molly tries to hold Spike back. Molly then takes matters into her own hands and slaps Austin! Austin thinks about this and seems to be amused and says that whilst Spike still isn’t getting a title shot he has got his respect. He offers a handshake and despite the fans shouting it’s a trap, Spike does accept and it passes without incident. Austin then offers Molly a handshake but as she moves in this proves to be a trap as Austin hits her with the Stunner! Austin departs, Spike tends to his girlfriend whilst shooting Austin a dirty look.
After the break we see that Austin has been walking around backstage and he runs into D-Von and Bubba but the meeting passes without incident. We then seen Molly being checked up by a trainer when the Dudley’s walk in. Bubba tells Spike he’s proud of him for stepping up to Austin but thinks there’s something wrong when Spike has been here for no time at all and has had a World Title singles match and they haven’t. Spike agrees that there’s something wrong…and it’s that his brothers don’t care about him or Molly. D’Von asks what Spike is going to do about it and when he doesn’t reply they walk away. Spike, however, says that he is going to do something about it.
Kurt Angle Vs Jeff Hardy – King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match
We know the brackets, with the semi-finals (and final) taking place at the PPV. The winner of this one will meet either The Big Show or Christian in the next round. Angle is looking to pull triple-duty at the PPV (he also has a streetfight lined up with Shane McMahon). Jeff’s Light Heavyweight Title is obviously on the line in this one. Of course, this is one of those matches that sounds great on paper but then you realise this is WWE Raw in 2001 and is the opener to boot which means it’s not going five minutes. Naturally, though the two are talented enough to make even a three-minute match a solid enough match. Angle wins with the Ankle-Lock.
We join Debra and Stone Cold backstage as our champion tells us that he needs someone he can talk to. Someone who isn’t his wife and will understand him. Debra says that she understands him but Austin isn’t so sure, saying she couldn’t possibly know about being World Champion. Debra reminds him she was Women’s Champion and Austin speaks for us all when he, quite literally, laughs out loud.
After a break William Regal is with Tajri, putting over his efforts in his “debut” match last week. Austin comes in and Regal is glad he has as Spike Dudley was in earlier requesting a match. Regal assures Austin that it’s not a title defence, but instead he’s adding Spike to the Chris’ and Austin to the Dudley’s and making the main event a six man now. (Incidentally, although it is cut from the Network version, at the top of the show the graphic for the six man match we didn’t know about was briefly shown instead of the tag team title graphic). Austin reluctantly agrees but then says he needs someone to confide in. Regal assumes it will be him, but Austin wants to talk with Tajiri.
Next is a promo for the upcoming Tough Enough series, which was an interesting enough show although not for the reasons intended. Back in the arena, Michael Cole has Tazz, who is a trainer on the show, but before they can say too much Hardcore Holly interrupts and says that Tazz might have been “tough enough” once upon a time but now he’s just a commentator. Tazz suggests Hardcore might be better off worrying about Molly then they trade insults before agreeing to a match.
At WWE New York a young lad is playing one of those “crane” games and because they are fixed he’s no chance. Kane has a go and can’t win either. So he smashes the glass panel and presents the kid with a dozen or so prizes.
Back in the arena, JR and Heyman mention that Taker is not here tonight as he’s looking after his wife. Naturally, this leads to a re-cap of the stalker business but as Hardcore Holly makes his way to the ring another new video cut in the stalker is apparently in Taker’s barn/garage. Sara almost spots him as Taker sends her in for a saw but as Taker changes his mind she walks off. The stalker’s voice fills the airwaves as he says that the time has come to reveal himself. As in who he is. Not as in talking the stalking even further.
Hardcore Holly Vs Tazz
This is a pure “have an excuse to plug Tough Enough” match that to be honest, we could all have done without. Presumably, this is some form of “insider” rib given Tazz thinks he’s a tough guy (and will be portraying one on TE) and Holly isn’t averse to kicking around rookies when the mood takes him. It’s 90 seconds or so and Tazz wins with a Tazzmission/body scissors combo.
Tajiri and Stone Cold are having their chat backstage although in reality it’s Austin doing all the talking and Tajiri occasionally bowing. Austin says he would never let a woman ruin his life like Vince is letting ruin his. Austin asks for a solution and Tajiri gives on (in Japanese) which seems to please Austin as he calls him a wise man and thanks him for letting him take a weight off his mind.
Elsewhere, Edge and Christian are having another tiff, and Edge apologises for shoving Christian down last week after their loss on Smackdown. Edge then gets upset that Christian hit him with his own move (the spear) but Christian is incredulous. They muse on a possible KotR final meeting before Kurt Angle comes in and says he doesn’t want to see his two best friends at odds. Largely because he’s going to win KotR anyway. Edge and Christian don’t appreciate that.
Rhyno Vs Tajiri – King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match
Again, this clash of ECW alumni could be quite the winner on paper but this is TV and is going to go less than three minutes. As much as you can have a hard-hitting back and forth three-minute match these two have it. The finish (Tajiri leaps from the top rope only to meet with a Gore) is pretty cool too. I mean if you had taken the two or three minutes devoted to Hardcore/Tazz and given it to this absolutely no one would have been complaining.
Post-match we see Regal and Tajiri backstage and our Commissioner is berating Tajiri for his losing effort saying that he has embarrassed and besmirched the Commissioner. It’s not funny seeing Regal tell someone to “bugger off”.
The Undertaker’s music kicks off but as Jim Ross has already told us that Taker is at home tonight looking after Sara, Heyman takes delight in thinking that Taker is here and that Ross has been proved to be a phoney. Of course, when we see a masked man dressed all in black riding the motorcycle down the ramp we quickly realise that this isn’t Taker and is in fact the much-discussed stalker. He unmasks himself to reveal…DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE. Who despite evilly stalking Sara gets a good babyface pop. He cuts a decent promo, with DDP telling us/Taker that the best way to make an impact is to go after the biggest dog in the yard. Taker claims not to be scared of anything but DDP’s antics have got Taker on the back foot, locking doors and windows and even staying at home with Sara instead of coming to WWE TV. He finishes by saying that he’ll be at King of the Ring, even if he needs to buy a ticket. Vince’s crack security squad finally realise there is an interloper in the ring but DDP scarpers off through the crowd. It’s a cool moment to see DDP debut on WWE TV and he’s the biggest WCW name yet that has appeared since the buy-out. The promo here slightly loses steam (and goes a bit too long) and knowing what comes next means you can’t be too thrilled watching this now. But it is still a great moment. And as a fan of the Black Scorpion WCW stuff, I got a kick out of the angle too.
Edge Vs Perry Saturn – King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match
Even without the fact that Kurt Angle and Rhyno have already got through to the semi-finals and the fact that Edge & Christian (the latter’s QF still to come) have been teasing a tournament clash you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who believed Perry Saturn was going over here. Even Saturn, with his ongoing “head trauma”, wouldn’t believe it. So in a way, the fact that this is kept under two minutes is actually a boost for once. It’s ok action, wrapped up quickly when Edge hits the Impaler after some attempted distraction backfired on Captain Charisma.
If his wrestlers have shown that they don’t have to turn up on time over the past few months why shouldn’t Vince show up to his own show two thirds of the way in? He’s met by the Brooklyn Brawler of all people and after at least offering up an excuse for being late (Linda’s divorce attorneys have been taking up his time) he asks where he might find Steve Austin. We then see clips of Mick Foley on Live with Regis and Kathy. I think, and this is only a thought, that Foley might have a book out.
Matt Hardy Vs Albert – European Title
Because losing an Intercontinental title match against Kane means you are the number one contender for a lesser title. And hey, we can’t possibly have a show without some X-Factor representation. Albert controls the early going, Matt fights back. The two do that routine a couple of times before Albert starts choking Matt on the, erm, mat and ignores the referee’s five-count so has to be disqualified. Lita attempts to make the save so Albert targets her instead. When they start to do well, X-Pac and Justin Credible run in before Jeff even things up. Please don’t tell me that this feud will continue again.
Steve Austin is shining up his title belt when Vince finds him and starts asking him about his physical and emotional well-being. Seems like their hug last week has unnerved Vince for some reason. Austin seems nonplussed that Vince would have any issue with it. Vince says that Linda wouldn’t have listened to Austin’s petition regardless of how many names were on it (and in case you haven’t noticed, she’s not here anyway) and that Austin shouldn’t be accepting title match (i.e. last week against Spike Dudley) without Vince’s say so. Austin says he’s sick of Vince, sick of Linda and sick of the divorce talk. Vince can either have him or Linda, not both. Vince reaction is similar to mine. I.e. he hasn’t got a clue what that means.
After a break we see Vince leaving in his limo. He didn’t have a long night did he.
Elsewhere in the arena Spike Dudley is chatting with his partners in the main event, Chris’ Benoit and Jericho. Benoit make it clear that they didn’t help Spike last week because of Molly and that in fact he feels that Spike doesn’t even belong in the same ring as him. Suddenly though it’s clear they are just winding Spike up. For absolutely no reason. I mean, what did that add to anything?
Again elsewhere in the arena Edge and Rhyno are discussing how one of them will win the KotR and the two do the usual “start friendly and then argue” stuff they and Christian have been doing for a few weeks. Lo and behold Christian walks in and they continue to politely argue. At least there is some “long” term storyline building going on here, I suppose.
The Big Show Vs Christian – King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match
As Vince Russo is long gone the fact that the chances of a patient build-up being thrown out of the window just to “shock” the audience here are slim-to-none means there is precious little chance of Big Show winning. Despite the fact that for eighteen out of the last twenty shows (or so it feels like) he’s been picked as a “punishment” opponent for people who management want to teach a lesson. Again this goes all of two minutes and ends when E&C hit a Conchairto and Christian gets the pin. So that’s an “all-heel” semi-final lineup booked for KotR. Which it would have been if Show had won too.
Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho & Spike Dudley Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin & The Dudley’s
If the past month or so has taught us one thing it’s that Benoit and Jericho can actually beat Steve Austin in tag team matches/situations, even if they have no chance in singles competition. This might prove handy because a week out from KotR we are in desperate need of the Chris’ to look like (or be allowed to look like, more pertinently) serious contenders for the World Title who actually have a chance of beating Austin. Of course, he also has to be a little preoccupied with Spike Dudley and whilst there are a few funny moments in the early going they generally keep it serious. Benoit nails Austin with a trio of German suplexes, Austin puts Spike through a ringside table and Austin also gives Earl Hebner a push out of the ring. Austin tries to introduce a chair but he’s stopped by Jericho. Jericho puts Austin in the Walls of Jericho and then Benoit joins in and simultaneously puts Austin in the Crossface. For some reason, Hebner checks around three times to see if Austin is actually tapping out (even though it is clear he is) but at the same time, he doesn’t question the legality of the double submission. Still, he eventually sees Austin is tapping and calls for the bell. This was a good match with the right result in terms of making the Chris’ seem like credible threats for KotR.
This is actually quite a good episode of Raw. Even if the feeling is that the WWE simply want to get KotR out of the way so they can push the button on the Invasion stuff proper, there is a build-up to the PPV here and the challengers to Austin’s World Title look more threatening than they have done in weeks. The DDP debut is a big moment, even if twenty years later you know what it’s leading to (or what it doesn’t lead to I guess) and therefore it loses its impact. The only real issue with this show in terms of hindsight 20 years on is that a lot of what happens here becomes irrelevant as storylines move on. Still, it’s an entertaining watch.