WE’RE JUST TEN DAYS AWAY FROM WRESTLEMANIA screams Michael Cole as we open Smackdown. To get us hyped for that show, tonight we’ve got a sit down face-to-face interview between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The lack of Debra mentions may mean that we’ve dropped/forgotten that part of the storyline. We’ve also got a mega tag team match as The Undertaker and Kane take on Triple H and the Big Show.
Providence Civic Centre, Providence RI – TV Rating 4.2
Raven vs Chris Jericho
It’s Champion Vs Champion, but only Raven’s title is on the line. The upshot of this is that Commissioner Regal has “rewarded” Jericho with this title match for pissing in his tea. Presumably in the hope that he will get smashed around in a Hardcore match less than two weeks before Mania (Regal having booked Jericho versus himself for the IC title at Mania). It works to fashion as the two quickly vacate the ring area to find themselves backsgate. And wouldn’t you know it they end up in Regal’s office. Jericho has the audacity to break a picture of the Queen Mother over Raven’s head before rubbing his opponents head in a tray of crumpets. It’s important to note that.
Regal shows up and smashes a vase of flowers over Jericho but a blinded Raven (the crumpets, you see) swings a tray and hits Regal, apparently thinking he’s Jericho and then gets the pin, over Regal, in a match Regal wasn’t in, to retain the Hardcore Title. Ok, then.
Thankfully this has at least been done for a reason. In amongst the “bloody hell’s” from Regal he’s got a reward for Raven for waffling him with a tray. He will be defending the Hardcore Title at Mania in a Triple Threat match against Kane & The Big Show! He tells Jonathan Coachman to sod off and find a janitor which amuses me no end for some reason.
Cole and Taz re-cap the Shane/Vince stuff from Raw and after a video package we are with Triple H & Steph. HHH says Shane deserved the beating he got on Raw, Steph wants Taker and Kane ripped apart tonight after what they did to her on Raw. HHH realises he has something to attend to and either side of an advert break he walks off and is seen conversing with The Big Show backstage which can’t be good for the Brothers of Destruction. Unfortunately rather than two hosses discussing tactics, from a distance the two look like they’re about to smooch.
Grandmaster Sexay, Steve Blackman & K-Kwik vs X-Factor
Albert helped X-Pac and Credible beat Blackman and Sexay on Raw so this is a chance for babyface revenge. K-Kwik is the third man but no real explanation is given. This match is really just about cementing the new heel trio as an entity. There’s worse matches on many an episode of Raw and it does it’s job in terms of giving the heels a win and marking them out as a faction to watch but watching the crowd going mild for it doesn’t help matters along.
Backstage The Undertaker is walking down a corridor so either he’s lost or there is trouble coming. It’s the latter as Triple H jumps him and smashes him into what looks like a fuse box. After an ad break we get a recap of that attack but Taker has recovered and happens to find Triple H in a corridor. It’s another set up though as HHH retreats to a dressing room only for Taker to realise Steph (he’s still under that restraining order of course) and a group of Rhode Island’s finest are waiting for him. Taker submits to being handcuffed again but Steph says she isn’t sure if she wants to press charges and asks the police to merely hold Taker until she decides. Because that’s how it works.
Coach is back with Regal and he asks what will happen if Taker can’t wrestle tonight. Regal says that it will be Kane against HHH and Show in a handicap match. We then see Jim Ross, moderator of tonight’s face to face, in separate clips as Stone Cold and The Rock ask him about the format of the interview.
Unfortunately it seems as if they are still pushing the Debra angle when we get the face-to-face. So we have to go through the “I don’t want your wife to be my manager” / “well I don’t want my wife to be your manager” nonsense before getting down to the good stuff. Both men talk about what it means to be in the main event of WrestleMania AND to be the World Champion but more importantly about what it means to both men to beat the other on the biggest stage of them all. They tread the fine line between animosity and respect and whilst it does tread a bit of the same ground as we go along it is stirring stuff. You can believe from both men’s words and demeanour that their match at WrestleMania is the most important thing in the world. And that’s just how it should be.
After a quick clip of Aerosmith visiting WWE New York we finally get a match after (in TV time at least) half an hour of talk.
Triple H & The Big Show vs Kane
‘Taker is watching this one backstage, still flanked by the police. Show meets Kane at ringside but is soon tossed aside and Kane goes into the ring to take it to Helmsley. It’s a plodding brawl if we’re being totally honest although there is a cool spot when Kane almost slams Show. Although it seemed as if this wasn’t going to be a “handicap match but tag in” match HHH and Show then revert to tagging in (although most of the time they don’t actually tag). It looks as if Kane will get a double chokeslam but a nut shot from HHH sorts that out and then Show hits a chokeslam for the 1-2-3.
Of course that’s not the end of it. The heels carry on the attack before the onlooking Taker has finally had enough and, still in cuffs, makes a run-in. He’s fighting through the cops as he comes out into the arena but despite his efforts he’s fighting a losing battle when he tries to take on Show and HHH. Then comes the plot twist…these aren’t real cops at all, just friends of HHH who he enlisted after sending the real police away. So the fake cops are actually “fake cops”. Whatever next? To end things, Taker gets bust open with a sledgehammer shot as the fans chant “asshole” towards Tripper. H takes the mic to tell Taker and the world that Deadman Inc is about to go belly up.
Michael Cole and Tazz have some additions to the WrestleMania card to tell us about. First up is a Gimmick/Legends Battle Royale. It will include, amongst others, The Iron Sheik, The Bushwhackers, Kamala and “Tazz’s favourite” Brother Love. More excitingly they also announce that the World Tag Team Titles will be on the line in a TLC match between The Dudley’s, The Hardy’s and Edge & Christian. It’s a rematch from Summerslam 2000, of course. Kevin Kelly interviews Edge & Christian about the announcement and they basically say they won at Summerslam so they will win at Mania.
Steve Austin is backstage driving a forklift truck. Maybe that’s how he lets off steam.
The Dudley Boyz & Spike vs Edge, Christian & Rhyno
This was of course partly set up on Raw when Rhyno and Spike Dudley interfered in two separate Tag Team Title switches. With four of the men just announced as meeting in the TLC 2 match at Mania, I smell yet another non-finish here. This is a shame as for five minutes or so this is a fast-paced bump-fest that serves as a good introduction to the new guys as well as giving glimpses of what is to come at the PPV. It carries on after the DQ (Edge whacks Bubba with a steel chair if you’re interested) and Spike ends up being Gored through a table.
Vince McMahon is getting a coffee backstage when he’s approached by Steve Austin, who once again warns Vinnie that if anything happens to Debra during this evening’s main event he will hold Rock AND Vince personally responsible.
After a break we get the Right To Censor making their way out to ringside. They shove Michael Cole away to sit next to Tazz whilst Ivory is in the ring basically rerunning the promo she cut on Monday against Chyna. Stevie Richards then grabs the mic and targets Tazz but all this gets him is a Tazzmission. Buchannan and Goodfather attack but this only brings out the Acolytes who send the RTC scurrying away. Thankfully it took me longer to write this paragraph than it did for this all to pan out.
Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit are backstage. On-screen they still don’t have a match for Mania, with only 10 days left. Angle says it was magical on Raw when they both had the Rock in their submission holds and that they can recreate that tonight as snap Rock in half. Steve Austin is watching the main event from backstage with a beer (or ten), whilst Michael Cole says that Tazz had to be helped to the back after the RTC attack. Cole doesn’t have to work alone though because Vince McMahon makes his way out to “add some colour” to the main event on commentary.
The Rock vs Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit
Another handicap match where you have to tag in. At least they are consistent with this (from this small Retro Review sample of course). The two heels are in control in the early going but there’s never really the feeling that The Rock is in too much trouble. Rock is able to gain control outside of the ring and then decides to throw Benoit into Vince, who looks far from pleased as a result. Back in the ring the back and forth continues. When Rock plants Benoit with a spinebuster it could be over but Angle makes the save, given Benoit the opportunity to lock on the Crossface. Rock tries to struggle to the ropes but it’s Angle who saves him when he puts Rock’s foot on the ropes. The ref orders the break and as Benoit and Angle argue Rock decks the Canadian then hits the Rock Bottom on Angle for the 1-2-3.
Rock can’t celebrate for too long as Benoit attacks him but it’s soon turned around as Rock puts on the Sharpshooter. Angle decides not to help his “tag team partner” and instead walks off as a posse of referees try to get Rock to break the hold. Eventually Vince comes in and demands Rock breaks the hold. Vince punches Earl Hebner, presumably because he can, and the tastes a Rock Bottom. This bring Kurt back in and he slaps on the Anklelock. Debra tries to get Kurt to break this but he doesn’t. We see Austin get up from his backstage seat as Cole surmises he must be on his way to help the Rock. He seems in no hurry though and it turns out he only got up to grab another beer. As Rock screams in pain due to the Anklelock Austin merely smiles backstage as the show ends.
For a show where, on paper, so much happens this was a mildly disappointing edition of Smackdown. Match quality was low, with almost every match only existing as a means to an end for something else. (And ironically the one match that didn’t really, the six-man tag with X-Factor, was just plain boring). Raven pins William Regal to retain his Hardcore Title in a match that Regal isn’t even in, the first handicap match of the evening exists only so The Undertaker can get his ass kicked after it, the second six-man was going to a non-finish from the moment the bell rang and an overbooked main event tries to bring together a number of storylines strands but in the end is something of a mess.
On the plus side, once the Debra talk is out of the way, the face-to-face between Austin and Rock is sterling stuff and momentarily makes you forget about the things in this rivalry that the WWE aren’t doing right. Still, there’s a pretty famous episode of Raw coming up on the horizon…