The year was 2001.  This future teacher was 2+ months away from graduating high school, and for some reason, he has no earthly recollection of any of the events from this Smackdown.  Should be a good time.

Opening Recap

Highlight:  Realizing I have no earthly recollection of this show.  I don’t remember the “Two Man Power Trip”, their feud with the Hardy’s, and I certainlyI don’t remember Linda demanding a divorce from Vince.  All of this is new to me.  Looking back, this is the time of my life when I had finally figured out how to talk to girls, so perhaps that’s why this time in wrestling is so hazy.

So What:  This is obviously back when top talents elevated younger talents on a regular basis.  Hint hint, WWE.

Opening Promo

Following Wrestlemania 17, where Austin turns heel, he and Triple H open the show.

Highlight:  Chuckling as Trips pokes fun at the Internet, even way back then.

Lowlight:  Attitude Era or not, promoting male on female violence is never OK in my book.

So What:  To paraphrase the Joker, “We’re going to do this dance forever, Triple H.”  10, 15, 20 years from now, he’ll still be poking fun at the Internet wrestling fan, and we’ll still be giggling along, even as we post our complaints on. . . well, whatever the Internet becomes in 10, 15 or 20 years.

Spike Dudley vs. Albert

Highlight:  Entertaining match all around, but at one point Albert lifts poor Spike up by his belt and just tosses him back down.  Looked like a Wedgie-Bomb.

Lowlight:  I’m sick to death of the double-foot stomp, even though Spike’s 125 pound frame justifies it as an offensive move.

So What:  We need the Dudley’s back in a WWE ring.  The crowd will still go nuts for tables, if not the “Whazzuppppp”

 So What #2 : I originally wrote this a week or two ago, but with all the Mighty Mouse talk, is Adrian Neville going to wind up as a more muscular, more talented Lil' Spike?

Promos Promos Promos

Highlight:  Rhyno nearly killing Crash Holly by spearing him into the sliding metal doors.

Lowlight:  Oh, the acting. . .The terrible acting!

So What:  Vince McMahon, you bring the XFL back right this second!

Chyna (c) vs. Ivory for the Women’s Championship

Highlight:  Watching a time when you had an incredibly dominant women’s champion and a deep division of challengers.

Lowlight:  That Right to Censor music was just awful.

So What:  Charlotte might not be the ninth wonder of the world, but she’s going to be this kind of dominant champion when she makes it to WWE.  This I promise you.

Edge, Christian, Kurt Angle and William Regal vs. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho

Highlight:  Just read the competitors names again.  That’s the highlight.

Lowlight:  Over far too quickly.

So What: I hope we’ll look back in 15 years and say  “That Rollins, Balor and Ziggler vs. Owens and Zayn match was pretty phenomenal” in the same way people today feel about the Ruthless Aggression era.

Hardcore Holly vs. Rhyno

Highlight:  Bob Holly, consummate professional, makes everything look good.

Lowlight / So What:  Cringing as I realize how accurate the Bull Dempsey (aka Goon McGoof) / Rhyno comparisons are.

Big Show and Kai En Tai vs. Brothers of Destruction

Highlight:  Storytelling at its best.  From Big Show trying to find partners all night to the hilarious freak out Taka and Funaki have when they realize who their opponents are to ‘Taker trying to teach his little brother how to do The Last Ride properly.   It wasn’t a great match and it didn’t have to be.

Lowlight:  Realizing I’m enjoying this Smackdown from 13 years ago far more than any RAW I’ve seen in 2014.

So What:  I might just live in WWE Network land now.

Test vs. Val Venis

Highlight:  Seeing Right to Censor beat each other up after the match.  Always good to see a faction disband (I assume they did).

Lowlight:  Honestly, not much.  This is how good these cards were - even the toss-in matches were decent or better.

So What:  Today’s WWE is too timid to respond to mainstream issues like they did with RTC.  If the 2001 Vince had today’s attitude, we’d see Godfather, Venis and Bull Buchanan as the “New Day”.

Triple H (c) vs. Jeff Hardy for the IC title

Highlight:  This is what you want from a wrestling TV show main event.  Trips is on the top of his game here and Hardy isn’t far behind.  Good match, surprise ending (should have seen it coming with all the “Matt Hardy is home resting” hints), title change.  What more can you ask for?

Lowlight:  Putting on my snarky logic hat, Trips should have been DQ’ed a couple times for abusing the referee.  Come on Tim White, you hung out with Andre, stand up for yourself!

So What:  When was the last time you had a main event guy hold the “mid-card” title?  Perhaps its hindsight talking, but Triple H seemed to be one of the BIG heels in the company and he made the IC title bigger for it.  This is why we need a Ziggler / Rollins program for the belt.

Match of the Night

:  A lot to choose from here.  I’d go with the big handicap match of wrestling excellence, but it was too short.  Honestly, my favorite was Big Show and Kai En Tai vs. Kane / Taker.  A bit comedic, but wholly entertaining.

Discussion Questions:

What were you doing in 2001?
When does the Attitude Era end and the Ruthless Aggression Era begin?
What do you think the name of our current era in WWE will be called?  The PG Era?  The Cena Era?

Brock Lesnar is most likely not going to wrestle again until January’s Royal Rumble. In fact, from all reports, he and his advocate Paul Heyman might not even appear on WWE programming until around the holiday season.  Now, depending on who you ask and what time you ask them, this is viewed as both a positive and a negative for the company.  I can see both sides of the argument here, but I lean more towards the Barrett side (Bad News, get it?), though it’s not for the same reason everyone else does.

Truth be told, I don’t think Brock Lesnar is as big of a sales pitch as many other people do.  I don’t think people are tuning into RAW or watching PPV’s to see Lesnar compete.  Right now there are only two reasons people are really watching WWE these days.

Dean Ambrose

But that’s another column.

So it’s not the Heyman promos, as good as they are, or the Lesnar vignettes, as unintentionally funny as they can be, that I’m going to miss.  It’s this. . .

Shelton Benjamin lets Triple H know he was THIS close from defeating him.

On a random Monday Night RAW back in the early 2000’s, we saw Triple H, who was almost always the champion back then, take on Shelton Benjamin.  To the best of my knowledge, there was no major build-up to the match at all.  Just a random appearance by the champion against a possibly worthy challenger.  And as you can see by the image, at one point, Shelton was “this close” from defeating the champion.

This moment sticks out so clearly in my mind because, at the time, I was convinced that this was going to be the springboard that propelled Benjamin to WWE superstardom.  Here he is, a midcarder at best, giving the World Champion a run for his money.  It was an amazing feeling, although Shelton never did seem to do anything with it except bleach his hair and call his Mamma.

Let’s use a better example.

Undertaker, in his Big Evil persona, raises the hand of Jeff Hardy after a hard-fought match.

Undisputed champion and biggest dog in the yard, The Undertaker took on Jeff Hardy in a ladder match.  As one would have expected back in the day, ‘Taker was dominant for much of the bout, but Hardy’s “never say die” spirit brought him closer to the title than anyone imagined possible.  At the end of the match, Hardy had earned the respect of the Deadman, and in this instance, that match did propel him to greater heights than he had achieved before.

This is what the World Champion is supposed to do.  It’s not just about defending the title on PPV against your storyline opponent.  The champion can elevate lower level talents just by being in the ring with them.  That was what the territory era was all about.  When Ric Flair came to town, you were almost positive that he wasn’t going to lose his Big Gold Belt to your local hero.  But over the course of the match, you started to believe it was possible, and by the time the match ended, said local hero was an even huger star in your eyes.

Flair vs. Road Warrior Hawk.  This match, from 1988’s Bunkhouse Stampede, is paused on my television as we speak.  I can’t wait to finish it.  Is Hawk going to win the title?  Of course not. Does he look like a future World Champion as he throws the Nature Boy around the ring?  Hell yes, he does!

When I started hearing that Brock Lesnar was going to be the “part time champion”, I had no major issues with it, since his absence does allow other stars to develop with the extra screen time.  However, I didn’t want it to just be this PPV business.  Once every 6-8 weeks or so (likely on a month when there’s a “mid-major” event like this upcoming Hell in a Cell), the champ would appear on a RAW (or, dare I even dream, an NXT) and take on a rising star.  Here’s how I saw it going.

A random RAW at a random time.  Sheamus has just bested Damien Mizdow in a competitive match, since as we all know, Sandow is amazing.  

As Sheamus is celebrating, we hear the dulcet tones of…

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman,” as Heyman walks onto the entrance ramp, “and I am the advocate for BROCKKKK LESSNARRRRR!  My client has authorized me to inform you, Mr. Sheamus, that he has been relatively impressed by your performance these last few weeks as United States Champion.  So much so, in fact, that my client feels you are a worthy opponent. . . Worthy of being conquered.

See you next week.”

That’s all we would need.  That 60 seconds sets up a “special appearance” by the World Heavyweight Champion against one who is deemed to be a worthy opponent.  That next week, Sheamus doesn’t win, of course, but for just that fraction of a second, you believe it possible.  Paul Heyman does his Oscar-worthy performance as usual, living and dying by every 2 count, nearly going apoplectic when Brock just barely dodges a Brogue kick.  At the end of the match, as Brock walks away with his title over his shoulder, just the slightest look back from him, just a single nod from Heyman, and suddenly Sheamus is back to being considered a main event player in the WWE.

Now stretch that over the course of 9 months to a year and replace Sheamus’ name with guys like Cesaro, Ziggler, Harper, Wyatt and the like, and suddenly that group of guys who, despite the IWC’s screaming, just haven’t seemed to make the leap into the top tier are now poised to main event PPV’s for the next 5-10 years.  All of that can happen when you have a fighting champion, even if those fights only happen every so often.

So I hope the rumors and reports I’ve been seeing are wrong about Lesnar, especially if the reason behind his absence is a serious heart issue.  He doesn’t need to be back in 2014 so we can see another Brock / Cena debacle.  He needs to be back so he can do his job as champion and help make the next generation of main eventers.

Oh, alright. . . He can suplex Cena out of his sneakers while he’s at it, too.
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