March 12th – 18th: This Week in Wrestling History

by Neil

Follow me on Twitter: @shootwrestling

Dean Malenko vs. Chris Jericho (c) for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship – Uncensored ’98

Back in 1997/1998 WCW was an exciting place to be. The product was conclusively winning the ‘Monday Night War’ between WCW Nitro and WWF Monday Night Raw. It really is unthinkable in this day and age in 2012 that another wrestling product could get anywhere close to knocking WWE off of the mountain but back then WCW was “where the big boys played” and was pulling in the ratings week after week. WCWs dominance, of course, would not last. As they tempted big stars away from WWF such as Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Lex Luger and Bret Hart, the smaller, younger talent were pushed down the card and given little to no opportunities to grow within the walls of its organisation.

The WCW Cruiserweight division was arguably producing more classic matches than WWF at this time. Young, talented wrestlers brought pure wrestling and high flying to a mainstream American and global audience¬† in an exciting, refreshing division. Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko were involved in an entertaining rivalry as two of the divisions stand-out stars. What Dean Malenko lacked in charisma, he possessed in pure wrestling ability. An incredibly talented, professional performer – the “Man of a Thousand Holds” helped to provide the backbone of the WCW product at this time. This particular show, Uncensored on March 15th 1998 at the Mobile Civic Center in Alabama, predictably had matches such as Lex Luger vs. Scott Steiner, Sting vs. Scott Hall and a main event of Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan higher on the card. As the “dinosaurs” drew the money and occupied the spotlight, Malenko and Jericho provided the strong wrestling match.

“Lionheart” Chris Jericho, the petulant villain, was another performer looking for his break in WCW. The Cruiserweight Champion succeeded at getting under the skin of Malenko, declaring himself to be the “Man of a Thousand and Four Holds” – a hilarious promo from their feud together and a personal favourite of mine.

Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero (c) for the WWE Championship – Wrestlemania XX

On Sunday March 14th 2004 Eddie Guerrero was enjoying his time on top of the pile. Securing his first WWE Championship the previous month when he defeated Brock Lesnar at No Way Out, Eddie then entered into a feud with Kurt Angle in the build-up to Wrestlemania.

Originally jumping ship from WCW to the WWE with close friend Chris Benoit, the two men who many saw as underused and underappreciated in WCW occupied the main events at Madison Square Garden as Chris Benoit battled for the World Heavyweight Championship in a triple threat match with Triple H and Shawn Michaels.

In a feud that included references to Eddies legitimate issues with drugs and alcohol the Olympian only helped to further establish Guerrero as one of the companys top faces, despite playing the part of a heel throughout the majority of his career. These two men are often referred to as two of the very best in-ring performers of their time and at Wrestlemania 20 they arguably stole the show with an astounding, technically sound wrestling match.

In just a few short hours at TNA Victory Road Kurt Angle will take on Jeff Hardy and if their previous matches, such as their encounter at Victory Road 2010, are anything to go by then it should be a classic. Until then get a taste of exactly how good Kurt Angle can be when he’s on his top of his game. You will struggle to find many better examples of pure class than this one.

March 5th – 11th: This Week in Wrestling History (2)

“If You Smell…”

Rocks Road to Wrestlemania in Years Gone By (Part Two)

by Neil

Follow me on Twitter: @shootwrestling

That’s right folks. I promised a double header this week and thats exactly what we have. I decided that for this particular “Week in Wrestling History” it may be a good idea to take a look at The Rock and the build-up surrounding some of his previous Wrestlemania matches. In my first installment this week I took a look at the build-up for his match with Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIX as well as his match at Wrestlemania XX teaming with Mick Foley to face Evolution. I couldn’t, however, finish without focusing on one Rock feud that carries with it probably the most significance going into this years Wrestlemania.

This year on April 1st The Rock takes on Cena in what is being called one of the very biggest matches of all time. It’s easy to see why the WWE would bill it as such considering the huge draw this creates, having two of the biggest names in wrestling collide. The Rock is arguably the biggest name ever in wrestling. His roots as a third generation star, following in the footsteps of his grandfather ‘High Chief’ Peter Maivia and his father Rocky Johnson were then eclipsed by success in Hollywood and on the big screen. The Rock has achieved a greater level of success in Hollywood than probably any other wrestler. However if The Great One is the biggest name in wrestling then who, you may ask, could have laid claim to that title before him?

Wrestlemania X8

The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan

In 2002 the WWE saw one of its most anticipated returns in history. The legendary Hulk Hogan returned to the ring after WCW, the company Hogan originally left the old WWF for in 1993, was dissolved following a buy-out by chairman Vince McMahon. In February’s No Way Out pay-per-view fans were treated to a sight they perhaps thought they would never see again as Hogan made his grand re-appearance – and he didn’t come alone.

Once the biggest babyfaces in professional wrestling history, the Hulkster ran wild, urging children to take their vitamins and drink their milk and dominating the WWF throughout the late eighties and early nineties. Hulk Hogan would become a rare household name, something not usually associated with wrestling. After originally retaining the same character in WCW, there came a time for a change. There came a time for a Hogan heel turn. Joining forces with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, forming the New World Order, Hogan enjoyed more success in WCW as that company began to beat WWF in the Monday Night War of ratings in the late 1990’s until it was bought and consequently closed by Vince McMahon. The No Way Out event in 2002 was Hogans first appearance on WWF TV in nine years as Vince McMahon officially unveiled the individuals he said were hired to “inject a poison” into the WWF and fianlly kill the empire that he created.

Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hulk Hogan would run riot through the WWF over the next few weeks, attacking, amongst others, its two biggest babyfaces in Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. After The Texas Rattlesnake had fallen prey to the nWo, The Rock appeared on the March 7th 2002 edition of Smackdown seeking revenge of his own. By this time the match had already been made – The Rock and Hollywood Hulk Hogan would square off at Wrestlemania X8, and three weeks before this edition of Smackdown The Rock was attacked by the nWo. Following an assault on The Peoples Champ, Hogan, Hall and Nash would take control of The Rocks ambulance, locking him inside before running it down with a truck. The WWF really seemed to be trying to make Hogans heel turn as visual and as emphatic as possible. Coming out to the ring The Rock called out the group and challenged Hogan to a match there and thern, before Wrestlemania. Claiming to want nothing to do with an injured Rocky, Hogan backed down claiming to want to save the match until Wrestlemania where he would have no excuses. Accepting on his behalf, a match was made for Smackdown later that night between Scott Hall and The Rock.

A star in his own right in the WWF in the early to mid nineties under his ring name Razor Ramon, Scott Hall came to the ring backed up by Hogan and Nash to take on The Rock in the main event. The match would quickly break down into a brawl and get out of hand as the “pack of dogs” would play the numbers game and team up on an injured Rock. However the odds would be evened up as The Rock had some back-up of his own, leading to a blockbuster announcement from Vince McMahon.

A few nights later, on the March 11th 2002 edition of Monday Night Raw, fans tuned in to witness a huge main event. In just six days Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Rock, two of the biggest names ever in professional wrestling, would meet in what was being billed as the biggest match of all time – wrestlings past meeting wrestlings future, Icon vs Icon at Wrestlemania X8. In this handicap tag team match The Rock teamed with Stone Cold Steve Austin as they both were out for revenge against Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Who would get the upper hand before the big show down? Could Hogan, at his age, still hang with the likes of The Great One? Watch the build up to the Wrestlemania encounter from this week in wrestling history right here.

March 5th – March 11th: This Week in Wrestling History

“If You Smell…”

Rocks Road to Wrestlemania in Years Gone By (Part One)

by Neil

Follow me on Twitter: @shootwrestling

Almost an entire calendar year to the day the match was made. At last years Wrestlemania it was announced that in his home town of Miami, Florida The Rock would clash with John Cena in what is being billed as one of the biggest, most high-profile matches in WWE history. Over the course of 12 months the hype has been building and in just three and half weeks the wait is finally over. You would think that this makes me excited, right? The live crowds and large sections of the WWE Universe seem to be excited. I, however, am not and this is why.

Making a match a year in advance is a massive call. Thats twelve months of work, twelve months of hype, twelve months in which to keep peoples attention and hold peoples interest. That is a huge ask of any two people on the roster. So then, when you consider that one of those men has been absent and only at a handful of live events during that time, having only one match at a WWE pay-per-view in that time and shouldering his share of the responsibility via satellite, pre-recorded comments and Twitter you may just begin to realise where my patience has worn thin.

I am no Cena mark. I never have been. I actually used to rather dislike him. Having Cena forced upon me every time I want to watch WWE over the last few years has not always been enjoyable. Cena has been in the main event, usually with a championship around his waist, for several years now. Cena has been the WWEs top dog and where thats all well and good the lack of change to the scenery has been somewhat tiring. With that said I have been very surprised to say that in recent times I, who once owned a Rock t-shirt and consider myself a fan, I have been all about John Cena as far as this “war” goes. Cena has worked remarkably well in a very tight spot, trying to keep air in the lungs of a feud with a man making rare appearances, armed with little more than a mic and a titantron or live satellite feed. What makes this situation even more disappointing is that when The Rock has been live on Monday Night Raw he has done, in my opinion, very little to further enhance the angle and quite frankly has been easily trumped and brushed aside by an impressive John Cena.

The Rock has been at two consecutive live Monday Night Raw events as of late and hopefully should be scheduled to appear at more between now and Wrestlemania and as much as I have been bored and frustrated with this current angle I hope to see it offer up some entertainment in the weeks to come. After all if this match is going to keep the current champions on the under-card then you would hope that it at least delivers! I felt it would be appropriate, as The Rock gears up for a return to in-ring action on the grandest stage of them all, that we take the opportunity to look back at the events of this week in wrestling history and highlight exactly what The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment has been offering the WWE universe at this exciting time of year in years gone by.

Wrestlemania XIX

The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin

At Wrestlemania XIX The Rock challenged his arch-rival Stone Cold Steve Austin to one more match on the grandest stage of them all. Arguably the two biggest, most impactful and most popular susperstars in WWE history had previously headlined Wrestlemania together on two seperate occasions. Austin prevailed on both occasions. On March 30th 2003 there were no championships on the line, only pride, as The Rock set out to do what he had previously failed to do and that is beat Stone Cold at Wrestlemania – in “Act III”. This battle would prove to be The Texas Rattlesnakes last, as he retired following it.

Three weeks before the showdown The Rock arrived on the March 10th 2003 edition of Monday Night Raw to be greeted by General Manager Eric Bischoff who informed The Great One that he would be wrestling Booker T that night. The Rock declined, claiming that match was not going to happen but that he would find his own opponent to face in the main event. In this hilarious backstage promo segment his hand-picked opponent would be revealed…but not before The Rock had taken an opportunity to share a song with the Cleveland audience.

Later in the show Eric Bischoff walked to the ring, mic in hand, to address his situation with The Texas Rattlesnake and made reference to his legitimate firing of Austin from WCW. Bischoff claimed that he deserved credit and that without him Austin would never made it to the WWE. Naturally Stone Cold would respond and as the two butted heads in the ring, The Rock couldn’t help but get involved.

With The Rock biding his time in his feud with Steve Austin, as he waited until Wrestlemania, it was time for the main event. The Rock and his hand selected opponent The Hurricane put on a decent match. After weasling out of his original, scheduled match with Booker T and backing down from a potential confrontation with his Wrestlemania opponent, Stone Cold Steve Austin would ensure that as Raw went off air that night he made his mark to further bait The Peoples Champion.

Wrestlemania XX

The Rock & Mankind vs. Batista, Randy Orton & Ric Flair

On March 14th 2004 at Wrestlemania XX “The Rock ‘n Sock Connection” took on “Evolution” in a three-on-two handicap match. The newly reformed former Tag Team Champions faced the “past, present and future” of professional wrestling, Dave Batista, the Intercontental Champion Randy Orton and the sixteen-time world champion Ric Flair.

The team of The Rock and Mick Foley were originally an unlikely combination. Mankind, desperate for The Rocks approval and respect would go out of his way in his attempts to impress ‘The Great One’ and usually his efforts would be met with little reaction. The comedic value of the team was never in doubt and this strange dynamic would lead to an unforgettable moment in the Attitude era and the history of Monday Night Raw when, in 1998, Mankind presenting The Rock with his “This is Your Life” would mark the highest rated segment in the history of the WWEs flagship programme.

Six years later and the pair were best of friends and on March 8th 2004, just six days days before Wrestlemania and after weeks of Foley falling prey to the assaults of the powerful trio of Evolution, The Rock would return to Raw with only one thing on his mind – cheering up his friend and tag team partner. On this night The Rock would present “Mick Foley – This is Your Life!” However before The Brahma Bull could get to the ring we were treated to a very funny encounter with one of his “fiercest rivals”!

Later in the evening the time had come for The Rock to “finally…” come back to Bridgeport, Conneticut and return the favour of his former Tag Team Championship partner. Would it live up to one of the most watched segments in Raws history? Would Evolution plan to ruin The Connections party less than a week before their match at Wrestlemania? Well, in my opinion, it certainly didn’t disappoint!

(skip to 5:45)

Thats all for today folks. However trust me – this does not quite cover all the exciting moments from The Rock in this particular week in wrestling history. Check back over the next day or two where I aim to cover what is arguably the most relevant road to Wrestlemania the Great One has ever had with Cena just around the corner on April 1st!

27th February – 4th March: This Week in Wrestling History

Sunday February 27th 2000

WWF No Way Out 2000 – Cactus Jack vs. Triple H for the WWF Championship in HELL IN A CELL

by Neil

Follow me on Twitter: @shootwrestling

At the turn of the new millenium the WWFs road to Wrestlemania was ablaze with intensity as Cactus Jack and Triple H took the spotlight leading into the promotions first pay-per-view event of the year, the Royal Rumble. In a brutal, violent Street Fight the defending champion retained against a valiant Cactus Jack after an assault littered with chairs, barbed wire, baseball bats and thumb tacks wasn’t enough for the challenger to climb to the top of the mountain.

HHH was very much the man at this time. After breaking out of Shawn Michaels’ shadow in mid-1998, he cemented his place as the top dog, the WWF Champion and, wife Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley in tow, lead the company into the post-attitude era hangover. Mick Foley had been to the top of the pile, somewhere many thought he would never be, capturing the WWF Championship on three seperate occasions. After dropping the Mankind persona in favour of the character that brought him his initial success in the pro wrestling business, the hardcore legend Cactus Jack, the WWF audience was again treated to his trademark violence and brutality. The match at the Royal Rumble is one of my favourite matches and Mick has stated himself that it was one of the very best he ever had. After a pedigree into the thumb tacks, the battered and beaten champion limped from the sell-out Madison Square Garden and you could have been forgiven for thinking that another chapter to this story was not to be unfolded. You would, however, have been wrong.

On an episode of RAW Triple H confronted the tenacious challenger and, expressing his desire to rid himself of Mick Foley for good, proposed one more encounter – at Februarys No Way Out event. The champion even gave the challenger the choice of match but stated that it would not involve any of Foleys trademark “toys” and weaponary. Hunter looked visably shaken as Cactus Jack said the four words that really popped the crowd and got the fans excited for what could potentially be yet another epic – ‘Hell in a Cell‘! The Game wasn’t quite done yet however. After accepting his challenge, he would shock the WWF audience once again by laying down the most important stipulation – that should he retain the title Mick Foley would be forced to be retire.

(Please use the links above to watch the promo, split into two parts, for yourself!)

The rematch took place February 27th in Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Conneticut. Lower on the card that night Kurt Angle, the WWF European Champion, defeated Chris Jerichio, the WWF Intercontential Champion – and declared himself the Euro-Continental Champion in his prompt rise to the top in his rookie year. Mark Henry met Viscera in a collision of m0numental proportions (size-wise that is, not quality), Edge & Christian went for another round with The Hardys – Matt & Jeff, in what promised to be another volume in their classic series of matches and The Big Show defeated The Rock to become the #1 contender for the winner of the main event.

Whether or not the main event rematch was able to reach the heights of their earlier match and the very high bar set that night or not I’m not sure but it certainly was not a let-down. Mick Foley always wanted to entertain fans by endangering himself and his health and as his match in the structure in 1998 with The Undertaker proved, he is a dangerous man when he has such a high, impressive structure to play with. The match was always going to be visually impressive and as they often did, HHH and Cactus Jack brought out the very best in one another.

Looking to get yourself in the mood for The Undertaker and The Game inside the cell at Wrestlemania? Or maybe just looking to relive a poignant moment in wrestling history? The engaging, violent and bloody second chapter in a gripping feud between two of the WWF/Es modern greats could be just what you need.