Happy Wednesday Everyone!
Back with some more Opening Matches for ya’ll. This time we’re covering the year 2000 to 2004, which seems to mostly be matches for secondary or tertiary belts. I’m not sure why the WWF got into that habit during this period. I’m guessing starting the show with a Title match is an easy way to get the crowd invested?
The Big Boss Man and Bull Buchanan Vs D’Lo Brown and The Godfather w/ The Ho’s and Ice T
All these years later I still don’t get why they went with this as an opener. Sadly the best bit of this match (Ice T rapping the babyfaces down to the ring) is cut from WWE Network due to music licensing issues. It was literally the only bit of the match that was good and now it’s gone. The match itself is a pretty bog standard punch and kick affair, with the crowd not really being that invested in it outside of a brief bit of X-Pac Heat for Boss Man.
D’Lo looks good for the most part and Bull gets to do his big flashy clothesline off the ropes, but aside from that this is dull stuff. I think it’s a testament to just how bad “bad wrestling” has gotten over the years though, as everything is pretty much executed as it needs to be here, but back in the day this match was considered a catastrophe. Watching it now it’s just a boring match, with little in the way of what I would consider to be poor wrestling.
Godfather eventually does a hot tag following some heat on D’Lo and the match falls apart a little bit. Not terribly though. D’Lo continues to look good but ends up running into the Boss Man Slam and Bull follows with a Guillotine Leg Drop off the top rope to give the Heels a clean pin.
WINNERS: THE PROTO-SHIELD
This was one of the dullest, flattest matches I have seen. If it was any flatter it could have been sold with syrup and bacon on it as part of a less than nutritious breakfast. Putting the Heels over was such an odd way to start the show out as well, but Boss Man and Bull were going to be heavies for Vince McMahon in the coming weeks so they needed to be kept strong here. Sadly Boss Man has since passed away. D’Lo has had work as an agent in IMPACT; whilst Godfather went on to join the WWE Hall of Fame. D’Lo and Bull actually ended up teaming for a bit in Japan following this I believe.
WWF Intercontinental Title
Champ: Chris Jericho Vs Commissioner Regal
The story here was that Regal had become commissioner and he’d been going out of his way to make Jericho’s life difficult, booking him in handicap matches and what have you. Jericho wasn’t going to take that lying down though and had fought back, notably soiling Regal’s pot of tea at one stage, leading to one of the all-time great facial expressions from Regal.
This match is notable for being hard-hitting and pretty short, as they only get eight minutes to work with and that doesn’t give them a lot of time to tell a story. Regal’s pale chest is soon turning red from Jericho’s stiff chops, as neither man is afraid of dishing out the punishment. Regal eventually targets Jericho’s shoulder, with Jericho selling that well.
Some of the throws and suplexes Regal does here look great, with Jericho getting flung all over the place in an effort to get it over. Regal gets the big submission tease with The Regal Stretch, whilst Jericho can’t apply The Lion Tamer due to his shoulder hurting. The finish is clever, as Regal exposed a metal buckle earlier on and flung Jericho’s shoulder into it, but Jericho sends him into it near the end and then follows with a Lion Sault for the win.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: CHRIS JERICHO
Decent opener, they just didn’t get much time to tell a story. The work was solid though and both men were clearly working very hard. I liked how Jericho’s shoulder injury actually affected him as well, meaning he had to actively change his gameplan to accommodate it. The two would rematch at Backlash 2001, where Regal would get his win back. Jericho would end the year as Undisputed Champ whilst Regal would remain in the IC Title division and finally win the belt in January of 2002.
WWF Intercontinental Title
Champ: William Regal Vs Rob Van Dam
There wasn’t much of a built in issue to this one. RVD was on his rise up the roster and putting him in the IC Title division was a way to elevate him, whilst Regal had been a fixture in the mid-card who was coming off a feud with Edge over the belt. They interacted in the build-up, but this one never really felt like it had much heat going in to the show. RVD was just an over guy in the mid-card who happened to be Regal’s challenger and the fans were hoping he’d be able to make the step up.
Regal’s gimmick at the time was that he would hit people with Brass Knux, but RVD kicks them out of his hands early on, meaning that Regal won’t be able to rely on them tonight. RVD misses a Frog Splash though, and that allows Regal to cut him off. Poor Regal gets shafted for time at Mania again, getting just over six minutes to work with, so the match never really feels like anything more than two guys just exchanging moves with one another.
The action is decent though, as both men are giving their all in the small window of time they’ve been given, with both of them delivering snug kicks and strikes. Regal is soon bleeding from the mouth, but he gets his revenge by folding RVD up a few times with big throws. It’s a fun match; it’s just a bit on the short side. Regal tries to use the Knux again, but that ends up being his undoing as RVD knocks him down and then heads up with the Frog Splash for three.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: ROB VAN DAM
Another fun, yet short, opener from Regal. This had good snug action, some nice suplexes and a crowd pleasing finish to pop the crowd. Give them an extra 3-5 minutes and it could have been even better. RVD would feud with Eddy Guerrero in the post-Mania season but would get buried in a feud with Triple H later in the year and remain firmly in the mid-card until the ECW revival in 2006. Regal would form a team with Lance Storm later in 2002 but then had to spend most of 2003 on the side lines due to some serious health issues.
WWE Cruiserweight Title
Champ: Matt Hardy Version 1.0 w/ Shannon Moore Vs Rey Mysterio Jr
Matt had jumped over to Smackdown in the summer of 2002 and started doing an arrogant Heel character, complete with obnoxious “Matt Facts” that would play on his entrance video and Mattitude Followers (Or “Mf’ers”) like Moore who would act as his putty patrol. It was a very entertaining gimmick and Matt’s eventual win of the Cruiserweight Title gave the ailing belt a bit of a boost. A feud with premier Cruiserweight of the Smackdown brand Mysterio thus made sense and they would have some good matches over the belt, including one in Rey’s hometown on Smackdown.
Rey is dressed like Daredevil here, which started a trend of him getting into cosplay during Mania season. This match follows the trend of the previous two openers, as they are only given six minutes to have a match, meaning the bout feels rushed even though the action is decent. I remember being bummed out at the time this show happened as I was really looking forward to this match and felt short changed that they were given so little time.
Rey gets a brief shine on Matt in the early going before Shannon helps Matt cut Rey off, leading to some heat. Rey sells that well and Matt’s offence looks good. The crowd even gets into it a little bit, booing when the Heels cheat and popping for Rey’s flashy moves. Rey eventually makes a comeback and looks good doing so, with Matt having to resort to getting an illegal rope assisted pin in order to see off Rey’s challenge.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: MATT HARDY V1
I still don’t get why they could dedicate time to dreck like the Miller Cat Fight girls, along with giving both the Triple H and Vince matches at least 5 minutes more than they needed, but give these lads just six minutes when ten minutes was all they would have needed to have a ***+ hot opener. As it was, this was a decent effort from both guys given the limitations. The feud would continue following this and Rey would eventually defeat Matt for the Title in a good match.
WWE United States Title
Champ: Big Show Vs John Cena
Cena had been gradually pushed more and more throughout 2003, getting into feuds with the likes of Chris Benoit, Undertaker and Kurt Angle, and eventually going babyface in November of 2003. Big Show was Cena’s first big feud as a babyface, with winning a belt on a major show the next thing Cena had to tick off the list on his journey to super stardom. You see, back in 2003, WWE still understood how to gradually build guys up over time and didn’t just give them a half arsed “push” for a couple of weeks until getting bored and 50/50’ing them into mulch.
This match is all about Cena struggling to find a foothold in the match against the much bigger Big Show, with large parts of the match being dedicated to Big Show meticulously working Cena over whilst Cena fights from underneath. That means it doesn’t make for the most exciting of openers, but it’s still a well worked match that tells a good story and the crowd is into Cena, so it’s not lacking for crowd reactions.
It highlights how just going from six minutes to nine minutes can make such a difference, as the match really tells a story that anyone can follow as the two men are allowed the time they need to tell that story. Wrestling at its heart is a storytelling medium, and it’s hard to tell satisfying stories if you’re forced to rush. This match is the veritable third bowl of porridge for me, as they get the time they need but they don’t overstay their welcome either.
Cena does eventually manage to catch Big Show with an F-U, but to the shock of the crowd Big Show is able to kick out. I totally thought that mean Cena was losing back in the day because that seemed like such a sure fire finish. However, its subversion when all is said and done, as Cena distracts the ref with a chain and then clobbers Big Show with Brass Knux before following up with another F-U for the three count and the Title.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: JOHN CENA
This was a decent opener, with the work being fine and the match telling an interesting story that was easy to follow and kept the crowd invested. Some complained about Cena using the weapon at the time, but Cena not being a whiter than white good guy is what made him appealing to begin with and ultimately the finish made him look smart and cunning as opposed to weak, whilst also protecting Big Show in defeat due to it taking two F-U’s and a weapon shot to beat him. Cena does the big celebration following that to really put the belt over. By Mania 21 he would be winning the WWE Title and well on his way to being one of the biggest stars in WWE history. Big Show would flounder a bit following this and would actually step away from wrestling for a bit in 2007 before coming back for a feud with Floyd Mayweather in 2008.
The story this week was that most of the matches were decent but too short, a trend at WrestleMania sometimes. Next week we’ll have something a bit different but then we’ll come back to Opening Matches the week after.