BELFAST – At around 12.30 p.m. on Tuesday, the WWE’s Raw superstars landed in Belfast, Northern Ireland for the final date of their Wrestlemania Revenge tour. Six hours later, and one hour before bell-time, SLAM! had the delightful opportunity to chat to the lovely Maria, who couldn’t hide her delight at this being the final show. “It’s been so much fun,” she said, “but it will be great to go home!”
In less jovial mood was Carlito, who accompanied Maria to meet with journalists and competition winners. It’s been said that Carlito isn’t a big fan of opening up to the media, and while he shook hands and matter-of-factly stated that beating Chris Masters at Backlash would be “easy”, leaving him to prepare for his Intercontinental championship bout with Shelton Benjamin seemed a better idea than trying to get any more proverbial blood from the stone.
The show itself began boisterously, with even Lillian Garcia receiving a thumping reaction from the Odyssey Arena crowd as she made her way to the ring. Once there, she introduced Rob Van Dam –- “Money in the Bank” briefcase et al -– for his match with Matt Striker.
Match # 1 – Rob Van Dam vs Matt Striker
This was a good opening contest, and on this showing Striker may just be able to take the teacher gimmick further than Shane Douglas ever did. Of course, they have to give him the chance first. After hitting a beautiful Rude Awakening neckbreaker however, it was all downhill for Striker, who quickly succumbed to the Rolling Thunder and 5-star Frog Splash.
Winner – Rob Van Dam
Match # 2 – Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch vs Goldust & Snitsky
The second bout cemented what many had feared: yes, it’s official, Snitsky is a cult phenomenon. Goodness knows why, but as he emerged for his bout with Goldust against Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, he received a tremendous ovation from the 8,000 strong Northern Irish crowd.
But whilst the noise for Snitsky was surprising, much more so were the tactics of Murdoch, in his attempts to secure the win for his team. Apparently taking offence to yells of “You’re fat!” that were hurled in his direction, Murdoch went for the high-flying approach, leaping from the second turnbuckle a total of three times, once for a beautiful flying bodypress and then again for a Buff Bagwell Blockbuster neckbreaker. His third flight was less of a nice landing, however, and as Snitsky received the hot tag, all Murdoch’s hard work was undone as he took a big boot for the pin.
Winners – Goldust & Snitsky
Match #3 – Umaga vs Eugene
After some pondering in the ring, where Snitsky admonished Goldust for his playful pats on the butt, both men were attacked by Umaga, accompanied by his manager Arrrrrrmando Alejandrrrrro Estrrrrrrada. That isn’t the correct spelling, of course, but if you’ve ever heard the modern-day Kimchee introduce himself, you’ll know what I mean. This was an impressive, if remarkably one-sided, display from Umaga, who destroyed Eugene with his taped-thumb-to-the-throat finish. The old-school nature of the move was lost on the crowd, however, who couldn’t quite believe that Eugene took the fall to such a lame-duck finisher.
Winner – Umaga
Match #4 – Intercontinental Title: Shelton Benjamin (c) vs Carlito
The next contest was the aforementioned Intercontinental championship match, with Carlito challenging champion Shelton Benjamin. This was a rather odd bout, in that despite the massive popularity of Carlito, the crowd was often muted by his heelish tactics, which they were reluctant to accept. He seemed a little confused by this response, and will have to adapt his style if he is to make it as a convincing babyface. The match too, was not what one expects from these competitors, and when Benjamin pinned Carlito — with a little help from the ropes for leverage -– no-one was too disappointed to see the contest end.
Winner – Shelton Benjamin
Match #5 – Shawn Michaels & Ric Flair vs Chris Masters & Edge
The biggest pop of the evening so far was unquestionably for Shawn Michaels, who emerged for a tag team contest with Ric Flair against Chris Masters and Edge. The loud babyface reaction didn’t sit well with one teenage fan, however, who attempted to get to Michaels as he walked down the aisle. All I’ll say is, Security 1 – Teenager 0.
It has often been said that they are encouraging Masters to work with experienced guys on house shows, in order to tighten up his ring work. If that is the case, it certainly appears to be helping, as “The Masterpiece” -– in phenomenal physical condition -– looked much more accomplished here than in three months of television bouts. After a hilarious spot where Michaels pulled down the trunks of both Edge and Masters, the heels set to work on Flair. When he finally made the hot tag to Michaels, having suffered the indignity of being locked in his own patented Figure Four leglock by Edge, Michaels cleaned house on Masters, finishing him off with Sweet Chin Music.
Winners – Shawn Michaels & Ric Flair
Match #6 – Women’s Title: Mickie James ( c) vs Trish Stratus vs Maria vs Victoria vs Torrie Wilson vs Candice Michelle
Next up was intermission. I mention this because the beer was cold, and I enjoyed myself more there than I did watching the proceeding Diva match. I’m jesting, of course, but this match was an odd one from the very get-go, as Lillian Garcia neglected to mention that when a Diva is thrown from the ring, she is eliminated from the contest. Of all the competitors here -– Trish Stratus, Victoria, Torrie Wilson, Candice Michelle, Maria and Women’s champion Mickie James –- Stratus and Victoria were by far the most confident in their ring abilities, although it was Mickie James who survived by throwing Stratus over the top rope.
Winner – Mickie James
Match #7 – Spirit Squad vs Big Show & Kane & Viscera
If there is one thing that I can say about the Spirit Squad, it is that they themselves don’t appear to have let their dreadful gimmick dampen their … spirit. In fact, their performance here helped solidify my opinion that no-one could have possibly have asked any more of them in recent weeks. In this handicap match, all five members went up against the mammoth trio of Big Show (who lagged only behind Triple-H in the popularity stakes), Kane and Viscera.
Accompanied by the sound of the air-horns that they brought to the ring, the Squad were most impressive here, each taking several big bumps and making the limited talents of their opponents much less apparent. The match itself -– which was much more in a comedy vein than anything else on the card -– ended with what may be the first ever quintuple chokeslam, as Kane and Show both dished out a double chokeslam, whilst Viscera hit the old A-Train finishing manoeuvre, the two-handed choke into a sit-down powerbomb.
Winners – Big Show & Kane & Viscera
Match #8 – WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs Triple-H
Considering that not only is he also known as the “King of Kings” and “The Cerebral Assassin”, you would think that “The Game” Triple-H would settle for having those three monikers, even if he is the WWE’s lead heel. But no, not only is he now the man with more nicknames than anyone else, he is also the first person to have not one, but two entrance themes, as he proved here by making his way to the ring accompanied firstly by King of Kings, and then by The Game, both performed by Motorhead.
Rewind on the previous paragraph there for a moment, because based on the reaction from the Belfast crowd, it may not indeed be Triple-H who is the company’s lead heel, but rather WWE Champion John Cena. As has been the case on many televised events recently, Cena was booed out of the building by the vocal majority of fans, leaving only the women and children who delighted in him taking it to “The Game”.
This was unquestionably the best wrestling match on the show, with enough effort that it would not have looked out of place on RAW itself. In the end, after two referee bumps and interference from both Edge, and then Triple-H’s sledgehammer, Cena scored a chair shot on Triple-H, before pinning him with the F-U.
Winner – John Cena
Overall, this was an entertaining night of WWE action, and one that allowed the sell-out crowd to go home more than happy. Unlike many UK WWE events of the past there was a notable –- and delightful -– absence of stalling on this show.
The main event was the best match on the card, and had tremendous heat, even if the heel/face divide was distorted. But the rest of the card was extremely fan-friendly, with lots of audience participation, which made this above the standard of the usual WWE house show, and one of the most rewarding UK shows that I have been fortunate enough to attend.