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So… That Happened: TLC 3

The era of the DVD is all but dead, especially for WWE fans. Want to relive any moment? It’s pretty much guaranteed to be on the WWE Network. Unfortunately when you’re living without an internet connection for a week, like I had to recently, you’re left with very few options left for entertainment. Thus, one morning I pulled out WWE’s “The Ladder Match” compilation released in 2007 and hosted by Todd Grisham. One match in particular caught my interest and I found myself thinking “that happened”? Trigger warning: this match contains Benoit and lots of it.

Think of an example of when a casual or former wrestling fan struck up a conversation with you about moments of the past. It’s easy to determine the viewing history of “former” fans; 90% of them seem to have been swept up in the WWF at the height of it’s dominance and then fallen off approaching the end of the Attitude Era. Thus, recounted moments are usually those on the extreme side; Mankind’s fall from the cell, Austin’s crimson-mask face turn and any number of Shane’s various antics. One thing that always seems to come up is the legendary TLC 2 from WrestleMania X-7 [WATCH: WrestleMania X-7, on the WWE Network].

Following the success of a match that more often than not makes it into lists of the best bouts of all time, two months later the WWE attempted to strike gold for a third time with TLC 3. The first wrinkle to this match, however, was that it would introduce another duo to the the WWE’s trio of tag team greats; the Dudleyz, the Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian. This team, somewhat strangely in retrospect, is Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. The pair had previously had a strange formation with Benoit losing a match against Angle at Judgement Day due to interference from Edge and Christian [WATCH: Judgement Day 2001, on the WWE Network]. This saw the Rabid Wolverine team up with Jericho in a Tag Team Turmoil match later that evening for revenge and, by coincidence, #1 Contendership. The next night they captured the WWF Tag Team Championship [WATCH: Monday Night Raw – May 21st 2001, on the WWE Network].

The second thing of particular interest is that TLC 3 was to take place on free TV on the May 24th 2001 episode of SmackDown of all things, just days later. The idea of such a match happening on broadcast television now is fairly laughable; sure, we get the occasional Steel Cage match (especially more likely since the draft extension) but it’s not like they’re busting out the Hell in a Cell for random TV tapings. Whilst Raw’s most recent TLC bout was January 2013, this remains the only time SmackDown has been graced with the gimmick.

The match doesn’t fool around and a series of ladder spots open the competition [WATCH: SmackDown – May 24th 2001, on the WWE Network]. The two Canadians are presented with a subtle layer of sympathy, facing off against three teams who have TLC experience (and a promo to open the episode from Vince who believes they have “run out of miracles”). Before too long, Benoit dives through a table on the outside and is stretchered out of the arena. After a few spots, including a savage suplex off the ladder from Bubba to Jeff, Benoit makes his way back to the ring clutching his ribs and intent on climbing towards the gold.

You may have noticed that one of the three namesake toys of the TLC match has been absent to this point but a two-on-one assault from Edge & Christian fixes that as they bring chairs into the fold to deliver a con-chair-to to Benoit’s ribs. From here, the latter delivers a brutal headshot to Jericho whom Tazz mentions in passing is recovering from a concussion. Grim. Kayfabe or not, whatever the case these things are much harder to see in hindsight. This probably won’t be the last time we revisit unprotected chair shots though, unfortunately.

Further spots in TLC 3 include the out of nowhere use of a TV monitor followed by Jeff impressively leapfrogging from one ladder, over another and down into the announce table, D’von sells a Twist of Fate like he just got electrocuted and finally Benoit ascends a ladder to retain the Tag Team Championship to a glowing babyface pop, despite not really being a part of the competition. This may have been for the best however, as it was revealed weeks later than Chris had sustained a neck injury during the match.

Following TLC 3, the winning duo strangely used their victory to secure world title shots from then-champion Stone Cold with Benoit challenging twice in the very next week. This alone is evidence that, at the time, the WWF knew that the unexpected would keep people tuning in. In retrospect, it seems incredibly scattershot. All in all, TLC 2 remains a good mile out from it’s successor but the third match of the series is still pretty fun, even with some very odd albeit interesting alterations to the formula. Hell, those interesting alterations are what these articles are all about. Jericho and Benoit teamed together in the fatal four-way TLC 3 on SmackDown. Weird, innit?

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So… That Happened: Curtis Axel, Heyman Guy

When non-fans mockingly cry “it’s fake” at people like you and I they don’t realise that “its fake” is simultaneously the best and worst thing about wrestling. On the one hand, how frustrating is it to explain to people that it’s just like any other show on TV? But on the other… it’s a good thing that it isn’t real. Wrestling has the fortunate ability to backtrack or change gears at any given moment if things aren’t going as planned. “So… That Happened” is a column devised for looking back into the annals of history and bringing certain things to light. Sure, everybody knows about characters like Gilberg or the Gobbledegooker… what I’m talking about is the stuff that wrestling tries to walk away from whistling innocently and most often gets away with it.

First on our list is one of the strangest pushes of a character this decade…

Following Extreme Rules 2013, Brock Lesnar left the WWE stating that he had conquered everything in the company (hilarious considering what would transpire two years later at WrestleMania… not quite, Brock). This left his advocate Paul Heyman, at least the WWE felt, with some free time to use. Not content with him just managing CM Punk, everybody’s favourite manager was to introduce his new “Paul Heyman Guy” on the May 20th edition of Monday Night Raw.

Rewatching the segment, it seems as though if this was Curtis Axel’s true, blue debut there would’ve at least been intrigue. This is the most charismatic Axel has looked in his career; skulking down to the ring after Heyman’s introductory spiel with a cocky swagger and a maniacal laugh. His pedigree is highlighted, he has badass music, he sports a confident look about him and the commentators try to put him over big. Unfortunately, the crowd in the arena and everyone at home looks at him and only sees Nexus’ Michael McGuillicutty.

Unfortunately, things go downhill for Curtis Axel starting the night of his debut [WATCH: Monday Night RAW – May 20, 2013, on the WWE Network]. Triple H, who was Brock’s victim the previous night at Extreme Rules, comes to the squared circle to confront Heyman. He pays no mind to Heyman’s promised and prized competitor until he has to; knocking him to the ground in one, solitary bitchslap and then challenging him to what seems like a squash match later in the show. The match, when it arrives, is fairly standard outside of its totally absurd finish. Triple H loses due to a stoppage when he begins to kayfabe suffer concussion symptoms presumably brought on by his match with the Beast Incarnate that Sunday. Axel defeats the Cerebral Assassin on his first night in WWE… but by technicality. So is it a mega-push or not?

The next week things continue to be confusing when, at the behest of Heyman, then WWE World Heavyweight Champion John Cena agrees to face off with Curtis Axel [WATCH: Monday Night RAW – May 27, 2013, on the WWE Network]. Amazingly, “The Axe Man” would gain a victory over the champ but unfortunately, it would be achieved somewhat unceremoniously with Cena walking away due to an interruption by Ryback. Things get worse yet seven days later when Raw opened with Stephanie announcing Triple H would not be allowed to return to the ring (leaving that story strand unresolved) to compete against Axel who, in her words, is beneath him.

Later that night, Curtis is booked in a rematch against Big Match John and, to mix things up, it’s made a no-DQ bout [WATCH: Monday Night RAW – June 3, 2013, on the WWE Network]. At the finish of the match, Cena is preparing to throw Axel through a table when he instead decides to swing his fists at a begging Heyman. Chasing him around the ring, John runs into Ryback who proceeds to spear his Payback opponent through the table instead. Axel then wins by count-out, a rule that doesn’t even apply in no disqualification matches, and in three weeks of being rebranded has one win over Triple H and two over John Cena.

From here, Axel moves into the Intercontinental Championship picture and, as we all know, secures the belt for a number of months. His time at the top is over immediately and these storylines are never fully tied up. In November of 2013, he officially steps down as a “Heyman Guy” and disappears into obscurity (at least until Royal Rumble 2015).

It’s never been clear to me whether WWE was seriously pushing Curtis Axel or not. At the time it seemed it but looking back on it now, as a complete package, it seems like a pointlessly elaborate rib. He’s introduced in a fashion that is anything but impactful and yet is somehow cooled off further with several wins gained by pure circumstance rather than dominance. His time at the Intercontinental Championship level suffered because of it and it’s hard not to think that had he been introduced with a genuine mean streak and the goal of claiming his Father’s famous prize then he could’ve made a stable mid-carder with more potential. Throwing him in at the deep end then draining the pool on the same night is such a ridiculous booking decision that it leads me to believe they never, ever wanted Axel to get real heat.

But hey, it could be worse. The only memorable thing about Ryback’s time with Paul Heyman was getting kissed on the cheek.

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