Triple H, October 2011:

“When I grew up, I hated Hogan. I thought he was terrible and didn’t like to watch him. I was like Punk in a way. I liked the Steamboats and Flairs and the ones that could go. Would I be right in saying that Hogan was the wrong guy to go with, and they should’ve changed directions and gone with Steamboat because he was the better wrestler? Ludicrous.” - Triple H. October, 2011.

Wrestlemania XXIII

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The build is here.

Wrestlemania XXIII – Detroit
(Dark – Benjamin/Haas d. Kendrick/Noble
Hart/Smith d. Rhodes/Doane)

Joey and Taz are on the announce. JR and Bradshaw do the NWA Title match, Matthews and Snow do the ECW Title match.

Steamboat opens the show; says 20 years ago right here in Detroit, in front of 93,000 people, he won the WWF Championship over the Dynamite Kid in one of the most memorable matches in wrestling history.


And tonight – 20 years later – in what will almost certainly be another of the most memorable matches in history, in front of 84,000 people, a new Ford Field record, Matt Hardy will take on Edge in the Hell in the Cell!

People will react as they will.

Steamboat explains that it was a match a year in the making – the main event of Wrestlemania made a year in advance.

It was a good idea.

So we’re going to do it again.

Steamboat announces that next year – Wrestlemania XXIV will come from Orlando – and the main event – the main event will again be contested in one of the most notorious, most death defying, most infamous matches in WWF history – the main event of Wrestlemania XXIV will be contested in a Tables…Ladders…and Chairs match!


1.Heat: Porter/Burke d. Cena/Kennedy
-Porter and Burke, protégées of Booker, go over in the opening tag. Announce sells this promising young team as making their Mania debut, uses this match to sell the WWF Title match coming up tonight where the first African American world champion will be crowned.

Heat rolls, obviously – using our favorite whipping boys, Cena and Kennedy, as stepping stones. Announce notes the frustration in Cena and Kennedy, that they just don’t seem to be gaining any ground in the WWF. Porter and Burke take some Jim Jones jumpshots post match. Ballin’!

2.Winner Gets a Contract: Eddie Little d. Monte Brown
-Steamboat remained at ringside after cutting his opening promo – Dusty now joins him, the two rival commissioners both donning headsets to join Joey and Taz on the announce. Steamboat roots for Little, as if he wins, he signs a WWF contract; Rhodes for Brown. Ideally, Brown does a LT thing and has some former NFL’ers with him, preferably a Lion included in that mix, as he’s the babyface in the matchup. 3-4 former football players seconding Brown would be a good contrast for Little.

Little (Umaga) recall broke virally on the internet, streetfighting in as brutal a way as possible, garnering as much street level buzz as can be mustered. He’s untamable, out of control – shirtless, jeans – the heavy Umaga tats, he’s nothing but asskicking.

And he kicks Brown’s ass. If we have the ex NFL’ers, he kicks their ass too. Little busts heads, goes to the announce, signs his contract, Steamboat extends his hand – Little swipes some of Brown’s blood from his chest – and piefaces Steamboat with Brown’s blood.

Steamboat gets hot – trying to go after Little – Dusty and security hold him back – Little glowers menacingly at the whole lot of them, including Joey and Taz – Little gets back in the ring to perform some devastating maneuver on whatever NFL’er will take it. Wonder if Barry Sanders feels like earning a couple of extra bucks? That would be sweet.

3.Legends Match: Undertaker d. HBK (w/special guest referee Steve Austin)-Taker wins his 6th Legends Match, most all time. Michaels works heel here, disgusted by the fans increasingly turning on him over the past several months. I like an opening shot of the two Triple Crown winners, Austin and Michaels, along with the WM Legend Undertaker, in a tense mid ring conversation prematch.

Austin’s gonna ref bump; he gets in a shoving thing during the match with Michaels, Shawn superkicks him dead. That allows for Michaels to grab some plunder; going further heel by attacking the Dead Man with a foreign object or two. Michaels soaks in the boos as he stands over by the Taker and Austin – the old smirk finally….finally returning to the face of the Heartbreak Kid as he makes the sign of the Clique.

There’s no official, since Austin’s down, so Michaels can’t get a pinfall – Michaels revives Austin, but he won’t count the fall – he hits Shawn with a stunner, drapes the Taker on top and counts a fast 3 – but Michaels kicks out.

Dead Man goes over soon with the tombstone. Michaels, upon recovery, dismissively goes up the aisle – the announce speculating what the future will hold for the Showstopper.

4.Unified Tags Weapons Match: LWO: Carlito/Chavo (w/Crazy) d. Sandman/Dreamer
-Chavo wins his first ever tag title, adding it to his IC title; it’s Carlito’s first title of any type. It’s an ECW-like plunder match, trash cans and stop signs. Crowd’s split, the LWO is a hot act, pushed hard since this current formation; Sandman/Dreamer are more babyface that not, having split from GDI and having feuded with Noble/Kendrick. It’s nothing but plunder and color and eventually Sandman doing his farewell job. Backstabber. Frog splash. LWO goes over.

5.Worldwide Titles Triple Threat Match: Orton d. Helms d. Jeff
-Helms and Jeff come in as babyface friends; they doubleteam Orton early, but since it’s one fall to a finish, all it takes is one of them to try to get a pinfall and it becomes every man for himself.

Jeff takes some terrible bump that takes him out of the finish – and Orton surprises with an RKO out of nowhere to add the IC title to his previous tag strap. Orton shows the vicious streak by adding a couple of additional RKOs to the fallen Helms, enough such that, a year later, Helms still has yet to return to the ring. Jeff is unable to help, as he was helped from ringside immediately after the fall. The NWA takes the Worldwide belts – Randy Orton surprising many by becoming the Intercontinental Champion.

And now come the singles title matches. NWA is first – there’s a Flair clip package, as if he were to lose his title match tonight, rumor is it will end his career as a full time wrestler. JR and Bradshaw take the announce – both pleased with Orton’s win; JR expresses disappointment with his postmatch actions, but Bradshaw loves it, says that’s the type of spirit that the NWA represents – they will kick your ass and they have kicked ass tonight – he’s glad Brown didn’t win the Contract Match, he couldn’t cut it – but at the biggest show of all time – Wrestlemania XXIII – one NWA wrestler has just beaten two WWF wrestlers for the Worldwide belts and Bradshaw loves it.

6.NWA Championship: Fit Finlay (w/Dean) d. Ric Flair (w/AA)
-It’s the match you’d expect from the two; Fit is positioned as the face of the relaunched NWA, tough, stiff, absolute no-nonsense – he and Malenko, himself a former NWA Champion – are the epitome of the new NWA.

Flair gives it all he has, he and Arn cheat when they can get away with it; Flair runs the ropes, does the buckle flip; the flop, the Fargo strut, the rocket launching – Flair gets color – there’s Arn/Dean shoving on the outside, the two friends from the Brain Trust getting into it – Flair gets the figure four – but Fit breaks it and pins the Nature Boy clean and in the middle of the ring with the emerald froisien.

Flair hands the NWA belt to Fit – Fit Finlay is the new NWA Heavyweight Champion. The NWA locker room comes to the ring to hug Flair – it’s the end of Ric Flair’s career as a full time wrestler – Flair walking back up the aisle, waving goodbye to the crowd.

Josh Matthews and Al Snow (who is always introduced as former Intercontinental Champion Al Snow) then take the announce; they quickly put Flair over but then complain – what is the ECW Title, which clearly is the legitimate world heavyweight title, no offense to Fit Finlay or to Lashley and Booker – but CM Punk is the world champion and everyone knows it – what is the ECW Title doing 3rd from last at Wrestlemania? This should be the main event, not the Cell and not the WWF Title – and you know the Champ is gonna be hot about it.

With the match about to start, after the 3 wrestlers have entered, Joey and Taz, unexpectedly have the mics turn back on and join Matthews and Snow on the announce. Joe and Taz say that with Van Dam and Sabu wrestling for the ECW Title at Wrestlemania, they’re doing this match and they don’t care what anyone else says – so all 4 men are on the announce, the GDI guys clearly rooting for Punk; Joey and Taz both rooting for Van Dam, while everyone pays respect to Sabu.

7.ECW Championship 3 Way Dance: CM Punk (w/Maria) d. RVD d. Sabu-The Detroit connections with RVD and Sabu are heavily played up – as are the obvious ECW connections the two have. It’s an ECW match; Van Dam, of course, given the contractual stip negotiated by Heyman when RVD came to the WWF a half dozen years earlier, has all of his matches under No DQ rules.

So, there are objects, although used judiciously – Sabu will have a spot where he pulls out a glass light tube and levels Punk with it – effectively serving as a way to get Sabu and Van Dam back together for a series of double team spots – the WWF announce and presumably most of the 74,000 in the crowd pulling for – perhaps expecting Punk to get put away so Sabu and Van Dam can square off – but Punk is able to barely, each time barely squeak by – Punk escaping elimination multiple times – until his girl Maria (mmmm, Maria) plants the ECW Title belt into the side of Sabu’s head. Sabu’s distracted enough to allow a desperate Punk to roll him up and eliminate him.

Punk gets Van Dam clean – Go To Sleep, Pepsi Plunge. 1-2-3.

CM Punk pins both Van Dam and Sabu and keeps the ECW Title.

That wraps up Sabu and, to date, Van Dam.

Joey and Taz have to shake it off – putting over the WWF Title as a David/Goliath; the veteran Booker against the unbeatable monster, the Executioner Lashley. One of these men about to take the vacant WWF Title belt and become the first African American World Heavyweight Champion.

8.WWF Title: Booker T d. Executioner Lashley
-And in a stunning turn of events; one of the more improbable turnarounds in WWF history – Booker T is the new WWF Champion.

Book had largely been forgotten since coming from NWA, pushed aside for the superior workers who moved ahead of him on the card; in fact, in numbers of PPV’s, Book did not make the card, positioned as “the guy who only wrestled when he needed the money.”

Book’s career resurgence began when he teamed with another veteran who felt he had been overlooked, Bradshaw in an oil and water tag team, the two men united only by veteran camaraderie. They took and lost the tag straps; Book then running Bradshaw into retirement. That was immediately followed by the introduction of Porter and Burke (Porter spent the 90s in jail, his favorite wrestler was Book, then of Harlem Heat in the NWA, he wrote to Book – Book responded, they became friends, Book sending him wrestling tapes, saying he’d train him when he got out – Porter, along with Porter’s childhood friend Burke, took Book up on it, moving to Houston, Book trained them and here they are) who Book has christened with the name Heat. Book teaches them the ropes; they’ve rejuvenated Book with the fire of his youth.

Lashley’s a monster. And dominates here; kicking Book around just as he has everyone, from Benoit to Hogan to Rey to HHH to PAUL and Kane – and just as he kicked Book around at Survivor Series – Lashley clearly destined to win this match, to become WWF Champion, to dominate the company perhaps for years to come – he can’t possibly be overcome –

And then Book battles back.

Book does a total Hulking up – drawing strength from some heretofore unseen and unknown place – Book, driven by the need, the hunger, the passion given to him by Porter and Burke – he comes back, chops, suplexes – axe kick – a Harlem Hangover –

And a pinfall.

An absolutely stunning result – Booker T is handed the WWF Title – Lashley attempts to attack – but Heat runs in for the face save – a Yakuza kick by Porter lays Lashley out – Heat laying Lashley out on a table, the announce and the fans understanding that Dominators through tables are the ways in which Lashley has ended the careers of WWF legends – and Book hits a second Harlem Hangover, sending Lashley crashing through the table and to the mat.

Book/Porter/Burke – all winners tonight – Book your new WWF Champion all hitting some We Fly High jump shots as they exit the ring – a huge Heat celebration – Booker T is your WWF Heavyweight Champion!

And then the Cell comes down.

And the match a decade in the making is set.

Matt. Edge. Hell. Cell. Your main event of the evening.

9.Hell in a Cell: Matt Hardy d. Edge
-You know the build by now. Ring Boys. The heel turn. The TLC tag feud. Edge wins the IC with the Clique; Matt turns heel with Bischoff, then quits. “You screwed Matt.” The Unsanctioned Summer Slam ’05 match. The Empty Arena Match at Royal Rumble ’06. Matt beating Flair, Edge beating Michaels at XXII. The year long buildup with 24/7. Jeff’s return. Edge costing Matt the ECW Title at Rumble ’07.

10 years in the making settled in the 3rd Cell match in history.

There has to be the big, giant bump – that’s how the Cell works. They take it together; I see a spot where they’re fighting on the cage – either on top or on the side, however it best works and however much the reconstructed neck of Edge can take. I see them fighting while holding onto the cage – and as opposed to either one of them saving himself – they both let go of the cage in order to fight. They’d rather fight than not crash through a table.

That’s one thing – they have to take the big bump together.

Another thing is the top of the cage has to have a hole in it at some point; either the mutual bump is one they take through the top, like the second Foley bump or the gimmicked Foley bump – or just one of them takes that second bump through the top. Doesn’t matter, but there’s a hole.

Whatever plunder has been left over from the evening that winds up still in the ring or around the ring is used – from table shards to a glass light tube to whatever it is.

It’s Matt, of course, who goes over. It’s a long, exhausting, brutal match. It’s the blowoff – they don’t leave anything in the bag. They each kick out of each other’s finish. Matt hits a second twist of fate, gets the fall. 1-2-3. Boom

Both men have to look as if they’re near death. The announce puts over hard that it’s over. The Matt/Edge feud is over. Wrestlemania XXIII is over.

But it’s not.

‘Cause here comes GDI.

Punk/Kendrick/Noble/Yang/Moore/a debuting Colt Cabana all hit the ring – Colt locking the cage door – and then they beat the holy hell out of Matt Hardy.

Total destruction – only stopped when –

A bloody, battered Edge crawls on top of Matt – putting his body between Matt and GDI to stop the onslaught.

GDI takes a moment so the fans can understand what’s happened, so it can sink in – and then they attack Edge too – GDI putting it to both Edge and Matt –

--Jeff limps in, still selling the bump that caused him to be helped from ringside after losing his IC shot – Jeff tries the door – he can’t get in – he can’t get in the cage door because it’s locked – GDI taunts him – Jeff can’t get in.

But he looks up.

And sees the hole in the top of the cage.

And so he starts to climb.

GDI keeps stomping out Edge and Matt – Jeff climbs to the top of the cage now, the cage door is unlocked, one of the guys, let’s say Jimmy Yang, starts to climb after Jeff – Jeff, keep in mind, the Jeff gimmick is that he’s clean, sober, totally sane – Jeff’s gonna go to the hole and leap into the fucking cage.

Ideally, with a swanton.

Jeff’s not moving after the bump; it’s a six month vacation after the bump for Jeff, so however bad it has to be is how bad it is (and Matt and Edge are getting long, long vacations too – so this can be all the beating you’d want) ideally it’s an all time crazy bump, Jeff intentionally sacrificing himself to save Matt (and Edge).

He wipes out a couple of GDI guys with the bump – but then he now joins Edge and his brother in getting stomped out by GDI –

Until a face save ---

By Paul London.

London ends Wrestlemania XXIII by running into the cage, now unlocked, and cleaning house – London decking all of the heels, Kendrick and Punk coming last – London with the monster face save as the show ends.

That’s XXIII.

In about a month, I’ll be back with something. There’s been something every month since I started; April/May/June will all have a little something, even if it’s small. July has the full build to Summer Slam ’07. Who will take on Punk/Book/Fit for the 3 big straps? What about Orton and the LWO? And the new monster, Eddie Little?

We start all over again with the drive toward Wrestlemania XXIV and the TLC Main Event.

Thanks for reading.  Here's the build.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII - Finale

Friday, March 21, 2008

Part V is here.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII – Part VI - Finale

Five previous parts in the build up to XXIII. Take a look. The show itself will go up next weekend. Perhaps during the actual Mania.

7 matches set up. 2 to go.

One addition made at the very end, an addition to the Legends Match – Steamboat says that a match like Michaels/Undertaker requires a referee of enormous credibility to keep those two in line – Stone Cold Steve Austin.

So add that to the package.

The ECW Title will be defended as it should be, in a Three Way Dance. Note, the difference between this and the IC title is this match is an elimination match.

Right after the Rumble (so, before the tags and the IC are sorted out – this one is getting set up right at the top).

Punk returns to GDI (Tuesday nights on Sci Fi at 10:00) having defeat Matt Hardy at the Rumble. Recall the Punk story; he was the guy who wouldn’t work on TV; he’s representing the indie movement, the ROH (unsaid) workrate based challenge to WWF. Punk (with Maria, mmmmmm) as his valet, carves out an “Us v. Them” attitude in rallying the former indie workers against the monolithic corporation. He turned London and Kendrick against each other – and now most of the GDI wrestlers (and fans, one assumes) view Punk as the champion of a righteous rebellion.

Punk’s first match on WWF TV was the epic Number One Contender’s Battle Royal, where he became the first man ever to start at number one and win. He then defeated Flair at Survivor Series to (briefly) become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Punk immediately threw down the NWA and WWF belts, spitting on them, drawing the wrath of the locker room – and started the GDI revolution. Flair assigned his return match contract rights to Steamboat, who made the Punk/Matt match for the Rumble – and when Edge couldn’t stomach the thought of Matt winning a world title when he could not, he speared Hardy, allowing Punk to get the fall and keep the strap.

And now – here we are.

Punk says he’s going to Wrestlemania XXIII. Last year, in his hometown, he wrestled in the dark match. Only one year later – he’s the man – and it’s all because of GDI.

So, who will he wrestle, he says. Who will be the man…who will be the INDEPENDENT man…to take me on at Wrestlemania XXIII??

(There should be some chants for Paul London – which Punk will ignore – Punk was able to convince still babyface London to leave WWF, turning down a spot in the WWF Title Tournament, to come to GDI by promising him that he would face Punk at Mania).

And then the lights go out.

When they come back on – Sabu. Holding a glass light tube.

Sabu and Van Dam were Unified Tag champs until the Rumble (two nights ago, recall) when they were defeated by Sandman/Dreamer, who, recall were embraced by Punk and GDI, Noble and Kendrick joining Sandman and Dreamer to win the straps. So, Sabu’s in a feud with Punk, and all of GDI – and we expect him to swing the light tube upon Punk’s head.

Punk notes that. Says Sabu could lay him out right now. Or he could hear him out.

Punk holds up the ECW belt. Says that Sabu may not like him, but he has to like that ECW belt, for the first time ever, will be contested on its own at Wrestlemania. The WWF title match, for the first time ever, won’t be the last title match on the show – the last title match at Wrestlemania XXIII will be for the ECW title.

And Sabu has to like that – because he was the first ECW champion – he defeated Cactus Jack (roll the clip~) to become the first ever ECW Champion – and more than any other man – Sabu is the reason this belt exists.

Punk says he knows, all the boys know, all these GDI fans know – that the godfather of the GDI movement is Sabu. That 10 years ago – the man who should have been wrestling on the biggest stage in the world – Wrestlemania – was Sabu.

But the corporations didn’t understand that, did they? You were too raw – too untamed – you didn’t cut promos and didn’t look right – you were a scarred up freak of nature, breaking tables and diving into the crowd. You gave every drop of blood for this sport – and the people in the suits didn’t care—isn’t that right, Sabu?

Punk, perhaps, is making sense.

You’ve spent your whole career as a misfit, you’ve spent your whole career being too dangerous – so you had to create your own belt --- this belt – and your own movement --- this movement – and right now, Sabu – right now you’ve made it.

The best thing that happened to you was losing those tag titles last night.

Because, Sabu (Maria takes out a GDI t shirt) I am going to wrestle someone at Wrestlemania XXIII – I am going to wrestle an independent worker at Wrestlemania XXIII – I want that GDI wrestler to be you – Sabu. You. Punk v. Sabu…hell, Sabu v. Punk, for the ECW Title – in the town….in the town built by the Sheik (Sabu points like he does) Detroit….in front of 70,000 people – you can’t turn this down, Sabu – you take the shirt – you accept your destiny!

Sabu considers…moves to the shirt….moves to swing the light tube...Sabu slowly backs away…backs away from the ring. The announce saying Sabu is clearly considering it – Punk has gotten to Sabu.

On RAW the following week – RVD calls Sabu to the ring. They show the GDI clip. RVD is stunned – says they have a rematch clause – they can go Mania as a team – how many times did they sit at ECW – RVD is clearly wounded – how many times did RVD go on and on about how he went to WM III as a kid in Detroit – how it’s why he got in the business – how he watched Steamboat and Dynamite in WM III and wanted that to be him – and here it is – WM comes to Detroit 20 years later – and the Michigan kid – and you too Sabu – we are hometown guys – we get to come home and wrestle Sandman and Dreamer to get our tag belts back – tag belts that GDI took from us.

RVD says Sabu can’t take that away from him – he can’t. RVD says he won’t let Sabu do it.

Sabu doesn’t like that. He tenses his hands around the glass light tube.

RVD says he’s sorry. Says he doesn’t want to threaten Sabu – says they are here in a WWF ring, in 2007, after all of these years – and he just can’t believe his best friend is about to turn his back on him and join GDI – he can’t believe it.

GDI the next night begins with Van Dam’s entrance.

He says he wants Punk to come to the ring.

Punk, smug – hits the ring.

RVD says he knows what Punk’s trying to do – he manipulates people – he’s a liar and a user – everyone knows that.

Punk says Van Dam’s selfish. He’s always been selfish. And everyone knows that. His real problem isn’t that Punk asked Sabu to be in GDI….it’s that he didn’t ask Van Dam.

RVD says he’ll go anywhere he wants. But he’s not taking a t-shirt handed to him by Punk’s slut (Maria, mmmmmmm)

Punk says no – see, back in the day, you could have hung with us in GDI – but your years in the corporation have made you soft, sluggish – and 4:20 isn’t helping year either Van Dam. The truth is – you can’t cut it anymore – so let Sabu go – let Sabu wrestle for the biggest title in the world at the biggest show of all time – in the town built by the Original Sheik – and you can carry his bags if you want.

RVD attacks Punk – and the lights go out immediately.

Lights on. Sabu. With glass tube. Pause.

He hits Van Dam.

Sabu lays RVD out and takes the shirt from Maria. Sabu has gone GDI.

The following Tuesday starts with Paul London, out with an “injury” and off TV since the Rumble until right now. London plays the clip where Punk promised him the shot.

London said he never trusted Punk, never liked him – that 2 years ago, he wrestled Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania, - and here he gave up a shot at the holy grail – the WWF Title – a title that – and London doesn’t care what you think about it – he would never have spat on.

He gave it up because he was supposed to go to Wrestlemania. He was supposed to wrestle CM Punk for the WWF Title.

And he got screwed. Screwed by Punk. Screwed by Sabu. And he’s not gonna take it. And he wants an explanation. And he wants it right now!!

Kendrick comes up the aisle.

Kendrick says at least London had a Wrestlemania moment. Even it was losing to Mysterio.

Kendrick’s been here as long as Paul has. They were partners since the very first day at Shawn Michaels’s training camp in Texas. And London can talk all he wants about getting screwed – but London got an IC Title shot against Eddy Guerrero. And London got to wrestle Chris Jericho. And London was in the Clique. And where was Kendrick – busting his ass on the independent circuit – in front of these people – while his “partner” collected checks from the huge corporation.

You want an explanation, Paul?

The explanation is – you don’t deserve that Wrestlemania shot. I do.

Lights out. Lights on. Sabu. Glass tube.

Recall, Sabu has just been in a program with Kendrick.

Sabu crashes the light tube on London. Sabu and Kendrick take London apart – totally decimating him, so we aren’t surprised when London isn’t on TV until Mania.

Punk enters as the onslaught goes on – Punk says, “You want an explanation, London? I lied to you. That’s your explanation.”

They stomp Punk out.

Run in by Van Dam.

Van Dam cleans house – disposing of Kendrick first – then Punk – and finally Sabu – RVD laying them all out. Thumbs.

There’s some pretense the following couple of weeks that gets RVD in the title match, let’s say he has to beat Sabu and Punk in a handicap match – he does, pinning Sabu ---

So the ECW Title becomes a 3 Way Dance at Mania. Punk v. RVD v. Sabu. In Detroit. As we get closer – after it’s been established that Sabu and Van Dam aren’t together, that it’s a rivalry – they’ll split Punk and Sabu – Punk will say too many times that he and Sabu will team up to eliminate RVD first – maybe Matthews and Snow, on the announce for GDI, question if maybe it’s Punk who has gotten snookered here – he’s always been the manipulator – but look what’s happened – he’s wrestling the former WWF tag champions – at Wrestlemania – at the same time – in their hometown – for the ECW belt that both of them have held.

Maybe Punk, in fact, got played.

Enough so we consider it.

Punk v. Sabu v. RVD – ECW Title

And finally – the main event.

We’ve covered it multiple times, as often as possible, in pretty much every posting over the past year. Matt. Edge. Hell. Cell. Was made at WM XXII, one year ago – it was named as the main event for XXIII. For that year, there has been build up through the 24/7 segment (stealing from Mayweather/De la Hoya). Matt is the top babyface and Edge the top heel in the company. This is only the 3rd Cell match in WWF history, both of which saw the enormous top of the cage bump (Foley, Christian). It is the ultimate blow off a feud match – and it is clear that this is going to mark the end of this chapter of Matt v. Edge.

Their careers are inextricably linked. 10 years ago, along with their brothers Jeff and Christian, they were the Ring Boys. The Hardys carrying the bags for the Clique, E and C for the Harts – those two factions being the enduring Hatfields and McCoys of the WWF. But the 4 young men forged a bond – stealing time before shows and at intermissions to have impromptu spotfests – earning an underground love, a love from the WWF faithful that began to manifest in “let them play” chants.

8 years ago, at WM XV, the Hardys won the tag straps – an ultimate moment in celebration for the Ring Boys – that was shattered when E and C, along with Jeff’s girlfriend Trish Stratus, joined HHH and Waltman in a new incarnation of the Clique and beat the Hardys down. This was a betrayal not only of Matt/Jeff, but of all of Canada, E/C and Trish joining up with the faction consistently hated by Canadians, the ultimate bad guys, the Clique.

That kicked off one of the great WWF rivalries ever, E/C v. Hardys v. Dudleys, who tore buildings down for years in a series of increasingly violent collision matches.

The feud took an unimaginable toll. Following the last WWF TLC match (the match declared too violent for the company to continue with) 5 of the 6 men were taken from the ring by stretcher (not Matt) and none of those men would be the same again.

The Dudleys WWF career was effectively over after that match. Jeff left for years, just returning in mid ’06, and now wrestling for the Worldwide titles at Mania. Christian was gone 6 months, Edge a year and a half.

While Christian and Jericho were double turning in a protracted feud; so were Matt and Van Dam – the personality of Matt beginning to twist, to harden, to gnarl under the tutelage of Eric Bischoff, who was using Matt as his puppet in his game of “can you top this” with Heyman. Matt faces Van Dam in 5 straight PPVs, including back to back Manias – finally losing the blow off to that feud at XX when Christian was losing the blow off to his feud with Jericho in the Cell.

But that loss led to Edge’s dramatic babyface return and the formation of the last configuration of the Clique (E/C/Michaels/London) Edge would go on to defeat Jericho and win the Worldwide titles; Matt meanwhile, embittered, quit “shoot style” after losing to Booker at Summer Slam ’04.

A year later came “You screwed Matt”, as Edge’s affair with Matt’s girlfriend Lita was impossible to keep from the crowds, which began to turn on Edge and the entire Clique. Edge denied it to the end, his stable, particularly his brother, standing up for him as Matt returned – a darker, clearly troubled enigmatic Matt Hardy returned – Edge beat Matt at the Unsanctioned Match at Summer Slam ’05, revealing the truth in the process.

That led to the destruction of the Clique – Edge beat Christian in a Loser Leaves Town; Michaels’s moralistic, puritanical tone began to grate on some wrestlers and fans, building to the current Michaels who faces the Dead Man at XXIII, and London was left to fend totally for himself as Kendrick, then Noble, then Punk all arrived from Ring of Honor to attack him – an attack that would eventually turn into GDI and the breakup of the WWF.

So, sort of a big deal.

Matt was kept away from arenas by Flair and the 51% Solution – but he defeated Edge in the Empty Arena match at Rumble ’06 – setting up Mania XXII….

Where they didn’t meet.

Instead, Edge beat Michaels and Matt beat Flair, a win that ensured that Matt and Edge would not have any physical contact for a year – but in a year they would meet in the 3rd ever Hell in a Cell match in WWF history – at the main event at XXIII.

They were able to do that for a year – running on parallel tracks – both men wrestling Michaels, Edge beating the returning Jeff – both men losing chances at Rumble ’07 to grab singles belts, Edge shocking upset by Booker T, and then costing Matt a chance at defeating Punk by spearing him.

Edge. Matt. Matt. Edge.

Both men broken in similar places for similar reasons but in different ways. Both men gave their bodies for the company in the TLC matches, but neither one could elevate to the top of the card. Both men lost their brothers – lost their way – and as we’ve seen the inner lives of Matt and Edge over the past year – we see men more similar than different.

Matt – dark, enigmatic, brooding – sort of a babyface Raven – in that Raven/Sting enigmatic mold mixed with the anti authoritarian streak of Austin/Pillman. He’s Matt F’n Hardy.

Edge is the real world Edge character – a great heel character, IMO, the guy who will fuck your girl and smirk about it. Edge wants money and pussy and belts. If any of those things belong to you – all the better.

But Matt Hardy…Matt Hardy and the ten years of feuding – the constant war – the prospect of years of battle coming to an end in a win or a loss – Matt Hardy sticks in his craw in an ugly way.

They are two halves of the same whole – locked in a vicious struggle – and they’ll be locked in a Cell at Mania.

The Hell in a Cell is the most protected gimmick in the company. Cactus Jack made his name when he was suplexed from the top by Ken Shamrock. Christian took the same bump – thrown off by Trish and Jericho, in Jericho’s turn toward being the Lizard King.

Foley comes back for a special segment on Cell history – as part of the build for the match has to be the bump. A Hell in a Cell has to require some dramatic, death defying fall. Additionally, both Matt and Edge have had their own ring boys over the past year – Teddy Hart and Harry Smith and Cody Rhodes and Ken Doane – those four men went at it in the Rumble brawl – and they’ll meet in a dark match to kick off XXIII.

As we get to Mania – the full weight of the history between those two men will have been recounted, every slap, every slight, all of it recorded. All of the other workers will have had to give their predictions in taped vignettes – every corner of every show – a constant, incessant, wild buildup to the blow off to end all blow offs – the match a decade in the making.

Matt. Edge. Hell. Cell. Main Event. Wrestlemania XXIII.

1 Hell in a Cell: Edge v. Matt Hardy
2 ECW Title: CM Punk v. Rob Van Dam v. Sabu
3. WWF Title: Executioner Lashley v. Booker T
4. NWA Title: Ric Flair (w/Arn Anderson) v. Fit Finlay (w/Dean Malenko)
5. Worldwide Titles: Shane Helms v. Jeff Hardy v. Randy Orton
6. Unified Tags: Sandman/Tommy Dreamer v. LWO: Chavo Guerrero/Carlito Colon (w/ Super Crazy)
7. Legends Match: Shawn Michaels v. Undertaker (w/Steve Austin as special guest referee)
8. Contract Match: Monte Brown (NWA) v. Eddie Little (WWF)
9. Opening Tag: Heat: Montel Porter/Elijah Burke v. John Cena/Ken Kennedy

It is Wrestlemania 23. It is a week away.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII - Part 5

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Part 4 is here.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII – Part V

If you skipped the first four parts, the historical overview of Wrestlemanias 1-22, consider taking a look at it, within those pieces I started the build for XXIII, taking a broad view of some of the matchups, seeing how, they take shape years in advance.

9 matches on tap for the big show from Detroit.

In what may become our newest Mania staple – We have a Contract Match. After the Rumble, Dusty and Steamboat crossed shows in order to put together a WWF v. NWA match at Mania featuring two prospects, one found by Steamboat, one by Dusty – they meet at Mania, winner signs a deal – loser goes home.

Dusty’s guy – a former NFL linebacker – Monte Brown. We see video packages of Brown, ideally shots from the NFL if they can get the permission. Video packages of former teammates/opponents – ex NFL guys will do anything for a couple of bucks, it’s easy name value to put Brown over as a beast. JR and Bradshaw (recall, they’re the announce on Friday Night Fight Night) talk about Brown as having wrestled in a small promotion in Orlando and now being ready for the big time. As we get closer to Mania – Brown appears on Fight Night, cuts some promos – ‘cause Brown can cut a promo – calls Fight Night the Serengeti, you know the deal.

His opponent –

Okay, we’re going viral and aping the Kimbo Slice rise.

Sometime, actually in the end of ’06, streetfights appear online. It’s a Samoan, big tatted up motherfucker, kicking the hell out of guys on the street. It’s Umaga, who we’re gonna call Eddie Little (either because of Omar from The Wire or Malcolm X, you can decide). The key here is there can’t be a whiff of work about it, no sign of WWF-ness, no production value – WWF pays guys to just get the hell beaten out of them on dudes’ cell phones.

Let it roll for a few months. Build whatever type of street level support that can be found; for EXC, it turned into a prime time deal with CBS, so, you know, any cut of that action would be cool, thanks.

A couple weeks after Dusty reveals Brown, and the Brown packages start and the NWA crew starts talking up how their guy is a former NLF linebacker – and who will the WWF guy be – is the NWA gonna go show up the WWF at their premiere event, Wrestlemania XXIII --- with Joey and Taz speculating who Ricky Steamboat will find – then the videos start playing on RAW.

Edited – ‘cause the actual videos should be profane – swearing and girls – full on non-corporate product – so what airs will be less than that – but ideally, it should still feel RAW (I try not to editorialize about real world WWE, but is there a show in television history which is so clearly the opposite of its name?) Little (you’ll get used to it) is kept off TV, actually, there’s talk that Steamboat can’t get him, that he’s uncontrollable – he’s a streetfighter and not a trained worker – that he’s a thug, what is Steamboat doing, bringing a criminal element to Wrestlemania XXIII – maybe Little won’t even show – then the Fight Night before Mania, Little will come out of the crowd and attack Brown – Brown’s gotta juice, Brown goes all crimson mask on Fight Night but keeps fighting – there’s a pull apart, massive security, that kinda thing.

Eddie Little (Umaga) meets the Alpha Male Monte Brown at Wrestlemania XXIII.

The opening tag features Heat: Montel Porter and Elijah Burke, protégées of Booker T, taking on John Cena and Ken Kennedy. Cena and Kennedy, Joey and Taz note, are getting better – Cena’s biggest problem, Taz points out, is he had success before he was ready, winning the tag straps with Orton, and he and Kennedy are still trying to find themselves. We’ve been watching Burke and Porter with Book for months now; the announce positions these two young men as being the inspiration behind the incredible career resurgence for Book – now wrestling for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania XXIII – they’ve re-energized Book, gotten him some of that old fire, that old hunger – they’ve brought some new school gangsta to Book’s gimmick. They introduce him to some Jim Jones, for example. Meanwhile – Book smartens them up. Harnesses their energy. Gives them the old Harlem Heat colors. Book tells them a story in one vignette, about how he and Stevie Ray don’t talk anymore – ‘cause when the old NWA collapsed and he came to WWF, he could have brought Stevie Ray with him, but then he would have been a tag wrestler forever. Or – he could come in and wrestle Kurt Angle for the strap.

And he let Stevie go. And Stevie never got a shot. His own brother, and he turned on him.

Book makes sure they get that’s how gangsta the business is – it’s the game, it’s cutthroat – it’s about getting your spot and keeping your spot. You sweat and bleed and die with your boys – but at the end of the day, it’s about you doing anything you can for your spot – and they gotsta remember that, yo.

That’s the Opening Tag – it’s Heat: Porter and Burke, against Cena and Kennedy.

The Legends Match: Undertaker v. Shawn Michaels

How ‘bout that?

Undertaker is the king of the legends match, having 5 wins. He also has 7 wins overall, one behind Bret and HHH for the all time Mania record.

And Shawn Michaels is Shawn Michaels – Triple Crown Winner. WWF Immortal.

They banded together in the fall of ’06, fighting Flair/HHH and the 51% Solution, they were the locker room leaders – believing that the Solution was harmful for the sport, devaluing the belts with their manipulative shenanigans. It was really a play off where Michaels had been evolving for over a year – as the self appointed moral authority of the locker room, the “conscience” of the WWF. Michaels constantly talking about protecting the business and doing things the right way and taking on the representation of the boys in the back.

He brings in the ‘Taker, as fellow veteran, to his cause.

But part of that Michaels evolution had been to rub people the wrong way – not just heels like Edge, but babyfaces like Matt, had effectively told him to keep his nose out of their business, thanks. Who the hell did he think he was – back when he used to be the man – the Heartbreak Kid – the Showstopper – The Main Event – he never cared about anyone but him – and now he wants to tell everyone how to live.

Shawn views himself as an unappreciated good guy – maybe other guys think of him as a phony.

So – when Michaels aids the Undertaker in preparing for his WWF Title tournament match against unbeaten wrecking machine Executioner Lashley – and that aid turns into Michaels inadvertently superkicking the Taker at the Rumble, allowing Lashley to get the win and costing the Dead Man a shot at the strap – and that turns into the Dead Man turning his back on Michaels – what’s left is a Shawn Michaels who feels he is all alone in the WWF – completely righteous, completely moral – completely neglected.

Especially when the fans start to turn in favor of the Dead Man in the buildup to Mania.

Undertaker’s Undertaker. Solid, veteran, the Legends Match is his match. He’s going for 6 legends wins – 8 overall wins. All about history and tradition and he’s stable, solid, salt of the earth babyface.

Michaels is a little smug about it. I mean, come on – come on. The Taker is great, sure, he’s a great guy – but he has his spot….and Shawn has his spot.

Shawn Michaels is a multi-time World Champion. Multi time WWF Champion. Multi Time IC Champion. Multi Time Tag Champion. Triple Crown winner. You want to build a Mt. Rushmore of the greatest wrestlers in WWF history – and Shawn Michaels is on that mountain.

And the Undertaker, Shawn tells us, isn’t.

He just isn’t.

Shawn big times the Dead Man like that.

The Taker is now the rock of the locker room – no one’s more respected. And Shawn is unappreciated, misunderstood, disrespected Shawn Michaels.

They meet in the Legends Match at Wrestlemania XXIII.

5 titles, an all time record, on the line at Wrestlemania XXIII.

The tag champs are Sandman and Dreamer – the ECW veterans, who finally grabbed gold (for Dreamer, his first belt of any sort – ever) at Rumble 07, going over Van Dam and Sabu with the help of Kendrick/Noble and the embrace of GDI. In the run up to Mania, they turn face, or rather, face enough to more thoroughly embrace the “crowd pops for Enter Sandman” aspect of their title run. Noble/Kendrick, punk kids that they are, begin to interfere too early in Sandman/Dreamer defenses – taking away a pinfall, stealing some of the spotlight. They attempt to put them in their place – Sandman/Dreamer saying they’re the Unified Tag Champs – and caning the hell out of Kendrick/Noble one Tuesday night on GDI

(A reminder – WWF is on RAW Mondays, it’s a show that looks like NOAH. GDI, which we all know stands for God Damn Independent, but for TV purposes is Global Dominant Independent, is on Tuesdays and looks like ROH, and NWA Friday Night Fight Night is, oddly, on Fridays and looks like UFC – no cage, it’s not MMA, it’s graps, but it’s the shootfight atmosphere that I want on Fridays.)

That feud gets some run on the way to Mania, Sandman/Dreamer v. Noble/Kendrick, but that’s not the Mania match – there will be some type of heavy juice match, like a Stairway to Hell, as much juice as Sci Fi will do – Sandman and Dreamer will keep – it will be positioned as “winner defends at Mania”

They’ll defend against the hottest tag act in the company – Carlito and Chavo, with Crazy on the floor – the Latino World Order.

Carlito, who ran both Psychosys and Juvie out of the LWO, grabbing control with Crazy as his sidekick, courted Chavo in the summer of ’06. Chavo, a babyface, refused, leading to a match at Summer Slam, where, because Carlito won, Chavo was forced to join.

He tried to subvert the group for awhile, but Carlito didn’t react with anger – he treated Chavo with warmth, said they were his family, the subtext of which (not the text, they don’t play the Eddy, or later, the Benoit cards in angles, it’s not to say they’re never mentioned…it’s a fine line, exploiting vs. honoring, I tend to give the company pretty wide expanse, when evaluating the ethics of WWF, in how they treat their recent dead; I’m unsure that I could do better; for example, my brother hates the Vickie/Edge program, finds it exploitative of Eddy and disrespectful, by omission, to the other dead workers who don’t get deified in the way that Eddy does…I don’t disagree with any of that, but I still really liked the angle; I preferred it when Chavo was part of it; as storytelling, I think it’s one of the few examples where WWE is doing something really well – it’s a hard line to draw. Much easier is, say, criticizing them for needing a screwjob to put Flair over Vince two weeks before Flair wrestles Michaels at Mania, which from every reasonable viewpoint is batshit crazy. So, I’ve renamed, as most of you are aware, the Triple Crown, the Hart-Guerrero Memorial Triple Crown, as it’s positioned as “beyond mere wrestling angles”…which is of course, just a wrestling angle in and of itself, but don’t tell me, I don’t want to hear that noise, and as I try to treat the wrestlers as actual people, when I can, and not writer’s creations – the Chavo character, the Rey character, the Jericho character when he returns, they’re going to be impacted by the deaths of the other wrestlers – I try to keep it on a subterranean level, so Chavo doesn’t say “Eddy’s dead and I’m using the affection of Carlito as a surrogate” but that’s what would happen to Chavo. Jericho didn’t say “I’m taking Owen’s spot” and when he comes back he won’t say “Benoit’s dead and I’m here to take his place” but you know, that’s sort of how it is. One’s mileage may vary on all of these things. Except for Vince and Flair. Batshit crazy).

Carlito’s warmth, his understanding – his constant confidence in Chavo, that he’d eventually come around to being a heel won him over – Chavo went full on devious LWO – they have run over the tag ranks in the WWF, humiliating (I don’t think that’s too strong) Cena/Kennedy for months, and on the night when Sandman/Dreamer dispose of London/Kendrick – the LWO invades GDI.

They attack the champs – caning them – Calito hits the Back Stabber on Dreamer, Chavo frog splashes Sandman through a table – the LWO is all up in yo’ kitchen.

I don’t know who the faces and heels really are at this point. Sandman and Dreamer are Sandman and Dreamer. They’ll get cheered by a healthy percentage of the crowd.

LWO are heels, but they’re WWF all the way – so they’ll get some support from the RAW announce – except when they don’t. Carlito cuts a promo on Joey and Taz – saying that when they talk about the contract match – they’re all about Eddie Little – and he’s some thug, some street brawler who’s never even been here before. He’s not one of us – but he’s gonna wear the WWF colors at Wrestlemania, gonna go up against Monte Brown and the NWA – so they’re gonna root for him.

But who are they for in the tag match, Carlito challenges?

‘Cause it seems to him that Joey and Taz are saying lots of good things about Sandman and Dreamer – let’s say they play the clip from the Rumble, Joey and Taz both very emotional when Dreamer holds his very first Championship belt.

Carlito knows they’re boys from back in the day. But ECW’s dead – and it’s Ricky Steamboat who signs their checks – and they need to get behind the team.

Joey tries to be diplomatic. But Taz says fuck that – Taz gets into Carlito’s face – says if he were as good a wrestler as the guy carrying the Mexican flag (that would be Crazy) maybe he wouldn’t need some announcers to cheer for him.

Steamboat enters.

And Steamboat cuts a promo on Taz.

He says he isn’t in love with the LWO tactics. But at Mania, there will be 6 announcers, JR and Bradshaw from the NWA, Josh Matthews and Al Snow from GDI, and Joey Styles and Taz – and there won’t be any question who those other four guys will be pulling for.

But Steamboat agrees with Carlito – there’s room to question Joey and Taz.

And that starts a chilly relationship between Steamboat and his announce team.

It also gives Steamboat another layer, besides white meat legendary babyface – he is 100% committed to all things WWF.

And it gives some “you’re with us or you’re against us” intrigue to the match.

It’ll be a “ECW Weapons Match” – obviously it has to be a garbage match, it’s Sandman and Dreamer – but I don’t want to use the glass light tubes, important not to do anything to detract from the Cell, given we’ve been building to it for a year – and actually much, much longer than that.

Sandman and Dreamer defending against Carlito and Chavo in a weapons match.

Still 5 matches left.

The IC is less complicated.

Sugar Shane Helms is the champ, he took from HHH at Survivor Series when the Solution imploded, kept over Crazy at the Rumble – and will now defend at Mania in a Triple Threat Match.

Note – the Triple Threat Match is one fall to a finish.

As distinguished from a Three Way Dance which is an elimination match.

The distinction is important for Mania, as both types of matches are on the docket.

Helms, the ultimate underdog babyface, is on the WWF roster – cuts a promo – thanks the fans – says since he was a kid he wanted to defend a title at WM – and in front of 70,000 people in Detroit – it’s going to be not just the biggest moment of his career – but of his whole life.

And there’s only one person he wants to share that moment with.

Jeff Hardy.

Jeff enters.

Jeff returned after years away at Summer Slam ’06, interfering in the Michaels/Edge ladder match over Matt’s contract. Jeff is clean (kayfabe) centered, focused, not a kid anymore – not reckless and wild out of nature – he’s stable. The Hardys broke themselves in their WWF tag run – the long, long war with Edge and Christian – it turned Matt into a shadowy character – sort of a Crow Sting/Stone Cold/Brian F’n Pillman combination – a monster enigmatic dark babyface.

But Jeff’s recovered – he’s at peace. He kills himself inside the ring because he wants to, not because he’s driven by the demons that obviously eat away at both Matt and Edge.

Jeff had a time limit draw with Michaels at Survivor Series.

We get, really the first time, the Helms/Hardys backstory – Helms being brought into the business by the Hardys in North Carolina – Matt and Jeff were WWF ringboys, but would go back home to work in front of 30 people in Omega. We see old clips of very young Jeff and even younger Helms.

Helms calls Jeff his hero.

Helms says Jeff hasn’t wrestled at Wrestlemania in 5 years.

And it would be his honor to put up his Worldwide Titles against Jeff Hardy at Wrestlemania XXIII.

So, they make the match.
Helms goes to Fight Night to defend his strap, say against Benjamin (note, how the IC is kept relevant is it and the tag belts are defended on all 3 shows, defended against any wrestler on any show – the singles Heavy titles are theoretically only contested between wrestlers from that particular show, but the Worldwide and the Unified tags are on all the shows, it keeps them special, and the 3 Heavy belts are obviously special – 5 special belts! Perhaps I’m reaching a little, but, you know – tradeoffs.) Helms goes over – and in mid celebration he is dropped by an Orton RKO.

The announce approves.

Another way to sell the split among the groups – when Helms, the WWF face, gets taken out by Orton, the NWA heel – JR and Bradshaw celebrate.

After that, there’s a tag – Helms and Jeff taking on ‘Taker and Shawn – selling both the Mania matches and playing off the Rumble match that just happened between Shawn and Jeff. All 4 babyfaces, even Shawn, despite the boos, Michaels has been a face now ever since his return, and he still thinks of himself completely as a babyface. Thinks that people have turned their backs on him – so he’s still Shawn Michaels – slapping five with the fans, dancing – smiling – he’s the legendary Heartbreak Kid….growing increasingly irritated…surprised…why are they booing me….I am above this….

Taker and Michaels don’t get along, there’s a mixup, Jeff gets the pinfall on Shawn.

Taker and Michaels argue – Helms and Jeff celebrate – and Orton, from nowhere – Double RKO! Jeff drops. Helms drops. Orton stands above both of them.

Recall the Orton arc – he and Cena were tag champs, he’s now starting the re-climb, he beat Fit at Survivor Series, losing then at the Rumble in the NWA Tourney – JR and Bradshaw sell the RKO – he can hit it at any time – from any angle – he is dangerous – he’s 3rd generation – he’s Randy Orton.

Orton cuts promo on Friday. Says 2 WWF guys shouldn’t be wrestling for the Worldwide belt. Says he wants to represent the NWA – says the combined age of the 2 guys wrestling for the World belt is a hundred years old – they might both have heart attacks and then there would be no NWA champ.

So that means the NWA needs to have control of the Worldwide Belts.

He wants in. Triple Threat Match – One Fall to a Finish – if Helms and Jeff want to gang up on him – that’s fine – he don’t sweat them – he’s Randy Orton and he’s ready to go to the next level.

Like the tag match, this match comes about relatively late. Most of the matches were made super early, the main event is a year in the making – the World matches were made at the Rumble and the ECW match is made soon after that. But this comes late – late enough that they don’t look to make much of a fissure between Jeff and Helms – they’re friends – but it’s one fall to a finish – it’s a Triple Threat Match – so they won’t be able to team up to eliminate Orton and then wrestle themselves – ‘cause it’s one fall.

That’s the IC. Helms v. Jeff v. Orton. One fall to a finish.

5 down.

4 to go.

Ric Flair is the 7 (or 8) time World Champion and in what may be his last match (it’s all very shadowy) he takes on Fit Finlay. Flair was Undisputed Champ in ’06, part of the 51% Solution, he took from Mysterio at Summer Slam, then dropped to Punk at Survivor Series. That destroyed the Solution, led to Punk throwing down two of the title belts, and kicked off the current phase of the WWF.

Flair willingly gave up all his power after Punk’s dastardly deed, helping him turn face. Flair went to the NWA, having virtually to beg Dusty to let him in the World Title Tournament. Flair, with rumors of his retirement if he were to lose circulating, went over Benjamin at the Rumble – and is now facing Fit Finlay, former Worldwide Champ, for the NWA strap at Wrestlemania.

Rumors continue to spread – we see Flair hanging out with Arn in the back – hey, look – there’s Barry Windham. Even Steamboat comes over, and we see laughter between the two longtime rivals. There is no announcement – but Flair occasionally tears up during promos – obviously emotional – and there is a point, say after Flair beats Haas (managed, of course, by Arn) where Arn keeps him in the ring.

Arn cuts promo – saying that Strong Style doesn’t have a match at Mania – so he’s free for the evening.

And after a quarter century of driving up and down the road with Ric Flair – Double A says he would like the privilege of standing up for Flair one more time – as his manager at Wrestlemania. Double A. Nature Boy – Wrestlemania XXIII. Woooooooooo!

Fit, is of course, with Dean. And they are the face of the NWA – just hard, uncompromising – stiff. The announce puts over Malenko as maybe the greatest manager in wrestling. Fit was retired, retired for years – he and Arn and Dean were the Titan Trust – they ran the company – and somehow, Dean was able to aid Fit in regaining that fire, getting back into condition – driving to win the IC belt from Benoit.

And now, with the new NWA all stiffness, all no nonsense fighting – Fit and Dean, hard’s men, are front and center.

The NWA Title – Ric Flair v. Fit Finlay. Wrestlemania XXIII.

3 matches left.
Booker T was a two time tag champ with Harlem Heat in the NWA and he and Bradshaw held the WWF tag belts. Book is in a career resurgence, propelled by his mentor/protégée relationship with Porter and Burke, who have been named Heat in reflection of that. They’ve been in a feud with Lashley during Heat’s entire WWF career – coming out on the squashed end, pretty much constantly – Book himself took a good beating by Lashley at Survivor Series.

But Book upset heavily favored Edge at the Rumble to advance to the finals of the WWF Heavyweight Tournament, Book and Heat – ballin’ all the way to Detroit. Ballin’! Ball….in’!

I get carried away sometimes.

Lashley’s unbeaten. A monster heel. The Executioner. And repeated clips of his ending the careers of Benoit…Hogan…Paul…Kane…are shown – and even Rey and Hunter – on the shelf with surgeries, missing Mania from the hands of Lashley. Dominators through tables. He’s an unstoppable force of nature. He can’t be stopped. He can’t be scored upon. He’s impenetrable. He knows no fear and feels no pain. Arrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh!!!!!

One of these two men will be the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Which is unpleasant, ‘cause Jack Johnson was 90 years ago.

But Tony Dungy v. Lovie Smith was just a couple months before. Book, a wrestling historian and a champion of black causes, is not shy about “shoot style” promos where he talks about what it would mean to him. Where he talks about how men like Ernie Ladd and Bobo Brazill would be vindicated. Where he says he has an obligation to those who have gone before and those, like Porter and Burke, who will follow after he’s done. There’s gonna be a black man walking out of Detroit with the WWF Title around his waist – and he just can’t have it be Lashley – it’s not right, not right for the business.

It’s Book. It’s Lashley. WWF Title.

So – we’ve built 7 of 9.

Top 2 matches left. Still to come - the ECW title - who will Punk defend against?

And the Main Event. Only the 3rd Hell in a Cell match in WWF history -- the match a decade in the making -- Edge. Matt. Hell. Cell.

We'll talk about those matches this weekend.

Here's what we have so far:

WWF Title: Executioner Lashley v. Booker T
NWA Title: Ric Flair v. Fit Finlay
Worldwide Titles: Shane Helms v. Jeff Hardy v. Randy Orton
Unified Tags: Sandman/Dreamer v. LWO
Legends Match: Shawn Michaels v. Undertaker
Contract Match: Monte Brown v. Eddie Little
Opening Tag: Heat v. Cena/Kennedy
Top two matches coming next – as the Road to Wrestlemania XXIII concludes this weekend.

Next weekend, to coincide with real world XXIV – Counterfactual XXIII.

Call your cable company! The road continues.

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