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Default December 29th, 2002: Starrcade

December 29th, 2002

From the Sydney Super Dome in Sydney, Australia

Attendance: 21,000

Announce Team: "The Professor" Mike Tenay and Bret "The Hitman" Hart

Official Theme Song:

Mask vs. Hair:
American Dragon vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr.

I thought this would be a good way to get the show started, and I was right. Dragon and Chavo rewarded my faith with a very entertaining match. It was one of the better ones on the entire show, in fact (though it was eclipsed by a few.) I thought they did a really good job at wrestling a match with flashy fast-paced offense and good mat-based grappling while still making it feel like a fight between two guys who don't like each other.

Dragon's technical skills gave Chavo fits, so he resorted to shenanigans. As they were pressed against the ropes and referee Marty Rubalcaba tried to break them apart, Chavo tugged on Dragon's mask, twisting it sideways and obscuring his vision. Mike and I ranted about Chavo being a hypocrite for saying Dragon disrespected the heritage of lucha libre and then pulling a stunt like this, but all that mattered to Chavo was that he capitalized with a brainbuster for the pin.

Grade: B+

As American Dragon adhered to the pre-match stipulations and removed his mask, Bobby Heenan came out to the ring so he could interview him. He gave his personal story: a 21-year old from Aberdeen, Washington, trained by the legendary Shawn Michaels (a legendary a-hole, maybe), and said that this wasn't the way he planned the night to go, but he wasn't going to let it destroy him. "The mask may be gone, and the American Dragon may be no more, but everyone in WCW will soon learn to respect the name Bryan Danielson!" he says.

Grade: C
Cruiserweight Shootout

This was the prototypical spotfest; under ten minutes and all action, with top rope move after top rope move and dive after dive. The first fall wins nature of the shootout only added to that, with guys scrambling left and right to break up pin attempts. All six of these guys were well suited to this kind of stunt show, so it was a pretty entertaining match. TAKA was the standout performer here, as he's the biggest star and arguably the best worker of the bunch. I think Teddy might have been nervous being put in this kind of spotlight, because he looked a little off in his execution. Even with an off night his performance was still better than Psychosis, who has honestly been a bit of a disappointment since we brought him back.

Everyone got in some signature spots and recorded some near falls. Teddy strategically wiped out the rest of the field with a corkscrew Asai moonsault to the floor, then went to finish off Kidman back inside with his Open Hart Surgery (a corkscrew senton bomb off the top rope.) Kidman got out of the way though, and after Teddy's crash landing he was hit with a Shooting Star Press to end the match.

Grade: B

Arn Anderson welcomed us to his office and attempted to plug the all-women's PPV 'Dancing with the Devil' on January 12th, but he was interrupted by Fit Finlay. Fit complained about his reign as TV Champion being ignored. He'd made eight title defenses and was two away from having the option of vacating the title to challenge for the US belt, but he couldn't even get a match on the biggest show of the year. He called it ridiculous and said the TV title should be eligible to be defended at PPVs. Arn thought it over, nodded and agreed with him, so going forward the TV title can be defended on our big shows. (The title being restricted to Nitro was an attempt to differentiate it and get over the 'TV' gimmick, but I think it wound up being a negative as no PPV matches meant it took a backseat to other storylines. This takes care of that, and I think the option to vacate it to challenge for the US or World titles is enough of a wrinkle to make the belt stand out from the others.)

That was settled, but a new problem arose when several wrestlers ran into the office to say that there was a situation in the parking lot that required Arn's attention. Arn sighed and made a quip about his job never being over as he left his office and went to the parking lot, the camera man trailing close behind.

Grade: D+

Arn found none other than the Nature Boy! Ric was trying to enter the building, but found his way blocked by a horde of security. Arn shook his head and said he expected this. He apologized to Ric, but said he couldn't allow him into the building. Eric Bischoff's legal team had already threatened to sue WCW if Flair was allowed anywhere near him, and he would have a legitimate argument since Ric was no longer a wrestler, wasn't booked on the show and didn't have a valid reason to enter the building. Ric verbally ripped into Arn, calling him a "fake friend" first for calling for the bell at War Games and taking his career away from him, and now for trying to keep him out of the building tonight of all nights--"the biggest night of the year, the house that Ric Flair built, Starrcade!" Ric may have been a little too amped up cutting his first promo in months, or maybe he was just rusty. Either way, he was tripping over his own words and getting a little too "shouty." Arn did a good job covering for him, doing well in his role as the straight-talking authority figure trying to explain the facts to his friend.

His head bowed, Arn said he was sad to see Ric's career end, but it was his own decision to put it on the line in the first place. Stopping that match had been one of the hardest things Arn had ever had to do in his life, but his job was to make the hard choices, and he could sleep soundly at night knowing that he made the right choice. "If you want to air your grievances with me, so be it. But it'll have to wait, because I have a show to run and legally I can't allow you in," Arn says. Ric smiles at that and says that legally, Arn HAS to let him in. Ric produces a folded-up piece of paper and hands it to Arn, who unfolds it and slips on his reading glasses to inspect it. He frowns, hands the paper back to Ric and orders the security to step aside and let Ric into the building. Flair laughs, "WOOs" in his longtime friend's face and struts into the building.

Grade: B-
Street Fight:
Sean O'Haire vs. Chuck Palumbo (w/Tammy Sytch)

The Thrillers ruled our tag division for a year, but it was time to split them up, and now it was time to close the book on their rivalry. I made this a wild brawl, and not really trusting either of them to carry the match, I had road agent Bob Orton Jr. work closely with them on scripting out the major moments of the match. I envisioned it as more of a fight, like an old-school brawl, but they interpreted a street fight as more of a modern hardcore match. They used lots of "plunder", as Dusty Rhodes would say, hitting each other with a variety of foreign objects. I kept the match short, just a shade under 11 minutes, yet you could still see that Palumbo was gassing out hard before the end. O'Haire's performance was on a completely different level. It was no secret that Sean was the star of the team, and that may not have ever been made more clear than it was during this match.

Palumbo was wearing O'Haire out with a steel chair on the floor, but Sean blocked an attempted shot to the head and tore the chair out of his grip. Chuck begged off, not wanting Sean to use the chair on him. O'Haire considered it, but tossed the chair onto the ground and pursued Palumbo up onto the entrance ramp empty-handed. Mike and I pushed the idea that he wanted to finish his former partner off with his own two hands. Palumbo tried to surprise him with a kick to the groin, but O'Haire blocked that and hit a belly to back suplex on the ramp to end the match. (I thought doing his Widow Maker finish on the ramp would be too dangerous.)

Grade: B-

I figured it'd be a nice gesture to get Roddy a Starrcade payday, so we did an unannounced Piper's Pit with Made in Italy. Parisi and Mamaluke insulted Roddy's fashion, particularly his kilt, which he laughed off sarcastically. He told them they could talk about custom suits and fancy shoes all they wanted to, but that wasn't going to help them in the slightest once they stepped into the ring with men who wanted to tear their heads off. The boys assured him that once they rolled up their sleeves and went to work they were as tough and skilled as they come. They would come to the ring in style, outwrestle their opponents, get their hands raised and throw a grand celebration after their work was done.

I kept this scripted, as I wasn't about to send Tony Mamaluke out there with a live microphone and no safety net. He still underperformed, and Parisi was very underwhelming as well. Roddy came across as a real star though, especially in comparison. Segments like this are a good way to introduce Made in Italy to our fans and hopefully help improve their verbal skills. You could see Parisi showing some more charisma working opposite Piper, so that's good.

Grade: C+

AJ Styles vs. Shane Douglas {}

I'll be honest: I didn't have firm plans in place for either of these guys a month ago. I certainly intended to have them both on the show, but I wasn't sure who they'd be working with. Then I happened to be browsing the forum on our official website, and a user named DavidCorperial posted a 'dream card' for Starrcade that included this match. Yep, I shamelessly stole an idea from the Internet.

Shane found himself in a somewhat unfamiliar position here. For most of his title reign he's been having to carry workers less talented than himself to quality matches, but tonight he shared the ring with someone who is more athletic and, arguably, a more talented worker than he is. Maybe Shane was thrown off by this circumstance, because he had a really off night. He executed a couple of sloppy suplexes, and at one point applied a submission so loosely that no fan could realistically believe it was causing any pain. But here's the thing about working with talented people: you don't have to work quite as hard to have good results. AJ provided some great moments with his high flying, and Douglas was able to generate some good heat and get people cheering for the youngster. Despite Shane not performing up to his usual standard, this wound up being the best title match of his title run to this point, and the best US title match since Booker vs. Mysterio back at SuperBrawl.

A missed top rope move by AJ opened the door for Shane to apply his crossface. AJ was a long way from the rope and teased tapping out, but crawled forward until he forced the break. A frustrated Douglas broke the hold and dragged him back towards the center by his leg so he could immediately reapply it, but Styles stood up, balanced on one foot and hit an enzuigiri. He went out to the apron and hit a beautiful springboard 450 splash! The referee counted once...


three times! The fans cheered as AJ Styles scored the biggest win of his career, ending the nearly nine month title reign of Shane Douglas!

Grade: B+
We aired a brief video that began with footage of Ric Flair beating Harley Race for the World title in a steel cage match at the first Starrcade in 1983 (footage made intentionally grainy to try and make it feel more historic.) Then it jumped forward to last year in Tokyo, where RVD won the title from Scott Steiner. It ended with the message that next year's Starrcade, the 20th Anniversary, would be "going home" on December 28th. ("Home" in this case meaning the Greensboro Coliseum, where the first several Starrcades were held.)

Grade: B
"Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner (w/Midajah) vs. Rick Steiner

I don't think anyone was surprised to see the style of match these two wrestled. It was a mix of brawling and amateur-style stuff, with suplexes aplenty on both sides. The real story here was the very different mindsets of the brothers. Rick was all business, attacking head-on and going straight for the win. Scott was more interested in putting on a show, playing to the crowd with poses and push-ups whenever he had the advantage. It has to be said that the crowd cheered Scott despite his cockiness. He was the clear star of the match, which we all expected. The match itself was the weakest of the night aside from a battle royal on the pre-show, but I wasn't expecting or counting on it to be great.

Scott seemingly could have won the match after hitting several suplexes in a row and then moving into position for the Steiner Recliner, but he decided he wanted a flashier finish. He picked Rick up and lifted him onto the top turnbuckle, where he attempted to bust out a Frankensteiner! Rick fought it off though, connecting with several punches to the face until Scott stumbled back off the ropes. He was staggered, and Rick came off of the top with a flying bulldog to get the win!

Grade: C+

Once he came to his senses, Scott sat there and stared in disbelief as Rick had his hand raised. Shock gave way to decisiveness as he got up off the mat and spun his brother around by the arm so they were face to face. They had a staredown, which ended when Scott held out his hand for his brother to shake. Rick looked doubtful at first, but then shook Scott's hand. He gave his younger brother a hug, and the Steiners raised each other's arms in the air, evidently united again.

Grade: C+

Jamie Knoble vs. "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels {} (w/Brian Adams)

I think both of these guys probably felt some pressure heading into this one. Knoble has been lost in the shuffle somewhat, and no doubt he wanted to put on a good show and boost his stock in the process. As for Daniels, if we're being honest, the match quality in Cruiserweight Championship matches has dipped a bit during his reign. He hasn't been stinking the joint up or anything, but he hasn't come close to matching the highs that the likes of AJ Styles and TAKA had previously done. This match didn't exactly accomplish that either, but it was the best Daniels has been involved in, so that's a step in the right direction.

Knoble worked his traditional mat-based match, using plenty of submissions to wear the champion down. Daniels mixed it up on the mat a bit, but generally looked to hit high-impact moves that would hopefully make the difference. Going for it all like that allowed Knoble to evade and counter frequently, but a big spin-out powerbomb gave Daniels enough time to execute his Angel's Descent and retain his title.

Grade: B

When RVD entered the ring alone and empty-handed, King Corino began taunting him about making empty promises. "Where is your equalizer? Where is this great solution?" Corino asked. He again ranted about RVD getting involved and foiling his plot against Rey Mysterio Jr. in the finals of the Stu Hart Classic, saying it should've been him challenging for the World Heavyweight Championship tonight, and instead he had to make do with beating the crap out of RVD just like he did in the bingo halls of Philadelphia.

Van Dam smiled and apologized for coming out alone, but his equalizer always loved to make a grand entrance. He said he could have gone a lot of ways with this. He could've brought a weapon, sure, or one of his old ECW buddies, but the best person to help him deal with The Empire was someone who hated them even more than he does. Bischoff got a nervous look on his face, which RVD noticed. "Yeah, you're smarter than you look, huh, Eric? You knew what I was going to do, and that's why you and your lawyers tried to stop it. I'm sure you've been panicking all night once you saw your plan fail, huh? You tried to keep him out, but you failed! Come on out, Ric!"

It wasn't much of a surprise since we'd already shown him, but Ric Flair still got a nice pop in his first appearance in front of a live crowd since his retirement ceremony over three months ago. Bischoff immediately started shouting about suing WCW for letting Flair into the building, but Ric pulled out the same piece of paper he'd shown Arn earlier.

"See that, Eric? It's a manager's license! You thought you could keep Ric Flair out of Starrcade? You thought you could keep me out of WCW? Think again, jackass! Rob-Van-Dam called me up and asked me to be here tonight, and there was no way I was gonna pass up a chance to screw up your plans, Bischoff! Because you and the entire world might have thought you killed the Nature Boy, but DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, AND SO'S RIC FLAIR! WOOOOOOO!"

Grade: B+
Rob Van Dam (w/Ric Flair) vs. King Corino (w/Eric Bischoff)

Knowing what both of these guys are capable of, I believed that this would be one of the best matches of the night, and potentially could steal the show. The first point was definitely true, but whether the second would come to pass as well would be determined later in the night. Regardless, this one was great. There were some issues with psychology, as I don't think they did enough to incorporate Flair and Bischoff into the story they were telling.

That was just a minor bump in the road though, because both guys turned in great overall performances. RVD did really well, not only throwing his kicks and doing his acrobatic stuff, but also showing off some improved technical skills during some mat wrestling exchanges. But as good as he was, Corino was even better. He followed up a tremendous match with Rey last month with a fantastic effort in another great match (though not quite as great as that Stu Hart Classic final.) He's a very good technical worker and an even better brawler, and is just such a natural heel. He was able to work the crowd into a frenzy and really get them behind RVD, who himself is an amazing babyface.

As I mentioned earlier, Flair and Bischoff didn't factor into the match for the most part. That changed when we hit the home stretch though. After a ref bump, Eric attempted to sneak into the ring and help Corino, only for Flair to spin him around, chop him across the chest and drop him with a punch to the jaw! He "wooed" and held his hand into the air, revealing he'd knocked Eric out with a pair of "brass knuckles." Flair threw off his suit jacket, rolled into the ring and began strutting around. The fans laughed and applauded the Nature Boy.

The applause died suddenly when Ric sucker-punched Van Dam with the knuckles! (Well, some of the smarks started cheering even louder, but there were definitely a lot of surprised people.) Corino sat in the corner and sold his surprise well, while Mike and I wondered if he was actually surprised or if this had been arranged ahead of time. Flair left the ring and strutted back up the ramp, leaving Corino nothing to do but cover RVD and wait for the referee to recover and make the count.

Grade: A
The Smiths vs. The Jung Dragons (w/Stacy Keibler)

This match was put into this slot to calm the crowd down and give them a chance to cool off after the heated match that came just before it. It worked as intended, and I have to say it was a bit better than I expected it to be considering its role as a 7 or 8 minute cooldown match. I was particularly impressed with Harry, as the 17 year old rookie kept up admirably with his three coworkers. In storyline it played out somewhat differently, as Stacy Keibler hopped onto the apron and the inexperienced young man was understandably distracted. That left him open for Yang to finish him off while Hayashi kept Davey Boy on the apron.

Grade: B-

Salvation entered for their match, with the newest 'brother' still masked. Father Isaac cut a promo introducing him. He said this man's face was familiar to WCW fans, but it wasn't one they'd ever been happy to see. They'd rejected him, they'd ignored him, and they'd forgotten him. Now they would be not only reintroduced to him, but introduced to a side of him they'd never seen before. The man slowly pulled off his mask, revealing...

Alex Wright (though Isaac introduced him as simply 'Alexander.') Alexander took the microphone and said he was sure most fans were surprised to see him, because most of them had forgotten he existed while he spent months recovering from a torn quadriceps. But one man hadn't forgotten him, and that man was Father Isaac. He'd reached out, and in Alexander's darkest hour, the Father had extended his hand and shown him the way. "I won't be your dancing fool any more!" he said. "No more Das Wunderkind! Now I am Alexander, freed from my burdens just as my new brother Mortis here has been, and we are The Unbound!"

Alex has never been known as much of a promo, and he didn't do anything to change that perception with a lackluster job on the mic tonight. The star of the segment was Mortis, who commanded everyone's attention even though he was just a silent presence in the background.

Grade: C+
Hugh Morrus and Konnan vs. The Unbound (w/Father Isaac)

So some background here. Quite some time ago, probably over a year, we paired Alex and Mortis together on a house show and were wowed by some excellent chemistry between them. I immediately began planning a storyline which would begin with Alex and Jamie Knoble (who'd previously challenged for the tag titles via a UFS shot) forming a team and feuding with Salvation, which would ultimately lead to Alex turning on Knoble, joining Salvation and forming a team with Mortis. We'd just made the Wright/Knoble team official on TV when Alex tore his quad, which blew all my plans up. I decided his lengthy absence would lend itself to a heel turn and gimmick change upon his return, so I skipped all the buildup and jumped straight to this.

The excellent chemistry was on display again here, as Mortis and Alexander seemed to instinctually know how to work together for maximum effect (both in kayfabe and in working terms.) The match was also helped by Mortis, who was absolutely phenomenal in this match. His offense looked great, and the fans really seemed to buy him as this devious offensive innovator. I'd say he was the best individual performer of the night to this point. As for Hugh and Konnan, we all know what their role was here. The Unbound won the match with a combo we're calling the Fatal Flatliner--Wright hits a dropkick to the back of the head just before Mortis delivers his signature Flatliner.

Grade: B
Diamond Dallas Page vs. "Sugar" Shane Helms (w/Kimberly)

Despite knowing that Dallas and Shane are pretty compatible as opponents, I wasn't expecting or really even wanting a classic out of this one. This was all about the storyline of Helms being managed by DDP's ex-wife, and that story took precedence over the action here. We emphasized the strife that's been building between Helms and Kimberly ever since her failed distraction led to Shane losing to DDP last month at Calgary Stampede. Lots of possibilities were teased here, from Kimberly still having feelings for Dallas to Helms rethinking his decision to associate her. It all led up to Kimberly showing some concern when it looked like Helms was about to hit the Vertebraker. Helms noticed and looked at her in disgust, and moments later was caught with a Diamond Cutter for another loss.

Grade: B-

We went into the locker rooms for the thoughts of both the True Heroes and the Hardys as they prepared for their main event ladder match. Matt and Jeff were too "in the moment" to speak, so we just showed their concentration as they got ready to do battle. In the locker room of the champions, Lance Storm alternated between stretching and standing with his arms behind his back, leaving the talking to CM Punk. Punk is obviously the stronger talker of the two, and he delivered very well here.

"Everyone thinks the Hardys have the advantage tonight," Punk said. "After all, they know all about ladder matches. In 1999, they had their breakout performance in a ladder match, a match that revolutionized the modern style of ladder matches. They competed in ladder matches on the grandest stage in wrestling two years in a row, and they starred in unforgettable moments that will live on in highlights packages for years and decades to come. Matt and Jeff Hardy are modern-day masters of the ladder match, and Lance and I are well aware of it.

"But here's something else we're well aware of: this isn't 1999, or 2000, or 2001, and it sure as hell isn't that cartoon land of 'sports entertainers' where Matt and Jeff got famous. This is World Championship Wrestling, the NEW World Championship Wrestling, home to the brightest young wrestlers in the world who are pushing the boundaries and paving the way for what this business is going to be all about in the years to come. And no one is doing that more than Lance Storm and CM Punk. We are the best tag team on this planet today. When we call ourselves True Heroes, it's because we are a tag team without equal. We do things the RIGHT way, without any chemical enhancements or drugs pumped into our bodies! We win matches not by doing stunts and jumping off of things, but by outwrestling our opponents with superior skill and unmatched teamwork.

"But in his infinite wisdom, Arn Anderson has put us into a stunt show tonight. He's put us into a match where we can't use our flawless mat skills to pin the Hardys, or our submissions to make them tap out. Instead, we have to beat Matt and Jeff at their own game. Well you know what, Hardys? If that's what we've gotta do, so be it! If we have to bash you in the head with chairs, put you through tables and knock you off of ladders in order to hold onto the most prestigious tag team titles in the world, that's exactly what we're going to do! And at the end of the day, in the main event of the biggest Starrcade in history, over twenty thousand people will have no choice but to bow down and recognize that Lance and I are exactly what we claim to be: True Heroes!"

Grade: A*
World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender:
Sting vs. Chris Candido (w/Tammy Sytch) vs. The Destroyer vs. The Unnatural (w/Father Isaac)

This match was really put together because I didn't have anything else lined up for these guys on this show, but it was far from a throwaway match since the winner will be working with the world champion at next month's PPV. While Sting might not be as physically declined as Flair, it's still kind of sad for me to watch him work at this point. He may not have ever been an elite-level worker in the ring, but he was always good enough to get by, especially with his charisma and his ability to connect with the fans as a babyface. He was pretty clearly the weakest performer in this match, struggling to keep up with the pace and the standard of work set by the other three participants. On the flip side, Dustin looked great and really set the bar for everyone else in the match to try and match. He had a rough few years around the turn of the millennium, but he's bounced back in a huge way and has really embraced this darker Unnatural character, and it's been great to see.

I think the #1 contender stip went a long way to make up for there not being any true rivalry being advanced here. There was still an interesting story being told though, with Unnatural and Destroyer freely working together while Sting and Candido were both obviously in it only for themselves. The continuity of the Salvation members shone through in a huge way, with neither of them attempting to intervene when the other had a chance to score a fall and win the match. That carried through all the way to the finish, where Destroyer fought Sting off while Unnatural Selection spelled the end for Candido.

Grade: B

Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Booker T {}

We ran a pre-match video package going over the history between Rey and Booker, going back to Booker challenging Rey for the US title at SuperBrawl in an attempt to win the title and use it to try and regain the world title, then the following month at Clash of the Champions where Booker interfered in Rey's World title match against Rob Van Dam, attacking both men for a no contest. The rivalry kicked into full gear after Booker regained the title from Van Dam, and in a title defense at Bash at the Beach, he laid Rey out with a Book End on the concrete. That injury sent Rey into a sabbatical lasting several months, but he returned with his mask on and won the Stu Hart Classic to set up this match. Tenay's voice work on this video package was pretty weak, but on the whole it did a fantastic job recapping the major points of this story and getting people more excited for the match.

Grade: A*

They may not have been the main event, but this was still a huge match for both guys. They both did well, but I have to say Booker looked slightly better tonight. He looked very sharp with some improved technical skills as he grounded Rey, and he even seemed to be moving quicker than usual. The match was right on the borderline between very good to great, among the best of the night, but not as good as either of their previous singles matches this year. I expected this and there were reasons behind it, but now is not the time to go into detail on that.

Booker jumped Rey when he entered the ring, still wearing the belt, and the surprise attack allowed him to dominate the early minutes of the match. He battered Rey with brawling and used ground work to take away his obvious strengths. The bulk of the match continued on in that fashion, with Booker having the better of things. Rey would have brief moments of hope where he hit a flashy aerial move or two, but it was never long before Booker always stopped his momentum cold. When brawling and technique weren't enough to slow Rey down, the champion wasn't afraid to resort to cheating outright.

Rey created an opening for himself when he ducked a Harlem Sidekick, sprang onto the second rope and snapped off a flying headscissors. From there he hit a tilt-a-whirl headscissors and a missile dropkick, but a springboard hurricanrana try ended in disaster when Booker ran forward and shook the ropes, causing Rey to fall off of the top rope and onto the ramp!

Booker followed him out and gave him a suplex on the ramp, but he didn't stop there. He dragged Rey off the ramp and onto the floor, and in a direct callback to their Bash at the Beach match, he pulled back the protective mat to expose the concrete underneath. He looked to recreate the sickening Book End on the floor that sent Rey away for months...

...but Rey fought free with elbows to the head, jumped onto the apron and hit an Asai moonsault! He had the champion in trouble and was quick to press his advantage, rolling him back into the ring and climbing onto the apron for a second try at the springboard hurricana. This time he was successful, and the fans rose to their feet as the referee slid into position for the one...



Grade: B+

Some of Rey's friends came out to help him celebrate, while Bobby Roode helped Booker slowly walk up the ramp. Mike and I called this such a monumental win and talked about how unlikely it was that someone of Rey's physical stature would become World Heavyweight Champion, which just spoke to his ability, his heart and his determination. Rey's performance was good as he celebrated with the belt and was hoisted onto his friends' shoulders like a conquering hero. Booker came across well in the shots we got of him looking around, looking dazed, confused and utterly lost.

Grade: B+

Ladder Match:
The Hardys vs. True Heroes {}

The first match between the Hardys and Heroes, at Great American Bash, was an instant classic and legitimate match of the year contender. Their next two matches, at Bash at the Beach and Halloween Havoc, were very good but couldn't recapture the magic of that first encounter, at least in part because of mistakes on my end. In putting this match in the main event spot of Starrcade, our biggest show of the year, I was banking on them being able to get back to that level.

To do so, we kicked it up a notch by going with the ladder match stipulation. This was a bit different than the typical ladder match fans got used to seeing the Hardys have in WWF though. Most have probably forgotten now, but we actually created the ladder match up in Stampede, and I'm the one who sold Vince on bringing the concept to the WWF in the early '90s (before Razor and Shawn not only stole the match from me, but even stole my exact finish.) I have some specific thoughts on what a ladder match can be. I think turning it into a circus act where everybody takes turns jumping from one dangerous fall off the top of the ladder to the next defeats the entire purpose of wrestling. Wrestling in a gimmick match should be about using the gimmick to tell a unique and compelling story, and that's what I wanted these guys to do. If you're going to fall off a ladder, it should mean something.

No one even attempted to climb the ladder until almost ten minutes into the match. Rather than rushing straight to dangerous stunts, they focused on telling a story wherein the Heroes attempted to slow the Hardys down with leg-based offense, and cut Matt and Jeff off when they tried to bring the ladder into play. The idea was that they would outwrestle, exhaust and hurt the Hardys to the point they could offer no defense, and then simply climb the ladder and retrieve their belts. The strategy worked to a tee, but when Storm set up the ladder and made the first attempt of the match, Matt was able to tackle Punk backwards into the ladder, forcing Lance to jump off when the ladder started shaking. That was the cue for the Hardys to start incorporating the ladder into the match more heavily, using it as a weapon and also for a memorable spot where Jeff hit his Whisper in the Wind off the ladder and onto Lance.

The Hardys had things going their way, but Punk brought a steel chair into the ring and used it to great effect as an equalizer. After landing several chair shots on both brothers, Punk set the chair up and bulldogged Jeff's face down onto it. That bent the chair, so he improvised and gave Matt a suplex onto the ladder. Obviously there was still one of the legal weapons to work into the match, and now was the time for that. The Heroes set up a table in the ring, and Jeff was driven through it with a double suplex!

Punk motioned for Lance to climb the ladder, because he was going to "end his (Matt's) career." Punk dragged a hurt Matt out of the ring and up the ramp by his hair, giving him a few punches to the face for good measure. The camera crew gave us a split screen view where necessary, because as Punk was leading Matt away from the ring, Lance got about halfway up the ladder before Jeff grabbed onto his legs to stop him. Lance jumped down, and those two started punching each other to try and gain the upper hand.

Punk lifted Matt onto his shoulders and carried him all the way to the top of the stage. He stopped at the edge of the stage and slowly climbed a ladder that had conveniently been set up for decorative purposes, and his intent finally became evident: he was going to throw Matt off of the ladder and down onto the stage below! Fortunately for Matt, he blocked that attempt and found his footing on the top of the ladder. The two traded punches at the top, with the Hardy brother getting the better of it. Throwing caution (and his own body) to the wind, Matt hit a Twist of Fate off the top of the ladder, and both men crashed THROUGH THE STAGE and onto the floor below! (That edge of the stage was actually gimmicked to give both men a soft landing, but it was really well done and made for an awesome, crowd-popping visual.)

Having witnessed the spectacular stunt from inside the ring, both Jeff and Storm knew that their partners were out of the picture for the remainder of the match, and it would be up to the two of them to decide the outcome. Almost like they realized it at exactly the same time, both men sprinted up opposite sides of the ladder as quick as they could. They both reached out to try and grab the belts, and when that failed, began punching and headbutting each other on top of the ladder. Jeff grabbed Lance by the hair and rammed his head against the edge of the ladder a couple of times, then jumped forward with a sunset flip powerbomb off of the ladder!

That took a lot out of Jeff, but he moved the ladder back into the perfect position and began his ascent. Amazingly, Lance started to stir when Jeff was about two rungs away from the top. He crawled towards the ladder, intent on finding some way to stop Jeff from winning. While still on his stomach, he reached out with his hand in hopes of shaking the ladder and causing Jeff to lose his footing...

..but he was too late! Jeff grabbed both titles and jumped down from the ladder, claiming the victory and the championship for the Hardys at 23:10!

Did they return to the lofty standard set in their first match? Hell yes they did! The gradual buildup to what was essentially two key spots was a novel idea in a modern ladder match, but all four guys did a tremendous job building the anticipation and getting the crowd invested in what they were watching. So often it feels like I note in a Hardys match that Jeff was the standout performer, but I couldn't fairly call anyone a standout tonight. All four guys turned in performances for the ages, and more than lived up to the hype and justified their position in the main event of the biggest show of the year. Absolutely tremendous.

Grade: A

An exhausted and battered Jeff slowly made his way up the ramp, clutching both belts. He climbed in amongst the wrecked stage and helped Matt to his feet. Once Matt came to, Jeff handed him one of the belts and the brothers hugged. Jeff helped Matt back to the ring, and the Hardys climbed up the ladder and posed with the belts as we set off some pyro. About the only negative thing I can say is that Tenay's announcing wasn't great during this celebration, but that didn't stop both the show and the year from ending on the strongest note possible.

Grade: A*

Show Overall Grade: A*
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