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Default January 26th, 2003: Sin

January 26th, 2003

From the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado

Attendance: 18,007

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

Official Theme Song: "Sin" by Stone Temple Pilots


Billy Kidman (w/Torrie Wilson) vs. "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels {} (w/Brian Adams)

In something of a throwback to the initial placement of the Cruiserweight division, I had this title match open the show. Unlike a lot of those early Cruiserweight matches, this wasn't really a high flying spotfest. Not that there wasn't plenty of aerial stuff worked in there, but I basically just let these guys work at whatever pace they wanted. It was all a prelude anyway, because after Daniels sent Kidman to the floor with a back body drop, Brian Adams got in a cheap shot. That set off a chain reaction where Torrie Wilson hopped onto the apron to get the referee's attention, and she got Daniels' as well. The outside involvement wasn't done yet, though.

Teddy Hart ran down to attack Brian Adams, and now things were REALLY out of control. Amidst all of the chaos, Daniels was able to hit the Angel's Wings on Kidman and make the pin to retain his title. The match was okay but nothing to get excited about, but at least it was good enough to get the fans into the show right away.

Grade: B-
Jamie Knoble vs. King Corino (w/Eric Bischoff)

Somewhat of a filler match here, but I had high hopes for it. Knoble has almost always delivered quality matches when put in a position to succeed, and Corino is one of the hottest wrestlers on the entire roster. Sure enough, the result was sensational. The two guys had a tremendous match accentuating their strengths, with great technical exchanges, some brawling dominance from Corino and a few aerial spots from Knoble. The crowd loved it, and even if not many people bought Knoble as a credible threat before the match began, the work was so good that they were into all the near falls and submission attempts late in the match. Knoble did his job and carried his weight here, but Corino was just on another level. He delivered an exceptional performance, showing off some improved mat wrestling during the frequent ground exchanges.

Knoble blocked a piledriver attempt and got Corino in his guillotine choke. Corino did a great job teasing the tap out to dramatic effect, but eventually he freed his head, got to his feet and transitioned into a figure four. Knoble struggled, but he was trapped in the center of the ring and had to tap out. I'm still worried Knoble could start carrying the 'jobber to the stars' label if I don't do something to help him shed it soon, but I think this performance did nothing to hurt his stock with the fans, and if anything he's probably more over now than he was heading into this brief program. This was easily the best match of his career. It wasn't far off that mark for Corino as well. It was slightly better than his big Starrcade match with RVD, and is behind only his main event with Mysterio at Calgary Stampede.

Grade: A

The Steiners came to the ring, together and united, to make their statement. I know how Scott feels about scripts, so I let both brothers go out there and improv. Rick was very poor at it, reminding us all why Scott's the talker of the team as he delivered a bland promo about always loving his brother, even when he'd turned on him to join the nWo years ago, and even over the past few months when Scott started disrespecting him and blaming him for some losses.

Fortunately Scott was there to pick up the slack for his brother and did a great job. He said everybody knows he's Big Poppa Pump and he's the genetic freak, and he's the man with the largest arms in the world. But he'd let his singles success go to his head, and he'd forgotten that no Steiner brother had ever needed to be carried. He'd forgotten that when they're together and they're focused, "ain't no team on this planet that's got a half a prayer at beatin' us!" And that's why they were here to announce that as of right now, they were putting their singles careers on hold and focusing on winning the WCW World Tag Team Championship for the fifth time! And Scott reminded us that they've still got a tag title match owed to them from last year's UFS, so if the Hardys are lookin' for their next challengers, then...

They were interrupted by Made in Italy, who walked down the ramp in their custom-made suits. (Well, Dawn was in a black dress, but you get the idea.) Mamaluke said no one cares about the Steiner brothers. They hadn't cared when they wore those horrid colorful singlets in the early '90s, and they sure didn't care now in 2003, when the "Dog Faced Gremlin" was looking like an old abandoned shelter dog--and the less said about Scott's dyed blond hair, the better! Parisi was supposed to talk about Made in Italy being a new tag team for a new, more sophisticated age, but he really strugged with his delivery. He and Mamaluke were pretty poor in general honestly, though I think I did a good job on color elevating them a bit. The end result of all this was the Steiners daring Made in Italy to take off their suits and come fight them right then and there. The Italians declined, saying they didn't want to wrinkle the Armani, but promised they would take the Steiners up on that some other time.

Grade: C+
Two out of Three Falls:
Bryan Danielson vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr.

I let these two guys totally call this in the ring, as I wanted to see how Danielson would handle it. He handled it extremely well, with his great psychology even at his young age really enhancing the match. He dominated early on with suplexes and submissions, but Chavo surprised him with a small package to steal the first fall. Danielson didn't allow it to throw him off his game, battling back to even the match after connecting with a diving headbutt.

This lengthy storyline all came down to this final fall, and the intensity picked up as both guys did all they could to try and get the duke. Chavo thought he had it won after hitting a brainbuster, but Danielson got a shoulder up just in the nick of time. Guerrero was continuously frustrated as Danielson proved difficult to finish, and Bryan launched a comeback with several European uppercuts, elbow smashes and a single underhook suplex. He seized his advantage and applied his signature submission. It was formerly called Arms Across America, but now that he's unmasked and dropped the American Dragon gimmick we're calling it the Cattle Mutilation. It wasn't long before Chavo tapped out, giving the decisive third fall and the match to Danielson. This was a very good match, right on par with their Starrcade bout.

Grade: B+

In between matches, we aired a brief shot of Shane Helms and Kimberly arguing backstage. Not much else to say.

Grade: C
Sting vs. Lance Storm

I knew what to expect here with regards to Sting's physical performance, so it was no surprise to see Lance as the far superior performer who basically carried the match. We focused on telling a story here, with Lance wanting to prove himself not just by beating Sting, but by making him submit. He took several shots at it with leg-based submissions, but Sting continued to either escape or make it to the ropes. Storm's stubborn insistence on winning by submission helped Sting get back into the match, and after several strikes, a slam and a hip toss, he whipped Lance into the corner and struck with the Stinger Splash. Storm fell to the mat, and Sting soon stepped over and had him in the Scorpion Deathlock.

Lance was facing away from the ropes, so his only option was to try and counter. And counter he did, hooking his arms around Sting's legs and causing him to lose his balance. Lance sat up, dragged Sting away from the ropes and applied his half crab. He wrenched away on Sting's knee for all he was worth, but couldn't force him to tap out. Improvising, Lance bridged back and converted it into a Muta Lock, and that did the trick and got Sting to tap out after a bit of a struggle. I wanted Lance to have a new singles submission finisher, as I just don't think the half crab works as a finish against main event level talent in 2003. We'll be calling this the Calgary Clutch.

Grade: B

Accompanied by Bobby Roode, Booker T came out to the ring to cut a promo. He wasn't the same Booker we saw at Starrcade, or in the days, weeks and months leading up to it. He looked lost and confused, and his speech echoed that. Gone was the swagger of the arrogant champion who demanded to be the center of attention. He said he didn't know what to do next, and didn't even know who he was anymore without the World Heavyweight Championship. Roode tried to reassure him (looking absolutely lost out of place in this segment, and not in a kayfabe way like Booker), but nothing he said could cheer the ex-champion up. Booker said that the championship meant everything to him, and proving that he deserved to be the main event and the centerpiece of World Championship Wrestling was what had been fueling him for years now.

"Even when I first won the title, it shoulda been my big moment, but all anybody wanted to talk about was Hogan and some overrated writer from New York," he said. "But I did my best to get WCW back on its feet for the rest of the Turner era, and after I won the title back from Scott Steiner on the final Nitro on TNT, I thought I'd be the one to lead us into the new age."

He went on to talk about Steiner stealing the title from him, and spending the next year trying to get it back. Finally he did it, but kept getting disrespected and bumped out of the main event spot. Starrcade was supposed to be the moment where he finally proved he was the franchise player of WCW, but not only was he again pushed down the card, he lost the title to Rey Mysterio Jr. Where does he go next? "I got no clue, man," he said. Booker looked excellent in this segment.

Both Roode and one of our camera man followed Booker to the back, but he ignored both of them. After he stepped through the curtain he was handed a note by a staff member, which he opened and began to read as he walked toward the building's exit.

Grade: B

Sean O'Haire vs. Fit Finlay {}

Fit Finlay was just one title defense away from having the option of vacating the title to challenge for the United States belt (alternately, he could choose to hold onto it and shoot for five additional defenses, which would earn him a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship.) The closest he'd come to losing the title before now was on the November 25th Nitro, when Sean O'Haire seemed to be moments away from becoming the new champion before Chuck Palumbo interfered for a DQ. We pushed that idea hard in this match, stressing that if Finlay wanted to hit the magic number of ten defenses, he was going to have to survive his toughest challenger.

Most guys don't attack big Sean head-on, but doing anything other than fighting head-on wouldn't be in keeping with Fit's identity. He didn't run and hide or play any tricks, instead trying to beat his larger opponent in a fight. Fit fared better than almost anyone else would have in such an effort, but in the end O'Haire delivered the Widow Maker and got the three count to win the title.

I know some fans were surprised to see Fit lose the title one defense short of the US title option, but I was always planning on the first champion not quite reaching that mark. O'Haire certainly looked like a deserving champion too, because he was the superior overall performer by a pretty wide margin. (Fit's more talented in the ring, though Sean's pretty good even there, but Sean's popularity is strong and his superstar presence is among the largest in the company.) Full disclosure: my initial plan was for O'Haire to build off of his Starrcade win over Palumbo by ending Shane Douglas' US title reign, either on this show or at next month's SuperBrawl. But once the decision was made to pencil in AJ Styles as Douglas' Starrcade opponent, I felt AJ needed that win. That meant I needed something new for O'Haire, and since I didn't want to risk him becoming stagnant, I chose him as the guy to beat Fit here.

Grade: B

The Empire allowed a camera into their private suite for a promo. Eric Bischoff said that King Corino's excellent performance and victory tonight was a positive, but the group was currently falling short of their objective to move to the forefront of WCW and usher in a new golden age. To do that they needed power, and power came with championships, something The Empire was lacking. He made a vague comment about "the wheels already being in motion" on a master plan that would eventually bring the World Heavyweight Championship into the fold, but in the meantime they needed to each do their part to boost the power and prestige of the group. Each member had their own brief response to that. Etsuko Mita showed good English skills, but her promo about beating Toshiyo Yamada in the #1 contender's match this coming week on Renaissance and then taking back the Women's World Championship from Manami Toyota wasn't very inspiring. Candido wasn't great either as he boasted about bringing gold into the group at next month's SuperBrawl. This was a decent promo, but it was here largely to get the members of the group who weren't in matches (so everyone but Corino) onto the show.

Grade: B

The Jung Dragons (w/Stacy Keibler) vs. The Hardys {}

This was a step down for the Hardys one month after headlining Starrcade, but it was a huge match for the Jung Dragons. Matt and Jeff didn't try any less hard despite the lower profile match. Both guys looked damn near flawless throughout the match, with aerial high spots, double team offense and great crowd interaction. Hayashi and Yang did fine as well, but there wasn't any debate about who was the driving force of this match. The match was good but not great, but more on that another time.

The Hardys weren't just the leaders in reality, they were also leading the way and building momentum towards a successful title defense. But the Dragons had one thing going for them that the Hardys didn't: Stacy Keibler. Keibler surreptitiously slipped a steel chair into the ring and then began shouting at the referee to grab his attention. Hayashi went to strike Matt with the chair, but Matt blocked it with his hands. Matt won a tug-of-war for the chair and in the heat of the moment smashed Kaz in the face with it (he actually got his hand up to block it, because unprotected chair shots to the head are stupid.) The ref spotted it out of the corner of his eye and called for the bell, awarding the match (but not the titles) to the Jung Dragons.

Grade: B

Arn was backstage with Bobby Heenan, and the two of them promoted the 2003 Ultimate Fan Series, which is set to begin this week on Renaissance. Bobby tried to get Arn to make a prediction on which team would win, but Arn would only say that all eight teams looked strong and there was no telling who might emerge victorious. They told fans to go and check right now for a complete breakdown of all eight teams, but in the middle of their plug...

Keibler and the Jung Dragons returned from ringside and walked by, looking furious. Hayashi was still selling the chairshot and didn't say anything, but Keibler and Yang did plenty of talking. Yang complained about the Hardys intentionally getting themselves disqualified to save their titles, and Keibler demanded that Arn either give them the titles or at the very least give them a rematch. Arn reminded them that it was Stacy who introduced the chair into the match and Hayashi who first tried to use it, but acknowledged they'd won the match and would take their complaints under advisement. Arn's delivery was fine here but his role as the no-nonsense, 'Enforcer' authority figure seems to be wearing thin with fans, so I guess we should do something to freshen him up.

Grade: B-

Submission Match:
Shane Douglas vs. AJ Styles {}

As this match got underway Mike and I questioned the wisdom of AJ accepting Douglas' challenge to make this a submission match, which seemed to work to Shane's favor. That played into the structure of the match, as AJ's aerial offense was flashy but didn't really work towards softening Shane up for a submission, while Douglas focused his attack on the head and neck of Styles to set up for his crossface. Shane was good here, but AJ really impressed and led the way in this match. Even if it wasn't quite as good as the Corino/Knoble match earlier, it was still a great match that surpassed their already strong first bout at Starrcade. It was the best singles match of Shane's WCW career, and the second best of AJ's behind only his great Nitro match with Lance Storm in the Stu Hart Classic.

Douglas' work led to him hitting a DDT and then finally getting the crossface on AJ. AJ struggled to great dramatic effect, and just when he was about to reach out and grab the ropes, Shane got up and temporarily broke the hold so he could drag him back out to the center of the ring. Before he could drop back down and reapply the hold, AJ rolled onto his back and used his foot to kick Shane away. The challenger stumbled and went shoulder-first into the ring post. AJ saw it and made the most of it, targeting the limb with a single arm DDT and then hitting his springboard 450 splash directly onto the arm. The name of the game was submissions, so Styles exploited the injury with a Fujiwara armbar. Douglas screamed out in pain and submission, giving AJ an impressive first title defense and wrapping this program up.

Grade: A

It was Piper's Pit time. There were a half dozen burly security guards on hand, which Roddy explained was not his idea. He'd have no problem with sitting back and letting RVD and Flair rip each other apart if it came to it, but the front office had other ideas. Flair said the security wasn't needed, because Van Dam lacked the killer instinct to attack him, and that was what was going to hold him back in his career.

"You shouldn't be upset with me for knocking you out at Starrcade, Van Dam. You should be upset with YOURSELF that you weren't defending the World Heavyweight Championship!" Flair said. "You've got all the athletic ability in the world. That's why people cheered for you and did your little thumb pointing routine, and that's why you became the world champion. But even though only the best of the best ever hold that title, winning it is a hell of a lot easier than keeping it. To be a true legend, to be a man whose name will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, you have to be mean. You have to be nasty, you have to have an edge, you have to be willing to step on the throat of any man who dares to try and knock you from the top of the mountain! That's what it means to be THE MAN! WOOO!

"But you'll never be THE MAN! You're too nice, you're too laid-back and you're too SOFT to ever be one of the true greats! And guess what, pal? These people, they'll forget all about you! Hell, they already have! The moment you lost that title they moved on to the next guy down the line--just look at all the Rey Mysterio masks in the crowd! They already moved on from me once I was screwed out of my career, and I'm the greatest of ALL TIME! Or they tried to, but I won't let them, because I'M RIC FLAIR! What about you, Rob-Van-Dam? Are you gonna let these people toss you aside and forget about you, or are you gonna be a man and make sure they never forget you? What's it gonna be, huh?"

Roddy echoed Flair's sentiment, clearly trying to get RVD riled up to create some controversy. Roddy struggled here with some comments that didn't make much sense, but RVD reacted well and didn't let it throw him off (either in storyline or in reality.) He maintained his cool, saying that he didn't need to shout into the microphone to make these people cheer for him. They cheered for him because he is one of a kind, and no one else can do the things he can do. Flair continued to try and goad him, daring RVD to "grow a pair" and slap him across the face then and there. Rob continued to refuse, telling Flair that he wasn't going to "waste my energy knocking out an old man, no offense", which of course Flair took GREAT offense to. He took off his suit jacket, threw it on the mat and tried to go after RVD, but he was held back by the security. They had to usher him out of the ring and up the ramp to prevent any more fireworks, much to Roddy's disappointment.

Grade: A*

The rest of Salvation surrounded The Unnatural as he prepared to make his ring entrance for the main event. He thanked them all for everything they'd done for him.

"I used to be a lost soul, trying and failing to find my own place in this cruel world. Then I found Salvation. It wasn't a smooth transition. I fought it at first, but Father Isaac knew that I was crying for help deep down. He persevered, and through his assistance I found peace at last. I am proud to call you my brothers, but all of us were once lost. Rey Mysterio Jr. is lost as well, lost to the trappings of greed and fame just as I once was. Tonight I will help free him of those burdens by defeating him and taking the weight and responsibility of the World Heavyweight Championship off of his shoulders, and bearing it myself. Whether or not he is worthy of standing beside us and becoming a brother in Salvation, I cannot say. What I CAN say is that tonight will be the most important night of his life, because I will free him from his Purgatory--and I have the power to do so only because of your support, my brothers."

This was another fantastic segment in what has been a string of them for Dustin, and I think the other members of the group are learning from his example. Alexander remarked later on about taking note of Dustin's charisma and performance skills and trying to pick up some hints on how to improve his own work, and you could see Isaac's acting skills improving as he reacted to Dustin's speech.

Grade: A*

The Unnatural (w/Father Isaac) vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. {}

Six days after his absolute classic with RVD on Nitro, there was great anticipation to see how The Unnatural would follow it up. This was a huge night for him to prove he belongs in the main event scene as a top level heel, and it was also a big night for Rey. Obviously he wanted to make a good impression with a strong first title defense, knowing that even in the modern WCW where in-ring work is the centerpiece, there are still lots of people who think he's too small to be a credible top guy. The pressure was on for both guys, but could they live up to it?

Yes. Yes they could. While the TV match with RVD was ever so slightly better, this was still an absolutely fantastic match that went a long way towards validating both of these guys as being deserving of this spot. We did a slow buildup here, with Unnatural's vicious brawling preventing Rey from really getting established early on. The idea was to both get across Dustin's unhinged, wild and dangerous persona, and also build sympathy for Rey and get people behind him as he tried to work his way into the match.

The idea was executed to near-perfection. Both guys were great here. I've come to expect that from Rey, but Dustin was honestly the better performer here, even if it was only slightly. He's really proven something over the past month or so, delivering killer promos and putting on what were in all likelihood the two best singles matches of his career to this point. It was the best match of Rey's career as well, and a very encouraging way to begin his title reign.

All of Rey's offensive flurries had been cut short by Unnatural before they could really get going, and the challenger looked to finish the match with Unnatural Selection. Rey was able to prevent that by hooking his legs around the ropes though, and when Unnatural refused to release him for a clean rope break, the champion made him pay for it by hotshotting his throat across the top rope and then hitting a springboard headscissors. Unnatural popped right back to his feet and charged at Rey, who caught him with a drop toehold that sent Dustin's face into the middle turnbuckle (which he sold like a pro.) The challenger got back to his feet, slow and unsteady this time, and Rey greeted him with a springboard hurricanrana to finish his first title defense.

Grade: A

The fans were still buzzing after that awesome main event, and gave both guys an ovation as Unnatural left ringside and Rey's hand was raised. He posed with the belt on the middle rope and pointed to the fans to thank them for the loud reaction. It was a great moment to close out the show.

Or at least it would have been, if Rey hadn't been hit with a clothesline to the back of the head! CM Punk hit his Devil Lock DDT, then picked up a microphone in one hand and Rey's World Heavyweight Championship in the other. He said that an average man would've never wrestled again after falling through the stage at Starrcade, but he's no average man. He's CM Punk, he is straight edge, and straight edge means he's better than you!

"And that includes you, Rey," he said. "You're riding high after winning the World Heavyweight Championship--well, you were until I just knocked you out, anyway. But you weren't riding so high on December 16th, 2002, were you? For those who have forgotten, let me remind you what I'm talking about."

He pointed to the video screen, where we aired highlights of the tag team match where True Heroes defeated Rey and Booker T, with the Heroic Finish on Rey ending the match (meaning Rey tapped out to the second half of that sequence, Punk's Second City Stretch.)

"That right there is the last defeat on the record of Rey Mysterio Jr," Punk explained. "Before he had his coronation at Starrcade, and before he beat that freak Dustin Rhodes, he tapped out to CM Punk! So the way I see it, there's only one man who deserves the next title shot, and you're looking at him! And if Arn Anderson and rest of the suits have the brains to give it to me, you'll be looking at the first straight edge World Heavyweight Champion in the history of this business!"

He threw down the microphone and dropped the belt on Rey's chest, making an emphatic statement to close the show (for real this time.)

Grade: A*

Show Overall Grade: A*
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