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Default March 23rd, 2003: Slamboree

March 23rd, 2003

From Baltimore, Maryland

Attendance: 28,000

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

Official Theme Song:

The Shooting Stars (w/Torrie Wilson) vs. The Unbound (w/Father Isaac)

I put what I hoped would be an entertaining tag team match in the opening spot. This match maybe wasn't as psychologically sound as we would have liked, but there were lots of positives to this matchup chemistry-wise, between both teams as well as their managerial pairings. All in all I would consider this match a success, and it did its job as far as getting the fans into the show right away. The Shooting Stars did their exciting aerial stuff, Mortis and Alexander did their thing, and Torrie and Isaac contributed in their roles as well.

Most considered The Unbound the clear favorites here, but this was a result that was very much up in the air all the way until the day of the show. The finish was always going to feature a Shooting Star Press, and that's what we got as Teddy Hart got Alexander in a prone position and took flight. Unfortunately for him, Alexander rolled to safety at the last second. He was able to take that chance to tag in Mortis, and together they hit the Fatal Flatliner to end the match.

Grade: B

Yang (w/Stacy Keibler) vs. Sean O'Haire {}

Since we did O'Haire vs. Kaz Hayashi as part of the UFS, I thought it would be a natural progression to continue on and have the other Dragon challenge the champ here on PPV. There were some storytelling issues here, as it felt a bit odd with the smaller high flyer Yang playing the heel against a big powerhouse babyface like O'Haire. The action was solid though, and the fans enjoyed it well enough. The result was never in any real doubt though: O'Haire hit the Widow Maker to finish his fourth title defense.

Grade: B

Arn Anderson and Bobby Heenan came onto the ramp and introduced all of the 2003 Hall of Fame inductees: Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Tony Schiavone and the late Rikidozan (who was represented by his son, Pro Wrestling NOAH's Mitsuo Momota.) The actual ceremony was held the night before, but this was just a chance for the new Hall of Famers to appear on the PPV and get a pop. Or that was the theory at least, until Ric Flair grabbed the microphone away from Heenan. He complained about anyone being inducted the same year as him. Sure, the rest were all worthy of being in the Hall of Fame in their own way, but none of them deserved to share in his spotlight. Savage took exception to that and acted like he wanted to knock Flair out, but Arn convinced him that violence would tarnish the moment. Flair strutted up the ramp and into the ring.

"I stand alone in this ring, just like it should be, because no one is good enough to compare to the Nature Boy, WOOOOOOO! But I won't be in here alone for long, not if Rob Van Dam has any guts! RVD, tonight is supposed to be my night, but I promised I would make time for you! So come out here and look greatness in the face!"

Grade: A

Everyone who had been on the ramp returned to the back, and RVD came out to respond to Flair. Ric again ripped into him as someone who didn't have the killer instinct required to be anything more than a one hit wonder on top. Ric turned in a good performance here as he taunted Rob and made light of his laid-back character. Rob continued to show a more aggressive side. He batted Ric's microphone out of his hands and backed him into a corner as Ric begged off.

Bobby Roode ran down the ramp and hit RVD from behind with the Northern Lariat! Roode and Flair high fived and got some good kicks in on Van Dam. Roode picked up the microphone that had been knocked out of Flair's hands and said that since Booker T left him in the dust to join The Empire, it was up to him to move on. And who better to help him become the star he's destined to be than the greatest of all time, the Nature Boy himself? Bobby unfortunately did not look like he belonged in the ring with stars of this caliber, but rubbing shoulders with them should help change that perception. Flair bragged that unlike punks like RVD, Bobby Roode paid him the respect he deserves, and it's because of that he will take Roode under his wing and teach him how to follow in his Hall of Fame footsteps.

Grade: B+
Ultimate Fan Series Semifinal Round: #1 Uncrewed's Crew vs. #4 Satyr's Hopeful Few (series tied 2-2)
Bryan Danielson (Crew) vs. The Unnatural (S.H.F.) (w/Father Isaac)

This was a pretty big moment for both guys. For Danielson it was probably the biggest match of his career to this point, and for Dustin it was a chance to turn in another quality outing and erase the memory of his disappointing match with RVD last month. Trusting in the psychology of both guys, I gave them the freedom to read the fans and call the match in the ring. I thought they handled that well, and I was pleased with the match. Both guys are capable of even more, but this match wasn't supposed to be an all-time classic and they weren't given the time for such.

Danielson shrugged off the psychological warfare of The Unnatural and focused on grinding out a win with good old-fashioned technical wrestling. He maneuvered The Unnatural into vulnerable positions and looked like he might force a submission several times, particularly when he locked in a crossface chickenwing. But The Unnatural continued to fight through the pain and refused to submit, leading Tenay and I to wonder if he was simply tough or if perhaps he actually enjoyed the pain. In the end he brawled his way into a dominant position and hit Unnatural Selection to win the match and send the Hopeful Few to the finals.

Grade: B+

The rest of the Hopeful Few joined Dustin in the ring to celebrate. All of them got a chance to speak on the microphone. Melissa was supposed to say she was excited to be in the finals while getting across how uncomfortable she was being around the eccentric male members of the team, but her performance wasn't the best. Alexander's performance was very underwhelming as well, as was Isaac's as he called himself an evil genius for assembling this winning group (since three of the members are from Salvation), but at least he showed some improved acting skills. Mortis was pretty good, but the star of the segment was The Unnatural.

"Standing beside me are two men I am proud to call brothers. We are no mere faction or team; we are family. Christopher Daniels is not part of our family, but he operates on a similar plane of existence. Perhaps he can be an honorary cousin. Melissa, darling, I know you feel out of place in our presence, but please believe that we all want only the best for you.

"This is what I fight for. Before, when I was trying to succeed for my own selfish interests, I was doomed to fail every time. But now that I have noble comrades who believe in me and a cause that is just, there will be no stopping me this time. Dustin Rhodes was a failure. The Unnatural is something else entirely."

Grade: B+

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

Daniels remained in the ring following that promo, and Knoble came out for his Cruiserweight title match. The new member of The Empire walked out alone and he wrestled a clean match, wanting to win the title on his own merits as opposed to some of the tactics the rest of the group relies on. This match was built around high spots, which might not have been the best idea since Knoble is more of a technician. The match was fine, but nothing to get excited about. Knoble's technical wrestling was working well to combat the champion, but he could never quite get him to submit.

The Empire got tired of waiting on Knoble to try and win it his way, so they sent TAKA, Palumbo and Tammy Sytch to ringside to take matters into their own hands. Sytch distracted the referee and Palumbo went after Brian Adams, leaving TAKA free to come into the ring and go on the attack. But before he could strike, Knoble stepped in the way and yelled at him to leave so he could do this his way. They argued, but Knoble refused to move and allow TAKA to attack Daniels. This would prove to be his undoing, because Daniels hit Knoble with a dropkick that sent him into a collision with TAKA. He then hit the Last Rites to retain his title.

Grade: B-
"The Hellraiser" Steve Austin vs. Booker T

Before the introductions, Austin cut a backstage promo. He came across well, effortlessly connecting with the crowd as he talked about what a long time it had been since he'd wrestled in a WCW ring.

"I ain't the same guy I was when I left," he said. "I shaved the rest of my hair off, I stopped tryin' to be somebody I'm not, and I stopped doing what I was told. I cut through all the crap, I did it my way, and that's exactly what I'm gonna do now that I'm back in WCW! Now tonight I got Booker T, the five time former WCW Champion. Book, I done had nothin' against ya, but you decided to attack Steve Austin from behind and drop my ass on the concrete floor, so now you got an ass kicking comin'! Tonight WCW gets to see just what The Hellraiser is all about, and Booker, you're up first, son!"

Grade: A*

All eyes were on Austin here. Everyone, me included, was anxious to see if he could physically adapt to our in-ring style, which is less about entertainment, more about action and is tougher on the body. Could his body adjust and hold up?

He didn't just pass this test; he aced it. He was absolutely fantastic, with his bell to bell work matching up with his ability to entertain on the microphone. If this match is any indication, this signing is going to be a slam dunk success for us. Anyway, this match was very good but not a classic or anything, but it wasn't really intended to be. I didn't give them enough time for that kind of epic, and I also told them to focus more on telling a story instead of trying to tear the house down. They did exactly what I asked them to. It was also pretty interesting to see these two veterans still showing improvements in their games at this stage of their careers (Booker in technical wrestling and Austin in flying, respectively.)

I think everyone was waiting for some Empire involvement, but that wasn't in the cards here. Booker tried to hang with Austin on his own, and did so very well. Both guys racked up a lot of near falls as we entered the home stretch, but Austin elbowed his way out of a Book End and hit the Stunner to get the pin.

Grade: B+

It was only after the match that anyone else from The Empire showed his face, and it was King Corino. He ran in to check on Booker, and Austin stood in center ring and dared him to come and fight him. Corino glared at him, and they had a staredown that the fans enjoyed (even if Tenay's job trying to put it over wasn't great.)

Before all hell could break loose, a returning Eric Bischoff stepped onto the ramp, wearing a neck brace to go along with his jeans and leather jacket. He stopped halfway up the ramp and signaled for Corino and Booker to leave the ring. Neither guy looked happy about it, but they followed their CEO's instructions. Austin theatrically mocked all three of them, and he did a great job of it, really getting the fans into it.

Grade: A*
Ultimate Fan Series Semifinal Round: #2 The Phenomenal Enigmas vs. #3 Sin-free Society (series tied 2-2)
Jeff Hardy (Enigmas) vs. CM Punk (Society)

It was time to find out who would join Satyr's Hopeful Few in the finals of this year's UFS. I had very high hopes for this one, and that's part of the reason I didn't try and have Austin and Booker put on the best match they possibly could right before. I told Jeff and Punk to go out, steal the show and prove to everybody that they're the future of WCW. Unfortunately it didn't really work. I don't know if maybe they tried too hard to live up to that, but this match fell well short of expectations. It didn't help that they didn't tell a compelling enough story to engage the fans, instead rushing from spot to spot. They did get the crowd buzzing and excited for more, so at least there's that.

What was supposed to be an epic and dramatic closing sequence to decide whose team moved on didn't have the crowd heat we were hoping for, but I'm sure the managers of those two teams were on the edge of their seats watching at home. Hardy had it all set up for the Swanton Bomb, but Punk rolled out of the way and his high risk offense came back to bite him. Moments later, Punk hit the Devil Lock DDT to put this one away.

Grade: B

Just like earlier when the Hopeful Few won, the rest of the Sin-free Society joined Punk in the ring to celebrate their victory. Not everyone got a turn with the microphone in this one; only Punk, Finlay and Daffney got any promo time, but all three did a good job at improvising their lines. Punk's overall performance was good as well, as he ably stepped into the role of de facto team leader.

"Jeff Hardy thought tonight was going to be just like Starrcade, but tonight was my night! That stupid ladder match is just a distant memory now, because I'm off to greater things! Now, the Sin-free Society is onto the finals of the UFS. I keep hearing Dustin Rhodes talk about his "noble cause" and all this other garbage, but he doesn't know the first thing about dedicating himself to something bigger than any one person!"

Grade: B+
Steiners' UFS tag title shot is at stake:
The Steiner Brothers vs. Made in Italy (w/Dawn Marie)

Initially I'd planned to have these teams focus on calming the crowd down to make sure they didn't get burnt out before the final two matches, but the day of the show I decided it wasn't needed and didn't put any restrictions on them. Perhaps my brain saw the disappointing Hardy/Punk match coming, because there was definitely no need to let the fans cool off. This was a solid match; roughly on the same level as the match before it, but without the same kind of expectations. Scott was predictably the clear star of the match. Johnny Parisi was the weak link, but he did at least show some improvements in his technical wrestling game during some mat exchanges.

Unlike last month, Made in Italy were more than willing to fight the Steiners now that the title shot was on the line. Parisi and Mamaluke showed good teamwork and based their strategy on isolating Rick in their half of the ring and wearing him down with mat wrestling, but he was able to hit Parisi with a Steiner Line and then make the hot tag to Scott. "Big Poppa Pump" went on a tear, dishing out suplexes to both Italians and forcing Parisi to submit in the Steiner Recliner.

Grade: B

No Time Limit:
Lance Storm vs. AJ Styles {}

This one had a lot to live up to after their early match of the year contender at SuperBrawl. They had plenty of time to play with, and I trusted them to put it together themselves and call it in the ring. That's something I do frequently in Lance's matches, because he's a true ring general who I consider one of the best in our company, if not in the entire business, at holding a match together and structuring it properly. He did it once again here, because he and AJ put on another absolutely fantastic match. It was just ever so slightly below last month's classic, but it was still great. Both guys brought it here with great performances, but Lance was the leader.

This match played out similarly to last month's, with a slow pace early on and lots of ground work that gradually built into some dramatic high spots from AJ. The story here was that Lance knew he had all the time in the world this time, and he was focused on a slow and methodical ground effort. This time he worked over AJ's neck, which Mike and I put over as a setup for his Calgary Clutch submission. Sure enough, he dragged AJ down to the mat after a missed discus clothesline and applied his signature hold right in the center of the ring. Styles struggled, but Lance's perfect bridge prevented him from being able to crawl towards the ropes.

AJ's only recourse was to use his hands to try and break Lance's grip, and after a desperate struggle, he succeeded. From there he was able to roll through and get back to his feet, where champion and challenger traded forearms. Lance won the exchange and threw a superkick, but AJ blocked, spun him around and nailed the Styles Clash. A three count later and he'd retained his championship, finally getting that elusive win over Lance Storm.

Grade: A

Shane Douglas vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. {}

For the second month in a row, Rey Mysterio had to follow an incredible semi main event between AJ Styles and Lance Storm. But as much as I know Rey welcomed the challenge of proving he deserved his spot, this was an even bigger match for Shane Douglas. For years Shane has felt he deserves to be a headliner in a major company, and here he got a chance to main event a PPV in the big time. Shane answered the call. He was very good here, and with Rey also rising to the challenge and performing even a little bit better than Douglas, this match earned its slot on the card. As great as the semi main event was, this was slightly better. Mysterio delivered his second straight match of the year contender on PPV, and all three of his title defenses have been excellent. He's proving his doubters wrong month after month.

Much like the previous match, this one started slow. Douglas used stall tactics to disrupt the timing of Rey's offense and did some brawling, and he also did a lot more strength-based throws and slams than usual, owing to Rey's small size. Shane doesn't really get to work as a big man too often, but he did it here and did it well. I thought he did a great job wrestling like a man possessed, a man who had been craving this opportunity for over a decade and would do whatever necessary to make the most of it.

Douglas worked over the neck and looked for his crossface on several occasions, but Rey was always able to counter or squirm free before the hold could ever be fully applied. With that option continuously denied, Shane's best option was to try and deliver a big high impact move that could keep the champion down for a pin. He had an opportunity to do just that when he cut Rey off on the top rope and set him up for a belly to belly superplex. That surely would've spelled the end of the match and Rey's title reign, but Mysterio hooked his legs around the top rope to prevent it. A shove sent Douglas tumbling backwards off the top rope and back into the ring, and Rey capitalized with a diving hurricanrana off the top rope to end Shane's world title hopes.

Grade: A

Show Overall Grade: A*
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