Greetings boys and girls. After the revelatory month that was August, the first week of September seems sadly lacking in oomph. Naturally what has a beginning tends to have a middle and an end so there’s time a plenty for the month to generate intrigue. The expiration of Kurt Angle’s TNA contract ought to produce a flurry of activity akin to a maelstrom, which will no doubt make for some scintillating copy.
In the mean time, I thought I?d pass the time by recalling certain memories; specifically those concerning returns or entrances. I?ve no doubt all among you possess a fond smile for moments such as Chris Jericho’s introduction on Raw in July 1999, interrupting a Rock promo no less. How about Triple H at Madison Square Garden in January 2002? Or Kurt Angle’s arrival in TNA, which was quite the spectacle (until he opened his mouth). These short, sharp bursts of emotion have a tendency to live long in the memory of those who remember and when done properly enhance the aura of the star involved. Allow me to present two such memories of my own concerning a noteworthy arrival and a glorious return.
Scott Steiner (Survivor Series, November 17th 2002)
With his volatile temper and violent inclinations, bringing ?Big Poppa Pump? into the then harmonious WWE fraternity was seen as something of a risk. Steiner had a well deserved reputation for disruption, encompassing general intimidation (WCW Road Agent Terry Taylor), unscripted remarks (Ric Flair and Diamond Dallas Page) and unprofessional conduct (a battered and bruised Marcus Bagwell).
It was assumed Steiner would be a political wild card who would require taming and permanent kid-gloves. As it transpired, Steiner towed the line and banked his enormous downside without incident. Undoubtedly much of this surprising impotence stemmed from the very sad truth that Steiner, from the moment he signed, knew he wasn?t physically able to work the gold standard. The super-worker of the dying embers of WCW had succumbed to permanent nerve damage in the right foot and, as a result, drop-foot syndrome. When Steiner climbed into the ring to face Triple H in a heavily hyped contest at Royal Rumble 2003, it was clear he had no business being there. Struggling through even the most basic spots and with no assistance available from an overly muscled, almost as knackered ?Game?, Steiner was beyond saving. He faced Helmsley once more the following month and was subsequently banished to mid-card purgatory. His contract was paid up in 2004 and the WWE/Scott Steiner relationship died a whimpering death.
This unedifying climax was in stark contrast to the massive, electrifying entrance Steiner made at Survivors ?02. Marching out on cue as Chris Nowinski and Matt Hardy concluded their asinine ?lupid? spiel, the siren theme tune and Steiner’s always awesome physique whipped the MSG crowd into a frenzy. Entering the ring, Steiner used suplexes and a gorilla press slam to slay the sacrificial lambs and, after requesting a ?.in?? microphone, addressed the crowd. Wheeling out the ?Big Poppa Pump is your hook up? line, Steiner soaked up the kind of reaction befitting Hulh Hogan in his prime and left looking like the WWE was his for taking. Proof ever lasting that looks can be deceiving, Steiner’s first great moment was also his last. Still, as arrivals go, it was picture perfect.
The Undertaker (Judgment Day, May 21st 2000)
When I?m asked to articulate the specifics of my dislike for Vince Russo, two examples are usually utilised. First and foremost is the whole WCW fiasco. Overrated, overpaid and utterly clueless, Vince Russo took the seeds of discontent sown by Eric Bischoff, Kevin Nash, Hulk Hogan etc. and grew an entire forest. It would take the space afforded the Encyclopaedia Britannica to detail the havoc he wrought. Sitting quite neatly alongside this tale of woe is the part Russo played in inflicting horrendous damage upon the career of The Undertaker, between the months of January and September 1999.
It is true ?Taker wanted to turn heel after six uninterrupted years as a babyface. Since Summerslam 1998 ?Taker had began subtlety turning, going from face to tweener and reuniting with the despised Paul Bearer in preparation for the full turn. The ultimate result of this slow build was an assemblage of jobbers, a demonic goatee and more blasphemy than a Luis Bunuel film. Appearing in absurd videos igniting ‘symbols? (crosses, basically) and kidnapping men to sacrifice and women to marry it was, as another analyst succinctly put it ?damn silly stuff?. ?Taker played his role with customary gusto but the histrionics, robes and chanting bewildered the fans and coupled with his limited, injury-induced mobility, they lost interest in ?Taker for the first time ever. Over-exposed and with all the poise and grace of the Undertaker character in jeopardy, ?Taker took a leave of absence in an attempt to heal body and spirit. The Russo farce had all but broken the bond between the Phenom and the creatures of the night.
The WWE began airing the spooky, ?ring-a-ring, scary girls? vignettes in May 2000. Building towards the Judgment Day event of that month and the eagerly anticipated Iron Man match, the WWF/E had deliberately skewed the advantage the way of Triple H. This was achieved by emphasising the numbers game with the McMahon family and D-Generation X and installing Hunter’s friend, Shawn Michaels, as guest referee. As the match drew to a close with the decisions level, Shawn tasted concrete and DX began thrashing the Rock in his absence. The Shining tribute once again appeared on the Titantron, heralding the return of the ?Deadman?. Screaming down the aisle on a Harley with a full-length leather trench billowing in the breeze, the real Undertaker took centre stage. As a one off, the biker entrance was a phenomenal construct. The purpose with which ?Taker breached the ring and commenced the physicality ignited an already incendiary crowd. As he destroyed DX (and the McMahon family for good measure) and then stood staring down the hated Triple H, it was as if the Russo months were but an unpleasant dream. The passion of the crowd and the presence of a babyface Undertaker restored the bond between audience and performer and The Undertaker was quite literally back in black.
When ?Taker saw fit to turn again (in December 2001) he modified his look and adjusted his act without Russo’s input and the result was another nine month run; the difference being it was a prosperous chapter in the legacy of The Undertaker character. ?Taker turned face again in August 2002 and continued his inexorable journey towards the venerated status he now holds (and richly deserves). I still watch the Judgment Day video occasionally and yes, I still giggle inanely. I believe they call it the good old days?
These memories are a constant reminder to me of the power of the timed arrival. It can, for one fleeting moment, generate an explosion of emotion unequalled in all of wrestling. Pure, unbridled magic. Watch the return of Ric Flair to Raw in 2001 and you?ll see exactly what I mean: A big, gleaming smile all over your mug.
Daniel R. Browne.