It’s nice to be reminded right from the start of our 20th anniversary Road To WrestleMania retro reviews that whilst WrestleMania XVII may well be remembered as one of the greatest PPV shows of all time from the WWE they did initially try to hype the main event between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock by making Debra (Stone Cold’s real-life wife at the time of course) the manager of The Rock.  Don’t worry, they soon came to their senses, but that’s the big news from the previous Monday as we head into Smackdown. What is the deal with Trish and McMahon?

    MCI Center, Washington DC – TV Rating – 3.9

    Taz (replacing Jerry Lawler for “reasons”) and Michael Cole welcome us to the show, announcing the main event of The Rock battling Haku and Rikishi in a handicap match and Al Snow battling William Regal with the winner becoming the new WWE Commissioner. 

    The Hardy Boyz vs The Dudley Boyz

    Because it’s all about the “Z” isn’t it?  The Hardy’s had only won the belts off The Dudley’s on the previous Monday Night Raw (after interference from Christian) so this was a rematch from back in the day when there were “automatic rematch” clauses in contracts.  If you’ve seen one Hardy’s/Dudley’s TV match from around this time you’ve seen them all. Of course, long-term fans will know what we’re building up to here so this is never going to be a “definitive” match.  It’s solid enough and they pack a fair amount of action into the five minutes they are given.  This time Christian stops a Dudley pin by pulling the referee out of the ring and the distraction is enough for Matt to hit a neckbreaker on Bubba and Jeff gets the pin. A neckbreaker is enough to get the pin? Well, I suppose it’s different from twenty years later when every “finisher” gets kicked out of. Nothing special as a match but it whizzes along nicely and it is furthering the three-way feud over the Tag Titles.

    After The Dudley’s put Christian through a table (come on, it’s 2001) Vince McMahon is backstage on his phone to *someone* about humiliating Trish on Raw this past Monday (the infamous “bark like a dog angle” that really should never have made it to TV – to digress, there is an argument that at least it had a purpose in storylines AND the pay off would come.  But it’s a hugely uncomfortable 10 minutes of TV that should have been killed off before it ever saw the light of day on live TV).  He also promises a surprise tonight.  That surprise isn’t Debra coming into his office trying to cut a sincere promo about being “tricked” into being named as The Rock’s manager.  It works as an on-screen riff of Vince’s particular real-life talent (as witnessed in any number of “shoot” interviews over the year) of making the worst ideas in the world seem palatable and logical to the person having to carry them out on-screen who then walk away on Cloud 9 that they’ve got the backing of the boss and seen the bigger picture.  It doesn’t work as Debra having to be part of a speaking segment.  And it ultimately doesn’t work because the whole idea of inserting Debra into the storyline for a WrestleMania main event is ludicrous. 

    Chris Jericho vs Val Venis

    This isn’t “porn star” Val Venis, this is “Right To Censor/seen the error of his ways” Val Venis which means we get Ivory on commentary and Stevie Richards and Bull Buchannan at ringside.  The odds seem stacked against Jericho but he has a plan.  It appears that he has secured the services of the Acolytes and they stop some RTC shenanigans and Jericho gets the three with the Lionsault. There isn’t really much else you can say about a three-minute match that just seems to exist. It’s so short though that you can’t say it was offensively bad or anything like that.

    It’s talk time now for a bit.  Cole and Tazz play up Kurt Angle’s aggressive mean streak (he broke Scotty 2 Hotty’s ankle on Raw) and Angle is interviewed by Kevin Kelly backstage. Angle is upset that it took him so long to break the ankle and this is the cue of Grandmaster Sexay to try and get at Angle.  He’s conveniently being held back by staff/security, who don’t impede Test from getting to Angle at all.  They chat, and a match is set for later that evening.

    More Vince on the phone next.  This time he’s talking to Trish, no selling the fact he told his earlier caller that Trish was “trash”.  The point of this segment is that we learn that Trish is bringing Linda McMahon to the arena later that night. Why you might ask? We’ll get to that. 

    Next, Chris Benoit goes to the Radicalz (it’s definitely a night for the “Z” tonight) dressing room to speak with his comrades Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko.  He doesn’t seem that bothered about talking to their manager Terri.  There’s some back and forth and the upshot is Benoit will face all three Radicalz in a Gauntlet match.

    Before we can get to that though there in ANOTHER promo. Steve Austin is talking with his wife Debra about their situation and that she’s been tricked by Vince.  The Rock is then shown arriving at the arena, obviously not subject to the same rules as the rank and file.

    GAUNTLET MATCH: Chris Benoit vs The Radicalz 

    Ok, it’s 2001 so this entire gauntlet only takes 6 and a half minutes bell to bell.  Benoit defeats Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko but before he can get his hands on Guerrero, the two defeated men attack Benoit from behind before the third bell has sounded and so a Brainbuster and a Frog Splash is all that’s needed for Eddie to win.  If I seem to have short-changed that entire match, it has to be said that it’s entertaining and quite solid for what it is. And watching it without hindsight whets the appetite for a Guerrero/Benoit match at Mania. With hindsight, knowing that doesn’t happen, it all seems a bit pointless.

    Vince is back again next and Trish has turned up with a comatose Linda McMahon in a wheelchair.  To fill in the back-story would take too much time but needless to say, Vince was going to divorce Linda, but then she had an “emotional breakdown” and he decided not to and instead had her sent to a sanatorium to “recover”. The implication being that Vince was drugging his wife to put her in that state. They make their way into the arena for a promo which basically sees Vince going all-in on the previous Trish angle and that it was proof that Trish would degrade herself for the right cause, something Linda never did for him.  Vince then snogs Trish in front of his comatose wife. The best thing I can say is that having Linda portraying a wooden, un-speaking, un-feeling character is perhaps the best use of her promo talents. Again, the argument FOR this segment is that eventually there is the payoff/revenge. It doesn’t make sitting through it now any more palatable.

    Kurt Angle vs Test

    Test is the European Champion but his title isn’t on the line here. He’s just out for revenge on behalf of Scotty 2 Hotty. It seems like in the early going that he might even get it, dominating our Olympic hero but it’s not to be. Though he survives a European Title to the head and kicks out of the subsequent Moonsault he cannot survive Angle “accidentally” shoving him into the referee, thus creating the space for a low blow and a subsequent Olympic Slam. As five minute TV matches go this was a lot of fun. Sexay makes a run-in to attack Angle but it’s only the intervention of Test that saves him from having his own ankle broken like his tag team partner. 

    Al Snow is backstage on a payphone talking to Mick Foley about his upcoming match and chance to be commissioner. Snow is accompanied by two little people who are phoning a sex line on the adjacent payphone. Snow cuts the call off and ends with the quite funny line of telling them to keep their hands out of their pockets.

    William Regal vs Al Snow

    Obviously, this is such an important match in terms of the stipulation that it goes around three minutes bell to bell. Regal precedes it by taking the mic, quoting George Washington and proclaiming that the Regal Regime is soon to begin.  Al Snow walks out with two little people and is bandaged up from whatever happened to him on the previous Raw. Regal attacks before the bell, Snow rallies and has a couple of near falls and Regal knees one of the little people from the apron to the floor.  Snow goes to check but is hit from behind and an (impressive) inverted neckbreaker gets Regal the win. Regal then batters the other little person too, just because he can.

    Triple H and Stephanie are shown arriving at the arena and bump into Trish and Linda. The Helmsley’s are apparently late because they’ve been “busy” (doing you know what) and they mock Linda.  Steph has to put Trish in her place (just because) and Trips tries to be obnoxious to Linda but does it in such a funny way that it gets a laugh from the crowd. Surely just coincidental and not at all meant to get HHH over as a “cool” guy.

    After a brief interlude where Vince congratulates William Regal on his new job, the Helmsley’s make their way to the ring. As usual, Trips buries the roster saying he’s beaten everyone (and adds that Steph is superior to every woman too) although he makes the very salient point that he has beaten both The Rock and Stone Cold (the latter at No Way Out a few weeks previously) and yet it’s them not him who is in the WrestleMania main event.

    This is all a long-winded way of bringing out The Undertaker.  There’s the usual “You’re in my yard, boy” stuff, the “You’ve never beaten me” (although he had) and that he promises to make Triple H “famous”. Triple H tries to cheap shot him, fails, and without it being explicitly being announced we’ve got a big Mania match set up. Setting up this evening’s main event Rikishi and Haku discuss their “orders” for taking down the Rock. Rikishi goes as far as to state that he’s going to Stinkface Debra. What a thought. The Rock does his usual (and, of course, very good) promo.  He doesn’t need a manager, doesn’t want a manager and “if you smell” etc etc. 

    One thing of note here is an XFL advert that literally focuses on the cheerleaders in a, and I quote, “desperate attempt to increase ratings”. Gallows humour at it’s finest there.

    HANDICAP MATCH: The Rock vs Haku & Rikishi

    The odds are stacked against The Rock somewhat although he gets off a little easy as his opponents have to tag each other in (at least in the early going). Of course, this all means The Rock will win but the seven minutes or so to get there aren’t too bad.  To keep a little bit of heel heat, Rikishi attacks Rock after the results and hits the Banzai Drop on him.  Oh no, wait.  That’s not to keep heel heat, that’s so Rikishi has the opportunity to get the Stinkface on Debra which means that Stone Cold can come out and make the save. Austin drops the heels and then heads back out, only to find that Debra has stayed behind in the ring to help Rock. Austin looks back in disbelief as the show ends.

    This is one of those weird (or maybe not) Raw’s where whilst it’s difficult to particularly recommend any specific part of it (or match), there is so much going on and nothing ever lingers around that it’s hard not to be swept away with it and find plenty of entertainment.  I won’t blame anyone who fails to go along with the Vince Trish segments, mind you, and the Debra stuff still seems as daft today.  The only other real build-up to Mania other than that and possibly the ongoing wars between three teams in the Tag Division comes from the HHH/Taker segment. But we’ve plenty of time before the big day…