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Default April 20th, 2003: Clash of the Champions

April 20th, 2003

From the Toda Motorboat Race Place in Toda, Japan

Attendance: 25,000

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

Official Theme Song: "Learn to Fly" by The Foo Fighters

Cruiserweight Championship #1 Contender's Match:
Hayabusa vs. Kaz Hayashi (w/Stacy Keibler)

Reverting back to a long WCW tradition, a cruiserweight match opened the PPV. In keeping with that tradition, they got the show off to a hot start and excited the crowd. There were instances where they got too caught up in their aerial high spots and didn't pay enough attention to making the match psychologically sound, but both guys did very well overall. This was exactly what you want out of a PPV opener.

In this battle of high fliers, it was Hayabusa who dropped Hayashi with a springboard spinning heel kick and then hit the Phoenix Splash to win the match and become the new #1 contender. This decision was a toss-up the whole way through, and I made the call to go with Hayabusa literally the afternoon of the show.

Grade: B

The Steiner Brothers vs. The Hardys {}

Ordinarily there wouldn't be as much heat in an all-babyface match, but Scott's promos on the Matt/Lita/Shane McMahon scandal injected considerable drama into the mix. Scott and both Hardys did great, between Matt's heated exchanges with "Big Poppa Pump" and Jeff's exciting high spots, but Rick was a major weak link. At this stage of his career he'd have struggled to keep up with these three even on his best day, and this was far from his best day. He was really dragging here, hitting some sloppy suplexes and ineffective-looking punches. The match also suffered from a lack of selling and some less than stellar story telling, which might have been a result of neither team being clearly defined as villains. All in all though, I was pretty happy with the way this match turned out.

The initial planned finish of this match was for Jeff to defeat Rick with a Swanton, but plans change. Instead, Jeff was suplexed over the top rope and to the floor and the Steiners zeroed in on Matt. They did a number on him with punches and kicks, then Scott broke away to attack Jeff when he saw him stirring on the floor. Rick prepared to finish the match off with a flying bulldog off the top rope, but instead he jumped into a back elbow to the jaw. Matt snapped off the Twist of Fate, and the pin was recorded before Scott could make his way back into the ring for the save.

Grade: B

"American Dragon" Bryan Danielson vs. "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels {} (w/Brian Adams)

Unlike most of the matches on the show, I let them call this one in the ring, which is once again a testament to the faith I have in Danielson's ring generalship despite only being 21 years old. My only instructions, beyond the finish, were for them to go all out to try and put on a memorable match. While this wasn't a classic or anything, I'd say they succeeded. Both guys did very well. Danielson was probably better, but only by a razor thin margin.

One thing that we didn't dwell on in the build, but Mike and I did mention on commentary tonight, was the fact that Daniels' title reign began at September's War Games when he took the title off of Danielson, who at the time was still donning the mask of the American Dragon. He'd only held the title for a month back then, but he was a different wrestler now. Rather than losing his confidence along with the mask, he'd only become a better and more focused wrestler. He persistently stayed with his ground attack here, and he also had the Fallen Angel well-scouted, avoiding or countering most of his signature moves. That factored into the finish as well, as Danielson spun out of an attempted Last Rites and swiftly locked on a crossface chickenwing. Daniels was on the mat and trapped in the center of the ring before he knew it, and he was forced to tap out and concede the championship!

Grade: B

Primarily to give a momentary breather between matches (but also as a teaser for later in the show), we aired a very short angle where Eric Bischoff introduced King Corino to "the backup plan." Said "backup plan" was concealed behind the door of the Empire locker room, so the camera and the fans didn't get a glimpse of who or what it was. All we could see was Corino, who was shocked at first until a wide smile slowly spread across his face.

Grade: B-
CM Punk vs. The Destroyer (w/Father Isaac)

To help this match feel different from any of the others, and to take advantage of what The Destroyer does best, we made this a wild brawl. Even though it wasn't a gimmick match or anything, they spent a ton of time fighting around ringside and using the environment to their advantage, which included Destroyer hitting a military press slam on the entrance ramp and Punk driving the back of his opponent's head into the ring post with a Russian leg sweep of sorts. I thought these two guys worked very well together, with Punk's calculated approach to negating the big man's strength making for a good mix. There were some psychology issues as Punk isn't quite the ring general that his partner Lance Storm is, but he still turned in a great performance and was the obvious star of the match. I think he might have even helped Destroyer improve his technical skills slightly during the little mat wrestling they sprinkled in between the brawling.

Even with all of the brawling, it was actually smooth technique that decided the outcome. After surviving some high-impact throws, Punk took the big man's legs out from under him and got him in the Second City Stretch for a tap out.

Grade: B
Rob Van Dam vs. Bobby Roode (w/Ric Flair)

This was a huge moment for Bobby Roode, both the character and the man playing him. It was only his second singles match on PPV, and his first with a bona fide main event player like RVD. I thought he held up his end reasonably well here, but it was no surprise that Van Dam was on another level. Bobby's a great worker and everything, but RVD is an excellent one, plus he's a legitimate superstar. I had them go all out here, and of course that's right in RVD's comfort zone, giving him free rein to work in all of his flashy spots.

Roode did all he could to make this a technical bout, wanting to keep RVD on the mat so he couldn't make use of his kicks or his various aerial moves. It all wound up being for naught, though, because Van Dam was not going to be thrown off his game. Seeing that things were getting progressively worse for his client as the match wore on, Flair slipped a steel chair into the ring. As Van Dam came flying off the top rope, Roode whacked him in the ribs with the chair, in full view of the referee!

Grade: B-

Obviously that resulted in a DQ win for RVD, but he didn't look much like a winner as Roode wore him out with the chair. He delivered several chair shots across the back and a couple to the legs as well while Flair strutted into the ring.

"How're you doing now, Mr. Hardcore? Not feeling so extreme now, are ya pal! WOOOOOOOO!" Flair shouted of-microphone. Upon Flair's request, Roode took a step back so the Nature Boy could get in his own shots. He did some theatrical strutting and then slapped on the figure four, with Roode getting in some kicks to the stomach and head just for good measure. The heels finally allowed themselves to be escorted back up the ramp by officials, and they shared a smile and a high five on their way out. You could see just how much the Japanese crowd loves Van Dam here. Their support of him was obvious during the beating, and it made him feel like a real star and turned this into an extremely successful angle.

Grade: A
Ultimate Fan Series Final Round: #3 Sin-free Society vs. #4 Satyr's Hopeful Few (series tied 2-2)
Lance Storm (Society) vs. The Unnatural (Hopeful Few) (w/Father Isaac)

After two previous rounds and four matches in these finals, it all came down to this one last match between Lance Storm and The Unnatural to decide it. I'll admit to being slightly nervous here with this being Lance's first major match since his face turn, given that he's much better as a heel, but I had faith in his ability as well as Dustin's. To that end, I gave them around 22-23 minutes, let them take their time and call it in the ring. Both of them rose to the occasion, delivering a fantastic match that was well above anything else to this point. Between Lance's world class technical skills and the all-around ability and heel presence of The Unnatural, both guys did very well in this one. Unnatural was the better of the two, but there definitely wasn't a weak link in this chain.

Lance had been doing his usual mat wrestling approach, focusing on The Unnatural's neck. His strategy got derailed for a good portion of the match, basically whenever Dustin was able to turn it into a brawl. After pulling a page out of his father's book with a bulldog, Dustin went for Unnatural Selection--but Lance brilliantly countered it into what started out as his old rolling half crab, and then morphed into the Calgary Clutch! The Unnatural struggled, but the hold was perfectly applied and he was nowhere near the ropes!

Showing both ingenuity and deviousness, The Unnatural stuck his thumb right in Lance's eye! That drew boos from the respectful Japanese fans, but all Unnatural cared about was the fact that it allowed him to get free of his precarious predicament. Lance was still trying to recover from that illegal eye gouge when he was hit with Unnatural Selection! The Unnatural made the cover, hooked the leg, and Nick Patrick counted the one...


three! The Unnatural wins, and so do Satyr's Hopeful Few!

Grade: A

The rest of Satyr's Hopeful Few joined The Unnatural and Father Isaac in the ring to celebrate, and Arn Anderson brought the trophy to ringside to display it for the fans. There weren't any words spoken on-mic due to the language barrier, but I thought Unnatural came across well as the de facto star of the team, and Mortis looked good as well. Alexander looked somewhat out of place, and there was an awkward moment where Arn went to grab the mic just out of reflex, then remembered where he was and abruptly went the other way. Brian Adams being there helped Daniels as well, their easy chemistry coming into play. On commentary, Mike and I pointed out that the team manager 'Satyr24' will be on hand at next month's Mayhem for the official trophy presentation, where he will reveal which title each team member will challenge for.

Grade: B+

Booker T (w/Eric Bischoff) vs. Sean O'Haire {}

Booker T was going to win this match and this championship by any means necessary. He charged at O'Haire not merely before the bell, but before he could even take the belt off. He got in a couple of good forearms to the back of the head and then some punches to the face, ignoring referee Marty Rubalcaba's attempts to order him to back off. He went straight for the Book End--but O'Haire elbowed his way out of it, then struck with a standing spin kick. Not bothering to take the title off, O'Haire yanked Booker up by his hair, lifted him onto his shoulders, and...Widow Maker! He made the cover, and got the one...


three! O'Haire pinned the 5-time World Heavyweight Champion in just 02:05, so quickly that he'd never taken the TV Championship belt off! He seemed a bit off his game in trying to execute this surprise squash, but Booker did his job (or should I say did THE job) well.

Grade: C

As the shock of the last match wore off, Shane Douglas marched down the ramp, dragging a skinny Japanese man along with him in what was basically a headlock. He ordered the man (who attentive fans would recognize as Yamaguchi-san from the WWF Attitude era, though we never identified him) to translate his message to the fans and the wrestlers in the back. Yamaguchi was supposed to sound frightened as he spoke into the microphone, but he probably did TOO good a job there, because he stuttered so badly he was somewhat hard to understand. That's what I was told later by actual Japanese speakers, at least.

Anyway, the point was that since Douglas was not booked on this show and had become a forgotten man since his failure to win the world title last month at Slamboree, he was taking it upon himself to grab the spotlight by force. As such, he was issuing an immediate open challenge to anyone in the back, and he wasn't leaving the ring until his challenge was accepted. After a pause, the gauntlet was eventually taken up by...

Minoru Tanaka!

Grade: B

Minoru Tanaka vs. Shane Douglas

An unannounced bonus match! I made the decision to add this to the show the day of because we had ample time for it, plus I wanted Shane to make an appearance on the PPV itself instead of working a dark match. It was also a good chance to put Minoru on TV, since he was obviously going to get a much better reaction here in Japan. The match itself was pretty good; roughly on par with the majority of the show, really. Maybe they could have told a more effective story, but there's only so much you can do with a match with zero buildup that you didn't even know was happening until a few hours earlier. Both guys did a good job, and it was nice to see Douglas draw some additional fire out of Minoru during the brawling exchanges.

Minoru worked his quasi-shoot style here, with lots of MMA-inspired kicks and submission attempts. Shane did a nice job reacting to his style and selling that he was a force to be reckoned with, which was important since our viewing audience outside of Japan hasn't really had any exposure to Minoru. There was a dramatic moment where Shane teased tapping out to an ankle lock, only to make it to the ropes. In the end it was Shane who won the match with a submission of his own, as he got Tanaka down on the mat and locked in the crossface.

Grade: B
"The Hellraiser" Steve Austin vs. King Corino (w/Eric Bischoff)

Expectations were high from fans for this one, with many predicting that this would be the match of the night. They had no idea what they were in for. They didn't waste any time here, getting straight to it with a heated bit of fisticuffs right at the bell. Both guys knew their roles here and executed them skillfully. Corino was very good, but Austin was nothing short of fantastic, putting in great effort and getting the superstar reaction just as he does everywhere in the world. Corino was a total pro here, bumping and feeding "The Hellraiser" as Austin went on a rampage. I'm sure this match could have been a classic, if things had been different. But it wasn't to be, at least not on this day.

It was around the ten minute mark when Austin went for a clothesline, but Corino ducked and instead it was referee Marty Rubalcaba who got clobbered. That wasn't an opportunity that The Empire would fail to make the most of. Almost immediately, Bischoff waved to the back.

Down came Booker T, running at full-speed, and I made the quip that of course he had plenty of energy left, because he couldn't have used up much of it getting beaten in two minutes. Booker measured Austin for one of his Harlem Sidekicks, but Austin ducked it, and...STUNNER! Corino attempted to hit Austin from behind, but Steve spun around, blocked it, kicked him in the gut, and....a STUNNER for Corino as well!

Bischoff shook his head, scowling as Austin used his foot to nudge Booker under the rope and out to the floor like yesterday's garbage. Steve taunted Eric briefly before returning his attention to Corino, getting into a mount position and pummeling him with right hands. Bischoff turned his back to the ring, leading Mike and I to suggest that he was giving the match up as a lost cause. That was far from the truth, though.


And then...

...GOLDBERG! The OOOOOHS of the Japanese fans were a different reaction than this would've gotten in the US, but it was still a sign that they considered him a big name and were shocked to see him. He slipped in from the side, and when Austin got off Corino and back to his feet, he turned around right into a SPEAR! Goldberg didn't stop there either. He lifted Austin up, high into the air, and drove him into the mat with a thunderous Jackhammer! He physically dragged Corino on top of a prone Austin, and Bischoff slapped Rubalcaba until he could crawl over and make the count, giving Corino a treacherous pinfall victory over Steve Austin!

Grade: B

After the match, the rest of The Empire (minus Etsuko Mita, who was working a Renaissance house show, and the still-down Booker T) joined Bischoff, Corino and Booker in the ring. The group surrounded Bischoff, who flashed that smug smile like only he can. He had the gall to put one foot on top of Austin's chest as he took the microphone and cut a promo, in Japanese. You could see he looked lost sometimes as he tried to deliver his speech with the right inflection, but I give him all the credit in the world simply for being able to get his point across in a foreign language. It was a fairly standard promo about The Empire being stronger than ever now that his greatest creation, Goldberg, has joined the group, but it worked. A big reason why it worked was just how much the fans love Austin. Cutting that promo while casually stepping on Steve's chest was a tremendous visual, especially after all the stuff with the restraining order.

Grade: A*

"The Phenomenal" AJ Styles vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. {}

We ran a pre-match video showcasing both men's title victories at Starrcade, with AJ beating Shane Douglas and Rey pinning Booker T. It then moved on to playing up the idea that Rey was an innovator of aerial wrestling and ahead of his time, but Styles was the natural evolution of that style in the next generation. It worked really well with the PPV's theme song, and our production team deserves a lot of credit for how great this turned out. It ended with shots of both champions stretching and getting themselves mentally prepared moments before their entrances. Tenay's announcing wasn't great here as I think he took the theme of Styles being the next generation too far, to the point that it made it feel like Rey is past his prime. Still, this was a great segment overall.

Grade: A*

We were probably lucky that this show was in Japan, because the smark portion of our American fanbase would've been vocal about the rumors swirling about Rey's contract status. As it was, the fans in attendance sat back and focused on the match, and they were rewarded for it. For well over thirty minutes, Styles and Mysterio showed the world what a modern wrestling match should be. There were plenty of visually impressive moves off the top rope, springboard attacks and dives to the floor, but the match was by no means a spotfest. These guys know how to work and tell a story, and they told a great one here. The crux of the story was that Rey, for perhaps the first time in his career, did not have an obvious advantage in speed and aerial acrobatics, and he had to try and adjust to that. They told that story wonderfully, with several memorable moments of Rey attempting a flying move, only for AJ to use his own speed to counter. Realizing that he couldn't rely on his usual style to take control of this match, Mysterio started adopting a more ground-based attack with slick chain wrestling and submissions. It was a good idea told incredibly well, and it went a long way towards making up for there being no heel in the match.

AJ came within an eyelash of a career-defining three count time after time, but he showed the downside of high risk offense when he put it all on the line going for the Spiral Tap only to come up empty when Rey rolled out of the way. Seeing his opportunity, Rey hurried out to the apron. The moment AJ got back to his feet, Rey took flight with his springboard hurricanrana, the same move that won him the title!

...But AJ caught him! He stepped through, hooking his legs underneath Mysterio's arms, and...


He rolled Mysterio onto his back, and the Japanese fans rose to their feet as head referee Nick Patrick's hand slapped the canvas once...



...No! Rey got his shoulder up at the last possible moment!

AJ looked up in disbelief at the referee, and Mike and I jumped all over it, saying that the 23-year old was showing his inexperience by taking too much time to follow up. When he did eventually regain his focus, he grabbed Rey by the leg and dragged him close to the corner. He attempted a springboard attack, but Rey jumped onto the top rope and hit a beautiful flying hurricanrana that sent AJ crashing down onto the mat hard. Not trusting that to be enough, Rey went to the apron for a springboard of his own, and connected with a springboard headbutt. He hooked the leg, and the count was made once...


...and a third time! Mysterio retained!

Grade: A

Show Overall Grade: A*

I have a feeling the signing of Goldberg will raise some eyebrows. One thing I will say is that, in this mod at least, his in-ring skills aren't half bad. They aren't amazing either, but he's not a useless slug or anything. Of course there's also the fact that I'm playing as Bret, who had his career ended at least in large part due to a Goldberg kick to the head. Bret himself seems to place almost all of the blame on that one spot. I personally think the fact that he continued to work through it had a lot more to do with it than gets mentioned, but that's not really what's important here anyway. A lot of people think that Bret hates Goldberg in real life, but I've looked into it and am going to try and paraphrase Bret's actual comments on Bill into my post-show wrap-up.

As always, my thanks to K-Nection for his continued awesomeness in creating these wonderful PPV posters. He gets extra special bonus awesome points this time for waiting until I got back to him to confirm the main event of the show, which was up in the air until very late in the process.

Unnatural vs. Storm was a 95. Rey vs. AJ was match of the night with a 98, which I find really impressive for a match between two babyfaces.

Originally Posted by The Pitbull View Post
General comments : Never thought Dustin Rhodes will get involved in 5 star matches. You made him awesome. Rey was awesome, but i loved him as a fighting champ not an underdog. Last , but not least, you made Corino awesome. One of my all time favorites and you book him outstandingly.
I didn't think he would either! Dustin's been one of the real overachievers in this diary, because when I started I pictured him in a pretty similar role to what Hugh Morrus and Konnan have been--a jobber to the stars, basically. He's a lot of fun to write though.

Originally Posted by Beejus View Post
I feel like I'll get used to the new format in due time. It looks very slick and polished, and I like that your segment names in the show recaps are enough to-the-point to get a feel for what happened if it wasn't a segment that you gave a bigger description to.
'Slick and polished' is exactly what I was shooting for!

It's actually been a bit of an adjustment trying to give my segments more descriptive names now that I'm screenshotting the TV shows, because my usual habit is to be very simplistic with those.

RVD - Roode just isn't really in Rob's league yet, and I don't think any amount of strong or protect notes will help him from being unhappy if he were to eat a loss here.
I didn't even try it, but I have no doubt you're correct on that. Fortunately I didn't need him to lose to take this where I want it to go.

Originally Posted by James The Animator View Post
Nobody's giving Hayabusa any love.
Maybe they've learned their lesson now!
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