WrestleWatch: No Way Out 2005
The WWE Network is a wonderful thing. For all the criticisms levied at WWE- some justly, some unjustly- one thing you really can't fault about Vince McMahon's wrestli- sorry, sports entertainment company- is his streaming service. It's a virtually limitless archive of wrestling shows, along with original content constantly being uploaded. Weekly shows like 205 Live, NXT and NXT UK. Documentaries like WWE 24 and WWE Chronicle. Then you have off-the-wall wacky stuff like The Edge & Christian Show That Totally Reeks Of Awesomeness... a hilarious comedy/sketch show that will surely get a post of its own in coming weeks. But I digress.
Perhaps best of all, the depth of WWE's archives means that if you're not enjoying the current product, you can easily fire up the Network and re-live any era you want to. Personally, I'm quite enjoying 2019 WWE so far, but that doesn't stop me from working through the Ruthless Aggression Era. The tonal shift that occurred approximately between mid-2002 and mid-2008 bridged the gap between the acclaimed Attitude Era and the PG/Reality Era of today. It was a period of time where my wrestling fandom exploded. I got into WWE during the Attitude Era, when I was 8 years old and they brought out these awesome sticker books featuring wrestlers like Stone Cold, The Rock, The Undertaker, Mankind, and The Big Show- who really stood out to me as a young one. I watched WWE primarily through whatever was available to hire on VHS from the video shop. God, I feel old writing that sentence. But the Ruthless Aggression Era was when I could get slightly quicker access to WWE- I had my mates, my dad's mates and my uncle taping shows for me, since I didn't have pay TV. Episodes of Raw, Smackdown and some PPVs. But there wasn't any consistency in getting these tapes- while I saw every Raw from February to November of 2003, I missed the vast majority of weekly WWE programming from 2002 to August 2006, when I finally got Austar (Foxtel). Fast forward to 2019, and the gloriousness of the WWE Network! (Which has sneakily been lifted to a shade above US $9.99 if my conversions are correct, but it's still great value)
With that history lesson out of the way, let's move to the show we're reviewing today! I've watched every Raw, Smackdown and PPV on the Network from July 2002 onwards (when Bischoff and Steph were installed as General Managers). We are now up to February 2005, on The Road To Wrestlemania... almost exactly 15 years ago.
This is a Smackdown brand-only PPV. We are a couple of weeks removed from the stellar 2005 Royal Rumble. We are in the middle of a clear changing of the guard, as the Rumble Match saw Raw's Batista best Smackdown's John Cena, as both men were on the cusp of main event superstardom. Since Raw had a No. 1 Contender, Smackdown needed one of their own for a WWE Championship match at Wrestlemania 21. So, GM Teddy Long put together a tournament over a few episodes of SD, with the finals occuring on the No Way Out PPV. The major highlight of this tournament was a quarterfinals match between Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio, taking place on the first (and only) Smackdown episode from Japan. The finals match at No Way Out would be Kurt Angle vs. John Cena. But what would the other half of the WWE Championship match be? Long-reigning champion JBL retained the title at the Royal Rumble in a Triple Threat match following interference from his Cabinet stable. This lead to Teddy Long giving a championship shot to the man who did not get pinned in the Rumble triple threat- The Big Show! And to ensure no outside interference from JBL's cabinet, it would be JBL vs. BIg Show, for the WWE Championship... inside a barbed wire steel cage!
Match 1: WWE Tag Team Championship- Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio vs. The Bashams
On the episode of SD prior to No Way Out, Mysterio selected his tag partner to be his long-time friend and sometimes rival, Eddie Guerrero. Mysterio had held the tag titles previously with Rob Van Dam, but a few weeks earlier, the Bashams took advantage of a RVD knee injury to capture the titles and put Mr. Thursday Night on the shelf. Enter Latino Heat. Despite not being regular tag partners, Eddie & Rey show a lot of chemistry with rapid fire tags and offense, including some double team manoeuvres. Bashams try to isolate Rey with their technically sound, grinding offense. It's about as fun as it sounds. Bashams had recently joined JBL's Cabinet, and this character development manifested itself in frequent shouts of "SOD!" (for Sectaries of Defense). Charismatic champions. The tag is eventually made to Eddie, who gets fired up and wants to use the title belts as a weapon to "Lie, Cheat & Steal" their way to victory. Rey implores him not to, but after the Bashams pull "Twin Magic" (by the way, they looked nothing alike, just two bald white guys in matching attire), Mysterio says "fuck it" and Eddie clocks Doug with the belt as Rey hits the 619 on Danny. 1, 2, 3, we have new tag champs!
Winners: Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio (**3/4) Decent action, nothing special apart from a pretty cool finishing sequence thanks to the antics of Eddie. And I maintain that Rey Mysterio is the perfect opening match wrestler. When you send Rey out there to kick off the festivities, it's always a good time.
Backstage, Batista is the invited guest of honour at No Way Out. Long makes sure his private room is all set with refreshments. The Animal is yet to decide if he uses his Rumble victory to face Raw's World Heavyweight Champion Triple H, or the WWE Champion, the winner of JBL vs. Big Show. Should Long be successful in wooing Batista to the blue brand, he will face the winner of JBL/Show AND the winner of Angle/Cena in a Triple Threat match at Wrestlemania 21. We await the arrival of Batista.
Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie host the Rookie Diva contest. Basically, SD retained some of the losers of the 2004 Diva Search contest. None of them are trained wrestlers at this point, so they are basically sent out there to parade around and look hot. They wear some pretty dresses and wave to the crowd. Who wins? Who cares?
Match 2: Heidenreich vs. Booker T
Heidenreich reads a shitty poem pre-match. His role has been defined down since the end of the Undertaker feud. He was unable to hold up his end of the matches with the Deadman, so he slides down the card. Honestly, what I kept thinking during this match is, "damn, Taker is really underrated!" He dragged two watchable PPV matches out of Heidenreich, and as great as Booker T is, he's unable to do much here with the big lug. Of note, Paul Heyman is no longer in Heidenreich's corner, which is further evidence that the WWE powers that be have little stock left in the rookie big man. Rudimentary action, and after Booker starts to gain control with some nice kicks and a spinebuster, Heidenreich bails to the outside, grabs a steel chair and jabs the master of the Spinarooni in the throat with it. This one's mercifully done.
Winner: Booker T (via DQ) (1/2*) All the meh. It got a star the caliber of Booker on the PPV, but that was not satisfying in the slightest for Booker fans, so a bit pointless all around.
Backstage, Eddie Guerrero talks to John Cena. Eddie takes the role of the veteran giving Cena advice about facing Kurt Angle. Cena thanks Eddie and shakes his hand. Did a nice job emphasising the importance of this PPV co-main event.
Match 3: WWE Cruiserweight Championship- Six Man Elimination Match- Funaki vs. Spike Dudley vs. Chavo Guerrero vs. Akio vs. Shannon Moore vs. Paul London
This was an oddly structured match. Essentially played out as a gauntlet, starting with Funaki and London. The other 4 cruisers stood on the apron, but couldn't tag in or get involved, they just had to stand there and wait for someone to get eliminated to get their turn. Spike got involved behind the referee's back, allowing London to pin reigning champ Funaki. So an unceremonious ending to the underdog title reign of Funaki, we're now guaranteed a new champion. Funaki got revenge with a superkick on Spike, leading to London getting the quick elimination on the runt of the Dudley litter. Moore enters the fray and is eliminated in short order by a London 450 Splash. Akio enters and trades flashy moves with London- I remember these two having some great hidden gems on Smackdown's sister show, Velocity, back in the day. London hits a sick top rope neckbreaker and Akio fails to beat the standing count of 10. He's gone. Enter Chavo. At this point, London has run the gauntlet and is fairly easy pickings for Chavo, who holds the ropes to get the pin and win the title.
Winner: Chavo Guerrero (*1/2) Unrealistically fast eliminations and made former champ Funaki look like a joke. On the plus side, there were some cool spots and it was a bit of a coming out party for Paul London, getting a run of eliminations. Unfortunately, the crowd didn't react a whole lot, considering half these guys hadn't actually been on Smackdown a whole lot over the past year.
Back to the Rookie DIva contest. Each Diva has to show the audience their talent. Joy Giovanni demonstrates a massage on Torrie, which goes over nicely. Rochelle tells some jokes which do not. Awful stuff. Lauren did an awkward dance. Dawn Marie is shit-talking all this, but honestly, it's kinda justified! Nevertheless, Michelle McCool gets the shits and body slams Dawn. She'd at least go on to have a good WWE career... she'll probably go in the HOF in a few years really, but that's more to do with who she's married to more than how good a wrestler she actually was.
Match 4: Undertaker vs. Luther Reigns
Luther is no relation to Roman, as far as I'm aware. He has an awesome look, but unfortunately his wrestling skill doesn't match that. I'd say he's green, but he was around in 1997 in WCW as Horshu, so I think it's more down to a lack of talent than inexperience. Undertaker gets his signature spots in to get the win and please the crowd. Better than Booker vs. Heidenreich, due to having an actual conclusive finish, but just a standard Undertaker outing, really. Nothing more, nothing less. Won't make a Best Of, won't make a Worst Ever. Chokeslam, Tombstone, thanks for coming, Luther. Undertaker heads towards Wrestlemania 21 to defend what is his 12-0 Streak at this point.
Winner: Undertaker (*) Taker slays the Monster of the Month. Allegedly, there was plans to do Kane & Undertaker vs. Heidenreich & Snitsky at WM21. If that was indeed the case, I'd like to thank Mr. Heidenreich for stinking up the place and ending his own main event push, because what we got at Mania ended up being worlds better.
Rookie Divas have a bikini contest. Okay, these segments weren't completely pointless. Joy Giovanni is named the winner of the Rookie Diva contest. She never did much else in WWE from what I remember... I believe she randomly came back at Wrestlemania 25 for the Miss Wrestlemania Battle Royal, but I genuinely have no idea what else she did in this 2005 run. Joy was absolutely gorgeous though, with a radiant smile, so there's that.
Match 5: Finals Of The No. 1 Contender's Tournament: Kurt Angle vs. John Cena
Okay, Angle does a good job as Cena's last roadblock on his way to Wrestlemania. They start technical, playing to Angle's strengths, and then soon after brawl around ringside, playing to Cena's strengths. Nice establishment of the dynamic and difference of styles between the two. Kurt gains the upper hand with a sick German suplex into the turnbuckle. Angle works the leg, and is able to lock in the Ankle Lock, which Cena survives. Cena rallies soon after with what I believe is one of the first instances of his standing top rope leg drop. Nice high risk spot to put over the importance of going to Wrestlemania and challenging for the WWE Championship. Cena hits the FU (not the AA) for a great near fall. Angle really mastered that kicking out at 2.99999. Angle gets back on top with some leg work, and finds the opening to re-apply the Ankle Lock. Cena summons the strength to fight out of it, leading to a REF BUMP! Angle seizes the opportunity to try and use Cena's chain as a weapon, however he doesn't get the chance to hit Cena with it, as a second FU connects. The Doctor of Thuganomics is going to Wrestlemania!
Winner: John Cena (***1/2) MOTN. Cena proved he belongs in the main event spot, hitting the right notes, and the veteran Angle led the dance well. Great work all around. These two men singlehandedly elevated the entire PPV.
Match 6: WWE Championship: Barbed Wire Steel Cage Match: JBL (c) vs. Big Show
Bradshaw does a nice job selling fear of both the structure and the giant, before fighting with desperation. Early interaction with the barbed wire causes both men to be busted open pretty early on. The violence doesn't get to ECW levels here, but the crimson masks create an excellent visual. WWE seems to shy away from blood these days, but this is a shining example of it enhancing the story of the match. It's fitting given the feud and match type, and makes the stakes feel higher than RVD in... well, any given situation, really. Helps it seem more epic and dramatic when used appropriately and not gratuitously.Despite the stipulation, the Cabinet arrive to try and bail their boss out. Orlando Jordan slips JBL some wire cutters, which he uses first as a weapon on Show, then attempts to cut away the barbed wire from the top of the cage. Show catches him, however, and nails a massive chokeslam from the top rope... which breaks the ring! For some reason, instead of trying to pin the champ in the wreckage, he walks to the cage door, which is padlocked shut. After a bit of a struggle, Show rips the door off its hinges and walks out of the cage. The match is over!
Except... JBL's music plays and he is announced the winner! What's going on? Bradshaw is outside the cage, a bloody mess, clutching his most prized possession, the WWE Championship. A different camera angle shows that while Big Show was ripping through the cage and getting out that way, JBL was able to crawl out of the wreckage and get out from under the ring to escape the cage and keep the title.
Winner: John "Bradshaw" Layfield (***) Well executed big man bout inside the steel cage. Sufficiently violent to honor the stip, and a creative way to keep the strap on the heel champ. A worthy PPV main event.
Post-match, an angry Big Show beats up the bloody carcass of Bradshaw. The Cabinet comes out to save JBL. This leads to the arrival- 2 hours and 30 odd minutes into the show- of Batista! He disposes of Orlando and the Bashams, and the champ takes the opportunity to take his belt and get the hell out of there. New No. 1 Contender John Cena stops him and nails him with a big spinebuster through the stage equipment. The show ends with the new breed of WWE, Cena and Batista, staring each other down.
Overall Score: 6/10. I really love 2005 WWE. Royal Rumble was great, the Wrestlemania following this No Way Out event is fantastic- I've seen it a bunch of times, but you bet your ass I'm gonna watch it again happily to review here. I really loved this period of time and contrary to what a lot of people believe, I thought the initial brand split worked well... until around 2008. But if I had to cite a weakness of the brand split, it would probably be these single brand PPVs. The rosters on each show are strong enough for weekly television, but when it comes to PPV, it works better if you get the best of both brands on it. No Way Out 2005 was a shining example of the Smackdown roster just not having enough depth for a full force PPV. It was book-ended by some great stuff. Starting with Eddie and Rey, thumbs up. Angle vs. Cena and JBL vs. Show, thumbs up. Where it dragged was the middle of the show. Booker T and Undertaker are two of the all-time greats, but they're not miracle workers. Pulling PPV-quality matches out of performers the level of Heidenreich and Luther Reigns is asking a bit much. Chalk them up to failed experiments and let's move onto stronger shows throughout the great year that was 2005 in WWE.
Until next time, take care,