A year ago, World Championship Wrestling celebrated the first anniversary of their survival by taking their brand of graps to another level with the revival of an old concept, the World Cup of Wrestling.
This time around, however, the company took the tournament more seriously than ever before, with Toronto, Canada winning the rights to host the revival PPV and a Team Japan featuring Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Yoshihiro Tajiri and The Jung Dragons winning the trophy after a pulsating sudden-death finale.
Now, the World Cup heads to Mexico City, Mexico for the 2003 tournament finals following a month of preliminary bouts between six competing nations. For the first time, Canada themselves have a squad entered. Can captain Lance Storm follow up his World title win on home soil a year ago with a World Cup trophy?
Or, will Japan be able to double up? Can Mexico get it done in front of their own? Will USA repeat their 1995 feat from an older format of the tournament? Or might we see an underdog run from the UK or Italy at the death?
Home hopes aim to give the Mexican fans something else to cheer when Los Guerreros challenge the Disciples of the New Church for the heavyweight tag team titles, while AJ Styles defends the United States title against the 3 Live Kru’s Ron Killings and several big heavyweight feuds come together in an eight-man tag attraction.
But of course, the big talking point of the show will be the Triangle match World Cup final to determine who takes home the trophy. With WCW World champion Sean O’Haire suspended for attacking Commissioner Ric Flair, the final will close the PPV this year. Who can step up and win the big one?
APRIL 20, 2003: WCW WORLD CUP OF WRESTLING – Mexico City, Mexico
Matches were taped prior to the PPV for the following Wednesday’s AirTime. In addition, a studio-filmed pre-show previewed all of the matches and World Cup permutations, while also confirming that Shane Douglas will represent the New Church in the eight-man tag later following what happened last night on Nitro.
Opening match, WCW World Tag Team Championship: Sinn & Slash (c) vs Los Guerreros
The PPV began with a hero’s welcome for Eddie and Chavo as they arrived to challenge the New Churchers for the WCW tag titles. The champions were accompanied by both Father James Mitchell and Malice, as commentary reiterated the viewing audience that Mitchell had negotiated to replace Malice in the eight-man tag match with his apparent new recruit, Shane Douglas.
And as Mitchell probably planned, the challengers’ hot start inspired by having the crowd completely in their corner was thwarted as soon as Malice got a chance to get some digs in behind the ref’s back, with him even smashing Chavo back-first into the ring post for a lengthy heat segment. Chavo eventually hot tagged out to Eddie who ran through the champs and resonded to Malice hooking his leg by dropping the giant with a big plancha.
The ref finally ejected Malice, and Mitchell fetched Sinn a tag title belt to use on Eddie only for Chavo to strike him first with the other belt. Chavo took care of Slash while the frog splash made Los Guerreros three-time WCW champions after 14:37 to a huge pop! The new titleholders celebrated in the crowd with their friends and family.
Up next would the first of three World Cup finals matches on the evening. This, the quarter-final so to speak, was a six-way singles elimination match with 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5pts awarded according to the order of elimination. Each nation captain sent in one of their four team members knowing that other team members would have to wrestle in the tag semis or the grand final if they made it that far. Prior to the bout, commentary informed us that Psicosis and Jimmy Yang had been cleared to compete despite not being 100% but Billy Kidman was advised not to wrestle.
World Cup quarter-final, six-man elimination match: Jimmy Yang (JAP) vs Super Crazy (MEX) vs Bryan Danielson (USA) vs Joe Legend (CAN) vs Jody Fleisch (UK) vs Guido Maritato (ITA)
All six men took turns competing with two in the ring and a man in each corner, awaiting a tag. The first elimination came when Fleisch caught Guido with the Phoenix DDT after 7:01, only for a fuming Maritato to trip Jody from outside as he was being helped out which allowed Legend to fold Fleisch over for a quick pin at 7:31.
The 0pt and 1pt returns for Italy and UK respectively meant Crazy simply needed to survive another fall for Mexico to be certain of the semi-final match and though Legend proceeded to throw his superior weight around in dominating all three remaining opponents, it was Danielson to go next courtesy of the Hospital Job at 9:10, effectively eliminating the UK and Italy.
Yang and Crazy teamed up on Legend a little but the powerhouse kept rolling and sent Crazy packing with a huge elevated powerbomb at 11:16 to a chorus of boos. However, he got overconfident one-on-one with a wounded Yang and fell victim to stick-and-move tactics before the 2002 Cup winner somehow hauled Legend up for an impressive Yang Time piledriver at the 13:44 mark to give the reigning champions victory and 5 crucial points.
The announcers recapped the new standings: USA 10pts; Canada 10pts; Japan 10pts; Mexico 6pts. UK (5pts) and Italy (4pts) were eliminated. They noted that Mexico were far from safe yet, and needed to win the tag team four corners match to reach the final or at least finish as runners-up to get a tie-breaker.
Eight-man tag team match: Jeff Jarrett, Dustin Rhodes & America’s Most Wanted vs Disciples of the New Church (Shane Douglas & Tempest) & Triple X (Elix Skipper & Christopher Daniels)
Right from the get-go, before the opening bell could sound, the heels blindsided the faces and XXX left AMW in a bad way at ringside. As things finally settled down between the ropes, XXX and the New Church worked over Rhodes with quick tags until he escaped a double-team from Douglas and Tempest to tag in Jarrett. JJ cleared house until the numbers caught up with him, at which point Harris and Black were able to drag themselves back into the fight as things broke down big time.
Jarrett and Douglas brawled to the back while Malice set up a table down to the side of the walkway before being ejected from ringside. Rhodes struggled with everything he had left to stop Tempest driving him through the table from the apron and ultimately, the two tumbled through the wood together.
This left the two rival duos in the ring, and although AMW took the fight to XXX, the early assault was still evidently hampering them and the heels played divide and conquer, sending Black into the steel steps outside before outnumbering Harris in the ring and finishing him off – with the Death Sentence, adding insult to injury – at the 12:20 mark.
WCW United States Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Ron ‘The Truth’ Killings
Styles had been a fighting champion since winning the belt in a surprise result at Genesis in January from Booker T. Killings, meanwhile, had lost the belt in disgrace to The Cat at Starrcade a month before AJ’s crowning moment in stepping up from cruiser to heavy, but had spent 2003 so far changing his ways and winning the hearts of the fans as part of the 3LK.
This competitive encounter went the way of the titleholder, however, as he produced a strong rally late on and ultimately finished off Truthwith Spiral Tap in 10:34. Though BG James and Konnan came out with their man, they didn’t interfere once and even joined Killings in endorsing the fighting champion after the contest.
World Cup semi-final, four-team elimination match: TAKA Michinoku & Dick Togo (JAP) vs Psicosis & Juventud Guerrera (MEX) vs Paul London & Brian Kendrick (USA) vs Eric Young and Johnny Devine (CAN)
With a last- or third-placed finish in the semi ensuring Mexico went out and all three of their opponents advancing to the final, there was some rare co-operation between the Americans, Canadians and Japanese to ensure a Mexican competitor was kept in the ring at all times. And with Psicosis not at 100%, Juventud ensured it was him who had to endure a lot of early abuse.
The fans got behind the disadvantaged local team before a disagreement between Kai En Tai and Lance Storm’s proteges gave Juvi an opening to tag in Psicosis for a quick barrage of offense before they were able to tag out for the first time in the match, earning a big pop merely for surviving long enough to get out of legal participation.
Togo prepared for a Senton Bomb off the top to London, but Young and Devine, being in that corner and still seething from the fracas with Japan earlier, crotched him hard on the top. After Togo fell to the canvas in serious pain, London looked at the situation and couldn’t bring himself to take advantage of such a situation. He instead went after the Canadians, which allowed Togo to crawl over and tag his partner. When London returned to the ring from a spectacular SSP dive to the outside onto Young and Devine, he was immediately Michinoku Drivered and pinned at 11:43.
The Canada and Japan duos went at it for a bit, until Psicosis joined the fray only to crumple to the mat clutching his leg after an Irish whip. To the fans’ delight, he was suckering in the overconfident Devine for a cradle to eliminate Canada at 14:24. The furious Canadians beat up Psicosis and Juvi until they were dragged out by more officials.
With Mexico still needing to beat Japan to avoid some form of tiebreaker with USA, Juvi and Psi had to fight back from underneath before Guerrera slipped out of a Michinoku Driver hoist and responded with the Juvi Driver. He then tagged Psicosis in and dropkicked Togo off the apron while Psi hit the Guillotine Legdrop for the win at 17:55 to give us a final of Canada vs holders Japan vs hosts Mexico – and by the announcers’ deductions, the remaining team members meant our main event would be Lance Storm vs Tajiri vs Rey Mysterio.
WCW Cruiserweight Championship: Jamie Knoble (c) vs Kid Kash
One year ago, Knoble and Kash were dominant as cruiserweight tag team champions. However after they lost the belts they struggled to regain that momentum, leading to a frustrated Knoble turning on his ally and embarking on a singles run. Before too long, he was able to capture the singles cruiser strap.
Kash, meanwhile, rallied from the betrayal by siding with Rob Van Dam’s Hardcore Revolution, but with the leader embarking on his own title goals last month against Sean O’Haire, RVD also gave his blessing for Kash to take care of some unfinished business with Knoble.
Jamie had sworn he would never give Kash a title shot, but a win for Kash in a non-title street fight grudge match led to Commissioner Flair rubber-stamping KK’s status as mandatory challenger.
However with the belt up for grabs, Knoble this time came good after catching a top rope huracanrana attempt, hooking the arms and landing a deadly looking Super Tiger Bomb after 16:41 of action. The grudge title match brought the Mexican crowd to their feet despite seemingly having no real emotional investment going into it, and Kash needed help to the back after the finish though he didn’t appear to be in any serious condition.
Grudge match: Hardcore Revolution (Rob Van Dam, Jerry Lynn, Christian York & Joey Matthews) vs Extreme Horsemen (Mike Awesome, CW Anderson, Simon Diamond & Johnny Swinger w/Steve Corino)
The 4vs4 battle between Hardcore Revolution members Rob Van Dam, Jerry Lynn, Christian York and Joey Matthews and Extreme Horsemen Mike Awesome, CW Anderson, Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger began with an immediate pier-six brawl which settled down after Awesome had Awesome Bombed Joey Matthews off the stage and through some tech tables down at ground level.
Matthews was stretchered out as the other three HR troops attempted to fight the odds inside the ring. After Lynn absorbed some damage and hot tagged to Van Dam, another big brawl broke out during which Simon and Swinger gave York a Problem Solver through the announce position. Now down 4-to-2, RVD and Lynn were sitting ducks for the Steve Corino-led Horsemen but nonetheless took advantage of an accidental ref bump to make an unlikely final go of it with the help of a steel chair each.
Awesome and Anderson ate Van Daminators before Lynn spiked Swinger with a Cradle Piledriver onto the chair. As they set up Diamond for a Van Terminator, Corino hopped up on the apron and received a chair to the face from Lynn. But just as RVD sorely and gingerly scaled to the top and put Simon in his crosshairs, he was dropped to the canvas by a kendo stick to the back of the head from… Justin Credible. Jerry was given That’s Incredible and Diamond crawled over for the cover as the referee came to for the pin at 18:31.
2003 World Cup final, sudden death triangle match: Tajiri (JAP) vs Rey Mysterio (MEX) vs Lance Storm (CAN)
All three anthems were played with the participants in the ring before the bout, but Storm got an early jump on things by attacking Mysterio during the Mexican anthem to huge heat. That led to Lance being pinballed around for a bit by both opponents until Tajiri turned on Rey with a big kick to the head. Storm and Tajiri even agreed to work together for a while as the crowd rooted for Rey, though that inevitably fell apart soon enough thanks to the one-fall nature of the match.
After a breathtaking series of counters and near-falls, Storm caught a Buzzsaw Kick and rolled Tajiri into the Maple Leaf only for Rey, who had been outside for a short while after taking a nasty spill, to springboard into a flying rana with the pin on Storm after 16:49, just as Tajiri looked ready to tap, that gave Mexico the World Cup on home soil against all the odds!
After the match, the rest of Team Mexico came out for a huge celebration with their captain. Unbeknownst to any of them, at one stage Billy Kidman came to the stage with a rather dissatisfied look before turning and leaving before any of the wrestlers spotted him.
Dick Togo, TAKA Michinoku, Sal Rinuaro and all of Team UK have, for the time being, finished up with the company after working the World Cup on pay-per-appearance deals. Justin Credible, meanwhile, has signed a two-year deal after leaving the WWE.
Meanwhile, of those whose contracts were expiring on April 30 and whose futures had not yet been confirmed, Guido Maritato agreed to a two-year extension of his current deal while Simon Diamond, Johnny Swinger, Sonny Siaki, Matt Bentley, Paul London and Brian Kendrick have all been given slight salary increases to commit further.
Tony Marinera, meanwhile, is leaving at the end of the month and Bryan Danielson has opted to do the same, with the promise of better money in Japan and the ability to take on a lot more work as a globe-trotting free agent. And, York and Matthews’ contracts being due up at the end of 2002 was indeed just a storyline. Their two-year deals ended on April 30 and they have chosen to move to Stamford.