Following the glorious schedule, kept since the dawn of time, last evening's RAW results will appear in golden italics, while my educated responses shall remain archived in ageless plain type.
Holding true to his word, Ric Flair carried both the WWF and WCW World Titles to the ring, where he introduced the very first Unified Champion of the World, Chris Jericho. Once inside the ring, Y2J produced a short "thank you" list, from which he read to the live audience. After Jericho had completed his thanks, Flair draped the titles over each shoulder and revealed that his first title defense would take place later that very night... in a fifteen foot steel cage, against Steve Austin.
Not quite the quality of last week's impromptu Flair / Jericho duel, but still a lot more fresh than any of Vince's recent monologues. Jericho seemed a bit nervous, which is understandable considering the circumstances, and it adversely affected what was otherwise a historic occasion. Still, as someone who followed The "Lyin' Heart" throughout his early WCW years, it was memorable as hell to see Chris Jericho given the torch for the very first time. I'd have preferred to see the situation a little less formal, with lots of room for improvisation and a little more give and take between arguably two of the greatest microphone acts of our time. I was less than enthusiastic when the steel cage gimmick was introduced, as Jericho's never been good under such circumstances, but the live crowd seemed to enjoy it... so hey, whatever works.
The Undertaker defeated Spike Dudley, retaining his Hardcore Title in the process. After the match had ended, the Taker continued his offense, culminating in a suicidal chokeslam from the ring out to the floor.
This was kind of sad, actually, as these were the exact kind of situations in which little Spike flourished, back in the hallowed halls of ECW. But alas, this is not the same Spike Dudley we once knew and loved and on that same hand The Undertaker is no Mike Awesome. I really wish they'd decide what kind of direction they want to go in with Spike, as he looks like a real loser out there with the shaggy hair and no goofy Dudley glasses. But hey, I suppose at least they've advanced him past that awkward stage, where he was wearing the same get-up as The Big Show.
On the subject of altered looks, I've actually got a word or two of praise about the Undertaker to dish out this week. I doubt it was what they'd planned, but the Taker's new, shorter haircut makes him look less like a badass biker, and more like a thick necked, simple-minded bully. Like I said, character development was probably not what Mean Mark was thinking of when he rolled, rolled, rolled into that barber shop a couple weeks ago, but it really does add an extra dimension to his new role. He does look goofy riding that motorcycle now, though, as the long hair covered up the weird way he postures his head while in motion.
Mr. McMahon and Booker T arrived backstage, basically locked in a firm, romantic embrace. Ric Flair greeted the two lovebirds, who were more than a little upset upon hearing the Nature Boy's plans for Steve Austin later in the evening. McMahon conceded, though, and told the conveniently-positioned cameras that this couldn't change the plans he'd laid out for the Rock.
Speaking of character development... wasn't it less than a month ago that Vince and Booker were at one another's throats? Isn't Booker T still one of the men Kurt Angle betrayed at the Survivor Series? Isn't Vince McMahon the first man Booker had physical contact with in a WWF ring? Weren't the two trying to put each other out of business less than a month back? So what changed, and why didn't we get to see it? Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased to see the former World Champion back in the mix, but if his role doesn't make sense why bother? At least Lance Storm's position within the scheme of things works.
Kurt Angle was counted out during his quest for revenge against Rikishi. The Olympic Hero beat a hot path back up the entrance ramp when that fat dancin' fool teased a stinkface early in the match, resulting in the decision. After the match, Phatu pulled out his Michael Jackson impression for the quiet fans of the left coast, an action over which Angle seemed to take particular offense. He rushed the ring with fists a-blazin', but was met halfway in by some solid Rikishi offense. The large Samoan then finally managed to land the stinkface. His nose browned permanently, Angle regrouped on the floor, grabbed a chair, and laid out his opponent with multiple shots to the ass area before finally exiting the arena.
This was actually shaping up to be more than a bit watchable before the sudden and anticlimactic conclusion. God, how long's it been since somebody's been counted out in the World Wrestling Federation? Years? It's to the point where if you see the ref actually attempting to count the men out, you know something's awry. So many times, I've seen an official get up to five, only to say "hey, come on guys... in the ring..." and then restart his count. The wrestlers don't even pay him heed anymore, as brawling all over the arena and into the backstage area has almost become as scholastic as an armdrag or chinlock.
But yeah, as I was saying above before I was so rudely interrupted, from all indications this was going to be a pretty solid match before it was cut short. Particularly impressive was Angle's delivery of a german suplex seconds in, and Rikishi's brutal "head and shoulders" landing. That one got the dead crowd off their seats immediately, and I'm willing to bet they'd have been much more lively for the duration with just a tiny bit of prodding. I've never really had too many bad things to say about Rikishi's work in the ring, as he can generally keep up very well when he has to and it's good to see he hasn't lost anything in that respect, coming off a successful shoulder surgery. Now if only they could come up with a different variation of his gimmick... that ass sandwich thing is really overplayed.
MADtv star Will Sasso was shown at ringside, as Lance Storm tried in vain to convince Ric Flair of his usefulness as a WWF Superstar.
Good lord, you'd think the WWF would do anything to keep from reminding fans of Will Sasso's existence. I honestly expected Bret Hart to stampede down the aisle ways and jump that fat bastard from behind, renewing their bitter rivalry from back in the old days of WCW. I was walking on eggshells the rest of the night, praying that Sasso would just stay put in his ringside seat.
William Regal defeated Kane, with help from his trademark brass knuckles.
Short, sloppy, and none too exciting. Sometimes bad matches happen to good wrestlers.
The Dudley Boyz defeated the Rock and Trish Stratus, pinning Trish with a 3-D while the Rock was occupied with Test outside the ring.
I'm actually starting to get back into the groove with the Dudley Boyz again. It's always a hot and cold relationship with those two, as they're either really good and really entertaining or really bad and really stale. Really. I think D-Von's singles match against RVD a couple weeks ago opened my eyes up again to these two, and I've been sitting up to take notice of their renewed vigor these last couple weeks. So long as they steer clear of the same trademark spots they've been employing for the last year, they're doing ok in my book. Last night was a good example, actually, as the Rock and Trish used an assortment of those very same maneuvers to assault the Boyz throughout. It's too bad D-Von and Bubba don't have much in the way of regular competition anymore, though, as I think some solid title defenses against proven contenders could step their performances up from "pretty good" to "memorable."
This one was long, perhaps a bit too long, but none too poor. Trish was kept firmly on the edge of the apron for 95% of the physicalities, and the Rock's past work with the brothers meant they were beyond the feeling out stages before the bell even rang. The action lulled in a couple spots, but otherwise not bad.
In the Matt Hardy dressing room of champions, Lita tried in vain to apologize to her distressed lover. As she turned to leave the room in frustration, Matt told her that "just like the Hardy Boyz, we're breaking up." She left in tears, and was consoled by Jeff just outside the locker room.
Probably the best segment the Hardys have ever done, in terms of backstage advancement. Though Jeff still came off lame, Matt really nailed the segment, taking his character from the chalkboard to the real world and doing so in a manner that's sure to turn audiences around the nation on him. Everybody's known a guy like that at some point in their lives, and Matt's performance was almost uncanny. Hard to believe he and Lita had been an on-screen couple for almost a year, isn't it?
Matt Hardy defeated Jeff Hardy and Lita, rolling his former flame up for the clean pin seconds after she tagged in.
The opening moments of this one showcased what most of the match at Vengeance should've been... fierce, fast, brutal and emotional. When they were throwing each other around with reckless abandon, connecting with wild punches and generally trying to kick a hole in each other's faces, you couldn't help but abandon your preconceived notions and believe these guys had serious personal issues to iron out. After they grew tired of that, though, the match took a steep nose dive in terms of the enjoyment factor. Instead of trying to destroy each other, Matt and Jeff seemed more concerned with not injuring each other with their signature maneuvers. That's not really the kind of attitude you go throwing those aforementioned preconceived notions out the window for, and it wound up killing all the positive things they'd done in the opening minutes. You've gotta love Matt, taking advantage of Lita's smaller frame with that harsh-looking rollup, but other than that the match was forgettable.
The Big Show defeated Lance Storm, effectively killing the Canadian superstar's chances at becoming a part of the WWF roster... right?
As soon as Ric Flair agreed to "a match" moments earlier, I knew it was bound to be with one of two men; Kane or the Big Show. And, seeing as how Kane had wrestled William Regal earlier in the night, the odds were pretty well stacked in the favor of the big man. Probably the only redeeming factor of this match came after the finish, as JR gave Storm a bit of respect, saying "Lance Storm's a damn fine athlete and I think he deserves a job in the WWF... but I'm not the one doing the recruiting." If only JR were more than an announcer...
Steve Austin cut a pre-match promo, basically listing the contents of his stomach while the crowd shouted "WHAT!"
What a bizarre promo. Austin's starting to flouder...
His face a crimson mask, Chris Jericho defeated Steve Austin in a steel cage, escaping through the cage door after Booker T knocked out the Rattlesnake with a steel cage door shot to the head.
Nowhere near the quality of Sunday night's match, (or even last week's match) which is something I'd attribute as much to Jericho's inability to work exciting matches inside the cage as I would the WWF's stupid modern cage match rules. I've never been a big supporter of cage matches featuring a ref stationed at the door, ready to open it up for anyone too lazy to climb out. Half of what made cage matches so great in the past was watching these poor fools attempt time and time again to get out, while their opponents mercilessly assaulted them from below. Hell, sometimes the guys booked in steel cage matches didn't even have the ability to get out, and they had agreed to it only for the opportunity to brutalize their enemies inside the confines of steel fencing. What fun is the match, if every time somebody's whipped into the ropes by the door, there's the chance they could take that little sidestep and win it all? It also kills much of the suspense, as no matter how good the actors there's much more tension in watching a man attempt to scale a cage than there is in watching a man attempt to crawl through a door.
That's a weakness Jericho exploited to the fullest last night, as he tried at least four times to get through the door... slooooowwwwllly.... crawwwlllingg.... as Austin finally caught him and tugged. Hell, Austin never even climbed higher than the top rope. Whether it was a mental problem with the idea or a physical inability to scale the thing, he had no intentions of going over the top. That makes me wonder... is someone trying to tell Steve Austin something? Like maybe he shouldn't be fighting in cage matches, if his knees won't allow him to climb over the top?
Adding to the disappointment was the finish of this match, which did nothing to solve the problems many had pointed out with Jericho's World Title victory the night before. So now Steve Austin goes on to feud with Booker T, while his newly-launched feud with Y2J is thrown by the wayside and Jericho is left as a weak paper champion. Not exactly the best of situations for a superstar just coming into his own, and something that needs to be resolved quickly. Not even a solid Jericho blade job could save this match from everything that was going against it before the bell even rang.
Overall Grade: C+
Better than average, if just for the few brightly shining moments scattered throughout the broadcast. Matt Hardy is well on his way to stardom or a role similar to Christian's, depending on what the WWF decides to do with him. Chris Jericho is slowly becoming the whiner we all knew and loved in WCW, if he can just grab a couple clean victories along the way. Booker T is back in the main event, finally set to wrestle Steve Austin in singles action, albeit a full four months after that match should've happened in the first place. The Dudley Boyz are getting exciting again. HHH is on the brink of returning. Things are starting to look up again, but there remain several heavy issues to be resolved before the rebuilding process can really begin anew.
Here's hoping the healing continues next week.
until then, i remain