Monday, December 15, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 12/15/03

Well, you're coming off a PPV that was panned even before it hit the airwaves, three or four universally-praised episodes of RAW and an almost clean sweep of the brand's title scene. You're riding high on the temporary momentum of two unexpected, major, major high profile returns in Mick Foley and the Rock. And you've got an off-week next Monday, effectively making this week's episode the closest thing to a season-ender as WWE is likely to get. If you're involved with the creation of WWE's RAW, you have a helluva lot of different directions, spins and motivations coming into this week's show. So how did they react...? Well, let's take a gander;

We kicked the show off with Evolution, gloating about their three title victories last night at Armageddon and looking every bit like the most dominating force in the sport. Like I said in my preview for Sunday's PPV, I have no beef with Evolution... in fact, I constantly enjoy them. Batista is being used well as an unimaginably powerful monster who isn't afraid to talk. Randy Orton is on the verge of coming completely into his own and "casting his own shadow," to steal a phrase. Ric Flair is getting another opportunity to make that big farewell tour, as a heel, in a position where he can simultaneously cover for his missteps in the ring (which are becoming more and more frequent) and lend some of his legendary heat to a couple new guys who could really use it right now. And, finally, Triple H is back in the kind of leadership role that helped get him to the main event in the first place. I'm not happy to see the belt back around his waist, not by a damned long shot, but if there were any predicament that I could've accepted with that end result, this is it. I love good, tough heel stables, and even though I'm tired of seeing their leader in the main event, that's precisely what Evolution is right now. Like it or not, this is something I've been wishing we had more of.

I'm not sure where they're going with Chris Jericho right now, which is why I'm so interested in his current storyline. I live to be surprised, and thus far I haven't been able to predict a thing in the ongoing Jericho / Trish / Christian / Lita affair. Y2J is owning the show with his subtle expressions and body language, telling more of a story with a dirty look than we'd ever get out of him in a ten minute promo. He's retaining most of the elements that make him such a compelling heel, yet he's slowly gaining more and more fan support for doing so. Here's hoping the whole storyline doesn't end with him wildly changing gears into a crowd-pandering face character, which is unfortunately something these writers have grown notorious for doing in the past.

The Henry / Hardy vs. Maven / Booker tag match was an odd little number, really not something I'm used to seeing on free TV. Rather than going balls out and hitting spot after spot after spot in a windless, action-packed fluff match with all flash and no substance, these guys actually slowed things down a little bit and let their skills as wrestlers tell the story. Unfortunately, there are better people to have attempted this with than Mark Henry, Maven and Booker T, but I like the idea of it and I was caught completely off-guard by it here. Give me Lance Storm vs. Chris Benoit in one of these matches somewhere down the line and I'll be forever your bitch, WWE. Anyway, there were a few shining moments despite the sluggish pace and I'm interested in seeing Booker and Matt Hardy in the ring together again in the near future. Not horrible, but not particularly entertaining either.

I can't say I understand the logic, on-screen or off, to suspending Goldberg for thirty days. Bischoff himself has even said he'd be a fool not to realize the marketing potential of a guy like Goldberg, (Remember? Back when Bill was about to wrestle a "Lose and I Quit" match? Bisch said something along the lines of "I'm gonna make some money off of him while he's still here") so why take him off the show if you're attempting to succeed as GM? If he'd simply explained it away as a precaution to keep his other talent healthy, since Big Bill DID just wipe out a single tag team in one fell swoop, that'd make sense. Instead, we get some crap about Eric punishing the former champion "for being patriotic" or something equally as lame. I couldn't care less about France, and I think that's an opinion held by the vast majority of my fellow Americans... so why would seeing Goldberg trample their flag make me want to rush out and buy a pile of wrestling tickets?

Shawn Michaels was spot-on last night, single handedly raising the show a couple notches through his brief promo with Mick Foley and his participation in an unexpectedly good tag match against Evolution. I can't say why, but I've just been left a little bored by HBK in recent weeks... maybe it's got something to do with his character being stuck in 1996 and the magic of his return finally wearing off. Or maybe it's the guys he's been fighting for the last year. Regardless, he snapped me out of that mindset last night. I'm interested in seeing him wrestle a World Title match in two weeks, but if he does win that belt he's GOT to do something to freshen himself up again. RAW needs the kind of self-centered fire Shawn used to carry with him, despite the upward curve of the last few weeks' worth of programming.

Call me what you like, but I'm going to come right out and say it: Rico's probably the freshest character on all of RAW right now, and he's got a lot of potential now that the ball's started to roll. The whole pseudo-gay thing he's doing is a lot more believable than anybody's willing to admit, and his offense is overly original and more than a little convincing. Everybody knows a guy who's wormed his way out of a fight by preying on his opponent's homophobia, whether it's merely licking somebody's arm to get them to loosen up or release a choke or straight-up straddling them and acting like it's enjoyable to chase them off for good. It's a characteristic weakness of most athletic guys, especially if it's done in front of a large crowd of people. Rico even takes it a step further by leading right into his offense, catching his opponents off-guard and then kicking them in the face before they've even had a chance to wrap their heads around what's going on. If the bookers know where to go from here, this thing could really take off.

I didn't see the Jericho / Kane match as a burial, as I saw several people calling it in the Forums. Instead, it looked like a guy who's down on his luck, wrestling his second match of the evening against a guy twice his size, pissed off about losing a title shot and looking for someone to maim. And even working against those odds, Jericho got a bit of offense in before defending himself with a chair and causing a disqualification. It's easy to get so caught up in the whole internet love affair of "where's this going, why did so-and-so have to lose that match, what good does it do for the company to do that, why isn't so-and-so champion by now," that you overlook the obvious simplicity of it all. Sometimes guys' gameplans don't work, and as a result they lose the contest. Simply enough, the breaks didn't fall Jericho's way and he lost the match. It's extremely easy to overanalyze stuff like this, but I really don't think he's any further down the ladder now than he was before the match. I still can't wait to see how this thing with Christian turns out.

And, finally, we had the main event which seems to be the real deciding factor over whether you loved this show or despised it. Personally, I thought it was one of the best cliffhangers I'd ever seen... after all, this is the season-ender, isn't it? I can't wait to see what motivated Mick to suddenly lose his nerve and quietly back away from the ring like a puppy who just witnessed its first lightning bolt. It's indescribably better than seeing yet another "face gets screwed as nameless heel returns to RAW and costs him the match" scenario, or another helping of "face overcomes the odds, returns to glory and ousts the evil emperor." This is a story with depth, it's a guy who's on top of the world until he realizes he's lost what got him there in the first place. I'm thrilled to see where they go with this, and honestly can't wait the two weeks until we'll find out. A profound thumbs up from yours truly, and let all the nay-sayers be damned. I want to see more storylines that leave me unsure of what's to come, hungry for more, like the ending of this episode did.

A couple of great storylines going into uncharted territory, one lengthy tag match that was much better than I'd anticipated, a couple segments' worth of filler and a few sparks that could just as soon go nowhere as lead to the next big feud. An above average show that left us with a visual that will more than keep us chomping at the bit for RAW's return to the air two weeks from now.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.35

Saturday, December 13, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE Armageddon 2003 Preview

Well, here I sit... a box of snotty kleenex on one side and the lineup for this month's Armageddon card on the other, and I'm not particularly sure which one I'm more inclined to discuss at great length. Yes, the RAW roster is making the rounds this month with their third brand-exclusive PPV offering, and despite a string of very good television programs I'm not all that excited about the card itself. Despite a hot opening to the month of December, a number of high profile, quality matches on free TV and a set of impressive surprise returns, the matches themselves don't look to be anything to write home about. Where the vast majority of WWE's pay per view extravaganzas have had at least one technically sound matchup upon which to thrust all of our expectations, even that token offering to the workrate freaks of the world is missing from this month's big show. I still like the direction they're going with the show, and it could be said that this is a work in progress so we shouldn't be criticizing it until we've seen the finished product. Fair enough. But, in-progress or no, this is still a show that we're expected to shell out forty hard-earned bucks to witness from the security of our own homes. I appreciate the long-term planning that's necessary to recover from the depths to which RAW had only recently sunk... I honestly do. But I also appreciate the need to keep the fans interested and entertained along the way. This is a lukewarm show at best.

So, I guess to answer my own internal question, I appear to be more interested in Armageddon than I am the nasty box of overused facial tissues. Flu season sucks, folks. It really sucks. Especially if you're working more than sixty hours a week. Pity me. Better still, pity the clientele that must deal with me this afternoon.

The Dudley Boyz (c) vs. Garrison Cade & Mark Jindrak vs. La Resistance vs. Val Venis & Lance Storm vs. Rosey & The Hurricane vs. Scott Steiner & Test
World Tag Team Titles Turmoil Match

It's nice to see some sparks coming from the tag team division once again. Seems like it was only yesterday that we were writing up what must've been our eighth consecutive preview of the same old "Dudleys vs. La Resistance" title match on PPV, so I'll give them credit for quickly and concisely building a halfway decent tag team division in such a short amount of time. Though several of these teams are merely quick pairings of superstars that are usually lost in singles action, even those makeshift combinations were given on-screen motivation for working with one another. Rather than merely sending Lance Storm out with Val Venis and proclaiming "hey, these guys are a tag team now," they provided a little backstory to the combination's friendship and established them as more than just a flavor of the week. Likewise, they're finally going somewhere with Mark Jindrak and Garrison Cade... just as I thought they would be relegated to the status of "guys who throw purty dropkicks" for the rest of their careers.

I'm not sure which set of rules they're going with for this match, since the formula for a multi-participant title match varies just about as often as the means of victory in a cage match, but given the number of teams involved I'd imagine this will be elimination-style. The momentum's gotta be with Cade and Jindrak going in, since they've gained such a central focus in the division, but I also wouldn't rule out La Resistance or the Dudleys.
Winners: Vanilla Coke, Jindrak & Cade

Mark Henry vs. Booker T

I'm not sure what I should say about this match... I think John will have the whole defeatist pessimistic angle hit hard here, Dave will unleash the violent expletives and likely mention how "Vince McMahon is a shiny cunt" for misusing Booker and constantly overpushing Mark Henry. Hm. There's really nowhere else for me to fit unless I want to say something nice about this match... which, actually, I guess I could try out for a change.

I've been one of the loudest voices praising Mark Henry's utilization over the last several months. Since coming to RAW and immediately aligning himself with Theodore Long and Rodney Mack, Mark's been used extremely well, with very few exceptions. He hasn't been exposed with many lengthy matches, which everyone knows are not his forte. He's been used as an impact player (to borrow a term) effectively, landing a brutal power move at the exact moment the match has called for it, and he's learned to express his character through facial expressions and body language. He honestly looks like a legitimate threat to the title, even if it would be the wrong move to ever put it on him for an extended period of time. However, he and Booker are a poor match for one another. They took two guys growing heads of steam (Henry from his monster heel push, Booker from his return to action after an injury) and pushed them together in an ill-timed match that likely won't benefit either one of them. The only story here is that there is no story. Henry's run into a couple of Booker's post-match celebrations, and that's about it. It's color-by-number booking at its finest, and I can't say I'm pleased with the end result. Booker needs to take this one, since he's been sliding ever since WrestleMania and needs to boost of tackling a guy with the size and reputation of Mark Henry. With that said, I'm picking the big man here because the bookers haven't done a thing right with this feud yet, so why start now?
Winner: Mark Henry

Rob Van Dam (c) vs. Randy Orton
WWE Intercontinental Title Match with Mick Foley as Referee

By all indications, this should be the most anticipated match on the card. RVD has been white-hot with the crowds since his first month with the company, and Randy Orton has been slowly developing an enormous amount of disdain from the audience since Evolution was reunited many moons ago. These are two guys who SHOULD be fighting one another for the second most prestigious belt in the promotion. They each have undeniable main event potential (with both already fighting for the title in past PPV main events) and a connection with the audience that can't be put into words. So why does this match feel so flat going in?

Unfortunately, Van Dam's been in cruise control all month with rumors flying about his contract renegotiations and little to no air time to develop his character or his motivations for the match this Sunday. His ringwork has been missing the edge that defined it up until this point, and his notoriety are slowly disintegrating as a result. Orton, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction. He's still got a long way to go in the ring before I consider him above average, but he's made notable improvements and gets better with each passing week. His character really turned a corner in the months before Batista returned to Evolution, and he's become a much more confident performer both on the mic and in the background. His association with Flair and Triple H is resulting in heat by association, and he's amplifying that rub as best as he can. There's no question about it, Orton is being groomed for the big time, he knows it, and he's ramping up his game to make that dream come true.

So what we've basically got in this one Sunday is the chosen one taking on the overlooked one. RVD should be defending his title with ferocity right now, fighting for his future in the company, not just going through the motions and looking up at the lights. Yet, somehow, I think the latter is the more likely of those two scenarios.
Winner: Randy Orton

Trish Stratus & Lita vs. Chris Jericho & Christian

I still don't think this storyline is over. I'll admit, I was a little worried when the whole Jericho / Trish / Christian / Lita dating scene was revealed to have been a bet from square one, but Jericho's nonverbal communication last Monday on RAW confirmed that there's more to this than we're being led to believe. Which is good, because there's no other real excuse for this match to be on the card, while the extremely strong women's division is snubbed and Matt Hardy is nowhere to be found. Trish and Lita come out on top, and Jericho isn't sure which side he's on.
Winner: Trish & Lita

Shawn Michaels vs. Batista

Isn't it interesting how Shawn Michaels has now feuded (and subsequently wrestled on PPV) with every member of Evolution? And he's laid down for each one of them, sans Batista who gets his chance this Sunday. Strange, though, when a face takes issue with a dominating stable, he's historically worked his way through that stable's members from the bottom up, not the other way around as HBK has done here.

Like most of my colleagues, I've been pleasantly surprised by what Batista's shown us since returning in style a couple of months ago. Like Mark Henry, he's being pushed as the combination of the irresistible force and the immovable object, but Batista has much more to work with in terms of personality and physical ability. Unfortunately, that comes with a price since he seems prone to disaster. He works a convincingly aggressive style, but unless he can settle down and start hitting his spots with some regularity he's a risky guy to work with... which could mean trouble for Shawn Michaels. I'm looking forward to this one, at least more so than the others on the card, if just to see HBK attempt to prove he can still work a good to great match with a big guy after a horrible outing with Goldberg on RAW. Batista could really use this win, but Michaels is at risk of becoming a designated jobber if he drops another big match like this. I'm going with the Heart Breaker.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

Goldberg (c) vs. Kane vs. Triple H
World Heavyweight Title Match

I really liked the way this was set up, with Kane unexpectedly thrusting himself into the Title hunt. It gave a sense of unpredictability back to a promotion that's needed it for years. For one or two nights, there was a sense that anything could happen and anyone could have a reasonable chance at the title. After a couple weeks, however, it was business as usual again. Instead of just Triple H and Goldberg in the main event, now there was a third man... that was it. No additional excitement or sense that you might miss something important if you dared to take a bathroom break during the main event. Just as quickly as things bubbled up, they settled down again and we were left with just a third ingredient to the same old formula.

The match could be surprisingly decent, but could just as easily go the other way entirely considering the volatility of all three men. If Goldberg keeps his wits around him and doesn't become too focused on playing the aggressor, Triple H brings his working boots and Kane doesn't phone it in, this should be a tight little three-way. The smart money is on Triple H, regaining the World Title now that his other commitments are out of the way, but I can't really overestimate how bad a decision that would be, considering how recent his dominant reign at the top still is. I'd hesitate to put the belt on Kane, too, since he's not really defined enough as a character to carry all of RAW on his back. Goldberg's my pick to retain, and to do so for several months to come. He's a good choice as the current figurehead of RAW, and it should mean something more than this when he finally does drop the gold.
Winner: Goldberg

In Closing...

Usually I talk myself into loving or loathing a card while typing up my match-by-match analysis, but this month is an exception to that rule. Like I said in my opening paragraph, this is really just a "blah" card from top to bottom. There's nothing motivating me to buy this show (or attend it live, as it were, since I live only two short hours from Orlando, where the event is being held), just like there's nothing really driving me away. I'll chalk that up to this being a formative month for the upcoming storylines that should begin their build to WrestleMania any day now. Just... don't let me down again, ok WWE?
until next time, i remain

Monday, November 24, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 11/24/03

The time, she is short and the show, she was underachieving. I'm headed out of state within the next couple of hours, yet I still want to participate in this week's writeup... so I guess the best thing to do would be to skip the whole paragraph explaining why my portion of the RRC is so slim this week and get to the content, pronto. But we're already beyond that point now. In short, forgive me if I'm a little unspectacular this time and tune in on December first for a slightly longer writeup.

RAW Roulette. Like I said last week, I don't know why everyone remembered this lame little gimmick so fondly. Scratch that, I know the last time we had this underlying theme to an episode of RAW, seven guys busted their asses to give us a killer TLC match. That doesn't erase the campy, crappy, unnecessary matches and segments that filled the rest of the show, nor does it excuse the RAW 10th Anniversary Show's awarding it "Best Match in the History of RAW." Not while Michaels / Austin vs. Owen / Bulldog is around, anyway. But I'm getting off track.

Despite all the hype and expectations the audience seemed to have going into this show, the writers still didn't seem to understand what made it successful in the first place. Instead of highlighting one particular match with a workable, constantly entertaining gimmick and a great roster of participants at the end of the night, they wholeheartedly embraced the silly, forgotten-by-the-next-night gimmick matches that made the whole of last year's "RR" such a grey area for the majority of the viewing audience. I'm not a fan of gimmicks without a purpose, and that's just about all this show was composed of. It's rough to go from an episode as full of substance as last week's to something containing as much fluff as this week's.

The women's cage match turned out a lot better than I'd feared going in, which is a good thing. I love seeing realism in the middle of a match, and intentional or not, Lita's slip from the top rope while trying to scale the cage was overflowing with it. I really like that they're going forward with this Christian / Matt Hardy feud, as it's already rewarding both guys with more air time, a logical matching of styles and chances to broaden and develop their on-screen characters. I know more about Matt Hardy after two weeks of RAW than I did after a year of Smackdown, and Christian is really turning into one hell of an intriguing guy.

The "Capture the Midget" match was funny for a couple minutes, but quickly grew stupid and needless. This should've ended after the segment with Lance Storm and Val Venis backstage... you know, when it hit the punchline? RAW's writing staff seems to be comprised entirely of the kind of guys who don't know when to let go of a joke. They're the people who hang around with your little cluster of buddies, even though nobody seems to be friends with them personally.

I have no idea why the McMahons feel so obligated to keep trotting out old, balding, aging, poorly conditioned stars from yesteryear. It's like there's some kind of Lawler / Slaughter quota for a fiscal year, and if they don't fill (or exceed) that number, some sort of major catastrophe will befall the company. Watching this match, featuring two guys from polar opposite ends of the character spectrum, was like standing in Wonderland for a few minutes. Nothing made sense. You had a guy from the goofy, cartoony era of the WWF using the same outdated offense he employed during his youth against a guy from the realistic, athletic era of WWE. That's like putting Ed Norton's character from Fight Club in a room with Roger Rabbit and telling them "just interact!!" The Sarge got in way too much offense for a guy who looks as inept as he did, although I did get a kick out of his bewildered, exagerrated post-match altercations with Rob Van Dam.

Flair cut another tremendous promo backstage, single handedly boosting my interest in the World Title match and wandering out of the camera's eye as though he hadn't really done anything at all. That's the sign of a master; when you KNOW he's pulling this straight out of his ass, and he still sounds better and looks more confident than the rest of the active roster. They're lucky to have him on staff.

I couldn't pay attention to the World Title match for one reason or another. It just seemed like more of the same to me, with Flair running interference, Goldberg getting overwhelmed, making the comeback and then starting the whole process over again. The ending got convoluted and confusing, with Orton hitting the RKO, the bell ringing, HHH hitting the pedigree and the ref inexplicably counting the fall, but it all sorted itself out in the end. See the way they're treating Kane right now? That's how they should've been building him two months ago, when all this business with Shane started. I'm honestly entertained by and interested in this main event, as all three guys have a legitimate beef with one another and the pairings are very fresh. I might not like who comes out of it wearing the World Title, but that doesn't mean I've gotta dislike the path we take to get there.

I've been one of his stronger proponents since he came back to RAW, so I'll bite the bullet this week and admit the truth; Mark Henry looked like shit out there last night. On the whole, he hit those patented "clubbing forearms," bent a bunch of aluminum and roared. On the whole, this was a short, stupid, worthless match. C'mon, when you're trying to move a guy away from his "slow, plodding, talentlessly brawling" past, putting him into a Hardcore Street Fight isn't the smartest move you could make. Jeez, that's like putting a woman in a Bra & Panties match seven days after her nipple pops out on national TV.


Trish and Jackie tempted fate last night by not only revisiting the single worst match in the history of RAW, but by doing so under the stipulations of a Bra and Panties match. Add to that Jackie's extremely visible concentration on keeping her chest firmly within her top and you've got a recipe for disaster, right? Eh... not exactly. This was what it was... nothing fancy or memorable, but nothing you'll nightmare over for the sheer horror of the experience, either. The bit with Rico made me laugh, which was its purpose, and it was kept short. I can't complain, but I'll be damned if I'm going to praise it.

And then there was the main event, which was tough to form an opinion on. On one hand, I like every one of the guys involved with the match. I like that they're taking each of them in new and interesting directions, without forgetting the paths they've tread in the past (well... with a few exceptions.) I like that Trish is trying to use her charms to change Chris Jericho into a nicer guy, I like that Chris is running into a personal conflict with that, I like that they're going full steam with Batista and I like that Shawn Michaels is still around. On the other hand, this match was very awkward and strangely performed. Flair didn't look up to speed out there, illogically directing traffic and falling several steps behind during the physicalities. He really hammered that point home with the scary spot where he fell between the second and third ropes, busting himself open in the process. Though he looked a little out-of-sorts beforehand, he was a full blown deer in the headlights after that.

The finish made sense, and I'm eager to see how this affected Trish and Chris's relationship last night. Jericho did, of course, do precisely what Trish asked him not to do, but he was technically in the right for doing so, as Michaels threw the first punch and Jericho's superkick won them the match in the end. I've got to question the bookers' decision to end the show with a monster Demon Bomb on Shawn Michaels, when the guy is already making an effort to overcome significant back trouble just to work for the company again. I'm looking forward to the feud, there's no question, but I'm worried as hell about how it's going to turn out for the Heart Break Kid. Batista has taken some great strides since he first joined Evolution, but he's still very green and isn't the first guy I'd choose if the life and career of a hall of famer had to be in one man's hands.

I had to skip over a couple matches in this week's writeup, due to the previously mentioned time constraints... rest assured, if I had anything monumental to say about the "Strange Bedfellows" or "Singapore Cane Handicap" matches, I'd have said them by now. Better to leave the room for someone who can give them a little more attention than yours truly, like my brothers-in-arms; Corey, Brett, Sam, Adam or Jon.

At the end of last week's program, I was worried that this week's "blockbuster" of a show would ruin the build for the upcoming PPV, Armageddon. If I could've looked forward seven days and seen the amount of filler and padding they used to buoy this week's episode, I wouldn't have had a care in the world. This wasn't awful, but it wasn't groundbreaking. I'd say it's a couple notches below average, which means my score looks something like this:

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.65

Monday, November 17, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 11/17/03

About this time two months ago, the RRC was pleasantly surprised to see a show that not only took logical steps right out of the previous night's Unforgiven pay per view, but also managed to deliver a solid match or two, several brand new directions and storylines, and a couple of halfway decent surprises. Not sure why, but that thought just kept bouncing through my head as I sat down to take in this week's episode. As it turns out, they made it two in a row (in whatever bizarre, inappropriate ordering system my mind was using at the time.)

The introductory promo was pure Bischoff, and I like the direction they took with it. Rather than merely overlooking the contributions of his team's members, he publically thanked them and proved that not every self-centered prick forgets about his supporters when it's all said and done. Even though you're meant to hate him for playing the favoritism card, I'd bet my ass Stone Cold would've been cheered for the very same thing, had his team been victorious. Just another example of the grey area RAW has been leaning towards over the last few months, as the heels are revealed to have more on their minds than "let's concoct an elaborate plan to trick the faces into losing this next match." There are so many different directions they could go with this "favor" storyline, but I worry they blew that wad too quickly, as almost everyone cashed their favor in within a couple of hours.

The Booker / Mark Henry match was much better than it had any right to be. You've got a guy who's notorious for being a terrible, unusable worker in the ring and a guy who's been stagnating for the last six months after dropping like a rock from the main event scene, and last night they worked together to build something I didn't think was possible. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I'm still very happy with the way they've used Mark Henry since his arrival on RAW. I'll give both guys credit on this one; this was a strong match, and they each deserve credit. Shit, even the bookers get a nod and a smile from yours truly, for coming up with a surprising and interesting finish. Just like the heels have been revealed to have feelings, the faces have shown that they've got a couple dirty tricks up their sleeves when necessary. Booker didn't have the strength to keep a guy like Mark Henry down, (at least, not so early in the fight) so he took advantage of his surroundings and won the match the cheap way.

Jindrak and Cade managed to go most of the match without hitting their usual string of half a dozen dropkicks, so that's a positive note on their end. The match wasn't everything I'd hoped it would be, but it wasn't liquid turd leaking out in the center of the ring, either. I still want to see more of Conway, and they're still using him in a very reserved role.

I missed the majority of the RVD and Flair match due to tape problems, (Anybody want to buy me a TiVo for Christmas? I wouldn't complain) but like where they're going with RVD and Orton facing off at the next PPV. I wish Van Dam would get a little more attention outside of the ring, as he's been one of the most consistently over men on the roster for the last year and a half, yet he's still completely dependent upon his ring time to establish, update and maintain himself every week. Throw the man a bone!

I'm not crazy about the return of RAW Roulette next week. Everybody's been quick to point out that the last time we saw this weak gimmick, the show was super-badass-awesome, but they keep overlooking the fact that the entire program was buoyed by a tremendous TLC match. Aside from the superb main event, that show gave us Booker vs. The Big Show in a cage, William Regal in drag, Jerry Lawler in the ring, the introduction of the name "Katie Vick" and a terrible "blindfold match" between D'Lo Brown and Triple H. Don't have as good a memory as I do? Well, let me take you down memory lane. If they give us another main event with the drama, suspense, participants and length as last year's TLC epic, I'll applaud loudly. Otherwise, please keep the gimmicks off my set.

The Highlight Reel was great this week, and really caught me by surprise on a couple occasions. This was a great way to reintroduce Matt Hardy to the program, to test the waters for a possible face run somewhere down the line, and to reestablish his "Version 1.0" character. I'd love to see him interact more with Chris Jericho in the future, although I'd doubt the chances of that considering Y2J's dialog with Trish concerning him later in the night. Everyone involved in this segment came out smelling like roses, from Matt to Lita to Jericho to Molly... even Bischoff came out ahead due to his indirect involvement with this little gem. Thumbs up all the way.

The tag title match was probably the only portion of the show that I wasn't too happy with. The Dudleys are beyond boring right now, and the Test / Steiner coalition just wasn't clicking in there. All four guys looked sloppy at different points, and nobody really seemed to know what they were supposed to be doing with the possible vague exception of Test. The tag division is starting to warm up again, but they really need to get the belts off the Dudley Boyz and do something revolutionary if they hope to save the team at all.

The mixed tag was short and to the point. Lita and Molly surprised me by busting out some solid work in the eighty seconds or so they were facing off between bells. They're really shifting the focus of the women's division onto Lita right now, and with Molly as her current nemesis, I think this could turn out to be a good thing. Lita's got a lot to learn, but you couldn't ask for a better teacher. As for the match, you kinda knew something was up when Eric couldn't be bothered to change out of his leather outfit. He looked more like a manager who'd hopped up to run interference on the apron than a man who was actively involved in the match's outcome. Gotta love the "knees on the roots of the hair" pinning combination, though... I wonder why more people don't use that.

It's a shame the Jackie boob shot overshadowed most of what was going on in the ring at the time, because Val and Rico actually gave us a tight little match. Rico busted out the most innovative offense I've seen since Kanyon was turning heads back in WCW, and most of it looked extremely credible. It's good to see a little spark of potential thrown in like that, just when you least expect it. I mean, there's no question the match was sloppy, but on the whole I liked what I saw here.

My fiancée called the nipple shot, a fraction of a second before it hit... our conversation went something along the lines of "Oh, she's gonna pop outta th.. OHHHH!!!" Thing is, we had time for a couple rivaling "OHHHH"s, since the crack production team just sort of went into limbo throughout the whole thing and left tit right in the center of the screen for what felt like an eternity. Both of us agreed that Lawler should've immediately regressed into some sort of trance after that spectacle, softly chanting "boob boob boob nipple booby tit boob" for the remainder of the broadcast.

Both the Jericho / Trish and Christian / Lita storylines took intriguing turns this week, and I'd be lying if I didn't say the entire audience seems to be pulling for these guys. Sure, they'll boo them when they're in the ring opposite Goldberg or Rob Van Dam, but get them backstage in a situation that's a little more familiar to those at home and they're all of a sudden a lot more tangible and sympathetic. I love the issues they're tackling with these stories, whether they're doing so on purpose or not, and every week I'm left wondering where it can go from here. I like it.

The main event was everything it ever needed to be. Goldberg got his chance to look like an unstoppable monster, Batista got a few moments to make an impact (which he did, daring Goldberg to shoulderblock him again) and the right team came out on top. If anything, there was too much offense for the champion in this one, but I'm not gonna complain too loudly about it. Evolution was operating like a living, breathing behemoth here, and I was glad to see it. If anybody on the roster is going to wrestle an intelligent, well-planned match, it's got to be the top stable on the show. Orton was there when they needed quick shots to wear the champion down, Triple H came in to turn the tide of the match and Batista strolled between the ropes to really lay down the hurt once Goldy was in trouble. Judging from the audience's reactions, they made the right decision in keeping the belt on Goldberg Sunday night. He was, without a doubt, the most over guy on the roster this past Monday.

This was a great show, no doubt about it. I like the new directions they're creating, the unexpected turns the stories have begun to take and the increased focus on the in-ring product. I love how flawless a stable Evolution is becoming, and I'm ecstatic to see that they're finally confronting the old "good vs. evil with nothing in between" mentality that was stinking up the airwaves less than two months ago. The only thing that worries me is the stacked card they've got lined up for next week; with a lineup that huge on a free show, I worry they won't have enough time to gain momentum again before Armageddon, but that's neither here nor now. A very good, yet not quite flawless, showing from the Monday Night roster.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

Monday, November 10, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 11/10/03

Six days to Survivor Series, and RAW really needed to hammer the point home with several of the feuds they've been toying with over the last couple of weeks. It honestly hasn't been a bad month by any stretch of the imagination, with the direction of the company seeming to slowly change course and several fresh combinations of talent clashing, both in and out of the ring. RRC Ratings have been up, at the very least, so that's as good a start as any... right?

Never one to lollygag around, I think I'll take this opportunity to break internet rule number one; Triple H has been doing a damn fine job since dropping the title two months ago. Sure, he's been out of the ring for nearly a month... but one thing he hasn't done is let us forget about him. He's kept his face on the screen nearly every week, and he's done so in a way that neither dominates the program nor diminishes any of the new ongoing storylines. The $100,000 subplot was a great premise, and featured a nice follow-through. His reunification of Evolution's founding members was well timed and moved the focus to Batista, not himself. And, finally, his interaction with both Lita and Steve Austin was perfectly in-character and entertaining. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want to see the belt back around his waist this Sunday night, but it's nice to see that the guy can still give us a very entertaining show if he's really motivated.

Now that I mention it, all of Evolution looked really good last night. Batista's really taking strides, both in character and in performance, Orton is becoming the embodiment of confidence and Flair is... well, Flair. His presence was missed last night, but it didn't hurt the stable as much as you'd think. If you've read any of my older stuff, you'll know I'm a big fan of strong heel stables, and that's precisely what Evolution is. They manage to stand up to face authority without picking up any of the "cool heel" vibes that permeated the late '90s.

I loved the build granted to Team Bischoff last night, as well. Jericho played the role of leader to perfection, hyping up each member individually before Orton attempted to undermine his self-proclaimed authority. Who could've predicted I'd be even remotely interested in a match featuring Mark Henry, Scott Steiner and the Dudley Boyz on PPV?

Christian vs. RVD wasn't up to snuff, especially when compared to their previous encounters, and really felt more like two old guys going through the motions than two young guys trying to build a name for themselves. It's really obvious that they don't want to put themselves at risk with a big match just around the corner at the Survivor Series. That, or they're receiving way too much backstage dictation about the performance of their matches.

The Resistance / Supermen match was actually pretty quick and decent. I'm really enjoying Rob Conway, and it's nice to see Shane Helms motivated again, even if it's something that always seems to wear off after he's been in the ring longer than a couple minutes. That crossbody to the floor was beautiful, and makes me wish they'd just ditch that damn gimmick already and let him live up to his capabilities. I had no problem with the finish of this one, (aside from the fact that it came far too soon) since Conway was alertly following up the damage Dupree had just done to Helms's neck, and I'm all about psychology and unexpected finishes, folks.

No comment on the Lance Storm segment. Morley and Storm are both tremendously talented guys, so if a dick joke or two is all it's going to take to get them in higher-profile spots on the card, I can live with it.

The women's match made sense, even if it continued the sad trend of the steadily decreasing quality in the ladies' matches. I've been commenting on Terri's uselessness for YEARS now, so it's good to see her in a position where she might be off television for a while. Great in-character strategy by Molly and Gail, right out of the gates, by attacking the weakest link and starting the match before Lita had a chance to state that she wanted to start out for her team. Molly Holly is, without a doubt, one of the most well-developed characters on the roster at the moment, regardless of gender. She's been playing that "veteran surprises her opponent and steals a win" card inventively for months on end, and it's yet to get old. Lita, on the other hand, really didn't look good in there once Terri did make the hot tag, which makes me even more worried about the outcome of her women's title match this Sunday. They've surprised me thus far with the excellent booking of the women's division, however, so they've earned enough respect from me to give them the benefit of the doubt with this follow-through.

I wasn't super excited by the Michaels / Orton match, which came as a surprise. Especially after bouncing his way through a wholly entertaining match against Mark Henry just one week ago, I'm surprised HBK couldn't do more with what Orton has to offer. The match made good tactical sense, with Randy focusing on the veteran's neverending back injury throughout the match, but for whatever reason I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it has something to do with that "sudden, inexplicable comeback into the superkick" thing Shawn's been doing a little too often lately. Seriously, if we're going to bitch about no-selling, we can't pick and choose our guilty parties. The only way the ending of this match makes sense is if Orton pins Michaels cleanly in the center of the ring this Sunday.

The Shane n' Kane dinner spectacular was a really joltingly inappropriate bit of television. How do you go from electrocuting a man's genitals one week to casually sitting down with him for dinner the next? I know the effect they were trying for with this, and it might have worked when the feud was just now gearing up... but after numerous attempted homicides, a serious burning and a vicious electrocution, it just made both guys look like morons. I had next to no interest in seeing this match as it was, but after a segment like that, even that tiny shred of hope has fallen out of the picture. Just kill this feud already. Please. It's already ruined the only consistantly entertaining McMahon and one of RAW's greatest potentials. Stop the madness now, before somebody else gets hurt.

The Dudleys vs. Mizark / Steiner match was just as bad as I expected going in. I'd like to see how it could be justified that this match could possibly deserve twice as much time as, say, Christian / RVD or even the La Resistance / Hurricane & Rosey tag. This was just sloppy, lengthy and boring, showcasing the wrong aspects of each man and doing nothing to improve anyone.

I hope to god Stevie Ray stays the fuck away from RAW. This whole mystery that's begun to swirl around Booker T has done nothing but deliver bad premonitions for me... which is a good thing, I guess. Unless they do something characteristically stupid, this will be a pleasant little surprise when it's all finally revealed. But then again, I know what these bookers are capable of. Hell, at least they're doing something with Booker. Good or bad, he's going to remain active.

I thought Jericho and Booker were wrestling in Denver or something, judging by the way both men appeared to be a little out of their heads and affected by something in the air. It's like somebody changed the alignment in Booker's tires by a sixteenth of an inch; it's not something he's going to notice until he's trying to do something that requires exact precision. In the end, they managed to fight their way through a botched spot into a finish that probably looked more convincing than the original spot would've, had it been performed correctly.

Misguided or no, I was looking forward to seeing what Batista and Goldberg could do with one another, and was surprised to see a relatively decent match for the first minute and a half. Batista legitimately held his own and further solidified his arrival near the top of the midcard by matching Goldberg blow for blow and working on his obviously injured ankle / shin. I especially liked the spot where he attempted to wrap the champ's lower leg around the ringpost... that's something that's guaranteed to make you limp, broken ankle or no. And then, just when things looked to be headed in a surprisingly positive direction, Goldberg came out of nowhere to hit the spear and prepare for the jackhammer before intereference ended the match itself. Wha...? That's your main event? I had a problem with Shawn Michaels doing the exact same thing not twenty minutes earlier, and you can bet your ass I have a problem with Goldberg doing it here.

A below average show, putting a damper on the upswing RAW had been on for the last couple of weeks. I liked a lot of the character direction taken here, which is something I'm pleased to see continuing with every passing week. I like the build for the Team Austin / Team Bischoff survivor match. I like the role Evolution has filled on this roster. I didn't like the majority of the booking, and the show didn't fill me with any motivation to order the Survivor Series, except maybe to see who's gonna turn on Stone Cold. There's still a lot of potential on this show, but this week was a lame duck.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.85

Monday, October 27, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/27/03

Once again, thanks to the wonders of the Circuit City scheduling manager and a VCR that, in the process of updating with daylight savings time, erased my recording schedule, I missed the first half hour of RAW last night. Working two jobs is hell, but doing so on Monday nights, my traditional "squat in front of the TV and watch people roll around together" time, is even worse. So, needless to say, I won't have a comment on Batista's first big promo, Austin's scheduling of the Survivor Series Main Event, the rookies' run-in or the Booker T / Rico match. Anything else, though is totally fair game. Totally.

I arrived at my front door during the commercial break before the Mark Henry / Lance Storm match, so that was a bad omen right off the bat. Honestly, though, I didn't mind what went down here. My respect for Storm has been very well documented, as has my long-standing dislike for Mark Henry, but I've got to be honest here and say this match made sense. Boring as he has been in the past, Henry is closer to becoming a prime time player now than he's ever been before. Teddy Long has done miracles for him as a mouthpiece, and he's been booked almost perfectly as a top-of-the-card monster heel. He looks the part of a guy that's only there to physically abuse someone, and he's improved notably in the ring since he left "sexual chocolate" behind. Don't get me wrong, he won't be competing in any sixty minute barnburners during his career, but he's most certainly available for the "big guy builds momentum and then jobs to up and coming main eventer" role. At the same time, Lance Storm's spinning his wheels with a gimmick that's been slowly dying since he was separated from Goldust and granted new music. However much I love his work and wish he'd be near the top of the card, I realized a long time ago that if Chris Benoit couldn't make it, Lance Storm has no chance in hell. He's the kind of guy Mark Henry NEEDS to crush in a quick match to gain steam.

Seems like every week I'm making some variation of that speech. Sorry. I loved the superkick to close out the short match, though, and I'm interested in seeing what kind of a story Shawn Michaels can tell with the big man.

I'm worried about who "Little Johnny" will be revealed as. Something in the back of my mind tells me he'll be Heidenreich's imaginary friend come to life, and guys in the ring will start bouncing around for him like Ric Flair during an exciting promo. Maybe the Nature Boy can even drop a few well-placed elbows on the invisible foe, for the hell of it. I hope and pray I'm just horribly, horribly dillusional here, but I've seen too much WWE in the past to know it's not a possibility.

The tag match between the French and the crazies was pretty solid. Helms in particular looked to have been motivated to give us a good show last night, playing a perfect "face in peril" and nailing that beautiful springboard leap to the floor right off a standard irish whip. Conway continues to impress, and even Dupree looked better than usual last night. The jury's still out on the new guy, though, because there isn't much you can do with fifteen seconds of ring time in your debut match. He's not balls nasty, but he didn't blow me away either.

I really think this broken foot has become a blessing in disguise for Test. Over the last couple of weeks, he's shown more personality and body language with that crutch than he ever did without it. He's developing a solid heel character, he's got a great "master and servant" style relationship with Stacy for the crowds to feed off of, and he's becoming increasingly confident on the stick. I didn't have a problem with him dropping that match to Shane, for several reasons; not only has Shane held his own against main eventers in the past, but Test was visibly injured and affected by his injury. On top of that, Test even pressed the advantage for a good part of the match. He's really starting to develop the ingredients for a great character, and I'm anxious to watch him progress even further. It's funny how these mishaps can sometimes turn out to be in your favor; Eddy Guerrero used that arm sling to his advantage for months after dislocating it in his first match with the WWF, and now Test is rediscovering himself with the use of a cast and a crutch.

Unfortunately, this whole progression was overshadowed by the continuation of that horrible Kane / Shane feud. Honest to god, I was happy to see Shane return several months ago but the lengths this angle has gone to are outlandish. At least the Katie Vick affair had the common decency to wrap up within two weeks, this just keeps pounding home the stupid, week after week after week. I don't care about a BAMblance match, I don't care about a HIAC match, I don't care about any match that involves these two any more. Move ON already, it's not working.

The women's match was about as good as it could've been, given the amount of time they had to work with. Lita didn't look as bad as she has in recent weeks, and Victoria looked pretty strong from start to finish. I know I've said it in the past, but I really do like how well they've established the talent in the women's division over the last six months. It's gone from a division that was based solely around Trish Stratus and her never-ending quest for the gold to a very versatile, well balanced division where anyone could conceivably win a couple of big matches and emerge as the champion. Trish is no longer the central focus, but she's still got every bit of the credibility she established when it was all about her. Should be interesting to see how Molly handles Lita at the Survivor Series.

I like where they're going with the continuing Flair / Maven feud, but that tag match last night was pretty weak. Cade and Jindrak need to spice it up a little bit in the ring, because there's only so many ways you can throw a picturesque dropkick and still get a reaction from the crowd. That and the lame finishing sequence that saw Flair basically roll himself over backwards in slow motion to take the pinfall really hurt this segment.

Nice to see the main event given a good chunk of time to wrap the show up, with two guys who deserve to be working in the final match of the night. Jericho and Van Dam have always seemed to match up well together, and last night was no exception, excusing the strange run-in, title change and restart. If that whole thing hadn't gone on, throwing the pace of the match out the window, this could've been one of their best free-TV matches. Jericho finally snapped his slump of bad cage matches thanks in large part to a couple of really cool spots once the steel WAS surrounding the ring. That slingshot from the mat onto the top rope was just beautiful, and fit his character in all kinds of fresh, exciting ways. I still despise the WWE "escape through the door" rule, since it completely negates the purpose of climbing over the thing in the first place (especially when you climb over a section of cage right next to the door, as RVD did last night) but I've got to let it slide here, because it really wasn't an issue until the very end.

The midcard brawl provided a nice conclusion to the evening, with Jericho playing the mastermind role he was born for and his teammates picking the bones of their opposition. I'd really like this elimination match at the Survivor Series a lot more if the Dudleys weren't involved, though. They just don't fit in with the other guys.

In all, this was right around average. They're logically furthering some interesting stories, teasing a couple new ones, introducing more new faces and moving towards the Survivor Series at a good pace, but they're also pushing forward with angles that need to just die, devoting a LOT of airtime to non-wrestling personalities and maintaining the main event status quo despite a pack of hungry new potentials. Not as good as last week, but not as bad as this time last year. Strictly middle of the road.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.5

Monday, October 20, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/20/03

Well, on one hand you've got a bunch of people claiming this was RAW's answer to No Mercy, a knee-jerk reaction to Smackdown's now infamous "Iron Man Match" episode of one month ago. You've got these guys claiming that it was an attempt to deliver a PPV-calibur episode, and that it should be graded on a higher standard than a regular RAW, because it's their biggest card all month. On the other hand, you've got people like me. People who aren't looking for excuses to hate a show, who realize that the OTC graded the Smackdown in question incredibly high, and who admit they had justification in doing so. Whether Smackdown had a PPV Sunday night or not, this broadcast of RAW wasn't a PPV in and of its own right. I didn't shell out forty extra bucks to see the return of Batista last night, so I won't grade it as such. Plain and simple, this was RAW. More importantly, this was RAW kicking ass and taking names.

We opened up with a promo from Steve Austin, an interruption by Test and Stacy Kiebler, and an eventual stunner for the heel. I thoroughly enjoyed this, start to finish. I like the realism they introduced, with Austin receiving a hurriedly-scrawled note in his office rather than an overproduced, unbelievable video package, cutting in at just the right moment. I'm all about more realism in today's WWE, and this was a baby step towards achieving that goal. Test has taken great strides as a character, to the point that his current injury is already so much a part of his act that you'd swear he's been using it for months. His interaction with Stacy has become a lot more believable, straying from goofy physical abuse to more gut-wrenching mental abuse. Even the stunner didn't kill this bit for me, as it looks to be something that'll be coming to a head in the very near future. It's for the best, they've pretty much worn out this "don't provoke me" card over the last few months.

Bischoff played his role to perfection in the set-up for that Survivor Series match. On that same card, so did Jericho. Mocking Steiner relentlessly, he made sure we didn't forget who the first guy to confront "Big Poppa Pump" on RAW was. Nicely teased tension between those two from the very get-go.

The tag team title match was actually much better than I would've expected, too. Rob Conway is really starting to outshine his contemporaries in the tag team division, and I can't wait until he's given a chance to do some work as a single. Forgetting that hilarious "I'm on my left foot, OOP! I'm on my right foot" dance that Dupree does, the French Brigade actually looked like a physical threat to the champs, for a change. In fact, before the ref turned a blind eye to Buh Buh and D-Von's blatant double-teaming, they looked to thave the whole thing wrapped up on several occasions. I wouldn't have had a problem with the use of the Doomsday Device, (and, actually, I was wondering if someone was going to make mention of it being the first "Three D" of wrestling) if it didn't just materialize out of nowhere. I mean, seriously, one second La Resistance had the champs in the palm of their hands, the next Conway was up on Buh Buh's shoulders. At least gain a little bit of momentum before you go in for the finishing maneuver.

I loved the atmosphere surrounding Evolution throughout the night, especially during Flair and Orton's interview with Terri. These guys are so well-suited to the roles they're playing, it's almost tough to believe they're playing a character. Another nice little bit of subtlety that I noticed during this segment; the heels didn't just vanish when they walked off-camera, as we've been led to believe in the past. Orton hung around, listened to Booker's comments, and protested like you'd imagine somebody in his situation might. The match that segment led to was something of a let down, but you can't win them all. Kudos to the bookers for giving us a pairing that we haven't seen before, rather than simply continuing the Booker / Christian feud without a second thought.

I thought it was a bit suspicious they were putting the World Title match on at ten o'clock, but didn't really have enough time to predict their motivations. I thought this was a great teaser for the audience that may have been thinking about tuning in to the dull Kansas City / Oakland game. Mark Henry as a monstrous main eventer honestly doesn't bother me right now, just like the Big Show as a monstrous main eventer didn't bother me on Smackdown a few months ago. There HAS to be an ornery giant floating around the top of the card, so the more solid workers have someone to topple, deconstruct and gain momentum from.

One thing that bugged me, though; good GOD, could Teddy Long have grabbed a couple more stereotypical quotes during his three seconds of mic time? "Holla! Time to get paid! It's all about the benjamins, dawg! Bling bling! Mo money! You down wit' OPP? Let the boys be boys! Some otha brothas can't deny! Thug life! Peeeeace!"

Once again, the Intercontinental tag match stole the show. At first, I was a little pissed off that they were "wasting" Chris Jericho and even Rob Van Dam, two guys who should be main eventing right now, in a perceived secondary division. Then I stepped back and thought about what I've been really wishing the IC scene was like over the last few years. I've always wished the title meant more, that it was just as prestigious as it was in the mid '80s. I've believed the IC gold should be saved for the second-most important man on the show, that he should be someone just an inch away from the World Title. And now they're delivering just that. To accumulate and maintain prestige, you've got to involve some heavy talent, book them in matches that show off their strengths, and borrow a bit of their credibility for a while. These tag matches are the roots of something really strong, and I'll applaud them. Just a great back and forth match that really developed Lance Storm, re-established Scott Steiner and did nothing to damage RVD or Chris Jericho. Those are results I wish we could see more often.

The women's match was solid, though a tad below the standards they set for themselves over the last few months. Trish took a real beating out there, first enduring that nasty-looking kick Victoria planted right on her nose, then suffering a wicked-ugly powerbomb at the hands of the insane one and Steven Richards. I thought the post-match bit with Christian and Lita was the definition of perfection, with Christian watching Jericho's success last week and attempting to replicate it for himself this time around. It's EXACTLY what I figure someone like him would do.

Dude, seriously, who are these guys and what have they done with the real RAW bookers?

Kane's interview was one of the best he's ever cut, but I just couldn't get into it. This feud needs to ride off into the sunset, because it's only hurting both guys involved. The emotion's there, the motivation's there, but the stories themselves have been so cartoony and stupid that there's no way to take anything these two do to one another seriously. Maybe they'll have Hell in a Cell at the Survivor Series, throw each other off the roof a couple times, roll around in gunpowder and jump into an open fire together. And maybe it'll still look cool at first. Then, about an hour later, you'll think to yourself; "Wait, WHAT?!"

The main event, admittedly, blew. It's a shame that HBK couldn't pull a good match out of Goldberg, as the guy isn't impossible to carry in the least, but they had a number of factors working against them here. It looked like Shawn just didn't know what to do with himself, and kept falling back on those forearm shots in the corner and knees to the mid section. I liked the last minute or so, since I'm a sucker for the double ten count, and thought the reintroduction of Batista was incredible. From JR's memorable call of "My god, he's bigger than Goldberg" to that brutal Ligerbomb, this was very well done and did its job of introducing a new, instantly credible heel to the main event roster. Watching the big man reunite with Orton, Flair and Helmsley at the top of the ramp was one of those moments that sent a shiver down my spine, no matter how I feel about the former champ and his backstage manipulations. I've been PLEADING for them to deliver a heel like this for what seems like an eternity. And, though I'm quite sure theyíll find a way to mess it up, for right now everything is right in the world.

PPV quality or no, this was a great show. They laid out half a dozen new angles, they continued their pledge to establish new talent with strong showings from Storm, Batista, Maven, Cade, Jindrak and Booker, and though the main event wasn't everything it could have been, the majority of the matches were much better than anyone could have predicted. This wasn't perfection, not by a long shot, but it was well above average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.85

Saturday, October 18, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE No Mercy 2003 Preview

Well, here we are again. All sleek and smiley, ready to wax philosophical on perhaps the least philosophical event in the world, professional wrestling's World Wrestling Entertainment. Honestly, what do you think Socrates would say if he knew his teachings would eventually have something to do with three guys chatting on the internet about an athletic event that seems to focus more on poop, titties and child abuse than actual competition? Then again, what do you think he'd say if he knew the only reason most of this generation knows his name is because of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"? Man, our generation is screwed...

But oh yeah, I'm going off on a tangent. World Wrestling Entertainment has crafted another Pay-Per-View event this weekend, in the form of Smackdown's "No Mercy" broadcast Sunday Night. With a couple very notable exceptions, this is a card of polar opposites. The bookers have taken their most talented performers and paired them off with their worst. Benoit gets A-Train. Eddy's with the Big Show. Brock's chased once again by the Undertaker. On one hand, this is a good thing. I very much doubt the A-Train will ever get a better match than the one we'll see this Sunday night. On the other, this is a bad thing. They've taken a painfully smelly shit, and instead of flushing it, have smeared it all over the walls. The stink is no longer contained to one stall, it's now visibly filled the entire bathroom. Instead of one bad, throwaway match, they've got four. They've diluted their most talented performers, and in so doing have killed any anticipation for the card itself.

Tajiri (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
Cruiserweight Championship

This is an absolute dream match. Mysterio and Tajiri wrestle two distinctly different styles, yet still appear to have plenty in common. They're both small guys who move around the ring with blinding speed, yet Rey Rey uses the ropes and the air as his weapons, while Tajiri's claim to fame is his realistic martial-arts offense and his propensity for mists of various colors. This is a match that's played out within the confines of my imagination for years, since Tajiri was challenging Taz for the ECW title and Mysterio was still the highlight of WCW's Cruiserweight division. And, for finally delivering on this one, I'll applaud the WWE booking team. So long as they don't force their hand with an overbooked finish or an extremely short time restriction, this match will be a success. I love that they're building Tajiri as a ruthless, unpredictable psychopath in the ring, and Rey's about as close to the perfect foil for that as you're ever gonna find. My money's on Tajiri here, with the feud carrying on to next month's Survivor Series and beyond.
Winner: Tajiri

Matt Hardy vs. Zach Gowen

Most of the wind is gone from poor Zach's sails by this point. All he's done is land a moonsault on the Big Show and play whipping boy for most of Smackdown's regular cast and crew on an ongoing basis. If they're going to use him as more than the next "S.D. Jones", they're going to have to give him a credible win or two along the way, and fortunately or not his best bet is right here with Matt Hardy. Bad news, then, that the same thing can be said for "Version 1.0" himself right now. Basically, this is a glorified "loser jobs for the rest of his WWE career" match, because it's going to be a long, difficult road back from a loss here and I don't think the bookers have any intentions of putting in that kind of effort on a Matt Hardy or Zach Gowen. I'm picking Matt here, because his value to the company a year from now is much, much higher than Zach's. Could easily go the other way, though.
Winner: Matt Hardy

Chris Benoit vs. A-Train

I'm getting sick of asking when Chris Benoit's big break is going to finally come around. It seems like every pay per view he's here, wrestling in a meaningless match halfway up the card that's meant to busy him until one of the main eventers frees up. It's assumed the WWE is biding their time with him, but the guy's been treading water since his return to the federation a full year ago. Tell me why the Undertaker deserved a second shot at Brock Lesnar's World Title in a year and not Benoit, who seems custom-built for this kind of situation. Tell me why Vince has consistently failed to get the message, whether it's the live audience giving Benoit a standing ovation after his Royal Rumble match or the live audience turning ferociously on Thursday's Stephanie McMahon heart-to-heart. Tell me why proven failures like the A-Train are wrestling on this card at all, while guys like Rhyno, Chavo Guerrero and the Ultimo Dragon are left sitting in the locker room. It's just another example that the boys in charge have no idea what they're doing, and in their frustration they've just started shoveling the biggest guys on the show into high profile feuds. Used effectively, these are all wrestlers who can serve a great purpose... but they aren't being used effectively. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I'm sick as hell of seeing Benoit in the middle of the card with a thumb up his ass. Give us something to get excited about for a change.
Winner: Chris Benoit

Eddy Guerrero (c) vs. Big Show
United States Championship

They were so close to getting the formula right here, you could almost taste it. Then they rolled right in with the racial stereotypes and the literal shit-spewing. I've said it dozens of times in the past, but the Big Show has a specific purpose in this federation. He's here to act like a behemoth, to squash undercarders, to add a big spot or two to a main event and to job convincingly to up-and-comers. His sole purpose is to gain momentum, and then deliver said momentum to someone who needs it. This is a role he's filled to perfection over the last few months, main eventing with Angle and Lesnar, alternately, and putting them both over in the end. This is a role he could have carried on with to Eddy Guerrero, the next in line for main event stardom. And, assuming this past week's Smackdown was an indicator, this is something they eventually did deliver. The way the Big Show destroyed Guerrero's truck and his body were picture perfect. It lent sudden, incredibly important momentum to the feud, and it will make Eddy's win on PPV mean that much more. I just wish it hadn't been overshadowed by the skits of a few weeks back.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero

Vince McMahon w/Sable vs. Stephanie McMahon w/Linda
I Quit Match

I'll give Vince credit where it's due; he's always managed to take the least enticing matches and turned them into successes. Nearly every PPV battle he's taken part in has been much more entertaining than could have ever been predicted. His fights with Hogan, Shane, Triple H, Flair and Austin are each strong examples of Vince's character and mannerisms transforming a boring, unenthusiastic brawl into an exciting, peaks-and-valleys drama. And I wish I could say the same thing is possible this month.

Unfortunately Stephanie has no such track record.

Where Vince has had the top names in the history of the business to fall back on during his various bloody battles, Stephanie hasn't. Her "matches" have been the worst kind of drek, the kind of shit you'd have to be the victim of a lobotomy to enjoy. She exposes the business with every successful slap or throw. Her involvement in anything more than talent relations and the booking of a big match or two is completely unnecessary and stupid. And now she's been booked in one of the main events of a show they expect us to pay $40 to witness on pay per view. Fuck the McMahons for even entertaining the idea of this match, let alone going through with it. The only good thing about this thing is the stipulations, which claim that the loser of the match forfeits their seat of power in WWE. Which might mean something if BOTH THESE FUCKERS HADN'T ALREADY BEEN FIRED AND THEN MYSTERIOUSLY COME BACK MERE MONTHS LATER. The world has too many McMahons.
Winner: Stephanie McMahon

Kurt Angle vs. John Cena

This is, without question, the toughest match on the card to pick. On one hand you've got Angle, who could really use a win here to pick himself up from losing the World Title in that infamous Iron Man Match. A former champion, a future hall of famer, and undeniable legend. On the other, John Cena could use this win to finally start to live up to the reputation that seems to precede him. He's been billed as the next next big thing, the future of the main event, Smackdown's ace in the hole. But his resume is surprisingly lacking in clean, credible victories in clutch situations. He's talked a great game, but he's yet to give us any substance to back up the hype. It's tough not to get excited about the prospects of this match, as both guys could conceivably take it and use the victory as fuel to go on a tear throughout the upper midcard. The match itself should be the best of Cena's young career, even better than his near-win against Angle just weeks after debuting on Smackdown. It should be a hell of a match, and I can't wait to see, hear and experience those last five minutes. My money's on JC, just because he's hungrier for this big win, not to take anything away from Angle.
Winner: John Cena

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. The Undertaker
WWE Championship - Biker Chain Match

Not a match I'm especially interested in. The Undertaker doesn't have any reason to be main eventing this late in his career, let alone three times in the last thirteen months. I'm sick of seeing him lose a big match, take some time off, come back with the entire hype machine behind him, go right to the front of the line, lose again and start the whole process over. He's getting older, his body doesn't move as well as it used to (which is saying something, since he was never the most limber guy on the roster) and his brain isn't as sharp as it once was. His promos have drug, his matches have drug and his interest level has dropped. I think there were half a dozen better choices for opponents to a heel Brock Lesnar than the Undertaker, and it's a crime that they were overlooked for the length of his service to the promotion. Loyalty is one thing. Crippling a main event for the sake of seniority is something else entirely. Maybe if Brock and the Undertaker hadn't written such a definitive final chapter in their relationship last year I wouldn't be so peeved about this match taking place. Maybe if Chris Benoit was involved in a useful, lengthy, character-building feud of his own at this point in time it wouldn't bother me so much. I could go on for hours, but the only point I'd be reinforcing is how stupid and sloppy this main event really looks. Brock wins, and hopefully moves on the better things next month. I have no interest in a rematch.
Winner: Brock Lesnar

In Closing...

Not a good showing for Smackdown, especially considering the great free show they gave away a month ago. There continue to be a couple flickers of light amidst the stupid booking, the McMahon loving and the septic spraying, so it's much too soon to say Smackdown is a lost cause. John Cena, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, Eddy Guerrero and Yoshihiro Tajiri are all in great positions to make a mark for themselves with this card, and that's a list of names that I can't fault in a single place. It's criminal to see Benoit wasted with the A-Train and the Undertaker reused in a meaningless main event, but that's a point I've run into the ground over the last few minutes. The point is, this could be far worse. Bad as it looks, that's the cold hard truth. As the number one wrestling promotion in the US, it's WWE's job to keep us from saying things like that, but the fact remains. I've seen much worse.
until next time, i remain

Monday, October 13, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/13/03

Short and simple, I missed the first hour of RAW. Plus, while I was busy working that second job late into the night, I was unaware of the fact that my VCR was, at the same time, deciding against recording the show for me. Finally, I sat down to read a quick recap of what I missed and discovered that I'd missed a sweet Flair promo, a strong Jericho / Christian promo, some interaction between Austin / Steiner and another attempt to run down Goldberg. So basically, I know the jist of what went down in that first hour, but seeing as how I didn't witness it first hand, I'm going to have to pass on actually including those events in my overall grade. I've got a couple comments on the booking of those segments, which you'll see in just a couple of seconds, but I can't include them as basis for a good (or bad) grade with good conscience. So, ah, yeah. My grade is for the second hour of RAW. Damn the VCRs. Damn them all.

The Jericho / Austin anti-feud seems to be moving along at a very nice pace. This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping we'd get more of when the rumors of brand-exclusive PPVs were confirmed not so long ago. The entire federation had been moving at such an insanely fast pace that it was getting hard to keep track of things. In addition to that, every time two big names would meet in the ring at a major event, a lot of the excitement was drained away due to the rushed nature of the build itself. Jericho and Austin have been slowly, consistently picking at one another for months now, and I'm willing to bet that relationship will continue for several months more. They're establishing two believable characters who obviously dislike one another, they're giving them plenty of reasons to do so, and they're dabbling away from sheer blacks and whites with the feud itself. Austin is the face, sure, but he's fallible. He's done some bad things without even acknowledging them, and Jericho's been right there to rub his enemy's nose in it every time. It's easy to sit back and say "this means nothing, because Austin can't wrestle," but as a guy who swore he'd never see Shawn Michaels wrestle again I'd say it's going somewhere big. Permanent retirement doesn't mean as much as it used to anymore, and I'm willing to bet this ends in a major match that not only helps Jericho and Austin, but the show as well.

Speaking of straying from the endless formula of blacks and whites, I love where they're going with Shawn Michaels right now. With Flair playing the role of the master manipulator and Michaels receiving mixed signals from every direction, it's easy to sympathize with ol' HBK. He could logically go either way from here, but I'd rather see him play a tweener full time than a dedicated face or heel.

I thought the backstage segments involving Goldberg were a bit over-the-top, but the story itself is headed in the right direction. Big Bill is distancing himself from everyone on the roster, which is actually giving him a notable direction in terms of character development. He plays the role of a paranoid animal very well.

The RVD / Steiner match sounded like it could've had promise, if given a little longer. This is a matchup I hadn't even considered in the past, and I hope it's a sign of things to come in terms of fresh, unexpected pairings on RAW. It still doesn't sound like he's playing the same evil Scott Steiner that dominated WCW several years ago, but he's taking obvious steps in the right direction. I'd really have loved to see him completely knock out Austin with a cheap shot, rather than knock the GM down, stand there like a tool and then take a one-sided beating. But you win some and you lose some, I guess. No comment on the Austin / Stacey situation, because I'm certain it's going somewhere and the announcers were very careful not to endorse what Austin did later in the show. It's a new, not to mention more believable, dimension to a fairly multi-dimensional character.

It sounds like Flair was all over the place last night, which makes me even more unhappy I missed so much of the show. I can't say I'm upset to have missed the Rico / Maven match, as Constantino has yet to perform up to anyone's expectations and Maven remains unprepared for the big time after years of lagging at the bottom of the card. Still, I'll give them credit for devoting some time and attention to new names and faces. Maybe somebody out there finally realized that Flair, Triple H and Austin won't be around forever.

I stepped in my front door just as Goldberg and Michaels were facing off in the ring. This was a great segment, with HBK helping Goldberg through the interview and teasing us with just enough tension going into that big handicap tag match in the main event. I wish they'd built toward next week's match a little more and lingered on last week's match with Mark Henry a little less, but on the whole I'm excited to see how RAW's World Title match next week will be handled. Cross your fingers and pray Triple H doesn't make it two-for-two in "run-ins during televised Michaels title matches."

The eight man tag was much, MUCH better than it had any right to be. Booker looked like a legitimate main eventer, even though it's painfully obvious that this is as high as he'll be allowed to go. He and Jericho and Conway especially had some very nice exchanges with one another, and the finish of the match was simply a great visual. I still prefer the angry, well-dressed, ass-kickin' heel Booker to the more marketable, goofy, catchphrase-spouting face, but this is a reasonable middle ground. With the exception of Spike, everyone looked intelligent, competitive and interesting in this match, and JR was even going out of his way to point out what great potential the heels have, despite his recorded dislike for them. A very nice match, that gives me more hope for RAW's past, present and future mid-card than I've had in quite some time.

The Shane / Kane segment was beyond stupid. On one hand, I liked how it started, (with the celebrating faces still in the ring) because it showed something was still going on in the arena and gave the sense that there are dozens of different scenarios happening at any one time that we aren't always seeing. On the other hand, good GOD... are they trying to run people off with this B-Movie drivel? That whole "interview" was a disorganized mess, from the RTC-esque beeping of Kane's heart monitor to Shane's unprepared ramblings to that solid minute and a half where Shane, the doctor, the nurse, JR and the pulse-rate were all trying to speak at the same time. I don't want to see any more of this...

The women's tag match was below the division's recent standards, but wasn't awful, either. I'm glad as hell they're starting to focus on Victoria again, as I think she made a great improvement in just about every department after debuting last year. From the looks of things, they're planning to investigate her relationship with Steven Richards a little further, too, which gets a big thumbs-up from yours truly. Richards is a great, vastly under-utilized talent, and deserves much better than the "HeAT Hero" role he's been stuck with for so long.

The main event tag did everything it needed to. It still bugs me that Goldberg no-sells those Flair chops, but that's something Nikita Koloff did to the Nature Boy during his day, too, so it's not like Goldberg's destroying years and years of work by acting like an ass in that situation. Mark Henry did the duty he should've done last week, Goldberg managed to pick him up for the jackhammer, (and, in so doing, popped the live crowd every bit as insanely as you'd think such a feat would) and HBK nailed some sweet chin music on the current champion. I find it a little hard to believe that a simple kick could take down a guy who stood up after half a dozen steel chair shots at the hands of the Rock, but if that's the reality they're trying to push then that's what we're going to have to learn to live with. I'm really excited about next week's main event, thanks in large part to the booking of this match. Michaels doesn't know which way he wants to go, Flair is rock-steady in his portrayal of the devil himself, and Goldberg just got all the motivation he needed to come after HBK with everything he's got. All of a sudden I'm enjoying the main event scene.

This was another of those hopeful programs, the episodes that keep popping up from out of nowhere to interrupt the shitstream and prove that there's something still worth watching in WWE. It's a shame that had to be interrupted by a ridiculous Shane / Kane segment and a seemingly needless beatdown of Scott Steiner, but on the whole I liked what I saw here. If five is average, as I've often claimed it is, this was a notch above. Let's see more along these lines.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.25

Monday, October 6, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/06/03

Not a whole lot to be said about last night's show, but I'll make an effort to say something worthwhile once again. RAW seems to be floating along on auto-pilot this month, without the deadline of a brand-exclusive PPV to build towards in the near future or the motivation to create a PPV-quality show like Smackdown has presented on their off months. It's really disheartening, actually, to see that instead of using the PPV split as an excuse to give away more compelling TV like their Thursday night sister, RAW's instead chosen to rest on their laurels during the "time off" and spit out pointless goo. Even though Smackdown's the show with the higher McMahon-to-Superstar ratio, and they never cease to promote Vince and Steph as main attractions, they still know how to deliver with a good card here and there, a more motivated roster and a much more appealing World Title scene.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Again. I seem to be pretty good at that. I'm not here to discuss the faults of RAW's last six months of television, I'm here to tell you what I thought about what I saw last night.

The whole Kane angle in general is just not floating my boat any more. I'll admit, I was among the many to lose their freaking minds this past summer, when the red machine turned on Mrs. Personality herself, Linda McMahon, but in hindsight I'd say that had as much to do with Linda McMahon taking a big bump as it did with Kane's new character and direction. They've really had some accidental moments of brightness with the ragin' red pyro since removing his mask, but it's all just leading to nowhere once again. His feud with Shane outlived its usefulness before the two of them even met in the ring, as the bookers insisted on placing Shane into a quick match with Eric Bischoff immediately upon his return, killing the feud's momentum right out of the gates. His mini-feud with the Hurricane isn't helping anyone's cause, since Kane's just treading water and the Hurricane's just reaffirming his stance as a world class jobber to the stars. And good lord, his match last night with Rosey was the pits. These are two guys so mired in bad gimmicks and unbelievable storylines that they've almost completely lost touch with their games in-ring, which is really supposed to be the ultimate proving grounds when all the dust has settled. If that isn't a fucking glaring signal that some of the federation's priorities are mixed up, I don't know what is.

Yeah, and then Shane drove the point home (no pun intended) by feeding Kane to the side of a tractor-trailer. God almighty, do these guys need it SPELLED OUT for them? This is what's KILLING THE FEDERATION. This is not going to regain your viewership. This is just completely stupid television. It's all the evidence non-fans need that they aren't missing anything by skipping out on pro wrestling. Ed Wood would've turned away these scripts.

The live crowd did get a chuckle out of me by starting up a bored "holy shit" chant after the wreck, though.

It was sad to watch the Lita / Gail match, as I've seen much better from both of them under different circumstances. They were all over the place in there, and served up one of the weakest women's matches we've seen on RAW in months. That's allright, though. Even Chris Benoit has a bad match here and there, the women's division still kicks ass right now.

I liked the old Scott Steiner as much as the other guy, but despite Bischoff's claims, the guy we saw out there last night wasn't him. When he was WCW's last long-standing world champion, there was a certain drive to everything he did. You could tell that, despite the dire surroundings, he was trying his damndest to make his mark on the business. And, through a run that lasted nearly half a year, Steiner was successful. He wasn't the greatest WCW champ of all time, but he was without question a competant, solid, credible champ. Since coming to WWE, that integral element of desire has been lost. Scott doesn't seem to care what he's doing any more, he's throwing punches but his heart's not in it. He's trying to act like his "off the cuff" comments on the microphone haven't been scripted and represent his true feelings, but it's just not working. And yeah, he didn't really convince me otherwise during his unmotivated, empty-value match against Spike Dudley last night.

I really liked what I saw during the Storm / Van Dam vs. Jericho / Christian match, though the setup itself left me wondering the same thing I wonder about all insanely convoluted wrestling turns, twists and shifts; how the hell could it have honestly been put together? What, did Jericho just go around backstage, grab a couple people, take them out to the ring and surprise them by asking "What don't you like about Stone Cold?" Did Lance Storm take this opportunity to make a stand for himself, against the obvious three-on-one odds? Did he conspire with RVD to put the whole thing together? I suppose I should just let my mind shut off to these things during the program, I should "suspend my disbelief," but that's just something I can't do. It's not in my nature, and I'd wager it's not in the nature of more than a handful of other fans. Sure, that's a cliche that's almost as old as the sport itself, not something Vince McMahon and his WWE have only recently introduced. It's still something that bothered me about this segment.

I'm glad to see all four of these guys active in a somewhat notable slot on the card. Mix and match any of them in a singles match and you're almost guaranteed a quality result. Personally, I'm dying to see a rejuvination of the brief feud Storm and Van Dam shared years ago in ECW, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards at the moment. For a TV match, this was a very solid get-together, and I can only hope it's the tip of the iceberg in that regard.

After that momentary rush of excitement, the show started to drag once again. Flair / Orton vs. Cade / Jindrak wasn't a BAD match per se... I guess it was just incomprehensibly booked and altogether flat from the very beginning. Why Flair is playing whipping boy to everyone under the WWE banner is a question that needs to be seriously addressed, especially considering his obvious potential as a mouthpiece / mentor for any one of the younger guys in the federation. I suppose that's what the writers think they're doing with him, pairing him off with Orton week after week and allowing the young legend killer the chance to mature before going full throttle with him, but it's not turning out that way. Instead of lending wisdom to, putting words in the mouth of and helping to guide the inexperienced rookie, Flair's doing the bulk of the wrestling for his team, playing the weak link and only occasionally interacting with his partner outside of the ring. I can't fathom how Mark Jindrak and Garrison Cade were even jokingly considered as physical threats to a guy like Flair, let alone how the idea was pitched for them to have him put away before Orton slid in the ring and made the finish for him. I suppose these are gears churning towards Orton's eventual break from Evolution, which I don't think is a good idea anyway.

I honestly didn't think the main event was nearly as bad as it could've been. You knew right off the bat that this wasn't going to be a thing of beauty, but the guys played their roles better than I would have expected and actually managed to avoid a rap as the worst match of the night. This most definitely wasn't the best match I've ever seen on free TV, but it sure as hell wasn't the worst, as I've heard more than one person claim around the net. Henry was working hard to establish himself for the first few minutes of the match, and proved he has taken some steps forward in the ring since his latest injury.

I like where they're going with the "Goldberg as paranoid champion" storyline, even if it DOES involve Triple H's lame Ted Dibiase impression, and I think his "accidental" spear of Shawn Michaels is leading toward something much bigger in the near future. Goldberg didn't show the slightest concern for HBK after the match, and even glared at him on his way to a top rope celebration as if to indicate it wasn't an unhappy accident after all.

This whole episode was lukewarm. It showed signs of going straight-up hot and cold, from the undeniable anal leakage of the Kane-Shane-LimoSpear segment to the very promising little startup between RVD, Christian, Jericho and Storm. Without question, the show's still driving without a hand on the steering wheel, but at least it's on an open stretch of road for the time being. This wasn't all crap.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.65

Monday, September 29, 2003

Ringside Shadows #189: The Ongoing Evolution of Kayfabe

The Urban Dictionary defines "kayfabe" as "to lie or bullshit to; withhold information from; to purposely mislead or deceive. Wrestling term. Kayfabe was the unsaid rule that the wrestlers should stay in character during the show and in public appearences in order to maintain a feeling of reality (albeit suspended) among the fans"

Kayfabe is dead.

Not really that impressive of a statement any more, is it? It seems like the public's enlightenment to the reality of professional wrestling's inner workings is old news anymore, on the same level as "Who Shot J.R.?" It's been taken for granted, and the show is no longer viewed as a legitimate emotional drama so much as it is an endless, ongoing weekly television series or a movie franchise. Viewers understand that the characters they see on their television screens don't always mean everything they're saying, just like actors in a good movie aren't always as closed-minded and melodramatic as the characters they're paid to portray. Fans tune in on a regular basis to see that unique blend of outlandish backstage story mixed with an occasional in-ring demonstration of "fake fighting." With very few exceptions, they know what they're getting before they purchase that ticket and take their seat in front of that elevated ring.

But just how is the "knowledge" we have today any different from the beliefs that we held before Vince McMahon's WWF publicly revealed the truth behind the lie? Prior to the Federation's admission that outcomes are predetermined, that Hulk Hogan doesn't really hate Roddy Piper, it was easy to find yourself wrapped up within that innocent veil of ignorance. Upon reflection, the tell-tale signs were all there... characters were clean-cut and easy to love or hate. Even the biggest guy in the federation occasionally couldn't gather the strength to sit up off the mat before his opponent flew from the top rope, landing on his prone body with a sick thud. "Evil" wrestlers always seemed to time their attacks so that the hero had just enough time to recover for that big match in Madison Square Garden. Hell, sometimes the guys in the ring would straight-up MISS one another with their punches, yet they'd stumble around as though a glancing blow had landed all the same. In hindsight, the whole scheme is seen in crystal clear 20 / 20 vision. But at the time, these were merely strange coincidences and the very idea that wrestling was quote-unquote fake was met with instant opposition and fierce consequences. This was a tightly guarded secret, and if someone sniffed too strongly in the right direction they were quickly led away.

Today, it's like the scales have shifted completely from one side to the other. It seems every single fan, from the most innocent six-year old boy to the oldest steadfast, grizzled old man, has gone from KNOWING everything they see is the god-honest truth to KNOWING that every aspect of professional wrestling is fake. Even though it's unlikely that they understand the terms themselves, they feel that they can tell the difference between a "work" like WWE and a "shoot" like PRIDE or UFC. Fans think they know the difference between two guys playing a role on television, such as Triple H's hatred for Shawn Michaels, and two guys who legitimately do not get along, such as Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. From where I sit, that's a tremendously flawed point of view, a knee-jerk overreaction if I've ever seen one. The fans feel hurt by the decades and decades of lies they've been fed, and have overcompensated for that fact by doing an about-face. If things aren't all real, then they must be all faked. I have trouble accepting that.

Pro wrestling is here to push your buttons, of that there can be no question. These guys live and die to gather wild cheers or riotous boos, depending upon their onscreen allegiances. We know that. We accept that. What we don't know is just how far they're willing to go to invoke these emotions, when they stop playing a character and start acting like themselves.

Take, for instance, Triple H. This is a guy who seems to have gone out of his way to make an enemy of the internet audience. He's made remarks about so-called "smart" fans at every possible occasion. He's created an obvious conflict of interests, by seriously dating (and subsequently marrying) the owner's daughter. He's apparently reaped the benefits of that action by holding the World Title for an extremely lengthy period of time, and seems to be next in line to carry the gold once again. He's carried a personal grudge for one of the internet's favorite sons, Chris Jericho. And, as the proverbial cherry on top, he's gone right out on air and said the words "I hate the fans." He's a natural heel, from his mannerisms to his refusal to put over the upcoming talent to his actions behind the curtains to the pompous air he presents in his supposedly "out of character" interviews.

Do you think it could be a little more obvious?

The guy is making an enemy out of the hundreds of thousands of fans who surf the net, while at the very same time gathering hatred with the offline fans through the more traditional on-screen methods. He's playing a full heel, whether he's on television or off, and he's doing a DAMN good job of it. Since he started taking swipes at the net, his heat has grown more and more steadily, to the point where there's no questioning him as the top heel on RAW. The casual fans hate him because he's fighting Bill Goldberg, and the die-hard fans hate him because he's going out of his way to insult them. In short, he played upon our perception of what we "know" about the line between character and actor to further solidify his position on the card.

Likewise, take a look at Shawn Michaels and the reception he still gathers in Canada to this day. Those fans don't hate him because the storylines are telling them to, they hate him because he was directly involved in the Julius Caesar-esque murder of Bret Hart's WWF career. Worse yet, he lied about said involvement for years, before finally admitting the truth on a WWE television program, Confidential. In their eyes, he's worse than a murderer. He's a man who knowingly sabotaged the career of their national hero, indirectly led to his permanent retirement, lied under oath about the whole thing, and then finally admitted the truth almost five years later, with a confident smirk on his face. He's the definition of the word "asshole" to a Canadian, and he plays it up a little more every time he comes to their country.

Think about it; if you were in Shawn Michaels's shoes on RAW in Montreal several months ago, appearing live in Canada across the ring from one of their favorite sons, amidst the most vicious vibe of direct hatred you'd ever felt, how could you possibly hope to evolve further as a heel? If you acknoweldged their boos, shouting "I know I screwed Bret, and I'd do it again if I had to," you'd get immense initial heat, but the flame would quickly die. The fans would realize you were playing a role, and they'd respond by reverting back to their conditioned factory response. The boos would still be there, but they'd be lacking that electric ingredient of legitimate hate. They'd see the rest of your career as a wrestling angle, not a true story, and that element of personal involvement would slowly vanish. Instead, by attempting to suck up to the audience, to turn Jericho heel and to convince the Montreal citizens to "get over it," he accomplished the impossible. He dug that heel into the mud, grit his teeth and made a bad situation even worse. Just take a look at my fellow RRC member and a proud Canadian, Samir, and his grade of the RAW in question to see how well that strategy worked. Whether or not he ever turns heel again in the United States, Michaels will always be wildly over as a heel in Canada. He will ALWAYS draw an angry crowd in that country, a crowd that's both loud and hungry for action. In short, he'll draw the perfect wrestling audience.

Now this is the part of the column where you step back and say "OK, wait. This whole thing is a little too far-fetched for me. You're trying to say everything the wrestlers do, onscreen or off, is all a part of the story? I don't buy it." And to that argument I say you've got an excellent point. The fact of the matter is, I have no proof of this theory nor do I completely buy it myself. If this theory were 100% accurate, it would mean Bill Goldberg's claims that he "does it all for the money" and doesn't love the business are merely seeds being planted for an eventual heel turn. It would overlook guys like Chris Jericho, who have befriended the internet audience and appear to be wholesome, nice guys behind the scenes while playing despicable heels on television. Guys like Chris Benoit, who are cheered for their workrate, regardless of their stance as a heel or a face. The facts tell the truth; there are only a few instances where situations like the ones I've described above would really work.

It's tough to say when, exactly, a wrestler is being completely honest during a candid interview, or when he's putting together some sort of extensive work designed to increase his heat through any means necessary. Fans are once again being left in the dark, content in their "knowledge" that everything is fake and the wrestlers are always completely honest when they speak out of character. The world seems consumed not in blacks and whites, but in a deadening sort of grey. On a few occasions, the difference between fact and fiction is distinct and obvious, but on the whole it's foggy and difficult to say when a man stops being Triple H and starts being Paul Michael Levasque. Yet in all actuality, the truth is very, very clear.

Kayfabe is alive and well. You just don't recognize it any more.
until next time, i remain