Monday, March 31, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 03/31/03

Solid show. The roster's really starting to look thin now, with the regular players stopping in at about the same time every week, but I'm not sick of it yet. The two main event-level feuds are still going very strong, (with a third thrown in this week to keep things hoppin') so at the very least it's a good kind of repetition. I'm being entertained, and that's the goal really, isn't it?

GREAT promo to kick off the show. Austin was in old form this week, really coming off like he meant what he said and wasn't reciting lines from a script or working extra hard to fit his catchphrases into the show. This wasn't forced, it was Austin being Austin, doing what he does best. Bischoff came out and just made the package that much sweeter. When they aren't trying to shove Eric the GM into the same mold as Vince the owner, there's a really nice dynamic in the air between these two. Bischoff plays the prick oh so well, and Austin's still something of a heat magnet. I'm fully expecting Stone Cold to resurface on Smackdown this week, as are I'm sure most of the regular viewers, which leads to one very pressing question. Why didn't Bischoff just trade the bastard?? It doesn't make sense to just release somebody like that, when he's worth so much on the free agent market. Eric could've grabbed Benoit and Rhyno in exchange for Austin, but instead he just sent the guy on his way. Otherwise, I thought this was tremendous. Great job by the writers, working the mailed pink slip comment in there for old times' sake.

Triple H / Hurricane was both fun to watch, but also painful. On one hand, it was nice to see Helms looking good against the champ. He hit all his signature spots, worked very well as a face and managed to pace himself this time, so he didn't blow up and look like he did against the Rock a couple weeks ago. On the other hand, the match looked quite rushed and as such lost a little bit of the drama it would've otherwise soaked up. I'll give credit where it's due, Triple H did everything in his power to make the Hurricane look like he had a shot here, but I just couldn't buy it. The whole idea of Helms as the cruiserweight who wrestles a heavyweight style has been fun for the year he's been using it now, but I'm slowly growing tired of it. That climaxed when he tried to chokeslam the Big Show, and now he just looks out of place doing the same to Triple H.

As an aside, Samir wasn't the only one who thought immediately of that horrid "Secrets of Pro Wrestling" special during the Ric Flair mask stomping incident. As soon as Flair tore it off the kid's face, I started shouting "Stunt Granny! Stunt Granny!" The visual of that old woman falling, then winking at the wrestlers to let them know she was all right, instantly filled my head and didn't leave for the rest of the night. Even while the audience was going wild for Goldberg, she was there... winkin' her little heart away.

Kane is a poor orator. He wouldn't make it to the main page here. Let's run an angle where he gets burned again, has to put the mouth back on his mask and shuts up due to the overwhelming shame of it all. Then we can pair him back up with Paul Bearer and try the whole thing again.

There's a big flaw with the whole Bischoff Administration storyline; why would anyone in their right mind force a bunch of unwilling guys to work together under one roof like that? Yeah, here's a great idea; let's grab fifteen to twenty of our worst enemies, put them all in a room together, and tell them to do stuff they really, really don't want to do. What's gonna happen there? Surely there won't be an uprising. Come on... five year olds have more intellect than that. Even the OTC wouldn't try that kind of shit.

Nowinski's trying every trick in the book to get the fans to remember him. Dude, if you're rehashing a gimmick freaking Virgil is known for, you've gotta take a step back and seriously think about your future in the industry. I really like Nowinski, but they've gotta do something with him soon if they ever want him to go anywhere. Another side note; when he was grimacing in the Steiner Recliner, Chris looked INCREDIBLY similar to the late Brian Pillman.

Chris Nowinski   Brian Pillman

Scary, eh?

In about two minutes of airtime, WWE did a better job of making Booker T look like a guy who's serious about what he's doing than they did in the entire month leading up to WrestleMania. Honestly, that moment with Ric Flair put him on that cutting edge between driven face and out-of-control heel, and I loved it. Much like Austin, Book didn't just look like he was going through the motions last night, he looked like he was really feeling what he said. Like he was just a moment away from snapping Flair in half. That's how you make a guy look like he's a World Title contender, no question about it.

Maven and Rosey were lots of fun to watch, but for all the wrong reasons. Yuck.

Jericho and Booker didn't get long to show us what they had until the cavalry hit the ring. I was, like everyone else, anticipaing the Diesel run-in that never happened here. I wasn't sure of their reasoning at first, but think they're headed in the right direction now that I've given it some further thought. What I'm really hoping to see is Nash turning on his old buddy, Shawn Michaels, and reprising his role as a bodyguard alongside Chris Jericho. Think about it, Y2J's been trying to prove to us all how he's the second coming of the showstopper for months now. So what better way to rub it all in Shawn's face than to run with his old crew, recruit his old bodyguard, and follow his old path to immortality? This way you don't have Nash too active in the ring, and you give Jericho the momentum he needs to get up and over HBK. Fantasy booking aside, I'm always a big fan of a slick heel beatdown. This segment did that trick. And Triple H's deathlock submission looks mean as hell.

I was pulled away from the television during the Hardy / Richards match, and much of the tag title match, so I can't really comment on those. I liked Storm and Morley as a team, but can concede that they haven't been quite as exciting as Storm and Regal were, so this title change made sense. Especially when you take into consideration the insane pop it generated from the crowd. C'mon guys, these fans are just dying for a chance to go nuts over RVD in the main event. Stop farting around with him in the tag division.

Then we got the big segment of the night, Rocky Appreciation Night. How many 'appreciation nights' does this make for WWE now? Fifty? Sixty? It's gotta be somewhere up there. I know we've had a couple for Austin, maybe a half dozen for Triple H. Mankind threw one for the Rock a while ago. The production team did their usual bit of kicking some ass and jotting down some names here, mixing in a little Led Zep along the way. Nice video package, and they followed it up with one of the most horrifically piped-sounding Goldberg chants I've ever heard. They even did the old WCW trick of panning the audience to show how most everybody wasn't moving their lips. But that's ok, because they cut right to a backstage shot of the man himself, on his way to the ring, and the live audience took the hint in no time.

...and here comes Goldberg, looking every bit like Tank Abbott with a longer goatee and a thick leather jacket. I'd never really noticed how tiny his ears were until he hit that entryway. It's like looking at the great wall of China from space. And he's adopted one of Rocky's own patented strategies, wearing several layers of street clothing to hide his body until he can get it toned up to ring shape. "You're next," kick, wham, spear, oversell and we're out. The tackle actually did look really vicious, and did its job of putting Goldberg on the map as the guy with the best spear in the federation, but Rocky took it a bit too far with that sell job.

Because I'm lazy, and feel no need to retype something I've already covered before, here's my thoughts on Goldberg in the WWE. These were originally posted in the forums earlier today, so stop in there if you've got a word to say on the topic. "I'm not going to let my opinion of him outside the ring affect what I think of him inside the ring. I don't do that on the whole. I didn't do it with Austin, with Hogan, with Eddy Guerrero, etc... I'm not gonna do it with Goldberg. He's a charismatic, main event level talent. That's just what the WWE needs right now. The pieces fit, let's see if they stick together."

And I'm gonna call it a day with that. Better than an average show, with a great ending. That sounds like a seven to me.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

Friday, March 28, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE WrestleMania XIX Preview

It's Wrestlemania time again, is it? The event that started the PPV ball rolling, the big time, the main event. This is what wrestling fans live for, the one moment you can be absolutely sure everybody's watching. And, despite a poor year in terms of numbers and creativity, the WWE's pulled out all the stops in giving us yet another stupendous card. All the bases are covered Sunday, all the stars in appropriately massive matchups, and what's really surprising me isn't the importance of these matches... it's the freshness. With just a tiny shuffling of the cards, the promotion has delivered five main event-caliber matches that share one major aspect; they don't feel rehashed. Even Rock / Austin, the match we've seen twice before in the same environment, feels like something new. Of course, that has a lot to do with Rocky's rejuvinated new character, but the fact remains it's an exciting marquee matchup. Throughout all the shit we've put up with over the last twelve months, I've got to hand it to the WWE... when push comes to shove, they still know how to put together a dynamite lineup.

Lance Storm & Chief Morley (c) vs. Kane & Rob Van Dam
World Tag Team Titles

We've got one tag match I don't particularly care about, in The Undertaker & Nathan Jones vs. The A-Train & Big Show, and now we've got another tag match I don't particularly care about, in this collision. RVD and Kane are an uninspiring tag team. The only thing they could do to get any sort of interest from me whatsoever is break up, fight over who's responsible for costing them the tag team titles, and then move on. I've been a rather notable Rob Van Dam supporter over the last year, while my interest in Kane is virtually nonexistant. About five years ago, when he hadn't been involved in so many stupid storylines and blown so many feuds, when his character still made a little sense, when he didn't talk and when his wardrobe still looked OK, I could stand him. Now it's all just an overplayed excuse to shoot fire out of the ringposts and overuse the word "brimstone." Kane isn't a tag team wrestler, he's barely a singles wrestler. Meanwhile, I've enjoyed Storm and Morley's appearances over the last few months, no matter how many times they've wound up on the wrong side of a squash.

With three guys who can carry their own weight and one guy who's been carried through some good fights, this match shouldn't be awful by any stretch of the imagination. The deciding factor, really, will be whether these guys get scared in front of the big crowd or get motivated and put on the show of their lives. Storm and RVD put on some solid matches during their time together in ECW, and Morley's always been a diamond in the rough, but they've all had nights where nothing seems to go right. If we all keep our fingers crossed and the planets align just right, maybe this'll be one for the books. But.... I doubt it. Let's go with the heels again.
Winners: Lance Storm and Chief Morley

Victoria (c) vs. Trish Stratus vs. Jazz
WWE Women's Title

Should be the best Women's title match in the history of Wrestlemania. Which, looking back, isn't really saying all that much. Despite the title's ominous track record, though, Victoria, Trish and Jazz have been busting their humps over the last several months to give us a program that's worth getting excited over. Trish and Victoria's history together has intertwined flawlessly with the title's past around Jazz's waist, as well as "the bitch's" long series of programs against Stratus herself. Though the three-way feud has hit a few bumps through its development, they really hit a home run in my eyes on last week's RAW. A solid intergender tag match, followed by logical storyline development. That works for me, man.

These three should match up very well in the ring, so long as they can function as well in a three-way matchup as they each have the ability to in a regular one-on-one fight. My feelings on Jazz are very well known, I'm a huge fan. She knows what she's doing in the ring, and she knows how to make her offense look horrifyingly convincing. She's got a much more legitimate reason to be pursuing gold against the men than Chyna ever did. Victoria's improved by great strides as a character since her introduction, and remains a solid worker in the ring. She's moved past her initial struggles on the mic, and has learned to really become the character she's portraying. And Trish is, in my humble opinion, the Rock of the Women's division. There are better technicians, but she goes the furthest towards merging marketability, charisma, technique and appearance. She's the glue that holds the whole thing together. The major hurdle here isn't "who should go over," so much as it is "with whom should the victor feud after this match?" There really isn't anyone even in the same league as these three. My pick? You know I've gotta go with Jazz, shitty new intro music and all.
Winner: Jazz

Matt Hardy (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
WWE Cruiserweight Title

What happened to the "Junior" in Rey's name? Did they explain that away in a storyline I missed, or something? Whatever. This is the shot we've all been waiting for. The greatest cruiserweight in history gets his chance at legitimatizing the WWE's division, and the champion he's looking to take the gold off of is no slouch, either. Though my true cruiser dream match involves Rey facing off against TAKA Michinoku, I won't be complaining one bit when that bell rings and we're seeing these two clash. Matt is working Chris Jericho's old WCW "cruiserweight bully" gimmick, defending the title against guys who are visibly much smaller than he is, and doing very well with it. Meanwhile, Rey's been facing off against more and more heavy hitters since his debut on Smackdown months ago, to the point where this match almost seems like a step backwards for him. Seriously, he nearly defeated Kurt Angle at Summerslam, and he's facing Matt Hardy at WrestleMania? Tell me that's not a step back, and you're earnestly joking.

Yet, despite the perceived impact on Rey, this match should be out of the ballpark. I've been a huge fan of both these guys since Rey was dressed up like the Phantom in WCW and Matt was the more solid half of an emerging Hardy Boyz, managed by Michael Hayes. Mysterio knows how to dazzle with highspot after highspot, and Matt knows how to put all those pieces together into an impressive match. God, all Hardy really needs is a big time submission finisher, and his transformation into "Lionheart 2K3" will be complete. I'm looking forward to this match. There's nothing more I can really say, no further compliment I can truly offer. This will be the showstealer of 2003, so don't miss it. And, in my opinion, Matt's got more going for him at the moment.
Winner: Matt Hardy

Team Angle (c) vs. Los Guerreros vs. Chris Benoit & Rhyno
WWE Tag Team Titles

Perhaps more underbuilt than I would've liked. I'm a big fan of both guys, but there's no reason for Rhyno and Chris Benoit to be tagging together, let alone involved in this match. Los Guerreros and Team Angle have been at each other's throats, off and on, for months now. Benoit and Rhyno just kind of surfaced a couple weeks back and now find themselves a title contender. As Benoit's music proclaims; "Whatever." I'm not really a fan of the Eddy / Chavo segments we've been seeing. That little intro video, with their rotating heads and the old Adult Swim theme music, is hilarious, but the segments themselves are just needlessly stupid. They cheat at golf? OK... why do I care? Then again, they haven't revived Chavo's old horse, Pepe, so who am I to complain?

A lot of folks are coming down hard on Haas and Benjamin, but I've really enjoyed them since their introduction. I'm not sure if they should be tag team champions, but the way they were given the belts made so much sense, I can't help but enjoy their run. The Guerreros kicked the living hell out of them all match, but then made the mistake of overlooking which guy was the legal man and were called on it. It was a thinking man's victory, more than it was a fighting man's "W", and it's exactly the kind of thing I could see Kurt Angle himself doing in a similar situation. They're a little green in the ring, but I'd much rather see these guys perform than The Big Show & A-Train or The Undertaker & Nathan Jones. Count your blessings, haters! Team Angle to retain!
Winners: Team Angle

The Undertaker & Nathan Jones vs. The Big Show & A-Train

Let's count the bad gimmicks here; we've got a deranged moritician turned zombie turned lord of darkness turned cult leader turned biker roughneck, a deranged escaped convict turned pupil of said mortician / biker, the estranged son of Andre the giant turned monster truck driver turned immortal giant (I mean, he fell off a roof and wrestled later that SAME NIGHT!!) turned member of the nWo B&W turned smoking giant turned "amazing, tearing through the bottom of the ring man" turned comedy act turned nWo member turned biker hunter, and a guy with a hairy back turned son of George "the animal" Steele turned member of T&A turned member of X-Factor turned guy with a hairy back turned locomotive turned guy with a hairy back. I think that writeup alone should win me "best run-on sentence" in next year's Oratory awards. Whew... I had to take, like, three breaths in the middle of that.

If you're looking for something to miss while you head out to take a piss, this match won't disappoint. Maybe Nathan Jones will turn on his master or something. So that'd be one televised match wrestled, and one turn completed already. Nice.
Winners: The Big Show & A-Train

Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels

Man, I can hear John marking out from here. It's like Kamala and the Berzerker just pulled into his driveway in the same station wagon, and they need to use the phone. At any rate, there's good reason for my single-initial buddy to be shrieking and squealing like an underage girl at an N'Sync concert over the promise of this match. Truth be told, I've been dreaming of this "impossible feud" for quite some time, myself. And, when the storyline kicked off just before the Royal Rumble, I was eating it up like some crazy-ass candy, it was so good. These guys captured everything that makes a good feud with their first set of encounters, but a mistimed start date forced the writers to scramble for an opponent to face off with Y2J at No Way Out, so as to avoid shooting their wad a month early. As a result, the priceless electricity these two shared went away for a couple weeks, in favor of a Jericho / Test / Jeff Hardy series. Now that they're ready to get serious about it, the match doesn't mean as much as it did six or seven weeks ago. Sure, I'm anticipating the match... but not nearly as much so as I was before the whole "accidental striking of Stacey with a chair" thing.

Despite all that, these two need to really give us their all Sunday night, and I have no question they'll deliver. Jericho, especially, needs to erase his poor track record in the past. It always seems like Y2J has tremendous momentum going into a major match like this, but the match itself never gets the job done. He chokes under the pressure. Opposite the Heart Break Kid, though, I'm willing to bet that streak ends this time. These two should match up well together, and with Shawn's documented back problem and Jericho's finisher concentrating on the back so heavily, should have a really intriguing physical story already laid out before them. Michaels really needs to lay down for the younger guy here. It would mean so much for Jericho's career...
Winner: Chris Jericho

Triple H (c) vs. Booker T
World Heavyweight Title

Probably the most controversial match on the card. On one hand we've got the apparent bane of the "smart" crowd's existence, Triple H. Mr. "I'm so unfair, porking Stephanie and altering booking plans for my own betterment," the kind of guy every promotion seems to have. It's like promoters hire these kind of guys, just so the internet crowd has somebody to hate on. And, on the other hand you've got Booker T... a guy so wack, he made it into our banner. It's like David vs. Goliath, for the digital age.

I was really into the racial overtones in the build this match, as I stated on numerous occasions in the RAW Review, because it was really an unconventional way to go about promoting the match. Instead of discovering a silly quirk in Booker's past, playing a comedic video package or taking turns costing one another a match, Triple H went right after Booker personally. He didn't do anything out of left field, anything stupid, he merely came out to the ring the week after Booker's big win in the battle royal, and cut loose with a pretty solid display of psychological warfare. They didn't promote the idea of "white is greater than black," if anything it was completely the opposite. Triple H (the heel) is supposed to be despicable, to embody everything we hate about the world. We're meant to be screaming for his blood, not discussing the finer points of his speech and nodding our heads in approval like a line of bobble head dolls. No matter how ugly racism is, there are still people out there who think it's the right way of thinking, something worth believing in. And, unlike the majority of today's major storylines, this doesn't feel forced.. it's something you can BELIEVE people would come to blows over. The whole point is to get fans behind Booker T and opposite Triple H.

...and though they appear to have toned back the racist aspect of the feud, it's still a large part of why I'm looking forward to this match. Trips and Booker have had great chemistry together in the past, though their encounters have been extremely few and far between. Now, finally on the big stage with one another, I'm eagerly anticipating a large scale clash worth remembering. Both guys can really get around in the ring if they feel like it, but on the other hand both have had matches that are far from memorable. Despite the kiss of death Levesque delivered to his opponent by laying down for a clean 1-2-3 on RAW, I'm gonna go with the challenger here. Fans are getting sick of Triple H, and their interest in Booker is rising by the day. If Vince has ears on him, he'll realize where the fans' hearts are, and... y'know... Carpe diem.
Winner: Booker T

Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
WWE Title

It seems like all I've read since the revelation of Angle's neck injury is mourning and fears about the outcome of this match. It would appear as though everybody's all but written this one off the card, fearing Kurt's either going to kill himself by going through with this or ruin the potential of the match itself by taking on the kind of hype he can't possibly live up to. Personally, I don't think it's going to be as big of a burden as many seem to think. To those who are deeply doubting the possibilities here, I offer one example; King of the Ring, 2001. Chris Benoit wrestled in the main event of this Pay Per View with a debilitating neck injury that would require him to step away from the ring for over a year. But until the next night, when it was revealed he'd be leaving the promotion to undergo the operation, you couldn't even tell. He wrestled a full throttle match against Steve Austin and Chris Jericho that night, and returned a year later without missing a step. So it's with that match in mind that I'm not allowing the news of Angle's upcoming surgery spoil the build for one of the biggest title matches in recent memory.

I think these guys are gonna go in there and burn the fucking house down Sunday night. There's a reason they've saved this matchup for the biggest show of the year.. it's not just a coincidence, like the Title match from RAW's side. These are two guys who made their names by wrestling extraordinarily well. This is a match that's been building since the WWE signed Brock Lesnar years ago, and started him down the path towards a position on the big stage. It's two guys who've been doing this (or something extremely similar) for the vast majority of their lives, and doing it well. It'll merit buying the DVD of this event, when released, entirely on its own. It's just a shame we'll have to wait so long for a rematch.
Winner: Brock Lesnar

Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon
Street Fight: Hulk Hogan's Career is on the Line

Twenty years in the making? OK. I don't really care about this match. I thought it was a stupid idea when I first caught wind of it last summer, and I think it's a stupid idea today. It's not going to mean as much as McMahon / Austin, because there's nothing to make us care about it like there was with McMahon / Austin. They dedicated ELEVEN MONTHS to the build of that one match, so that fans were frothing at the mouth to see it, no matter how many stunners they'd seen Vince take in the past. On the same hand, it doesn't mean as much as Hogan / Rock I, because the shock value just isn't there. The magic was seeping out of those segments with the Hulkster and the Great One, it was a match we never, EVER thought we'd see. I still get goosebumps, thinking about that terrific, swooping camera shot that caught Rocky on the top turnbuckle and Hogan waiting in the ring when they first met eye to eye on that memorable episode of RAW. So, in effect, they're trying to capture two different bolts of lightning in two different bottles at the same time with this match. I'm afraid it's gonna fall flat on its face.

I don't like watching Vince McMahon wrestle, unless his opponent is named Shane. I also don't like watching Hogan wrestle. Period. I don't think a match that promised Chris Benoit utterly and soundly defeating the Hulkster in every aspect of the match could excite me about a Hogan match. Wait, scratch that... that's the one Hogan match I'd be interested in watching. Well, that and Hogan / Austin, the clash of the WWE's two biggest names EVER, which is my pick for next year's main event at Wrestlemania XX. So, OK, I only like watching Hogan wrestle when it's going to mean something profound. Which this isn't. Let's all cross our fingers and pray to the wrestle-gods that the rumors of this going upwards of twenty minutes are just that. Yikes. I know no hell like Hogan / McMahon for that kind of a stretch. I'm feeling punchy, so we'll go with the Hulkster winning this one.
Winner: Hulk Hogan

The Rock vs. Steve Austin

How can you watch two guys fight so many times and never grow tired of it? I can't comprehend how these two got to be so very good at what they do, but I'm more than willing to watch it again. Though Austin's character isn't worth going into detail over, since we've seen it all before, Rocky's making up for all that and then some. His new heel persona has been white hot since debuting last month, and long overdue. Hell, I was calling for the Rock to turn at WrestleMania X7. Still, after years of waiting, this has been worth it. The guitar, the mini-feud with the Hurricane, the new entrance video, the's exactly what needed to be done. It's a perfect package, and it's given Rocky himself (and this feud) new life.

When we look back at this one years from now, it'll be remembered as the night of Austin's judgment. Was he worth bringing back? Can he still do what he did best, or is he all washed up? Despite his unremarkable return to the old, forgotten form outside the ring, I'm willing to bet he's still got some "oomph" left in his step in the ring. The thing is, I'm of the firm belief that Rocky needs this win. He's bone without a definitive victory on PPV for quite some time (I'm not gonna count that tainted victory over Hogan last month), and is on the verge of losing his credibility as a prime time player. So, despite Austin's much-ballyhooed comeback, I'm gonna go with the Great One here. Not only does he need the win, he deserves it.
Winner: The Rock

In Closing...

I think I've honestly said it all. If I wasn't excited before sitting down to write all this up, I'm most definitely excited now. No matter how bad the year, we can always rely in WrestleMania to make all the crap we put up with worthwhile. Unless the WrestleMania in question is number nine. Or number thirteen, apart from Hart / Austin. Sure, we'll suffer through that bad, bad Smackdown hoss tag match. We'll cry for all the wrong reasons during McMahon / Hogan. But all the Hulk / Vince contract signings in the world couldn't add up to anything that's gonna make Angle / Lesnar any less special. All the hairs on Albert's back can't take away the magic of Rock / Austin, or Jericho / Michaels. Just like I was sixteen years ago, when I caught my first 'Mania, I'll be watching this one. Starstruck, and loving every minute of it.
until next time, i remain

Monday, March 24, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 03/24/03

Well, it's go time. This is our last regularly scheduled RRC check-in before WrestleMania, and I've got to admit this week's build left me feeling a little bit flat. With the exception of the reinvention of the Rock and, to a lesser degree, the HBK / Y2J feud , this just didn't feel like that last big push RAW needed going in.

We opened the show with Lilian Garcia's rendition of the National Anthem, which she's had plenty of time to hone in on after singing it prior to every WWE event in the last three years. Nice camerawork, zooming in on a patch of audience members who stood, nearly asleep, with their hats still firmly placed over their heads throughout the song. I'm far, far, far from the most patriotic person in the world... but if people are dying out there in the name of freedom, the least you can do is wiggle that fat arm up above your head and remove your hat. Despite the visible losers, it was still cool to hear an old "U-S-A!" chant take off as the show opened up.

We then dive right on into an Austin segment, as I notice almost immediately the lack of an entrance ramp and predict the arrival of a Stone Cold vehicle before the end of the show. Perhaps combining a half dozen played-out, overdone angles all into one segment, Austin bitches at the boss, stages a one-man "sit in" in the middle of the ring, delivers stunners to fellow wrestlers for no reason, confronts a row of policemen, is barred from the building and defies authority by returning later in the evening. In a truck, no less. I was reaaaally hoping this Austin / Bischoff feud would amount to something new, but this watered down "Stone Cold vs. The MAN" storyline we're getting is already on my nerves. Eric's a guy who built an empire around his own ability to recognize Vince McMahon's mistakes and avoid repeating them himself. So why would he, as a character, even THINK about handling Steve Austin in the exact same fashion as Vinny Mac? It's stupid, and I'm sickened by how quickly they've fallen back onto this old storyline again. The segment did nothing for me, apart from the moment Lance Storm ran in and tried to pin Test before he recovered from the stunner. Well... that, and Rocky's timid guitar-based intimidation. See, guys, that's called "performing in character." It works, because that's something you can believe these two guys would do.

The mixed tag match worked very well in my eyes. Everything was tight, everybody matched off together relatively well (despite some noticeable hesitations between Trish and Victoria), and the right team won. The match was a bit short for my money, with a damned stupid finish (Richards was so stunned, after Trish gently pushed off of his chest with her feet, that he couldn't move the three feet to break up the pinfall?) but I'll take what I can get. The story between Trish and Jeff Hardy is going in a different direction than I'd hoped, as she looks to be into it. From what I read last week, I was under the impression that she didn't appreciate the rainbow-colored Hardy's affections, which sent my little mind a-spinning with ideas. I came in this week, just waiting to see Jeff try for another smooch, only to be pushed away and spiral into further lunacy as a result. I guess the whole locker room's just one big orgy waiting to happen, though, and Trish doesn't mind another partner. Great closing segment on the "ramp", with Jazz flattening both of her opponents. Trish, especially, seemed legitimately blindsided by her rival, and it lendt a sense of realism that gave the whole bit a nice little edge to it.

Christian and Scott Steiner had a surprisingly good matchup, as well. To my ears, the audience seemed to become extremely vicious midway through, hounding Scotty whenever he took over on offense. Big time kudos to both guys, regardless, as they worked a very well put-together match and turned around what could've been a horrible segment. Steiner focused on power, while Christian told a great story centering around Steiner's neck and came off looking much more successful than I ever would've predicted. Though he lost the match, Edge's little brother gained a little bit of legitimacy by giving last month's World Title contender a close call.

I was digging the Booker T & Goldust / Ric Flair & HHH match until we hit the commercial break. Shortly after we came back from those "words from the sponsors," things fell apart. Like Corey, I noticed the lack of a racial overtone to this match, and thought I saw the golden opportunity they would use to replace it at Wrestlemania when both heels started to tear into Booker's leg. I would've LOVED to see them work an uphill battle sort of angle at 'Mania, focusing the entire match on Booker's struggle to compete with a leg injured at the hands of Flair and the Champion. But alas, once again I was reading far too much into things, and by the match's conclusion Booker was strolling around, hitting legdrops and pinning the champ as though nobody had even brushed up against that leg of his. Nice little post-match promo by Trips, giving us more to think about going into Wrestlemania than we had after four weeks' worth of build.

The Jericho / HBK segment was almost a classic, and to it's credit remained very, very good. I'm really a fan of the cool, collected Y2J. There's a certain honesty that always leaks through the facade he attempts to put up, and whether it's purposeful or not, it's perhaps the one really original facet of his character. I hated that checkerboard outfit, and it's struggle to avoid ripping at the seams almost ruined the moment for me, but the animosity these guys share made up for it. The faceoff wasn't as electric as it was about six weeks ago, when the bookers decided to let Jericho waste time with Test and Jeff Hardy, but there's still some weighty stuff about to go down between these two. I'll enjoy their match at WrestleMania, no doubts whatsoever.

I like RVD / Kane vs. Storm & Morley, despite the sudden dropping of the obvious Dudleys vs. Storm & Regal match that was built toward, for two reasons. One, I like the Dudleys 100% more when they're heels. And two, I can finally see this leading to the big Kane / RVD split and feud that Justin's been praying for over the last fifteen, twenty RRCs.

Finally, we got the heavily promoted "Rock Concert," which delivered in spades. The way he maneuvered that audience from loving him to screaming for his blood within half a minute was simply amazing. All of his songs sounded remarkably similar, but the rotating lyrics more than made up for that. I was digging the HELL out of this until the last couple songs. I think it was right about the beginning of his cover of I'll Do it My Way that I said to myself "OK, that's enough. Let's wrap it up..." Then we cleaned it all up with, what else, Austin's truck on the entryway and Austin destroying Rocky's precious guitar. I mildly appreciated the swerve, delivering the Hurricane in the driver's seat and not Austin, but that was spoiled when the police nonsensically arrested him, paving the way for the obvious.

I'd have much rather seen the Smackdown snippets interspersed throughout the show, rather than thrown in at the very end. The last moments of RAW should leave the viewer hanging, begging for more. It should be dynamic, it should leave a major visual in their mind. Instead, we saw some video packages, then JR and the King wishing us well as the show faded to black. Not really what I'd call momentum, more like a moratorium.

I'm excited about WrestleMania, but not based off of what I saw Monday night. We got a couple good TV matches, nice segments between Y2J & HBK, and Jazz, Trish and Victoria, a great Rock promo and nothing more. That sounds like an above average show to me, but nothing instantly memorable or legendary. Needed a swift kick in the ass, and a little IMAGINATION in the Austin segments. Is that too much to ask?"

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.75

Monday, March 10, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 03/10/03

You know, with only two scores on this week's RRC, I could really play god here and mold the program into whatever I want it to be. Seriously, if I gave this show a ten it'd be the highest-rated RAW ever. Or I could give it, like, a minus 79 and it'd be by far the worst. This new sense of power is like nothing I've ever known before... but will I use it for god, or evil?!? Muhahahhaaa..

Well, they made sure to show us Kane's pyro going off in the center of the ring before that opener, so... yeah, you know what kind of an omen that is for the big red machine. RVD looked particularly sloppy last night, the first time I can really recall him looking like he didn't give a shit how the match was gonna turn out. Christian more than made up for it with his selling, though. He was bouncing all over that ring, really doing his best to make the match better than it was. Everything he (and, to a lesser degree, Jericho) did just snapped particularly well under the big lights of this past RAW. Thumbs up to him for that, and to WWE for not only giving us a clean heel victory, but for doing so in a way that both makes sense and makes Jericho look like an honestly intelligent competitor. I don't buy the Lionsault as a finisher any more, and I think I'm in the majority on that one, but pairing it with RVD's consistent overselling of his own five star frog splash works for me. Now if they'd just hurry this RVD / Kane split along, so we can get the two of them out of the tag scene...

Nice vintage HBK spot to close the whole thing out, too, reliving the build to Wrestlemania XIV with Austin. Remember that match on RAW between Austin and Kane that DX spoiled, a week or two before 'Mania that year? This looked like a little homage to that, in my eyes. But my eyes are usually known for digging out entirely irrelevant and coincidental facts like that. Good segment, I'm anxious to see this feud grow heated again.

But why did JR mention Sarasota during the superkick segment? I live in Sarasota. Was it one of those moments where they superimpose a pre-recorded voice over the live commentary, thereby customizing the call for every viewing market? Did folks in Montreal hear JR shout "They heard that superkick all the way in... Montreal!" What did they do for the Cleveland viewing audience, where the show was being broadcast? "They heard that superkick all the way in... Cleveland!!" Am I running with this thing too far...?

I don't care what they say, I thought Booker did a great job on the mic last night. It's not what the audience was expecting to hear from him, but I think it's exactly the kind of thing they need to do with him right now. At the moment, he's the guy who does the kicks, and then breakdances when he wins. Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, the Rock... even Brock Lesnar all have well-defined characters, while Booker's still just a guy with short dreds who.... breakdances when he wins. And, if you know me, you know I love seeing believable storylines. Booker came across as a guy who learned restraint from his past, somebody who made a mistake, paid the price and grew as a person because of it. He's not squeaky clean, but he's not a lost cause either. I enjoyed his speech and his promo with Flair, but wondered where all that talk of restraint went when he ran into Triple H backstage. They're keeping it subtle, and they're doing it right... I'm pleased with the way this angle is turning out.

I missed the Jeff Hardy / Rico match, but from what I've read I didn't miss much.

Sue me, I really liked everything involving Triple H last night. Though we didn't hear most of it due to technical difficulties, the end of his little segment with Maven backstage did its job. It gave us a reason to get behind Maven, a notorious heat-suction machine, and put Trips over even further as a cocky backstage bastard. Even Maven's dialogue didn't come across as excessively wordy, out of place, or even really scripted. It looked like a genuine reaction, which should be the goal for both the writers and the performers.

Rock and Hurricane were amusing again last night, and it's good that they wrapped up this mini-feud when they did, because it was starting to lag a little. So now that the entire feud is complete, the end result is... I can't look at Hurricane anymore without noticing how desperately he's trying to hide his braces. Even his little pre-match faceoff video ends with a still shot of his giving a thumbs up that covers his entire mouth.

I enjoyed the end result of the women's match, though I can't say the same for the means. We waited through a twenty minute commercial break for that...??!

I thought Eric Bischoff was coming off well during the interview portion of his interaction with Austin. They looked to be really trying to steer this away from a re-enactment of the old Austin / McMahon variable, which is exactly what they need for it to work. Bischoff appeared headstrong, a guy who knows he can't compete physically with Stone Cold, but is more than willing to try mentally. And then they killed the whole dynamic by booking an Austin / Bischoff rematch next week on RAW. Gah, throw this whole segment away now. It's worthless, despite Rock's great involvement.

I had no problem with Triple H's work in the ring last night, either. He gave Maven several opportunities to get the crowd into it, but the Tough Enough alum didn't do well under the pressure and wound up looking completely useless. This would've been perfect if Booker had come to the ring and faced off with his opponent at the end, rather than Al Snow performing a quick job, but that wasn't meant to be. In the end, the segment did its job; it made Triple H look like a convincing champion, an undeniable force and a fucking prick for beating the life out of a rookie in his big spotlight. This wasn't on the same level as Triple H vs. TAKA from 2000, because it wasn't the same set of circumstances. TAKA had two guys outside the ring to watch his back, aid him when he was in trouble and mess with HHH's mentality. He was more experienced in the ring, and his style was much more convincing. And, at the same time, Trips wasn't as confident a main eventer either. Both matches played out more or less as they should have, though one was undeniably much more exciting to watch.

I was really confused about what they were trying to do with another Dudleyz / Morley match involving the brothers' suspension, but then I gave it a little thought. Chief Morley, as Eric Bischoff's second in command, should be interested primarily in two things; entertaining the audience (thus keeping the ratings up), and cutting costs wherever possible. So how does he accomplish this..? He suspends without pay the Dudley Boyz, a fan favorite tag team, but keeps teasing them with chances to regain their status as paid superstars. In effect, he's simultaneously giving the fans matches involving a popular team, motivating said team to perform at a higher level than usual (increasing the match quality), and cutting costs by wrestling the matches himself against a team that's working for free. Though I'm not sure if anybody really put that much thought into it on the WWE's end, that's what the end result looks like from my end. As such, it's keeping Morley over and active, as well as giving the Dudleys something to do while they wait for a tag title match at WrestleMania.

I'll reinforce everyone's opinion that the wet T-Shirt contest was pointless without white shirts. But how many of you honestly thought they'd get away with anything that risque anyway?

The main event was fun, if perhaps a slight letdown. Hurricane was showing some of his wear and tear from various injuries over the last few weeks, and as a result missed some of his spots and looked extremely winded at the end of the match. Rock did his best to transform this into a great match, and to his credit did a magnificent job of it. In the end, though, I wasn't getting the same sort of reaction JR was trying to invoke. It didn't feel like as major a moment as, say, Shawn Michaels struggling to the top of a ladder at Wrestlemania X, or even Jeff Hardy climbing the ladder against the Undertaker. I was hoping the constant prodding and teasing from Rocky would lead to a more serious Helms, dropping the silly Hurricane gimmick and really breaking out as a serious competitor. And, god bless 'em, I thought they were gonna do it when Helms looked up and saw Rocky running around in his cape. No dice, though, no dice.

All in all, I enjoyed the show. It felt a little light, like they were glossing over a lot of stuff, but there's still time to correct all that in time for WrestleMania. Not the best RAW I've ever seen, but better than last week's. Above average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.75

Monday, March 3, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 03/03/03

I was really excited to see RAW last night. We had Booker's main event run ready to come together, we had the continued presence of the Rock, perhaps the freshest guy in the WWE at the moment, we had a Y2J / HBK Wrestlemania date to set, and the return of this bald headed redneck you might have heard of. The table was set, the silverware was spotless, and the turkey was in the oven. All the writers really had to do was sit their visitors down, pull the meal out, and manage to get it from the kitchen to the dining room table without tripping over their own two feet. If that metaphor went a little lofty for ya, fear not; what I meant to say was "they had this thing in the bag before the night even started." So why do I feel so tremendously let down?

Booker had the rug pulled out from under him last night, but it didn't happen until later in the broadcast. For the most part, I really enjoyed the Triple H promo. He didn't discover some lurid detail from Booker's not-so-distant past. He didn't show this finely tuned "let's make fun of our opponent" video package, or swing a rubber sledgehammer at the challenger. He didn't do anything entirely unbelievable and stupid, he merely came to the ring and waged a dynamic example of psychological warfare. Booker gets cheers from the crowd for his spinaroonie, but you can't argue that it's pretty damn silly. Book deserved a reign as WCW champion, but there's no question it was marred by the names Triple H mentioned in his little promo. If there was a racist slant to the speech, (which I certainly detected, whether intentional or not) more power to him. It's not like they're promoting the idea of "whitey over blackie," Triple H is the HEEL. He's supposed to be despicable, to do things that make you hate him and scream for his blood. I, for one, applaud the realistic direction they're taking with it if that is indeed where they're headed. No matter how ugly racism is, there really are guys out there who think it's the right thing to believe in. And, unlike most of wrestling's storylines these days, it's an issue you can BELIEVE guys would come to blows over. The whole point here is to make you root strongly for Booker T, and I think this little segment went a long way toward doing that. We got the idea that Trips thinks Booker is below him as an athlete, an entertainer, a thinker, and most of all a person. I, for one, know a great number of people who treat others that way... and I'd love to see them get what they deserve for it. Thumbs up from me for this one.

Eric Bischoff lined up his welcoming committee with "Tools of the trade" to help them in their effort; a 2x4 and some pipes. What "trade" are these the tools of...? Carpentry and plumbing?

I was all set to tear apart Jerry Lawler, for completely forgetting his role as an announcer to look stronger as an individual when Sean Morley was on his way to ringside. Lawler started taunting him, minimalizing the wrestler's ability as a young athlete, but then promptly did an about-face and told us about what a tough grappler Morley really was. So kudos to him, he's not the complete ass I thought he was.

Great segment between the Rock and Hurricane, picking up right where they left off last week. The Rock's subtle nuances are just awesome. Closing the curtain to the cubby again after discovering the Hurricane inside, glaring angrily at the imaginary audience in the upper right corner of the screen, carrying on a conversation with his unit. He's seriously on fire right now, he's having a good time and it's obvious. He may have made a mistake by mentioning the Hurricane's braces on-air, as I didn't notice them beforehand and afterwards couldn't take my eyes off them. Whatcha gonna do now, though? Just once, I'd like to see a Hurricane promo from a wider angle. You know, so we can watch him run away in uneasy silence after he's said his piece, done that little "flip the cape" bit and dashed away from his opponent.

Damn you, Bower! I came out all ready to make my Chris Jericho / Jim Neidhart comparison this week, and you go and spoil it in the spot before mine. Seriously, any guy who can use a brush on his beard is OK by me. That's just wicked cool.

The Y2J / Test blowoff was everything it needed to be; somewhat quick, and entirely decisive. There's no question who the better mind was after all that's been said and done. Jericho came out with the somewhat clean pinfall, had Stacey completely at his mercy, in the process taking Test directly out of the picture. It's not gonna be an easy loss for Test himself to recover from, but it had to be done. Great series of chairshots at the end there, split between HBK and Test himself, though I've seen Shawn get up and wrestle after more than that in the past. Regardless, I won't nitpick about what was a really nice segment that totally revitalized the lagging Jericho / Michaels tension. Going into the match I was getting a little worried about that feud, but I'm completely at ease with the way it's headed now.

Here's the part of the show where the writers decided to undo all the good they'd done for Booker T at the opening of the show, by effectively jobbing him out to Scott Steiner. It sucks, because the first part of this match was much better than it ever should have been. Scotty and Booker were working to make this something worth our time, landing a cool set of reversals midway through the opening flurry and matching up relatively well against one another. And then, from out of nowhere, Scotty sat down on the Steiner Recliner, Triple H came to ringside, and "Big Poppa Pump" all but no-sold Booker's finishing combo. Take away any one of those screw-ups, and the segment may have been salvageable. As is, it really, really hurt one of Wrestlemania's marquee matches.

RVD & Kane vs. Al Snow & Tommy Dreamer was about worthless. I do NOT miss the Hardcore division, and this is a prime reason why. The prevalent attitude for these junk brawls seems to be "Let's swing some aluminum around, roll out to the floor more often than necessary and act like we're in pain." The kicker for this match came before the opening bell had even rung; Al Snow rode a shopping cart to the ring, wearing a motorcycle helmet. When Kane met him on the floor, what was the first thing the "big red machine" did? Hit him with a forearm to the head... while he was STILL WEARING THE HELMET. And fucking Snow sold it. Good lord, take the pain away. My eyes hurt from rolling so many times in such a sort span of time.

I didn't find Austin to be as ill-received as Justin did, though I'll admit his return to RAW didn't invoke the kind of explosion that Chris Benoit or Triple H's comebacks did. He and the Rock played extremely well off of one another, despite the fact Austin didn't say a word to him, and I'll admit I got those shivers down my spine again when the two of them faced off in the middle of the ring. I just didn't remember Rocky being so much taller than the Rattlesnake. All in all, that little moment when the two of them went nose to nose was almost worth waiting through the entire program to see. I'm not crazy about the way they worked Booker T's title shot into the mix, but I'll hold off on commenting on that until next week, when the match itself plays out.

I haven't really said anything in a public forum to state my opinion on Austin's return, so I'll take this opportunity to do so. I think Steve's a tremendous talent, a legendary entertainer and one hell of a package. He possesses the ability to make or break any feud single handedly, something that only a few men have ever been able to do throughout history. Unfortunately, his character's been in steady decline since he turned heel two years ago. His best years are behind him, but I think he's still got a couple good years left in the ring. His job right now should be to re-establish himself as a major power, and then slowly work to spread that establishment around the next generation of main eventers. He owes Benoit an extended series. He's got unfinished business with Eddy Guerrero. He's never had the big money match against Chris Jericho. He needs to lie down cleanly for one, if not two, of those three guys.

Austin's private life is just that; private. I won't say anything like "I won't watch Stone Cold because he beats his wife," because it doesn't affect the fact he's a solid player on my TV. Lord knows I've watched assholes in various forms of media and entertainment in the past, and enjoyed their contributions. Chevy Chase is, from all indications, a royal fucker... but National Lampoon's Vacation is still a hysterical movie, and Chevy's gold in it. What Austin did to his wife is inexcusable, and something that I didn't like to hear. It was also something that was none of my business, as a wrestling fan. I'll enjoy his work if it entertains me. If it doesn't, I won't. But I won't refuse to watch somebody who's a bonafide legend, because of something he did on his own time.

That does it for me. There were still some moments of greatness peeking through this show, but there was also a lot of crap weighting those moments down. This was a big step down from what we saw last week, but still better than what we were watching three or four months ago. I'd like to see some improvements, but I'd like a lot of things...

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6