Monday, August 25, 2003

Ringside Shadows #188: The RAW Face Predicament

Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment likes its roles clean cut. It likes an easily discernable face and a heel, someone the crowd is encouraged to cheer, and someone the crowd would be nuts not to hate. It's an admirable distinction, if perhaps a slightly dated one, and is one of the commandments around which life in the federation is based. It's all but written in stone, especially when the match in question is the card's main event. I could count on one hand the amount of WWF / WWE title matches which featured a face taking on another face. As such, the main events themselves must be kept under close scrutiny. By limiting the number of potential conflicts in this fashion, you're effectively cutting half the roster out of active contention for the title at any time. For instance, Chris Jericho will never get a singles match with Triple H in Pay Per View, so long as the both of them remain heels and one or the other has the title. The balancing act of maintaining a fresh title scene under these restrictions has been one of the traditional indicators of how a particular federation is faring at any given moment, and it's something that carries over to today, with the battle between RAW and Smackdown.

While Smackdown is now faced with the enviable problem of which deserving athlete to elevate next, RAW is choking on precisely the opposite situation. Fans have held up their end of the bargain on Thursday nights, enduring and learning to enjoy the very limited main event scene they've been granted over the last eight months. They've restricted their diet to World Title matches involving the Big Show, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, almost exclusively. John Cena and Chris Benoit were involved, very fleetingly, but on the whole that's been the extent of the scene. Now, thanks to the length of their planning, the dedication of bookers to stick by their guns despite early uncertainties, and some outstanding work from the entire roster, they're ready to bring up a couple new names from an overflowing midcard. Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, John Cena, Rhyno, Rey Mysterio... any one of them could be believably pushed up to the main event within the next thirty days, and they could thrive with the opportunity.

RAW, on the other hand, is in the middle of a desert with no gas. They've burned through their main event talent with frightening speed, and now find themselves in the middle of nowhere with no means to carry on. Triple H has effectively stopped every single challenge to his throne on more than one occasion, and the atmosphere on any given airing of RAW is that of utter defeat. Several strong heels are nipping at his feet, ready for their chance to run with the company's top honor, but because of their identical roles as heels, they won't get the opportunity. It's honestly very similar to the feeling that permeated every showing of Nitro, in the months that followed Starrcade 1997. The nWo had shut down WCW's last hope, and the audience just wasn't excited about life any more.

On its roster, RAW has six faces in or around main event level. Six guys with the credibility, crowd support and background to take the title from Triple H and move beyond him, to fights with the overpowering heel population of the RAW brand. They've all been granted a chance to take the title over the last year, and with one short exception they've all failed.

Scott Steiner took his chances at the Royal Rumble of 2002 and No Way Out of 2003. On both occasions, he came up short. Just one month later, at WrestleMania, he was nowhere to be found. The man with "the largest arms in the world," who had made his triumphant return to the spotlight after a year's worth of rumors, hints and indications, had come and gone within the span of sixty days. The most over man on the roster in the weeks leading up to the Rumble, Scott put on an ugly match at that event and never really recovered from it in the public's eyes. He's since been slowly rebuilding himself at the bottom of the midcard, working with Chris Nowinski, Three Minute Warning and Test. With the blowoff of his long-standing rivalry with Test apparently out of the way this past week on RAW, Steiner is once again in position to make a play for the top of the card. Matched up with one of the program's higher-seated heels, he could possibly make his way back into a position to challenge for the title somewhere in the next three or four months. That's too late for RAW's current needs, but could be helpful if the problem persists further down the line. I wouldn't write him off in the long run, but for right now he's out of the picture.

Booker T had a much-ballyhooed shot at the title at WrestleMania XIX this past March. Despite putting on a string of good to great matches, retaining the sympathies of the crowd and devoting himself to the development of his character as a serious competitor, he was pinned cleanly and decisively at the big event. Of all the faces on RAW, Booker was the only one to invoke a sense of fear into the current champ, which is something I'm sure could be put to great use if he's ever given the opportunity again. After dropping his title shot at the year's biggest card, Booker tumbled down the card, directionless and hopeless. He eventually landed in the relaunched Intercontinental Title picture, feuded with Christian for several months over it, and won their blowoff before suffering an untimely injury that forced him to drop the belt not long after winning it. With the efforts of Vince's marketing machine behind him, Booker was excited about his spot on the card going into WrestleMania and it was infectious. When his support faded away and he went into freefall after the event, Booker's enthusiasm vanished, along with the audience's cheers. Now that he's on the injured list, after losing steam and eventually settling into the IC title hunt, Booker's almost an afterthought.

Rob Van Dam, still perhaps the face with the largest fan support on the roster, has been constantly shafted and shuffled away from the World Title for his efforts. RVD's had several shots at taking the belt over the last year and a half, spread across the year in an almost random fashion. It would seem that someone has it in for the man, who has consistently defied the odds by taking each consecutive loss in stride and picking up exactly where he left off. He's dropped big match after big match, yet the crowd's cheers have only grown louder after every loss. He is, without question, the face most deserving of carrying RAW's World Title at the moment, but I know I'm not alone in believing that elusive victory is just not in the cards for him. Not if his recent destruction at the hands of Kane is any indication, at any rate. The crowd likes the guy, he's unsinkable, he speaks his mind and he's the owner of an outrageously unique moveset. If his character were a little better-rounded, he'd almost be too good to be true. But in the end, the bookers' lack of faith in him is his undoing. It would take a concentrated effort and several months of high profile victories to get him back into a position where winning the World Title wouldn't be from so far out of left field.

Shawn Michaels seems to be the only face on the roster to meet relative success against the current champ, defeating him twice in singles combat... once with the title on the line. He took the belt from Trips in the original Elimination Chamber, pinning the champion at last year's Survivor Series before returning the favor less than a month later. Occupying himself with feuds opposite Chris Jericho and Randy Orton in the months after his series with the champion, with very strong results, Michaels has one very notable chink in his armor; he's not a full time wrestler. Working through the back injury that committed him to premature retirement five years ago, Michaels still works only pay per views and a very occasional RAW. In terms of credibility, he's right there. I'd almost peg him as the most likely to take the title again, if not for that one flaw. And, even if they won't admit it, that fact looms in the back of every viewer's mind when they see HBK active in the ring once again. It's a difficult obstacle to hurdle, and all but completely eliminates him from contention at the very top of the card. Even if he wins the title another time, everyone watching at home knows it's merely a transitional reign.

Kevin Nash returned a full week after WrestleMania and, in the same fashion as Scott Steiner, promptly marched directly into a three month long feud against Triple H. Nash was Hunter's opponent at the Judgment Day and Bad Blood PPVs of 2003, taking the first win by disqualification and losing the blowoff in a brutal Hell in a Cell brawl. More so than any other man on this list, Kevin Nash's run for the title was met by the complete and utter disapproval of the viewing audience as a whole. Crowds were turned off by the new direction writers took with Nash's character, deviating from the cocky, fun-loving, cool guy attitude that defined him before his injury and serving up an angrier, less vocal "Big Sexy." The cold reception Nash received during his title shots poisoned his character for months to come, to the point that even now he receives perhaps a 60-40 face reaction at best. Nash is now, at best, fodder for an up and coming heel. His poor workrate and moveset have only become worse after his injury, and even his promos have taken a turn in the wrong direction. He's aging poorly, and I'd be surprised to see him near the top of the card as far as three months from now.

Finally, Bill Goldberg is the current champ's most recent victim. After blasting his way through The Rock and Chris Jericho, Goldberg stalled out in the eyes of the common fan. By involving him in extended, elaborate storylines, World Wrestling Entertainment took out the spontaneity and explosive nature that made him such a fan favorite in the first place. Confused, audiences couldn't decide how to react and his stock started to fall. Now, finally pushed in a manner similar to his original WCW run, Goldberg is back on top of his game. In the months before last night's Summerslam card, his matches were short, one-sided and convincing. He'd enter the ring, decapitate his opponent, spear them and jackhammer them for the victory. And, to their credit, he carried right on in that manner through the majority of the Elimination Chamber last night, pinning Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened at the match's finish. Triple H pinned him after a shot with his sledgehammer, effectively retaining the title and stopping the unstoppable. While it's too soon to say the story's over for Goldberg, his reputation has most certainly been damaged. This is the guy who stood up from a rock bottom and four or five horrendous chairshots back on the eve of "The Rock Concert II," yet the current champion pinned his shoulders to the mat after a single sledgehammer shot. Bill's still got a chance, as he prepared himself for the loss by obliterating two bonafide legends and one future main eventer, but the fact remains that Trips did to him what no one else could.

And, bluntly enough, that is IT. While there remain a few faces on RAW's roster that I haven't covered, guys like Maven, the Hurricane or Tommy Dreamer, they're all so far out of Triple H's league that a title defense, even a somewhat unsuccessful one, would be emotionless and uninspiring. Likewise, former instant threats like Steve Austin, Mick Foley and the Rock, perennial fan favorites with the credibility to give a PPV main event heat merely by association, have disappeared from the picture entirely. Gone are the days when somebody like TAKA Michinoku could make a legitimate stab at the World Title, convincing the audience in attendance that they were almost guaranteed a title change before their very eyes. In their place are these days of indecision, of hesitation and of near-boredom. Now that he's crushed every legitimate challenger to his throne, where does Triple H go with the World Title next? Is a World that's so easily conquered worth ruling?

Even the old well has run dry. Where in the past, the WWF could turn to their competition when the main event scene grew stale, signing away an upper tier star or a diamond in the rough and exciting fans with a mere unannounced arrival, today no such competition still exists. NWA: TNA is so far below World Wrestling Entertainment in the public's perception, that even if Jeff Jarrett, AJ Styles, Raven and Low Ki walked out on RAW's ramp, 90% of the audience wouldn't know who they were. Perception is reality, especially in professional wrestling, and if these guys were perceived as minor leaguers and no-names right off the bat, no matter how strongly they were booked, it would be months before the crowds started to buy them as legitimate threats to the title. And even then, the law of averages states that one or two of them would turn heel within the first couple months.

It's a tough predicament Vince McMahon and company have found themselves in, one I'm completely unsure about how they can dig themselves out of. That means one of two things; either they have absolutely no idea what to do, and they'll keep throwing shit at the wall until some of it sticks... or maybe, just maybe, they have an enormous surprise right around the corner. For the sake of modern professional wrestling, (and for the fans who watch it every Monday night) I hope against hope that it's the latter. As should you.
until then, i remain

WWE RAW Review: 08/25/03

A really off balance, bizarre program, coming off the second most important PPV of the year. At the time it first aired, I had a big problem with the way they used the main event of WrestleMania 2000 as a lead-in to Backlash 2000, and that's something I've still got a problem with today. There's little I hate more than when the bookers use one of the "big four" PPVs to try and gather buyrates for the lower rung show they'll be putting on thirty days later, which is pretty much exactly what we saw Sunday night in the Elimination Chamber. Then they carried that momentum over to RAW, which is where the majority of the booking for said PPV should happen, and... wasted time with worthless, non-payable storylines and angles?! What the hell?? So they're asking you to PAY for the shows that merely build to the next month's show, and they waste away every minute of TV time with stuff nobody in their right mind would want to see. I don't understand.

But I'm getting off on the wrong foot. I honestly did like a lot of what I saw last night. It's just that it's become really easy to let the pitch black nature of the bad stuff cloud over the spots of inspiration and good writing that were trying to peek through on last night's program. I hate that we're in a position that's so grim, because I can see with relative ease how simple it would be to turn the whole thing around.

I had no problem with anything about the opening promo last night. I think Triple H came off very much like the calm, collected, prepared champion that we've been led to believe he is, and he most certainly controlled every bit of that segment. Don't get me wrong, I'm pissed as hell that he went over last night, but I know good from bad. This segment made sense, it flowed correctly, and the crowd was sure as hell into it. Challenging Goldberg to a match with his wrestling career on the line makes perfect sense to Triple H, and accepting it fits flawlessly into the challenger's current character. Trips wants the guy who's damaging the reputation of the business he represents out of the picture. Goldie doesn't want to continue wrestling anyway, if he can't do so while holding the World Title. I didn't even have a problem with Hunter's offhand remark about Kurt Angle being a "paper champion." That's something that dates back to the early days of the Monday Night Wars, and never failed to make the guy throwing out those statements look like a conceded jackass. Remember when Tony Schiavone told us Mick Foley would be winning the World Title on RAW, and then laughed that mocking laugh? He was immediately the most hated man in my mind at that moment, and it's something Trips was shooting for (and, obviously, achieving) with his comments last night. Good for him, he's looking for legitimate heel heat rather than gimmicked, phony storyline mass hatred.

Gail Kim vs. Trish Stratus was an awkwardly paced endeavor, with some really head-scrachingly bad transitions thrown in for good measure. I like the emphasis on grounding Gail, and she seems to really have the hang of that sleeper hold, (it honestly did look brutal) but I'm not sure sixty seconds into the match is the right place to start implementing it. Likewise, why was she being allowed to use the ropes as leverage to reverse the move? Shouldn't she have been forced to break the hold the very moment she touched them? Poor refereeing is a trend I'm noticing more and more frequently in WWE. That's a bad thing. A very weird match, though I did like the intonations afterward. Molly was presented as a legitimate threat, and somebody worthy of carrying the title. This makes me smile.

I've hated Mark Henry for years, but even I have to admit; this is the BEST way they'll ever be able to use him. The tag division is really lagging, and they need new teams. Mark Henry will never go anywhere as a singles athlete... his conditioning is just too poor. By using him as the powerhouse of a tag team, the bookers have allowed Mark to concentrate his entire effort into a few quick, powerful, memorable spots. Catching that crossbody and turning it into a powerslam was brutal, and really put him on the map as a force to be reckoned with. Let Rodney Mack eat up most of the time for their team, and put Mark Henry in there when you need a couple loud maneuvers to wake the audience up. It's sound strategy, simultaneously utilizing two guys who would have otherwise been forgotten and giving the tag roster a much needed boost.

At least they stuck all the horrendous, painfully unfunny comedy into the same segment last night. The return of Mini-Dust made me wish Rosey and Jamal would reunite, if just for one night, and break him in half again. Likewise, the whole Hurricane / S.H.I.T. T-Shirt guy segment was boring, predictable and stupid. Now, if they chose instead to legitimately turn the T-Shirt guy heel... then my opinion would do a complete 180. Every show I've ever been to, that guy gets thunderous boos when he reveals that he's shot his last T-Shirt into the crowd. Might as well give the audience something to get excited about, by turning the guy full heel and feeding him to Rosey.

I still don't like the Resistance / Dudleys feud. Conway looks like he's got potential, and he can talk circles around Grenier and Dupree, but even the Rock couldn't make this feud work. Dudley Dogs for everybody! Pthhhh...

I was entertained for a little bit of the Highlight Reel, right up until Vince had been speaking for about a minute. Then I sighed, sat back, and observed as the guy threw every word he's ever said in a promo in the past, threw them into a blender, hit "puree," poured the remnants into a glass, sprinkled a couple new words on top and emerged, smiling, with his new promo in tow. Seriously, I have no idea how one man can go on for upwards of six years without changing more than a half dozen things about his speeches. This wasn't entertaining, it was just stupid. I did like that Jericho kissed ass at the first available opportunity, though, and that Vince didn't nonchalantly shrug him off like so much underutilized midcard talent. I guess it set up an interesting match in Y2J / Shane, but it took WAAAAY too long in doing so. The McMahons should have an exploding ring deathmatch with one another.

I loved the Randy Orton / Maven matchup, even if it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world. Why, you may ask the flickering, eye-destroying, pixelated screen which appears before your very eyes? Because they're turning Orton into EXACTLY the kind of character that's been missing from WWE television for the last decade. He's a heel who is secure in his own abilities, intelligent, cocky and fearless. I LOVED that he didn't back down from Shawn Michaels after the match, yet he didn't take the opportunity to attack the guy from behind either. He used the sweet chin music to put that match away, never broke eye contact with Michaels, and single-handedly boosted his own stock several points in the public's eyes. This guy looked like a more credible heel with just a few seconds of believable, self-absorbed facial expressions than any amount of silly, convoluted storylines or run-ins could ever hope to establish. And, to his credit, HBK didn't know what to do in the situation. I like the way this feud is starting off.

The segment with Bischoff, Coach, Austin, Christian, JR, Lawler and just about everybody else involved with the inner workings of the RAW program was nice to see at first, but quickly spilled over into areas it should have really left very much alone. I like Coach as a heel, and feel that he's been one of the only characters on RAW whose turn made perfect sense... but then they skirted the issue, focusing the brunt of his frustrations on JR and not Jerry Lawler, the much more deserving of the two parties. The real meat of this turn should've been in the weeks of undeserved abuse "the King" laid on in JR's absense, not that moment of uneasy silence he experienced with Ross, upon the Oklahoman's return. I'd love to see Coach just obliterate Lawler next week, taking him out of the announcer's chair and finally putting an end to the elderly pervert's useless second run behind the microphone, but it's not gonna happen. Not permanently, anyway. And besides, this entire angle (tremendous as it is) is completely wasted by putting it to use on the announce team. Yeah, I can understand why loyal, deserving wrestlers who have broken their backs for the company are sitting backstage with nothing to do, while Coach, JR and the King are involved in almost a month's worth of build, backstories and momentum. PUT YOUR PRIORITIES IN THE RIGHT PLACE, MOTHERFUCKERS!

Lawler vs. Christian was just an abomination, with the King dominating the match from bell to bell with his outdated, unrealistic, worthless offense. I hate Jerry Lawler roughly twelve times more than I do Triple H right now, and that's not because this is a well-written storyline. I can't grasp how anyone thought this would be a good step for the promotion to take.

Even Jericho vs. Shane, a match I had quite a bit of interest in, failed to deliver last night. The two were relatively well-balanced in their trading of offense, which isn't something I have much of a problem with. Of all the non full-time wrestlers employed by World Wrestling Entertainment, Shane is without a doubt the most credible. He acts the most like a professional wrestler. He fights the most like a professional wrestler. He's even hung in there with some former World Champions in the past. He's got a track record as a serious threat, which is why I have no problem with Jericho selling his offense and taking turns on offense with him. I'd rather see Shane McMahon kicking the hell out of Chris Jericho than Kevin Nash.

And then, in the pinnacle of everything that's wrong with the way things are headed, the show wrapped up. I don't know where they'll take this from here, nor do I know how they plan to do it. Honestly, I don't care. The closing to this show was just stupid. It wasn't funny, it wasn't entertaining. It was just stupid. It inspired dead silence in my living room... not snickers, giggling over how incredibly stupid the segment I just saw really was... not electricity as I sat entranced, already awaiting next Monday's program. Just pure, unthinking silence. No emotion at all was inspired... that was just too stupid for my brain cells to even register.

So, what this looks like to me in retrospect is two thirds of relatively decent television and one third or completely, unforgivably stupid, appallingly lame faux-entertainment. I liked several of the tidings this show had for the future, but I really disliked the directions that landed at the top of the card. Promoting JR vs. The Coach, Shane vs. Kane and Vince vs. Linda as the most important matches on the card will not sell a single ticket. Quote me on that.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.75

Saturday, August 23, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE Summerslam 2003 Preview

I can't believe I'm writing a Summerslam preview already. Yikes, 2004 if a mere four months away. The big '03 is two-thirds over. I'm still writing 2002 on some of my checks by mistake. Paying your utility bills sucks. But yeah, that big dub to the dub to the eee has arrived at the second largest pay per view of the year, and I'd be lying if I said I was really that excited about the card. Looking at it solely on paper, this actually doesn't look that bad. The US Title match should be really great, recent house show reports say Kane and RVD have been putting on a good show, Angle and Lesnar are finally both healthy enough to give us a sequel to their beauty at WrestleMania and at least half the guys in the Elimination Chamber are worth your while. Unfortunately, the storylines leading up to the show have almost killed the mood for me. Brock took a card from Steve Austin's deck, nonsensically turning heel and aligning himself with Vince McMahon for no valid reason. Kane's character has successfully stalled once more, only a month after setting the wrestling world ablaze (no pun intended) with a tremendous new direction. The Dudley Boyz and La Resistance have been going through the same motions for months on end now, and the Elimination Chamber looks like a really weak way to take the title off of Triple H without actually jobbing him out to any one man in particular.

If you'll remember, last year's Summerslam was a show full of promise. The resounding theme of a youth movement had filled the air going into that show, as Brock was getting his first shot at the World Title, Chris Jericho was looking to start his own legacy as a "legend killer" by knocking off Ric Flair, Test found himself in search of a breakthrough against the Undertaker, and Guerrero vs. Edge, RVD vs. Benoit and Angle vs. Mysterio all showcased the next generation of talent in high profile spots. It felt like a changing of the guard, and the show was one of WWE's most successful all year. Now, one full year later, it's tough to say anything has changed. That's not really something that makes me a happy man.

La Resistance (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz
World Tag Team Titles

I'm still waiting for a reason why I should boo La Resistance, when Bubba and D-Von are giving me more and more motivation to dislike them as the weeks go on. Here are two guys who have needlessly taken the mantle of American patriotism upon their own shoulders, and given every citizen a black eye with their blind, unthinking statements and solutions to imaginary problems. Grenier and Dupree enter the ring to sing their national anthem and the Dudleys tell America it should be sick, despite the fact that the American national anthem is played at the opening of every WWE program. They attack without provocation or discernable reason, often from behind and / or with the aid of a foreign object. They make generalizations and hate based entirely on the colors of their opponents' flag, rather than their actions and messages. In short, they're hate-mongers. Yet they wave old glory, so we're supposed to stand, remove our hats, salute and cheer for them. I don't buy it.

And the suffering just doesn't stop there. In addition to the unfathomably silly booking, these two teams really do NOT match up well together in the ring. They've shown us several times, both in tag team and singles action, that they don't click. Their styles do not mesh. No combination of these four has provide any sort action that's above average.

So yeah, what we've got is this; the real faces are the heels, and vice versa. The storyline is cheap, simple and boring. There's no motivation going into this match, and the four guys involved have consistantly provided poor matches with one another. Great attributes for a World Tag Team Title match. It's a tough choice to pick a winner, but I'm going with the Frenchmen. Even Vince McMahon himself can't be this delusional.
Winners: La Resistance

The Undertaker vs. A-Train

Oh, god. Why? If somebody could let me know the address of the guy the A-Train's been blowing for the last five years to maintain his status on the card, I'd appreciate it. Not that I'd seek this guy out, hoping to deliver some oral lovin' of my own. I'm just... curious, because I've exhausted every other possibility as to why he's still employed. The guy's gone from "mad piercing specialist" to "half of T&A" to "overly hairy, locomotive-themed retard," and has been just as reliable a time waster in one role as he is in the next. He has no character, his wrestling stinks and he isn't pleasant to look at. In other words, he's a larger, hairier version of Billy Gunn. I don't care who wins this match. Wait, scratch that. Looking a little closer, you're damn right I care about this match; if the Undertaker lays down cleanly for Albert, after refusing to do so for John Cena last month, something's seriously wrong with the world. Honest to god.
Winner: The Undertaker

Shane McMahon vs. Eric Bischoff

Not really the match I was hoping to see. After more than a year away from regular competition, Shane McMahon made his much-anticipated return this month, immediately making an impact by assaulting his own father and, eventually, Kane. It all seemed to make sense, and to lead naturally into the Shane vs. Kane match I discuss in my writeup of Sunday's match between RVD and the Big Red Machine. Instead, for whatever reason, somebody threw on the brakes. Instead of that climactic, marquee matchup, we were given a feud between McMahon and Bischoff. With all the momentum of his return wasted on an empty attack against Kane, the writers hit the panic button and attempted to invent a storyline going into Summerslam, finally delivering one at the last possible moment. And boy, does that story REEK of hurried, unplanned, last-second writing.

Instead of focusing on their natural hatred for one another, stemming all the way back to the height of the Monday Night wars and culminating with Shane's misguided destruction of WCW as a whole, they sicced Bischoff on Shane's mother, Linda. Six months' worth of smooth talking, thinly-veiled flirtations and power struggles all amounted to one awkward moment on RAW, as Eric forcibly kissed the elder McMahon and, presumably, continued their encounter all the way to the bedroom. I don't have any further motivation to see Shane beat Eric into a bloody pulp after that segment. If anything, I have far less interest in seeing either one of them ever again. Let's hope they put Shane over and move on, because the only direction this feud can go from here is downhill.
Winner: Shane McMahon

Eddy Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit vs. Rhyno vs. Tajiri
WWE United States Title

I like the mix of talent in this one, though I also wish all four guys were in a higher position on the card. The main events on Smackdown have been really limited lately, with Angle, Lesnar and the Big Show taking turns with the title since late 2002. Benoit, admittedly, had a quick spot in the sun near the beginning of this year, but it disappeared just as quickly as it showed up. Eddy's been deserving a main event position, almost since his return at the very beginning of the brand extension. And, despite my complaints, he's at least remained extremely active in the various title hunts. Tajiri and Rhyno, both guys I'm a fan of, have never really had a direction since coming to the federation after the death of ECW.

At any rate, even if it won't mean much in the near future, this match should be hella good. I'm extremely happy that they reintroduced the US Title, though I wish they wouldn't have eliminated it in the first place since it's now missing a lot of the history that made it so valuable in the first place. I'm also extremely happy in the names they've chosen to fill the ranks of contention, as they're all guys who have definite potential at the top of the card in the next few years. That gives the belt itself a kind of respectability, which is key to any title's success. What good is a title if everyone who's ever held it is a loser? And you know what else goes hand in hand with lending merit to a new title? Clean, frequent defenses. Guerrero retains.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero

Kane vs. Rob Van Dam

Like I alluded to in the introduction, house reports have been calling this a very good matching of styles. The two guys are very familiar with one another, and actually have quite a bit of history together in terms of storylines, dating all the way back to RVD's debut. All the signs were pointing at this being a really impactful, emotional feud that actually made sense to the nitpickers such as myself. Then the booking all but destroyed Van Dam's credibility over the course of the last two or three weeks. Every time these two have run into one another, RVD's wound up on the losing end of the deal. He's been thrown into an exploding entryway, bursting his forehead open. He's mistimed a frog splash, landing full-force on a steel chair in Kane's stead. He's dove headfirst into a brutal steel chair shot on the floor. And, unceremoniously, Kane attempted to set him on fire this past Monday.

Now, using John's patented "win on TV, lose on PPV" formula, that would mean Rob's in for a decisive victory this Sunday night. However, I don't think jobbing Kane out this soon after redefining his character as a violent, unstoppable monster is anything the bookers should even be contemplating. Honestly, Shane McMahon deserved this spot on the PPV. He has a much better reason for fighting the red monstrosity, (the vicious beating his mother took at Kane's hands) it won't be nearly as devastating a blow for Shane to take the pinfall, and... come ON... Shane-O's spent his entire career bouncing around the ring, selling his opponents' offense like bombs over Baghdad. He would've been the perfect guy to further deliver Kane into the big time, and that money feud with RVD could've been saved for a later date, when both men could have a more legitimate shot at things. As is, this looks just about hopeless for RAW's top face.
Winner: Kane

Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
WWE Championship

I don't think there's any debate about how good these guys are, especially when paired off with one another. It's only been four months since their first honest match, and already that late-April collision feels like it took place on a historic night long ago. They're both future hall of famers, and they each deserve to have the title hugging their hips. They're both outstanding amateur wrestlers, both guys who made the transition to the professional style with ease. And they've both been mishandled at different points in their career, turned heel without motivation, aside from perhaps the momentary shock it would deliver to the audience.

There was no reason to turn Brock heel two weeks ago, except to further drive home WWE's subscription to a dated, black and white, face meets heel set of ideals. Brock and Kurt would have given us just as good a match if they were both face, yet someone backstage felt insecure about their ability to draw with such a match. So, rather than taking a slight risk, they panicked. Brock was turned heel, given a few words to say, and aligned with Vince McMahon in an ugly rehashing of the Austin turn at WrestleMania X-7. "Brock has sold his soul to the devil himself!" shouted Michael Cole, almost repeating verbatim Jim Ross's screams in Houston two and a half years ago. Vince himself, once one of the most well-developed heels on television, means next to nothing nowadays. His alliances and rivalries fluctuate so frequently, you'd need a scorecard to keep track of it all. His promos are the very definition of constant repetition. And his touch has begun to mean slow death to anyone on the roster.

What it all boils down to, really, is this. This should still be a very good match. With Vince's involvement, we're almost guaranteed outside interference and possibly a dirty finish. But in the end, this is still Brock Lesnar versus Kurt Angle. They'll still give it their all, which is more than enough to overcome all but the very worst of overbookings, storyline interferences and McMahon appearances. Let's hope so, anyway. Kurt takes the victory here, tying the series at 1-1 with the winner, hopefully, emerging at WrestleMania XX.
Winner: Kurt Angle

Triple H (c) vs. Kevin Nash vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Orton vs. Chris Jericho vs. Goldberg
World Heavyweight Title (Raw) in an Elimination Chamber Match

drq: Ah, the return to the Elimination Chamber. Actually, I have no problem with their utilization of this gimmick, as I think the sense that this is "where careers go to die" is a very unique, not to mention real, contribution to the show. This should be a brutal war between three faces and three heels, very few of which seem to get along with one another. On the other hand, what I DO have a bit of a problem with is the way they straight-up killed three ongoing feuds to cover for a weakness in one match. Triple H has an injured groin, this has been noted. So if he works a singles match, it won't be able to go very long. He was scheduled to face off with Bill Goldberg, a guy who's been gaining momentum over the last few months with an obvious target being the World Title. Big Bill, however, has a shortcoming; when his matches go long, they tend to also go sour. See what I'm getting at here? Why the decision was made to not only cover for a situation that's as close to ideal as they're ever going to get? Moreso, why overcompensate for one weakness and simultaneously create six new weaknesses in its stead?

Instead of watching Triple H drop the title in a short match against Bill Goldberg, both covering for Trips's injury and Bill's problem with match quality, we get this. We get Goldberg in a match that's ASSURED to go long, pretty much maintaining that problem. We get Chris Jericho, Kevin Nash, Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels involved in a match that they aren't nearly as likely to win, so that rather than picking up a victory on PPV they're jobbed in the main event. We get Triple H, in just as likely a position to lose his title as before... still working a long match, despite his injury... perhaps losing his title in a fashion that nearly negates the value he'd been building up as champion over the last year and a half. And we get it all thrown together into one match for the RAW brand, rather than three. It doesn't make good business sense, neither for Bischoff and Austin's RAW nor for the WWE conglomerate, and it either makes your new champion look like a fluke or, in the case of a Triple H retention, your five challengers look completely useless. It's a no win situation, which is one HELL of a long cry from the win-win they found themselves in before covering for their champion's injury in the first place.

That said, I'm interested in seeing where this match goes, as they've got some interesting dynamics thrown in there. Nash has had televised problems with Jericho, Triple H and Goldberg. Jericho has been warring with Nash, Michaels and Goldberg, in addition to his historical problems with Triple H. Michaels has an alliance with Goldberg and Nash, but issues with Orton, Jericho and Triple H. Goldberg hates everybody, aside from perhaps Shawn Michaels and himself. Randy Orton has a quest to build a name for himself as a new star, and potential leadership issues with the champ. And Triple H wants to retain his title by any means necessary. There are a hundred different possibilities here, but the one I like best has Chris Jericho stunning the world with an upset victory.
Winner: Chris Jericho
until next time, i remain

Monday, August 18, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 08/18/03

I hated RAW last night. Loathed it, absolutely. I saw a couple things worth airing, and then about one hour and fifty minutes of stuff that was just mind bogglingly stinky, boring and embarrassing. Why the writers feel that the story of "here's two guys who want to win the World Title" is inappropriate in today's world is beyond me. Instead, we're treated to matches that vary wildly in theme, from murder and rape to annoyingly unfunny superhero-based sketches and men painted in gold makeup. Yeah, I'm more interested in seeing Kane vs. RVD at Summerslam, now that I've seen Rob helplessly tied up backstage and Kane's failure to correctly light a match. And not only that... they can't even write boring, inappropriate shit correctly. It's predictable, inconsistent and plotless. But oh, am I getting ahead of myself?

I don't have very long this afternoon, so this is going the be the brief-brief version. If I overlook something, rest assured that I saw it, and I don't really have an opinion on it this evening. I don't have the time or the willingness to really dedicate another couple hours of my life to summarizing and opinionating over a show that didn't really do its job of entertaining me. Call me a pessimistic, habitual troll. I don't care. I still know what's good and what sucks ass, and delivering a show like the one that aired last night with six days left until the second biggest show of the year... pretty much sucks ass.

The whole Jericho / Michaels interaction was one of few things they did right last night, maintaining the momentum they've been running with since last year's Royal Rumble and actually playing off of and EXPANDING UPON the stories involved therein. The Highlight Reel segment was gold, with Jericho learning from his past experiences and bailing on the show about fifteen seconds in. Great comments about HBK costing Chris the title at the last Elimination Chamber, which makes both guys look twice as credible, and a doubly-nice closing segment for the entire show, which almost exactly echoed the lead-in to the original Chamber match. In more than six months, Shawn Michaels still hasn't learned that no matter how many people you've superkicked, Chris Jericho is still waiting behind your back with a steel chair.

The whole Linda McMahon / Eric Bischoff thing just alternated between boring and disgusting me. Well, let me amend that. With one exception, the whole series of segments bored and disgusted me. That exception? Watching Linda surf the web, encounter a pop-up and just PANIC. Yeah, welcome to our world Linda. She's lucky she didn't hit 1wrestling.

The Jericho / Nash match wasn't pretty, though there were a few surprisingly shiny moments hidden away in there. I'm amazed big Kev actually allowed Y2J to strap him into a boston crab, and his facial expressions while reaching for the ropes were commendable. I have a problem with Jericho needing a spear from Bill Goldberg, a low blow, a handful of tights, a distracted ref, a removed turnbuckle pad and some brass knucks to get the pinfall, but in the end the right man wound up on top. That's what we'll remember five years from now, I guess. That and the visual of Jericho smiling like a complete tool, tufts of Nash's hair sitting on top of his own head.

And that's really just about all that I think hasn't been covered before. I don't have anything nice to say about the rest of the show, so I just won't say anything at all. I'm more than a little pissed off about the way World Wrestling Entertainment is constantly shoving their collective heads up their own asses and pretending that everything's peachy keen in their world, when the opposite is so painfully, obviously true. Here's hoping I feel a little more optimistic coming out of Summerslam than I do going in.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

Monday, August 11, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 08/11/03

I couldn't get into RAW last night. Maybe it had something to do with my late start, as I missed the entire opening segment due to this freelance project that just won't die. Maybe it was my demeanor, after a long day at work. Or maybe it was the weak, halfway insulting, throwaway episode the writers put together. The talent single handedly made the show watchable during a few segments, and saved the whole night from being one painful memory for yours truly, but WWE is starting to ask more and more of their viewers as the writing goes steadily downhill.

I didn't personally see the opening interview, as I think I've mentioned three or four times already, but I did read a relatively detailed writeup of the events that went down, so I'll opinionate on that alone. And before anyone cries foul, stand tall in the knowledge that I won't be allowing my feelings about this segment affect my grade, be they positive or negative. I'm all about equality, ladies and gents. Yessir.

Basically, Coach is out, JR is back in, Austin is clairvoyant and Bischoff is retarded. I don't see why this segment was portrayed in such a main event light, since every one of the involved parties should be playing a non-central, supporting role. Steve Austin is retired, and should be busying himself as GM of the show, booking matches and lending his years of experience to others. Eric Bischoff was never a full-time athlete, and should also be spending more time arranging matches, signing contracts and ensuring that his brand is more compelling than Smackdown (which, apparently, isn't even a concern any more.) Jim Ross, Jon Coachman and Jerry Lawler are announcers, NOT PERFORMERS. Gordon Solie was never the focus of a main event. Hell, Tony fucking Schiavone at least knew his place was behind the monitors. I don't tune in to see Lawler, Ross and / or the Coach. I will never tune in to see them. Take them out of this spotlight.

There's been this stupid little underlying thread to Vince McMahon's programming over the last couple of decades, sort of a moral to the WWE story, that says "those who sign contracts without reading them always pay in the end." See, he's trying to teach us something important. I guess that's why I read over the contract four or five times when I bought my new car about three months ago. Just making sure I didn't have to wrestle the dealer in a steel cage match somewhere down the line. One can never be too careful, I suppose.

I came into the show at the very beginning of the Steiner / Stacey vs. Rico / Gayda match, and immediately wished I hadn't. Rico and Jackie got a chuckle out of me, as the homoerotic one mocked Stacey's entrance / exit / entrance to the ring through the top and middle ropes. But it pretty much ended there. Yet, surprisingly enough, this wasn't quite as bad as my initial impressions had led me to believe it might be. Stacey and Jackie are, without question, two of the worst wrestlers alive today, but they weren't too blatantly terrible last night. Thumbs up to those two for moderately improving, and thumbs down to the writers for putting them opposite one another in the first place. A forgettable match, with an ugly finisher that looked to have knocked Stacey loopy. Loopy enough to turn heel next week, no doubt, in the next chapter of the writing team's comedy of errors. It'll be fun to see them explain why the fans should boo her when she's with Test. Honest to god, if they were gonna turn her why didn't they do it alongside Randy Orton last week?

Triple H had a mighty tough case of T.H.O. (titty hard-on, for the uninformed) backstage last night. A white shirt, a roided-up monster and a cold breeze across the nips. That's a lethal combination.

The Dudleys and La Resistance pretty much shot that whole "clean finish" thing I'd seen emerging over the last few weeks, ending their match in a DQ after roughly twenty two seconds with the weakest attempted flag shots I've ever seen. What, was Dupree worried about appearing as though he was seeking revenge for the nasty shot he took last week? Heaven forbid.

And then they drink. No explanation, it's just... time to drink. I echo that sentiment, actually. Coach must have eagle eyes, to have noted that they were drinking a French vintage. Yet he lacks the common sense to realize that champagne is not red. Nor does it come in a bottle of that shape. Kill...

Christian and Spike, with little motivation besides the painfully obvious "Spike TV" joke, put on a decent little match in their spare time last night. The offense was dominated a little too heavily by the tiny Dudley for my taste, but whatever. A clean, believable pin by the heel gets a thumbs up from me. Now if only we could get him back into the ring with the Hurricane for a lengthy match.

The Bischoff / Kane match sucked a dozen eggs. Kane's character makes absolutely no sense now, and I don't mean that in the "cool, unpredictable, interesting new character direction" kind of way. For every couple steps forward they take with this poor guy, he has to take half a dozen back. He gets wildly over as the mentally disturbed lunatic, and they turn him from a hot, hot tweener to a meaningless, overplayed heel. That logic is right up there with attempting to turn Chris Jericho heel, in the same ring with Shawn Michaels, in Montreal. Why are they fighting the currents? If people WANT to like someone, let them LIKE him!

The women's title match, however, was the one really noteworthy bit of booking on the entire program. Molly came out of that looking 100% stronger than she did going in, and it was done by building her up as an intelligent, fearless individual. She immediately took control of that match, with a specific goal in mind, and used her enemies' weaknesses against them over and over again. Great finish that got the perfect reaction from the live crowd.

Gail Kim's a blown spot machine as a heel, too. Hm.

I wasn't as stoked about the Highlight Reel as Samir was. I thought Nash was off his game last night, and the various Jericho hairdos were just really poor comedy, not to mention unimaginative. Par for the course, the writing made no sense as Nash demanded that Jericho accept his challenge... but Y2J's the one who made the challenge in the first place. Jericho accepts, and then promptly jobs for about the fifth straight week to a guy who's winded after strolling down to the ring. Yeah, great TV. Even if he goes over cleanly, knocks big Kev unconscious after the fight and shaves him bald next week, this little feud won't help Chris Jericho one bit because he's been treated like such a little bitch every week beforehand. I hate watching this.

Finally, the card wrapped up with the sequel to Goldberg / Flair. Not a terrible match at all, actually, with Flair turning up the intensity and Goldberg actually doing a damn fine job of selling the leg throughout. I despise that they so heavily featured Ric's use of foreign objects, as that really disrupted the flow of the match and emphatically stated that Flair can't hold a torch to Goldberg in the ring. And Shawn Michaels ended the match with some killer Sweet Chin Music, aligning himself with Goldberg despite their earlier hostilities and pretty much spitting into the wind at the same time. These swerves just for the sake of swerving are getting stupid.

In the end, they tried to jam too much lame shit into one package last night, and still effectively managed to go nowhere throughout the entire two hours. What did I learn last night? JR is back, and Eric Bischoff is fighting Shane McMahon at Summerslam, killing the waning crowd interest in the potential Shane / Kane singles face-off and hurting the card on the PPV by throwing Bischoff into the mix. Oh, and that Molly Holly knows what she's doing in the ring. This would've been a near-complete waste of my time if a few of the wrestlers themselves didn't care so much about the quality of their own segments.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2.2

Monday, August 4, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 08/04/03

This show actually flowed much better than anyone's giving it credit for. We had some very solid matches by TV standards, a trend is emerging that seems to embrace clean finishes(!), and the stortelling all made sense. Nothing seemed too outrageously over the top, (well, excepting the superhero segment) and on the whole the show felt much more real and interesting than it was a couple of months back. Progress HAS been made, but this machine isn't well oiled just yet. Give it some time.

The opening speech rotation was entertaining for a bit, but I've got to agree that they went on way too long. It also doesn't make sense to deflate the Shane / Kane feud by booking them into separate matches at Summerslam, especially since the crowd is just begging for them to pull the trigger on it right this very moment. Shane is still the only McMahon I want to see on television, but yesterday's promo was a little bit below his usual standards. I mean, they basically danced around the same issue for the duration. They could've just as easily gone out there, hit the same points, furthered the same feud(s) and booked the same match with five minutes of TV time, rather than twenty. As the promo drug on, I found myself daydreaming, wishing Shane would make a statement along the lines of "We both screwed up our chances with WCW, but I can still kick your ass."

Bischoff does get kudos for inadvertantly instigating an audience-wide recital of "suck it," though. Come on, how do you walk onto a wrestling program, shout "I've got two words for ya," and assume the fans won't react that way? It was just inadvertant hilarity, watching Bischoff's face go from worked anger to legitimate surprise, to embarrassed smirk.

Dupree vs. Buh Buh wasn't pretty, I'll admit. My boredom with the Dudleys isn't curing itself, and going through the same motions, week after week, isn't really doing anything but reinfocing La Resistance as the faces in this feud. Seriously, if Buh Buh and D-Von weren't coming into this fight as the faces in the first place, they'd be the heels without a doubt. Let's see; you introduce a table to almost every match you've been involved in, No-DQ stipulation or not, and then take personal issue to Grenier and Dupree doing the same thing with their flag? Hypocrite, anyone? Hello? I legitimately hope the Dudleys get squashed at SummerSlam.

They didn't accomplish what they could have with Steiner / Orton. In this match, you've got two guys; one is a washed up former main eventer, paired with a hot young valet. A guy who's proven he can't cut it in the main event scene and is slowly losing what aura he has left as time goes on. The other is a guy whose entire gimmick centers around two things: his quest to establish himself by destroying legendary former champions, and his supposed prowess with the ladies. There are two directions they could've gone with this, either turning Stacey on Scotty and reaffirming both of Orton's claims, or cleanly jobbing "Freakzilla" to the younger man, lending what credibility he has left to Orton's "Legend Killer" gimmick. Instead, Orton scored the pinfall after a lengthy interference from Test and a pillow-soft RKO. I guess it really IS hard to shoot fish in a barrel.

I've never been a fan of the Hurricane's gimmick, and I loathe the brick-to-the-head way they've been pounding away at this "S.H.I.T." gimmick, but last night's promos and interaction between the two was actually a lot of fun. Rosey carrying an enormous cardboard box with "SHIT" written on the front is comedy gold, and the goofy pose they struck in the middle of the ring was riotously funny. I suppose it's like watching an SNL sketch fall apart on live TV. The actors know what they're doing is stupid, so they eventually give up on the original sketch and try to make each other laugh instead. It's always funny when the comedians themselves give in to fits of laughter, and it brought a smile to my face to see Rosey and Helms having fun with it in the ring last night.

And I'll be damned if Hurricane and Christian didn't kick a little ass in the ring out there, as well. Though there isn't much one can do with two minutes of TV time, these guys really showed some potential with one another. All their exchanges were clicking, and their combinations really worked well together. I'd like to see an extended rematch here, without question.

There isn't much left to comment on when it comes to Flair / Goldberg. I think the sights and sounds of the live audience are all the convincing anyone should need that the writers have no idea what their fanbase wants to see. To his credit, Flair attempted to work his old, "Nikita Koloff circa 1986," hoss-carrying tricks. And, goldurn it, Goldberg appeared to be receptive, selling the leg for a few minutes before forgetting about it during the finish. What it all boiled down to was a mixture of relief and anxiety, as WWE once again failed to realize that Canada hates Bill Goldberg, (not to mention every arena's LOVE for Flair) yet knew well enough to protect Flair from a squash in this over-hyped little TV main event. I'm glad the Nature Boy didn't emerge as the first man ever to job on free TV to both Goldberg and Lesnar.

The post-match beatdown was extremely entertaining, despite the crowd's rejection of the workers' heel / face status. An enormous reaction for the wrong guy is better than no reaction at all, and this little hodge-podge served to show off all three of RAW's main event feuds in a clear, understandable chain of events. Of course, Austin screwed all that by smooshing all three into one ungodly match at Summerslam, but it was still nice to see a genuine reaction from the audience nonetheless.

As for the Elimination Chamber, I think it's about all they could do to save the main event, with Triple H's injury. Their choices were either to turn the World Title match into a tag match, force Triple H to forfeit the title (as it's been WELL over thirty days since he last defended... but I forgot, we only enforce that rule when it's to our advantage as lazy writers) or make it a large free-for-all. I don't mind seeing the chamber again, and with four of the original six participants returning for this round, the match should be improved over the original as the athletes better understand their surroundings.

I wish they'd canned the idea for that post-post-post-match powerbomb Nash hit on Jericho. What a worthless bit that was. Yeah, here's Nash; a guy that basically sunk the last two PPVs with his horrid World Title matches, a guy who's likely to be gone within another couple months. And then, here's Jericho; a guy who's made RAW watchable for the last year, who's constantly entertaining both on the mic and in the ring, and who has yet to reach the pinnacle of his career. Makes sense to me, yeah.

The ad for Summerslam, where Brock Lesnar F-5's a shark in the shallows of the ocean, is one of the funniest things I've seen in years.

Like the Hurricane / Christian face-off, Molly and Trish didn't really have the time to expand their match into more than a few nice spots and a couple tight exchanges. Watching this match, and Molly's multitude of outstanding pinning attempts, made me wish they'd adopt a scoring system, not unlike amateur wrestling, so that time-limit draws would actually result in a winner, and so that near-falls actually MEANT something. It's too bad that, now there's a competant wrestler holding the Women's Title, they're going to turn the Summerslam title match into a brawl that only serves to eliminate all technique from the match itself.

I really enjoyed the Jericho / RVD match we saw last night. I didn't think it was the **** instant classic that a lot of folks on the Forums seem to think it was, but I also don't think it was the plodding dredge-fest Scott Keith's calling it. This was a remarkably clean, competitive, back and forth fight between two guys familiar with one another's style. It was excellent for a TV match and featured, shockingly, no outside interference or foreign objects. I have no problem with Jericho dropping this match cleanly, and it raised the stock of both guys in the process. A nice opening, great selling on the part of both guys, (especially the way RVD took that dropkick) and a surprising, believable finish that didn't involve either guy's finisher. Thumbs up all the way here.

The main event was subpar, even I can admit that. It was nice to see somebody actually selling the offense of a guy who supposedly knows karate for a change, (by the way, way to connect with that backside kick on the pad, Eric. If you're a black belt, why are you making white belt mistakes?) and Shane brought the realism he's known for to the fight, potatoing the hell out of Eric along the way. The tombstone on the steps looked absolutely brutal, and made me interested in seeing Shane grab some revenge, despite the uneasy finish to the program itself.

When it's all said and done, we've got two to three strong matches, half of which could've benefitted tremendously from a little more time. We got a couple interesting storyline advancements, addressed the problem of the Summerslam main event, and continued to pursue clean finishes. The writers don't have a clue, but I'm still calling this average at best, and a point or two below at worst.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.85