Monday, September 29, 2003

Ringside Shadows #189: The Ongoing Evolution of Kayfabe

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

Kayfabe is dead.

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

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

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

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

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

Do you think it could be a little more obvious?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 09/22/03

So it's been a couple weeks, and I've got a thing or two to say. It's been suggested that I give away too much in my introductions, so this week we're going to try the "jump into the pool without getting your feet wet" method. Hah, isn't it funny that I'm considering this to be a super major change to my writing style, when other guys are completely altering the way they structure these things? I'm such a loser... but hey, let's talk about RAW.

In what must look like something of a trend for the second week running, I missed the first twenty minutes of the show this week. Don't blame me, blame Circuit City for remaining open until the hour posted on the front of the store. Bastards... forcing me to work until the time I was scheduled. But, fortunately enough, the production team was kind enough to show me various replays of the Goldberg spear I missed. I like the direction they're going with this whole thing, as it really feels like something big is on the horizon between Goldberg, Austin, Jericho and Bischoff... but I'll admit I'm glad I only missed a fifteen minute promo and some limited interaction between the usual suspects.

I am a little displeased that I missed everything but the finish of the Christian / RVD match, as I think both guys are quite good at what they do (yes, even RVD) and this may have been a solid, entertaining match. Then again, they're also both known for being very hot and cold workers, and have put me to sleep just as many times as they've shot some lightning into my living room. I like the direction, I like the guys involved, and I like the Intercontinental Title being at stake. It looks like the writing team may finally be getting their wits around them here, and actually deciding who's supposed to go where on the roster, how they're going to get them there and what bumps they'll hit along the way. I'm interested in seeing where they'll take us with the ladder match next week.

I was absolutely loving the Jericho / Austin interaction throughout the night, for several reasons. 1) It points out the flaws that have been forming in Austin's character since long before WrestleMania. 2) It puts two respected athletes at odds with one another, in a storyline that's consistent, believable and entertaining. Nobody's nuts are getting fried, one man is merely growing tired of another man's abuse of power. 3) Holy hell, they're actually doing something with Jericho again. And he looks credible, despite dropping the main event cleanly to Goldberg. Bischoff and Y2J, despite their well-documented problems with one another, make one hell of a dynamic on-screen duo, with Jericho playing the well-read, self-centered leader from outside the spotlight he's always been destined to portray.

OK, I was into the Mizark Hizenry thing for all of a couple weeks, when they were using him as the powerhouse of a tag team. The "powerslam from nowhere" finisher was cool at first, then surprising to see again, and now stupid and redundant. The thing that sucks about pushing a guy like this is that you have to feed underutilized talent to him on a regular basis. Let Mack lay down in a tag match of two. Give Henry a REASON to be determined, goal-oriented and fucking pissed off. Don't give us this wanna-be garbage / hardcore slop.

The women's match was outstanding, as the division continues to show up the men, week-in and week-out. This is just a shot in the dark, but maybe it's got something to do with natural storyline progression, believable feuds, a lack of gimmicks, clean-cut characters, lengthy TV matches with clean finishes, or wrestlers that know how to... oh, I don't know... WRESTLE?? Molly Holly's role means more than Triple H's role right now, because she constantly goes out there and shows us why she's the champion of the division, rather than merely grabbing a mic, sitting on her ass and telling us. She's been logically booked for months as the veteran of the division, and she proved it again last night by telling a forty page story from bell to bell focusing on Lita's neck. Great match, which is beginning to come as no surprise from these gals.

The Test / Steiner segment was unintentionally hilarious to my fiancee and I, climaxing in Steiner's witty closing comeback of "HERE'S YOUR... FFBAGG!!" It's like you could actually hear the gears grinding to a halt inside his mind.

Shane and Kane in the hospital wasn't the worst thing I'd ever seen. Shane got another laugh out of us when he responded to a brutal initial beatdown with a loud, unconcerned "Oh... man!" but they steered away from anything too hokey here, and focused on the hatred between the two, which should honestly be the real point anyway. On that same page, how long has it been since we saw anyone in a vulnerable position like this WITHOUT getting assaulted or surprised at one point or another? Variety is the spice of life, so let's kick it up another notch.

It seemed a little strange that Conway and Dupree, the two heavily bandaged members of La Resistance, were involved in the physicalities last night while Grenier appeared unhurt and stood uselessly on the floor. This match was poor. None of these guys are going anywhere fast in the current scheme, and share a need of serious character overhauls.

Even though I still love Evolution and I've made an effort not to make any blind judgments on Triple H, I've got to admit the way he walked out of WWE for a couple weeks really blew. Here's a guy who had a chance to help create a new star or further establish an old one, to give back to the business he's supposedly so fond of, by working some sort of injury angle to explain his absence from the show in the coming weeks. Instead, he squashed three nobodies, grabbed a mic and basically announced he'd let RAW decay in his wake, and then return to save us all from ourselves in about a month. Don't do us any favors, Trips. The match was lame, with the rookies actually gathering much of the offense (and subsequently killing the match) before Trips hit his finisher and dragged the Nature Boy on top of Maven. There's so much wrong with the way that ended, I don't even know where to begin.

I didn't exactly piss myself with happiness for the Rock's promo last night. If anything, it slightly disturbed me. The guy's slowly regressing back into the bland, catchphrase-dependent bore who was forced to turn heel by the audience at RAW's tenth anniversary... which is a far cry from the tremendously reinvented man he became for a few months before and after WrestleMania this year. He still seems like he'd be a really fun guy to hang out with, sure, but he's just not a compelling wrestling personality when he acts like that. Didn't help the show, but I suppose it didn't hinder it either.

I thought Jericho actually had a chance in the main event, since Goldberg's name seemed to be written on a piece of masking tape and then stuck to the bottom of the title belt, but I'm not pissed off that he did the job either. Y2J once again looked like the smartest guy in wrestling, working over the champion's one visible weak spot after a nasty-looking spear into the ring steps. And, aside from the jackhammer that ended the match, Goldie did a commendable job of selling it through the entire match too. There were a couple really strange moments, like when Goldberg didn't see Chris charging from behind him and, as such, didn't step out of the way to force Jericho's offense to hit Bischoff instead. So Y2J "covered" by nailing his boss with a forearm shot that could in no way be misconstrued as being aimed at Goldberg.

It was a good match, especially for free TV, though and I'l' give it credit for that. I especially enjoyed the ending, as Austin KOed his fellow General Manager without provocation and Coach made a point of noticing it. I'm telling you, this storyline between Jericho and Austin hasn't even really begun yet. I like where they're going with it. A lot.

Thinking positively, this had a very strong women's match, a nice TV main event and the beginning of an angle that's got me very interested. It's below average, sure, but not by much. I'm glad to see the well hasn't completely run dry after the latest brand-exclusive PPV effort, and I'm anticipating that ladder match next week. I could still do with a more well rounded program, but this was a positive step.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.7

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE Unforgiven 2003 Preview

Hey-o, how's it going? It seems like every month I'm sitting here, mouth agape, wondering how in the holy living fuck it's been a month since the last edition of "World's Greatest." Yet, strangely enough it still always seems to catch me by surprise when I find myself hunched over in front of the keyboard, tapping out yet another opening dialogue to our shared monthly habit. This month it's RAW's turn to unload some slop onto the forty dollar playing field, in the form of the brand's second exclusive pay per view event, Unforgiven. Where Bad Blood, the team's first exclusive PPV effort, was generally seen as a strong card both in lead-up and follow-through, Unforgiven has emerged as almost a polar opposite to that description. With a dead tag scene, a mid-card mired in feuds that won't die, two high profile matches featuring non-wrestlers and a hobbling, visibly injured world champion, there's little question why. This card is just about all the proof we need that a shakeup is desperately needed in World Wrestling Entertainment, be it the end of the brand extension or merely a couple trades. With Smackdown! coming off what's already being called one of the best shows in its history, RAW has been taking up the slack with a string of poorly received, directionless episodes. It's like both shows can't be good to great at the same time... one show is always the obvious recipient of more backstage attention than the other.

The Dudley Boys vs. La Resistance and Rob Conway
Tables Match

See my comments about the Test / Steiner match and accompanying feud. These two teams have proven time and time again that they're both mismatched and out of place at the top of the tag team division together, but yet continue to meet up on the big PPV with the Tag Titles at stake. This month features a slight change in that trend, as I don't believe the belts are on the line, but will more than likely still have the same result. They're nuts for throwing Spike into a tables match so soon after being nearly decapitated on RAW, and no matter how much praise I've heard about Rob Conway, I don't think anything he does will help dig this match out. The French should win this one, and promptly run the Duds off the show. But that ain't likely. Bubba, D-Von and Spike are the smart picks.
Winners: The Dudleys

Scott Steiner vs. Test w/Stacy Keibler

The feud that would not die. It's funny, for years I've been aching to see a return to lengthy title reigns, to careful, patient storyline development. And now that it's come to pass, I'm starting to realize that I wasn't careful what I wished for. Triple H has held the title for a cumulative period of nearly one and a half years, and the Test / Scott Steiner feud has been gone on for twice as long as most regular feuds. Yet, the basis around which they've been fighting hasn't changed one bit; they're beating the holy hell out of one another because they'd both like to pork Stacy Keibler. I guess, in retrospect, that's a story I'd rather watch than Katie Vick 2 or another installment in the legendary Bossman / Big Show war... but it still doesn't make this long-standing battle any less boring. These two have been unenthusiastically running in to one another's matches for months now. Nothing more, nothing less... they've just been running in, saying "hi" and running out. Sadly enough, it doesn't look like that's going to end any time soon. Test is my pick to win this one, because accompanying Steiner with Stacy isn't going to help either one of them.
Winner: Test

Trish & Lita vs. Molly & Gail Kim

Without question, the women's division has been the real workhorse of RAW lately. Alongside Gail Kim and the perfect face-in-peril Trish Stratus, Molly Holly has really taken this division by the horns and helped create a vibrant, entertaining division with several established top names and an intriguing ongoing storyline. The women of WWE right now represent everything that the men do not. They're evolving, they're taking the division in directions it's never seen before, and they're tearing down those old walls. Even though Jerry Lawler's first response to Lita's return this past Monday was an asinine "puppies," the women are slowly, surely proving they're more than just T&A. Where the loss of Jazz and apparent failure of Gail Kim looked to have put a noticeable dent into the future plans of the title belt, instead they've been blessings in disguise as Molly has picked up the slack and Gail has improved steadily since turning heel. If Lita is kept out of the majority of this match, saved only for the finish, this could be one of the best matches of the night. The faces have the momentum, so they're my pick.
Winners: Lita and Trish Stratus

Christian (c) vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho
Intercontinental Title

This, by all means, should rock. They've got a clear balance of allegiances here, with Christian a firm heel, Van Dam an obvious crowd favorite and Jericho starting to morph his way into the role of a tweener. All three of these guys have had outstanding singles matches with one another, and have performed very well in matches involving multiple opponents. I'm a little displeased about the lackadaisical, last second way the match was thrown together, but if the end result is as pretty as I'm hoping this will be, I won't complain. It's tough to pick a winner in this one, with each guy needing a break at this point in their careers, but my gut tells me Christian is retaining.
Winner: Christian

Coach & Al Snow vs. J.R. & Lawler
Raw Announcing Job on the Line

Oh boy, here we go. Thank god they're pushing this to the top of the card, because I don't think I could live with myself if it were curtain jerking on HeAt or even (god forbid) taken off the card at the last second. The amount of time, effort and thought that went into Coach's successful heel turn are a perfect example of what's wrong with today's RAW. Everything was perfectly planned, laid out, executed and performed. Coach had a legitimate reason to be mad, after Lawler's constant baiting and taunting, and he made his turn at a moment that really mattered. It was the perfect vehicle to help launch a struggling wrestler's career, and they wasted it on a backup announcer, a retired former wrestler desperately clutching to his youth, a legendary play by play man who's been on a steady decline and a forgotten also-ran from the height of the Attitude era. The only one of these four guys to really entertain me over the last month has been Al Snow, and his spot-on satire of Jerry Lawler during last week's show. If anything, the entire feud has just filled me with contempt for JR and even more hatred for Lawler. Nice job, guys.
Winners: JR & Lawler

Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Orton

I've honestly enjoyed this feud a lot more than the majority of the members of the forums. I think the way they've been building Randy Orton is tremendous, giving him opportunity after opportunity to back up his claims of being a bonafide "legend killer." As such, it only makes sense that he next go after the resident living legend, the Heart Break Kid himself, Shawn Michaels. I get the feeling this will be a dream match of sorts in just a couple short years, after Orton's had the chance to really expand as an athlete and evolve (no pun intended) into the serious main event role they're grooming him for. This will undoubtedly be a major proving ground for the rookie, and if Michaels lifts him up to the level I have a feeling he will, this push is far from over. Done correctly, Orton can job here and retain every bit of the momentum he had going in. Done poorly, he could lose everything. Either way, I think Shawn's going over Sunday.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

Kane vs. Shane McMahon
Last Man Standing

I still don't understand why they didn't do this match last month at Summerslam. I guess there's nowhere they could've gone with Kane after that show, where after this one they'll have Goldberg to feed him to in the main event. Oi... I'm getting shivers just thinking about what insanely stupid ideas they'll have in the process of booking that one. But anyway. The impact of Shane's return has just about run its course by this point, with every day revealing a little bit more about just how by the numbers he's doing everything this time around. Don't get me wrong, I'd still much rather see Shane's silly dancing at the top of the entryway than Vince's "corncub up the ass" stroll or Linda's heat-evaporating glare, but he's really been phoning his efforts in this time around. Gone is the enthusiasm from his step, in its place is a bored, vacant stare. That's the look of a guy who was brought in for the sole purpose of jobbing to a monster on its way to the top. They could do some really fun, original stuff with the Last Man Standing format this Sunday, but I just don't think it's happening. Come on, guys. Surprise me.
Winner: Kane

Triple H (c) vs. Goldberg
World Heavyweight Championship: Title vs. Career

I've never had a problem with Bill Goldberg, and I've never made a secret of that fact. I think they're finally doing things right with him, I think he's got the kind of charisma that you'd be insane not to promote and despite his shortcomings he's really not as bad in the ring as everyone makes him out to be. With that said, I'm secure in my analysis that this match is going to suck a big, fat, stinky one. Triple H is visibly in no shape to wrestle the kind of match that's going to put Goldberg over with enough momentum to stand up on his own, which is the whole reason this title change was delayed from Summerslam in the first place. As with the Shane vs. Kane match, there's still the possibility that these two will grit their teeth, work their asses off and produce something that's shockingly good, but that possibility's even more remote here than it is in the Last Man Standing match I referred to earlier. I'm much more interested in seeing how they handle Bill Goldberg as World Champion than I am in seeing how they get the belt on him, really. Here's hoping this turns out every bit as obvious as it appears to be today, because another Triple H title defense means death for RAW.
Winner: Goldberg

In Closing...

There's a real defeatist sense to this entire PPV. Even the matches that look very good on paper have a strange sort of mopey air floating around them. It's like the PPV is just there, and whatever's going to happen is going to happen. Shane isn't excited about what he's doing. Randy Orton still looks like he's staring through a fog whenever he's cutting a promo. Christian and Chris Jericho don't really know where they're going. It could be worse, but it could also be much better.
until next time, i remain

Monday, September 8, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 09/08/03

This week was a mild improvement over last... which, honestly, isn't really that great of a compliment at all. I'm gonna stand firm in my observation that, to truly enjoy RAW for all that it is, you must first switch your brain to the "off" position, lean back, let the mouth loll open and just kinda drool there while JR and the King shout at you. The stories weren't quite as ugly and incomprehensible as they were last week, but they were close. McMahon and company still subscribe to the rigid "faces get along with all faces, heels get along with all heels" train of thought, as evidenced by the ten man tag match, and the wrong guys are still going over in the wrong positions. It's sort of like they're running an anti-promotion anymore, despite the random flickers of hope here and there.

This week's show has been pretty universally deemed a dead-average effort, with a couple good ideas offset by a couple bad ones. A good match with a bad one, and so forth. I'd take issue with that fact, but I'll still consent that RAW deserves a little bit of credit this week. At the very least, I didn't feel completely embarrassed to have spent so much of my life tuning in to the ongoing saga of pro wrestling. That's gotta mean something, right?

Then again, it's pretty damned pathetic that I've gotta stoop to saying "well, I'm not embarrassed" to validate one week's RAW Score from the last.

This week kicked off abruptly with the mucho-hyped cage match between RVD and Kane, which I felt came off a little bit lame. From the cage's unwillingness to cooperate with the gimmicked break near the end of the match to RVD's blatant, camera-focused blade job to the way both guys blew up within about a minute of the first bell, it just wasn't meant to be for these two this week. They've both had much better matches, both together and on their own, and it just didn't feel like as big a match as JR and Jerry were trying to convince us it was. The booking was a little awkward, too, as Kane was wandering around on the floor only seconds after Bischoff had told us that to win the match you had to either climb the cage or walk out the door, and that RVD hadn't won after all. OK, so how did Kane get out there? Don't tell me he pushed the broken cage out and slid under the ropes that way.

I just couldn't get into the match, since it was almost blatantly obvious that no sort of upset would be going down on this night. I'll give them credit for working the match primarily like an old cage match, rather than the modern WWE "just climb through the door" rules, but it wasn't enough to cancel out everything else this match had going against it.

I'll give credit where it's due; the Lance Storm gimmick actually seems to be going somewhere, which isn't something I'd imagined was possible a couple of months ago. Of course, all he's really done is screw around backstage with Goldust, kiss the horse-faced Jackie Gayda and pin Rico Constantino, but it did actually seem like he turned a corner last night. I'll admit it got a laugh out of me when he busted out the cabbage patch after the pinfall, and they let him continue to wrestle the same style as always, so that's a thumbs up I suppose.

I'll be damned, the women's division is still the most solid division on RAW. I like the little mentor-student story they're running with Molly and Gail Kim here, and I adore that they're actually letting the heels look strong in the ring on a regular basis. Gail has toned down her offense a great deal, and seems to be finally settling down to get some work done. She's not attempting a highspot every fifteen seconds followed by a series of hurricanranas, she's taking her time and working a much more grounded style. I had very little problem with any of the women's match last night, as they're setting up a perfect situation for Lita's return and Trish isn't losing any face by jobbing to such convincing heels. That, and the double backdrop to the floor in the middle of the match was about perfect. Very nice.

I liked the gentle beer tossing segment between Jericho and Austin, along with the feigned face turn for Y2J, but that segment just went on WAY too long. Austin's starting to sink, heading back to the same lines and phrases he used a couple years ago just after the birth of his "what" catchphrase. He needs something to do, really soon. There's only so many times you can see a guy go out to the ring, talk about alcohol, crack open a beer and hit an unjustified stunner. Also, when did Linda say that he could attack "anyone who touched him?" I could've sworn the exact wording was that he couldn't attack anyone without "physical provocation." Which, last I checked, doesn't include a friendly pat on the shoulder. Oops... hey, who switched my brain back on? Sonnuvabitch, turn it off quick! This show's bound to make it overheat.

But hey, isn't it interesting how they start to test the waters of a Jericho face turn JUST as HHH is about to finally drop the title to another guy? Man, we're NEVER going to see Y2J with the belt again.

That ten man tag was ugly. REAL ugly. It made a heavy petting session involving Mae Young, Janet Reno and vaseline look somewhat appealing. Mizark Hizenry looks to have screwed up his knee somewhere in the middle of this disorganized clusterfuck, which kind of sucks because they'd been using him pretty well over the last month. He's been booked as the big, overbearing monster who only comes in to work the closing fifteen seconds of a match and look like a fucking unstoppable bastard. I'd say that showcases his strengths (build, attitude, power moves with no transition) while minimizing his weaknesses (conditioning, ability to perform more than three moves, cognizance on the microphone). And, judging from the state of the RAW tag team scene, this could turn out to be a pretty big loss.

That Spike Dudley fall was just horrific. I wouldn't put it in the same class as the Sid leg break per se, but it was definitely gruesome. I have no idea how that guy's still walking, after all the nasty spots he's been on the wrong side of.

I still don't care a bit about the Steiner / Test feud, implied homosexual overtones or no. Turn Steiner heel already.

The Coach / Snow and JR / Lawler segment just kept going from bad to worse. I can't believe they're trying to sell us on this match with legitimate nose-to-nose segments in the middle of the ring between Coachman and Ross. Everything about that segment had JR as the heel and Coach as the face, which is par for the entire feud now I guess. Coach had every reason for turning after Lawler's constant, unprovoked criticism and mockery during his tenure behind the mic... and now JR takes a blatant pot shot while Coach is turned away, celebrates and then kicks Snow out of the ring while his back is turned. What a fucking wuss. Be a man about it, JR. Try to hit the guy when he's looking at you. Even if I weren't an online columnist, I'd be cheering for Coach and Al Snow in this one. Fight the power!

I didn't mind the main event, mostly because Goldberg sold that man-sized chairshot as though he'd taken a direct hit from a cannon. The heels all look strong and Goldie doesn't lose any face, because it took three men to kick his ass. Trips seemed almost handicapped out there, strolling around as gingerly as possible, and I'm starting to wonder what kind of condition he'll be in when Unforgiven rolls around.

All in all, this was below average. I liked the women's match, the main event and the fact that they're sticking to their guns on this push for Lance Storm, but I didn't care at all for the ten man tag, the cage match or the announcers' feud. The whole show kept getting derailed just as it appeared to be headed in the right direction. What's really starting to bother me is where they can possibly go once this PPV has passed and most of their ongoing feuds have come to a close. The roster is looking dangerously thin, and I haven't a clue where the next main event challenger will pop up from. It's starting to look like the whole brand extension may have run its course, from where I sit. Then again, it wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.35

Monday, September 1, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 09/01/03

I have no idea where they're trying to go with RAW any more. The stories vary so wildly from week to week, with no real underlying motive or purpose that it's hard to watch without first turning your brain off. Storylines are forgotten, restarted, rewritten or just completely overthought on a weekly basis, characters switch allegiances and directions at the drop of a hat, and in the end nobody is in a better position when it's all said and done anyway. Well, aside from maybe Triple H, Jerry Lawler and Jonathan Coachman. That's a damn thin roster for a wrestling organization to be based around. Last night didn't really offer any change to the status quo in any of these aspects, which means I was frowning a little more often than I was smiling.

I was surprised to see Lawler vs. Coach as the opener, which is a good thing. I was almost sure they were going to murder Lawler, replacing him in the announce position with RAW's newest heel, but it was not to be. This was everything I imagined it would be, with an unexplained, unmotivated Al Snow heel turn thrown in just to shake the cobwebs a little bit. I actually prefer Snow as a heel, and have long mourned the death of his late '90s heel turn opposite Mick Foley and the Rock, but I can't say I see this new role taking him anywhere. I did like that he told Coachman that he was "embarrassing HeAt," which was such an obvious bit of self-mockery that it drove my fiancee to ask if he wasn't perhaps being a little redundant. Lawler was his usual, boring, horny old man and he wasn't relieved of his color commentating duties, so that's a bad thing. But Al Snow was actually given something to do that didn't consist of jobbing to Rodney Mack, so that's a good thing. In the end, though, it means a PPV matchup between two uninteresting, non-athletic wrestling announcers. So that's a BIG bad thing.

A funny note, Jerry Lawler ventured into the same territory as Rick Rude this week, appearing on both WWE's Monday Night RAW and MLW's Underground TV on the same night. And, surprisingly enough, Lawler was actually used very effectively in the latter role. Facing off against Terry Funk, (I know... a combined age of about a buck fifty) Jerry was basically just there to frown, walk around outside the ring and hit Funk with rolled up barbed wire. He didn't break out with a lewd comment, he didn't attempt to grope and / or marry another sixteen year old girl, he basically just did his job. Which makes me wonder... how much of the horrific, boring, embarrassing old pervert we hear on TV every week is the real Jerry Lawler, and how much is the guy he's scripted to portray?

Didn't mind the whole "Austin destroys the set" segment, because Austin was perfectly in character and halfway entertaining. Booking Christian and Jericho against one another was a classic face-in-power move, and the whole casual feel of the promo fit his character perfectly. No complaints, and I'll actually give it bonus points if this was the last time we ever have to look at that god-awful, homecoming float-decorated set for the Highlight Reel. I mean, honestly... all that spray paint, glitter, pink and light blue? It looks like the gay nWo stayed up all night decorating the ring.

I really enjoyed the Jericho / Christian match, because it was both fresh and interesting. I could care less about Steiner / Test CXIV, because we've seen it hundreds of times in the past and it's never been a very good match. Both guys are relatively aimless, and they need something new in a hurry. Jericho / Christian, on the other hand, is a workable solution for two guys in dire need of a good month-long feud. Nice match, with both guys looking completely betrayed whenever the other attempted something dirty to steal the title. This was fun.

It really says something about RAW when the women's division, all six regular participants of it, is the most well-developed, consistently entertaining portion of the show. Molly is a great choice as champion and they're actually allowing her to show off a little more personality than in her previous "durr hey, look at the girl with the big butt" run. Strong heels, sympathetic faces, decent matches. I'll watch this any day.

Words can't really describe the thoughts running through my head during the now-infamous Kane / Shane jumper cables incident. They just keep going from bad to worse with Kane. How can a sport go from "two guys get in the ring and fight" to "one guy beats up another guy's mother, then the second guy beats up the first guy and knocks him off a platform, then the second guy laughs and just gets up, then they fight a little more, then the first guy tries to push the second guy into a flaming dumpster, but the second guy reverses it, but the first guy somehow didn't get burned, so the first guy beats up the second guy and tries to light his nuts on fire through the power of electricity, but the second guy is saved at the last second... and then they fight a couple weeks later"? Honest to god, these are the kind of plots you'd see cut from an Ed Wood film. It hurts me to try to think about that segment.

On the plus side, Rob Van Dam looks like a legitimate character all of a sudden, complete with a new "anger" emotion to offset his usual repertoire of "stoned," "unconcerned" and "missed the frog splash." I care more about a match between RVD and Kane after their combined thirty seconds of interaction than I do about Kane vs. Shane, after half an hour of tedious foreshadowing, set-ups and execution. Which is sick, really, because Rob and Kane had THEIR match LAST month.

Ding dong, the tag division is dead. I was interested in seeing a little more of Rob Conway last night, but even that mild desire was apparently too much to ask this week. Oh, and you know what I realized the other day? Shane Helms has been The Hurricane for over two years now. On one hand that's a good thing, because without this retarded-ass gimmick he'd have most certainly gone the same way as Mike Awesome in WWE. On the other... fuck, he's been doing the EXACT SAME THING for TWO YEARS! The only progression his character has made is in the length and color of his hair.

The highlight of the Test / Stacey vs. Stevie / Victoria match was my mild amusement at Richards's trunks, which read "Stevie Night Heat." You've gotta love a guy who's not only secure enough in his masculinity to wear pink to the ring on a regular basis, but to also simultaneously demean and mock his own position on the card and in the higher scheme of things. He knows he'll never go anywhere in World Wrestling Entertainment, (even though he totally deserves to) he knows that if the match within which he's participating isn't being taped for HeAT he'll be jobbing, and he's perfectly OK with every bit of it. I love that. The guy lives life with no illusions.

Finally, I really thought the main event did everything it could ever need to. Maven had the seeds planted for his eventual heel turn, through his awkward interaction with Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton held his own for most of the match, Goldberg was kept out of the ring up until the last thirty seconds of the match and the right man went over in the right method. This added interest to the World Title match, to the Michaels / Orton match and to Maven, a guy who's needed interest for years. It wasn't TOO ugly and felt like a main event-calibur match, which is something I've been missing lately. I didn't mind this, with Flair's selling of Goldberg's spear standing out as one of the funniest things I'd seen in weeks. The instant Goldberg connected with him, Flair went limp and just went stiff on the mat. He looked like he was auditioning for the lead in Weekend at Bernie's VII. Perhaps unintentionally, this was still really funny to me.

With the dust now cleared, this really wasn't as awful a program from head to toe as everyone seems to be making it out to be. The beginning and end were in the right place, and even though there was that horrendous, abysmal segment in the middle with Shane n' Kane, I can live with it. The writing still doesn't make a whole lot of sense and the matches aren't setting any fires, but the show has definitely been worse.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.05