Monday, October 27, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/27/03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/20/03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 18, 2003

The World's Greatest WWE No Mercy 2003 Preview

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

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

Tajiri (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
Cruiserweight Championship

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

Matt Hardy vs. Zach Gowen

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

Chris Benoit vs. A-Train

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately Stephanie has no such track record.

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

Kurt Angle vs. John Cena

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

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

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

In Closing...

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

Monday, October 13, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/13/03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 6, 2003

WWE RAW Review: 10/06/03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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