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.
Overall Score: 4.5