Monday, December 13, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 12/13/04

This week opened up, naturally enough, with Eric Bischoff strolling to the ring with the World Heavyweight Championship slung over his shoulder and a scowl on his face. I was glad to see Bischoff hadn't lost any of the edge that had made him so interesting in the weeks leading up to the Survivor Series, hadn't attempted to grow his hair back or re-dye it black, and had actually further accentuated his character's evolution by growing a thin, weary beard. The guy looked good, and it was nice to have a pillar of strength back at the helm of the show after a few weeks of temporaries. While Jericho, Benoit, Orton and even Maven had done well in charge of the show, none of them seemed to demand respect, to perspire authority in the same way that Bischoff does right now. Eric could've done this entire promo through body language... his scowl betrayed his opinions that the show hadn't gone as well as he'd hoped in his absence, his disdain for the title on his arm proved that he didn't enjoy the way he was thrown right back into the fire with a huge decision waiting for him, and the uncertainty in his eyes told us he hadn't yet made a decision about the title situation. Edge, Benoit and Hunter were all there via closed-circuit TV, and chimed in with a word or two before assaulting one another backstage, further infuriating the acting GM. This was a very nice opener to the show, just long enough to establish its points without belaboring them, and effective in setting the tone for the rest of the night.

Edge flew right into action after his opening skirmish, stamping down to the ring for a match with Randy Orton in the opener. I remember enjoying the series of matches these two had together on RAW in the spring of this year, and while the matches themselves were good, I never really felt they capitalized on all the potential they had together. They'd go from a really nice, hot, inventive segment to a long, dull, poorly-timed rest segment and then back again... like they'd let off the gas just as the car reached an exciting speed. With both guys switching allegiances since then, Orton to mild success at best and Edge to a run at the top of the card, and last week's outstanding promo, I thought maybe they'd finally deliver the match I was waiting for right here. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. This was about as good as any of their previous matches together in 2004, which isn't an insult nor is it a big compliment, really. Just like before, they'd get my attention with a great little segment and then lose it again by strapping on the chinlock. It'd been quite a while since the last time I saw Randy Orton latching onto one of his now-famously intense chinlocks, and I while was glad to see him introducing more of his heelish maneuvers to his face repertoire, after the third or fourth minute I was wishing for something new. Like each of their previous matches, this lagged early before gearing up for a very nice finish. I guess that's one way to shape the way your matches are remembered; get all the boring stuff out of the way in the first half, then finish hot so the dull stuff is less vivid in the crowd's memory. This was a little long for the opener, but I liked the theme it furthered and the finish was one of the best they've had together. Given a little more time to refamiliarize themselves with each other, I'm still confident these two will have that breakthrough match together.

Batista's build to the top continued this week, with another outstanding backstage segment and a great role in the Evolution vs. Benoit and Jericho match further up the card. I love that they've finally found a guy who can speak convincingly, intimidate anybody on the roster with his physique and wrestle the appropriately explosive big-man style. It didn't happen overnight, but he's become one of their best prospects as the year's grown older. These little motivational one-liners he's feeding Hunter are perfect for the situation; Batista's more the leader of Evolution than Flair or HHH right now.

In stark contrast to Batista's progression into one of the better big men in the federation today is Gene Snitsky, and his almost laughably-bad work on the outer edge of the main event scene. This guy looks like a doofus, talks like a doofus, acts like a doofus, and is being pushed... as a violent hard-ass with a temper problem and no respect for anyone around him. OK, which one of these does not belong? They had a moment of pure comedy gold on their hands when he was attempting a timid, cautious little dance while the Diva Search music played, and then they barreled right on into an attempted beating of the entire Women's division. Personally, I couldn't give a damn what they do with the guy because as far as I'm concerned he's completely worthless and backed into a successful angle with Kane, but if they're going to keep wasting TV time on him, they may as well cater toward his strengths.

Benoit and Jericho vs. Batista and Hunter was up next, and was just a hair below the level of their match together last week. Matches like this one are the reason Batista's transforming into a sound athlete between the ropes and Gene Snitsky, Tyson Tomko and John Heidenreich aren't. Batista's been put into the best possible position to learn from his elders, tagging with Hunter and / or Flair throughout the year against Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin and a rotating roster of other guys who know what it takes to make a match great. As the weeks went by, the big man started to pick up tips and tricks, began to implement them into his own moveset, and gradually progressed into the man you see in the ring today. Batista did more than make a few blind saves, hit a spinebuster or two, growl and scoop up the victory for his team... he told a story. That speech he gave Hunter earlier in the night about how the "Real World's Champion will be standing over Chris Benoit with his arms in the air" later in the evening? It was more than just an accident that he wound up in that situation at the match's conclusion, rather than Hunter. Both of Evolution's alpha males told volumes with their movements, facial expressions and body language at the end of this one. Hunter didn't know what had hit him, and Batista was both elated and almost morbidly serious as his glare burnt a hole in Hunter's forehead after the bell. Basically, the big story of this match was Benoit and Jericho completely obliterating Trips right from the opening bell, with Batista keeping his team in the running while Hunter nearly cost them the match on more than one occasion.

Mick Foley followed that up with a trip to the ring, where he then proceeded to tread water until Muhammad Hassan interrupted with another scathing anti-American promo. I really enjoyed this segment, although the live crowd tried their best to spoil the moment by resuscitating the long-deceased "What" chant. How long's it been since RAW was live in Alabama? Anyway. Lame, sing-along chants aside, this was a solid, emotional promo that left me with some genuine emotions for a change, though not exactly the kind they were aiming for. Foley was interesting here, unapologetically professing his love for John Kerry in Bush country and then almost saving himself by falling back on a generic "I support the troops" statement, but when Hassan showed up, the sparks really started to fly. Foley was like the quiet kid in the corner of the room who perks up and makes a stand when a particularly emotional issue comes up. He pounced on the opportunity to talk politics on-air, and when Muhammad kept up for him word-for-word, he was a little rattled. Mick tried to lead the whole thing into a confrontation in the ring, but Hassan took the high road, refusing to fight a man he doesn't respect. That one line had me bristling on the edge of my seat, waiting for Foley to go the traditional route and say something witty that forces the heel to come into the ring anyway and take some abuse, but Mick didn't have a comeback. Instead, the heel took a rare moral victory, Foley lost an argument and the crowd was deflated. It's something new, I'll give them that, and I'm intrigued to see what other taboos they shatter with this gimmick in the coming weeks. I don't have to like the "Arab as a heel" slant of the gimmick to enjoy it for being non-traditional.

Maven, Christian and Tyson Tomko vs. Eugene, Regal and Benjamin was a strange mix, not to mention a weird choice for a main event, and really didn't deliver. This was a confusing blend, as the faces and heels effectively switched dance partners midway through (with Maven moving on to a feud with Benjamin and Christian / Tomko setting their sights on the tag titles) and nobody seemed willing to take charge of either team. At a glance, you'd think Christian and Benjamin would be the captains, so to speak, but Christian wasn't exactly barking orders and Benjamin didn't even get warmed up until a couple seconds before Maven stole the win. Shelton's starting to do a better job of integrating his flashier moves into his regular moveset, but that wasn't enough to save the match for me.

Near his wits' end, Hunter made a last-gasp attempt at regaining his title, pulling out the emotion in a tearful plea to Eric Bischoff backstage. I thought this made great sense considering the turns Hunter's character has taken over the last few weeks. His world's falling down around him; he no longer has psychological control over the general manager, he lost the World Title, his most cherished possession, he's dealing with a challenge to his authority in Evolution, he doesn't know who he can rely on any more, and his motion picture debut is being panned almost universally by the critics. He knows physical intimidation won't work, so he's trying his hand at bending Bischoff's will with a more sensitive approach. Of course it didn't work very well, as Bischoff had already made his decision, but this segment was more about Hunter's downward spiral than EB's decision about the World Title.

Finally, we wrapped up with the Title announcement everybody seems to have known was coming, the ensuing brawl that was roughly twice as predictable as the announcement, and another victorious moment for Randy Orton. I don't see why that decision needed to wait for two full weeks, because in retrospect the end result was a huge let-down. Think about it, they built two episodes of RAW around the World Title situation, two episodes subtitled "Who is the World Champion??" and the only resolution we're granted is "Wait until January." It's not like it took me by surprise, but I still feel kind of jerked around by the handling of this situation.

An outstanding opening hour that cruised to a finish without hitting too many bumps in the road. They're really captivating me with this ongoing psychological war between Batista and Hunter and Triple H's complete loss of composure along the way. Eric Bischoff's return was a welcome shift back to normalcy, the matches were relatively solid (albeit not unforgettable) and even the show's worst segment (the Snitsky mess) was kept short. I can safely call that a small improvement over last week.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.9

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Armageddon 2004 Preview

Aside from the main event, this doesn't really feel like a PPV-caliber show. It's in that strange middle-ground between your everyday Smackdown television broadcast (which it's certainly a step above) and your monthly PPV event (which it's undeniably a step below). It feels like the kind of show they'd use to counter a RAW brand-exclusive pay per view on a Thursday night. A little more match-heavy than usual, but without as much of a chance for titles to change hands as you'd expect. A couple of these matches could really deliver, and each of the title bouts should be pretty solid, but as a package this card just doesn't do it for me. There's no underlying theme, no predominantly interesting storyline to glue the whole mess together... just a bunch of blandness.

Spike Dudley (c) vs. Funaki
Cruiserweight Title

I'm probably anticipating this match more than any other on the card. Funaki can be quite good if he's allowed to be himself, and Spike's been doing a great job as the mantle-bearer for the division thus far into his reign. I like that they've begun to shake things up a bit here, opting to focus more on the athleticism of the cruisers than the dramatic storylines that are the central focus of the heavyweight feuds. The only real reason these two are in the ring together is because Spike holds the title and Funaki wants to legitimize himself in front of his peers. There's no need for long, drawn-out, twisting, turning storylines that involve Spike pinning Funaki in Japan before stabbing him in the chest at an after-hours nightclub and costing him several months of in-ring time. It's just a wrestling match that's focused on solid competition. Take a look back, and you'll see that nearly every cruiserweight match in WCW's history was the same way. Unless Chris Jericho was involved, there was no story beyond that eternal hunt for the official three count. This should be a very nice opener, and while I'm rooting for Funaki, (who I can't believe snuck by another round of roster cuts unscathed) I've gotta believe Spike's going to retain.
Winner: Spike Dudley

Daniel Puder vs. Mike Mizanin
Tough Enough Dixie Dog Fight

It's funny to look back at the way this competition progressed and to see the abrupt changes of direction it's undergone. At first it was a heartwarming story about eight men chasing their dream, (and one who, despite all the guts in the world, couldn't overcome a freshly torn bicep) then it was an up-close study of the physical and mental toughness of each guy, (the face-off with the Big Show, the squat-thrusts with Angle) and then it quickly turned into an opportunity to embarrass each of the contestants. Likewise, as the competition progressed and changed, so did WWE's opinion on the value of the now-infamous Puder-Angle incident. Initially they were horrified... they thought this was an incredible embarrassment and attempted to ignore all arguments to the contrary. Then they started to realize that maybe there's some money to be made off of this, and began to come around to the idea of Puder as the frontrunner. Now they've all but thrown the victory into his lap by making the final challenge a legitimate sparring match between the last men standing. A lot of people are making references to Bart Gunn's unexpected annihilation of Dr. Death, Steve Williams, during the Attitude-era "Brawl for All" competition... and not undeservedly so. The fed is setting themselves up for another potential plan-changer here, by apparently relying entirely on Puder's capabilities while completely overlooking the fact that Mizanin has a chance, as well. Not that I think it's going to make a huge difference anyway, but there's always that chance out there. Puder takes this, but something tells me it won't be as easy as everybody's thinking it will be.
Winner: Daniel Puder

Big Show vs. Kurt Angle, Mark Jindrak & Luther Reigns

I'm conflicted on this one. On one hand, I'm really enjoying Kurt Angle as the mastermind of a big-time heel stable. I loved the idea when Paul Heyman presented him Team Angle a couple of years ago, and I love it now even if I'm not totally crazy about the guys he's got surrounding him. Kurt's almost completely divorced himself from the goofy, humorously-pompous character he portrayed for the first few years of his debut, and while that change led indirectly to his participation in the now-infamous "let's go shoot the Big Show with a dart gun" angle, on the whole it's been a refreshing change for his character.

Anyway. The Big Show and Angle have always worked quite well together, and I'm willing to wager they'll be the two guys who see the most ring-time together here. Jindrak will more than likely play whipping boy for the heels, while Reigns looks for the "big man staring down with another big man" moment they've been setting up all month, but Angle's the go-to guy without any question. Team Angle 2.0 takes the win here, giving us a lead-in to Angle vs. Show at the Royal Rumble.
Winner(s): Kurt Angle, Luther Reigns and Mark Jindrak

Dawn Marie vs. Miss Jackie
Charlie Haas is Special Referee

Goddamn, RAW may have Diva Lingerie pillow fights, limbo contests and beer bashes, but at least they don't feature a horrible, horrible, totally inconceivably bad women's "wrestling" match every time it's their turn to run a PPV. Even Lita, generally regarded as the division's weakest length (and by a good margin) could wrestle circles around Dawn and Jackie. There's a reason the women's division is on RAW and these two are on Smackdown: they shouldn't be in the ring. As for the outcome... well, Chuck's gotta turn one way or the other, because giving him the Tommy Dreamer line ("I'll take em both") just isn't gonna fly. They've been pushing his real-life engagement to Jackie a bit too strongly on-air lately. I smell a betrayal.
Winner: Dawn Marie

John Cena (c) vs. Jesus
United States Title

This match has all the ingredients to make something absolutely horrible. A new face, thrown into the mix near the top of the card before he's really established himself as a viable threat in the ring. An upper-mid-card star, popular enough to justify a run at the top but still a little shaky on the mat. A silly, gimmicky, ongoing storyline involving a stabbing at a nightclub. A title belt that's never really meant as much as it probably should. A high profile collision on PPV. Either John Cena's going to earn our respect with a great showing here or it's all going to fall apart in the ring, and I'm not thrilled with his chances at the former. The only thing casting any kind of question into my mind about the outcome of this one is the "street fight" stipulation, which leads me to believe Carlito won't be entirely uninvolved. Cena's star is on the rise right now, and while a win over the US Champ on PPV would prove to be a big-time initial boost for Jesus, I just don't see it going down like that. Cena in a blowout.
Winner: John Cena

Rey Mysterio & Rob Van Dam (c) vs. Kenzo Suzuki & Rene Dupree
Tag Team Titles

This could be better than it has a right to be. Dupree's been steadily improving since jumping to Smackdown, and paired up with Kenzo he's developed this awkward sort of chemistry that I can't really define. Likewise, Van Dam's been showing signs of improvement after basically bottoming out and losing his passion on RAW, while Rey Rey's been in high gear almost the entire time he's been in the fed. I don't think I'll ever be fully sold on Suzuki, though... you can give him all the character quirks and funny lines in the world, and I still won't be able to totally look past his ineptitude in the ring.

Anyway. This little rivalry's been brewing for a short while now, and I was surprised to see the titles change hands at Smackdown this week, rather than during the PPV on Sunday night. It's nice to have a little honest variety and surprise thrown into title matches now and then, such as when Edge won his first Intercontinental Championship at a house show the night before he was due to challenge for it on PPV, and so long as it doesn't become a monthly or weekly thing, I can't see that decision doing anything but good.

Shoot, I'm rambling off on a semi-related tangent. In short; should be a surprisingly good match, should lead to further problems between Suzuki and Dupree, should be a clean first defense by the faces.
Winners: Mysterio & RVD

John Bradshaw Layfield vs. The Undertaker vs. Booker T. vs. Eddie Guerrero
WWE Heavyweight Title

Basically everybody who could credibly hold the title right now (sans Angle, naturally) is involved in this match. Because, yeah, when you've got a shortage of drawing, top-level talent that needs to be stretched as far as possible until you land another main eventer, the best idea is to cram them all into one match. I'm worried about the way this will play out. On one hand, you've got one guy who's among the best in the game today (Guerrero), two guys, formerly very strong in the ring, on a downward slope near the end of their careers (Taker and Booker) and a champion who's surprised us all by putting forward a handful of entertaining defenses in the face of adversity. On the other, well... none of their styles are that complimentary to one another. The Taker's slow and methodical to a fault, JBL likes to brawl, Eddie's big on speed and high flying, and nowadays Booker likes to work basically the same match every time he's out there. This looks like little more than a clusterfuck waiting to happen from where I stand.

Then again, every one of these guys has performed beyond my own expectations on more than one occasion. If they all climb into the ring together on one of those "on" nights, this could be magical... but the planets would need to align in a really, really special way for that to happen. I don't know who to take here. Every one of these guys has dropped an opportunity to capture the title in singles action in the past, and there's a good chance the plan is to send JBL all the way to WrestleMania or at least the Rumble with the belt around his waist. I'm going with the Taker, just because I've seen who they've been emphasizing this month, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Booker or JBL exit the ring as champion. About the only result I'd call a surprise is a second Guerrero title reign.
Winner: The Undertaker

In Closing...

There's a lot of possibility here. There's a possibility that this will be among the worst cards promoted in the twenty first century, if the show-stealer is Jackie / Dawn Marie, and there's a possibility that this will be the greatest surprise of the century, if everything that has the slightest bit of potential to succeed delivers. There's a possibility that stars will be made here, if Funaki and Spike tear the place down, and a possibility that names will be broken here, if John Cena lays a turd with Jesus. Hah, that sentence just looks funny if you forget about the Spanish pronunciation. Anyway. I'm interested in the outcome of this PPV, but I'm not hopeful. If it succeeds, I'll be pleasantly surprised beyond all bounds. If it fails, my heart won't exactly break.
until then, i remain

Monday, December 6, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 12/06/04

Sorry to have missed last week, gang. I did catch the show, but just ran out of time to put together anything even slightly resembling a competent review, so I decided to bow out for an episode. Basically, I enjoyed last week's show a bit more than the rest of the crew seemed to, thought the battle royal was solid, loved the continuation of Batista's independence from Evolution, and really, REALLY liked the triple threat in the main event slot. I was disappointed to see a second "tie" finish, especially after an immediate unbiased TiVo replay showed Edge's hand hitting the mat first, but it made sense to both the characters, the title's direction and the build toward the Rumble. I wouldn't have ranked it much above a six, but there's no question in my mind that it was above average.

So now that we're caught up, it's the last week of the face Survivor Series team's month-long control of RAW and Chris Jericho is here to save the day as our final guest General Manager. I liked the unique little personal touches they threw into the production this week, with different opening pyro, a much more lighthearted feel to the opening segment, those badass rock-show star-shaped lights next to the Titan Tron and, of course, Fozzy on the entryway. I wish they would've done something subtle, yet unique, like that for each of the GMs this month, just to help differentiate their week in charge from those of their buddies, but it's too little too late at this point. Right from the opening pan of the arena, this felt much more like an episode of "RAW is Jericho" than last week did "RAW is Orton" or previous weeks were "RAW is Benoit" or "RAW is Maven." Y2J was styling, decked out in a new suit and visibly confident in control, which instantly set him apart from Maven, Orton and Benoit. Unfortunately, those visual hints didn't play into any really bold, clever booking decisions, so it wound up being just another missed opportunity. From the way he was reveling in his General Manager's duties during the opening moments, you'd think he was about to book himself into a match for the vacant World Title against Ralphus or something.

Y2J's opening promo was fun, and kept short enough to avoid grating on my nerves (as most cutesy comedy segments seem to do after a certain amount of time) so I don't have anything to complain about there. I'm not sure why Chris was so quick to exit the ring once Vince McMahon climbed in to make his announcement, nor do I really understand why he wasn't more outraged over the loss of a guaranteed title shot later in the program, when Chris Benoit caught up with him. Regardless, Jericho's casual introduction served as a nice lead-in to the weighty discussion between Vince and Hunter later in the segment. Vince constantly congratulating Trips, only to shoot a "fooled you!" sneer and give him props on something entirely unrelated was cheesy as hell, but the constant teasing seemed to throw Trips just over the edge, kick-starting the main story of the evening.

Batista was a pleasure to watch this week, as they continue to book him incredibly in realistic situations. While it is a little bit strange to hear him preaching the merits of level-headedness under pressure, just a month after losing his mind and attempting a single-handed backstage assault on Benoit, Jericho, Orton and Maven, it didn't come off as totally contradictory and his slight hypocrisy is actually kind of refreshing. I like seeing characters who have flaws, and right now every member of Evolution is tainted by a slight misalignment between what they say and what they do. I can't believe they've recovered Batista's slow turn, only a few weeks after I was certain they'd thrown it all away for a cheap, predictable swerve.

I liked the heel Maven more than I've ever liked the face Maven, but then again I've never even remotely liked the face Maven, so that's not exactly a sparkling endorsement of his current position. He and Eugene had a better match than I'd given them credit for, and I liked the way Euge "borrowed" the rolling, seated body scissors Tajiri hit him with a few weeks ago here. That's one direction they could go with the character from here, that he's slowly picking up bits and pieces of every repertoire on RAW and beginning to implement them into his own matches. But I'm probably reading too much into it, and it was merely a coincidence that they both used the same move within a couple weeks of each other. Maven calling Regal on the phantom trip and then immediately cutting loose with the in-ring dickery was generic, but well-done, and overall the segment was successful. I'm interested in seeing where things progress from there.

Even the limbo contest wasn't really horrendous. They kept it short, they kept it legit, (or at least as legit as possible in WWE) they kept the girls off the mic and it didn't result in an in-ring beatdown. Thank god for small miracles, right? Of course, there's no real reason for this to be on RAW in the first place, but... baby steps, I suppose.

Simon Dean vs. the Hurricane wasn't really the kind of match I'd call unforgettable, but it wasn't a complete waste of my time, either. I liked a few of the things they were doing with Dean in there, as he started out almost strictly amateur before wildly swinging to the opposite side of the spectrum when he realized that wasn't gonna cut it. Hurricane took a decided advantage while his opponent was trying to stick to the rules, and lost control when Simon started throwing closed fists and dropping wild elbows. I can't say I saw enough to lean one way or the other on the new guy's abilities, but I still think the gimmick's on its last legs.

I really, REALLY loved the verbal showdown between Edge and Randy Orton late in the show. This didn't feel like two guys going over their lines, reading their catchphrases off of a phonetically-spelled teleprompter and striking their overplayed poses in each of the four corners upon their arrival... it felt like two hungry young athletes, doing their best to get a psychological edge (no pun intended) on the competition. I've often wondered to myself why WWE promos don't occasionally pattern themselves a little more after UFC promos or pre-game interviews from the NFL or NBA, and while I wouldn't quite say this one was up that same alley, it was still a welcome departure from the standard fare. Edge and Orton, especially, are two young guys who rarely feel like they're really putting their hearts into it and saying what they mean (Orton's face run has thus far been a poster boy for emotionless, cheap pop-reliant speaking, while Edge has only recently started to explore some fertile territory on the stick) and this was a great, believable performance from both. These are the kind of promos that launch great feuds; deep inside, you know it's all still a work, but for all intents and purposes this was undeniably real. They both had points and weren't afraid to make them at the other's expense, and despite the fact both guys have switched allegiances since the last time they met, it felt like the same two harsh personalities were clashing in the ring this week as six months ago.

The Intercontinental Title match was gimmicky, but fun, and the lead-in was just another excuse to let Jericho and Christian work some magic in front of the camera. As far as I'm concerned, they can keep coming up with excuses for that particular rivalry, because even when they aren't feuding with one another or pairing up as a tag team, these two always manage to find something entertaining to say to each other. I half expected Christian to win the title here and embark on a long series of defenses as "Captain Charisma," complete with uniform, as a subtle prod at the superstitions that fuel most sports athletes. If a football player can believe that his career's been successful only because he's worn the same pair of boxers underneath that uniform each and every Sunday, why can't a wrestler believe that his reign as Intercontinental Champion is thanks to a goofy mask and a silly wardrobe?

Actually, despite all of Shelton Benjamin's laughs, Chris Jericho's snide remarks, Jerry Lawler's giggles and JR's mockery, I was almost immediately reminded of Rey Mysterio's "Flash" outfit from WrestleMania XIX. T. Snyder made the same comment in the forums, too, so I wasn't the only one. The match itself never got much of a chance to get off the ground, but even then wasn't all that bad. These two match up well together, Christian's willing to go the extra mile when he's in there with Shelton and Benjamin's offense looks like solid gold when Captain Charisma's there to keep it from looking too gimmicky or overdone.

Jericho and Benoit teamed up against Triple H and Batista in what I thought was the main event right up until they cut away to the commercial after the match and hyped Lita / Trish as "still to come." Seriously, I was seconds away from switching over to ABC to catch the last third of the Cowboys / Seahawks game. Anyway. Despite the lack of a real conclusion, this was a really entertaining match that served as a solid, temporary conclusion to the episode-long story about Triple H's loss of composure. It was great to see him flip out on Lillian for referring to him as the "former World Heavyweight Champion," and his frustration was naturally pushed over the edge after he was absolutely owned by Benoit and Jericho from bell to bell during their match. Batista's the only Evolution member that I can remember ever managing to control the match, and he was only in there for a few minutes at most. Benoit, in particular, was there to put on a show last night, much like he was in the main event last week. He's been insanely sharp thus far in December, keeping up a blistering pace in each of his matches, hitting his chops and his german suplexes with a little more snap than usual, and basically just kicking six different kinds of ass. Jericho was no slouch, either, and while he visibly lagged behind at times, Hunter also had a good showing. I loved the return of the Crippler-taming Lionface near the end of the match, and while I would've loved to have seen Hunter tap out, seeing him cost his team the win with a wild series of chairshots was an acceptable substitution. He really swung for the fences last night (perhaps a bit moreso than was necessary, as he legitimately took out Benoit and the ref) and delivered the message that the segment was meant to drive home. When he's holding the title, everything is under control. He maintains his composure, his confidence is often his greatest asset in the ring, and he's an undeniably intimidating opponent. When it's out of his grasp, it all evaporates, he becomes his own worst enemy with erratic behavior in the ring, and he's more desperate than confident. This rivalry he's building with Batista could lead to really great things if they're careful with it.

Finally, we wrapped up with what looks to have been the blowoff to the lengthy, months-old Lita / Trish feud. I went into this match with every intention of despising it, of giving the decision-makers hell for firing the whole division... but, goddamn, Lita an Trish actually delivered. The opening moments were humdrum at best, right up until that sickening headfirst dive out to the floor. I think just about everybody had the same sick feeling in the pit of their stomach after watching that, regardless of their feelings about Lita and her continued employment with the federation, but it seemed to perform more good than bad as far as the action in the ring was concerned. Trish handled the situation beautifully, grabbing the attention of the crowd and the cameras while the ref checked on Lita and attempted to reattach her head, and then giving the challenger plenty of time to regain her wits with a series of rest holds. Once they were both back on the same plane of consciousness, the match itself took off. It's like that headfirst fall shook something loose that reminded Lita she's allowed to put on a good match from time to time, because things picked up almost immediately afterward. The nearfalls were hot, the reversals were outstanding and the outcome was exactly as it needed to be. I won't go so far as to call it the best Women's match in the history of RAW, because the ladies were ROLLING around this time last year, but it's more than likely the best Women's match of 2004. Great stuff, and Lita deserves big props for continuing the match after that horrific fall.

This was a very good show, no doubt about it. The storylines they seem to be pursuing are almost unanimously fresh and interesting, the characters are growing more realistic and the match quality isn't taking a dip. I like the potential they're tapping right now, and despite the goofy situation surrounding the World Title, things are looking up. Better than last week without a second thought, and one of the better episodes they've had since the summer.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.6

Monday, November 22, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 11/22/04

RAW's been running with an awful lot of momentum this month, transitioning nicely from the big locker room revolt last month to the rotating roster of GMs after Survivor Series very nicely. They've not only maintained my interest in the shows themselves, but they've kept me stoked for the next episode almost unanimously for the last quarter of 2004. Considering the state of affairs the show was in after Summerslam, with Orton abruptly turning face and struggling his way through a rough time with the fans, I think that's one hell of an impressive correction. I liked what they had cooking on the back burner with Batista's slow turn, Maven's obvious indecision and Eric Bischoff's new sense of authority, and I liked what they had cooking on the front burner with Benoit, Jericho, Orton and Maven's motion to remove Evolution from power. The writing's been outstanding all month long, the characters are starting to resemble actual people and not puppets who memorize a line or two, and the action hasn't suffered an unrecoverable setback as a result. It's been seeming like the brains behind RAW have finally "got it" (to paraphrase an old WWF Super Bowl ad from several years back) and I've loved seeing things starting to come together.

This week's show looked like it was set to continue that trend right from the opening segment, as I watched with awe at the federation's satire of the Terrell Owens / Desperate Housewives debate from last week's Monday Night Football pregame show. I say I watched with awe, because every single time Vince & company try to get witty with a comedy segment like this, it seems to come across as heavy handed, preachy, hypocritical and just overwhelmingly stupid. This segment was none of those things... dare I say it, I was actually responding the punchlines. It's very rare that I'll say this about a pre-taped, overwritten backstage vignette that's trying to get Vince over as a legitimately funny guy, so mark today in your calendar. That was funny as hell, and I laughed my ass off.

As if I didn't think I was already in some sort of bizarro-WWE after that genuinely funny opening segment, Christ Benoit continued my sensation of vertigo by strolling out to the ramp, acknowledging the live crowd(!) and cutting a great, confident, to-the-point promo without a hint of hesitation. This was seriously like watching a completely different guy, that's how uncharacteristically collected he was out there during his one and only live promo as acting GM. I was hoping for more of a technical wrestling-focused program during the Crippler's week in charge, but the story they went with to avoid it made sense (hanging a blank sheet of paper on his door and allowing the roster to sign their own matches is about perfect for his character, actually, since he's never had any interest in making matches and stipulations that aren't his own) and he wrote himself into a cage match with Triple H for the World Title at the end of the show, so we were basically guaranteed to have a super hot main event. In theory, that is. Great opening segment all the same, that served to get the crowd off their seats and to reveal that Benoit has more than a passing knowledge of the English language.

Maven and Snitsky then rushed out to the ring in the opening bout of the evening, quickly deflating the high the crowd was riding from Benoit's main event announcement. This wasn't overwhelmingly bad, and to be honest it was actually better than I expected considering the participants, but it wasn't anything I'd put on a "best of RAW 2004" comp, either. The bloodshot eye and deep gash under the eyelid actually goes a long way toward giving Snitsky some personality, much in the same way Benoit's missing tooth and Sabu's crisscrossing scars helped them to develop characters for themselves without a lot of time on the mic. It's too bad that the eye will eventually heal, because legit scars like that are noticeably absent in the federation today, where everybody looks like He-Man and the most variety you can hope for in the young guys are some interesting new tattoos. After a week of establishing himself in the spotlight, Maven was back to his old tricks here, punching, dropkicking, backdropping and, uh... punching some more. He's still blander than a rice cake.

I loved the opening tensions between Batista and Triple H, because they'd done such a good job of building the big man's character over the last few months and it was finally starting to look like they were going to move him forward from the background and take advantage of all the seeds he'd been planting. By the second or third segment focusing on the tensions flaring in Evolution, though, I knew something was up. It was just overkill, and I was disgusted to see them toss away such a promising new character development in favor of a quick swerve and an in-ring ego stroke. Sure, they tossed in that little line at the end of the show (Triple H muttering "You still should've beat Jericho") to keep the coals warm should they need to revisit this storyline again in the near future, but it was already too little, too late. They had that crowd right where they wanted them and then threw it away for a segment so corny and cheap it seriously reminded me of the constant nWo "swerves" that all but killed the stable dead in the late 90s. All that was missing was Sting descending from the ceiling and a downpour of cups, papers and garbage in the center of the ring.

These Simon Dean segments are really starting to grate on me. The character's so one-dimensional that live crowds have begun to turn on it, and I don't mean the "whoah, I want to see this guy's ass whipped" kind of good heat. They've turned on him because they just don't want to see him any more, and I can't say I blame them. He's got a gimmick that's, basically, "I don't like fat people so now I will fight fat people for your amusement." That's IT. When he's not aimlessly insulting the audience, Dean's digging for cheap heat for all he's worth by employing every single generic heel tactic in the book. Powder in the eyes? Check. Assault from behind with a gimmicky weapon? Check. Weak, eardrum-wrecking entrance music? Check. I think all he's waiting for is a face to throw him into a birthday cake so we can complete the checklist.

I kind of enjoyed the Batista / Jericho match we got near the end of that first hour, because it served a couple purposes. For one, it demonstrated how dangerous Batista can be when enraged, since he took almost unanimous control of this match right from the opening bell and only let up when he was pried from Y2J's stunned, folded body in the corner of the ring. However, it also told a story or two about Triple H's psyche. Even if this whole dissolution of Evolution ordeal hadn't turned out to be nothing more than a ruse, Hunter would've come out as manipulative at worst, ingenious at best. He knows he's going to have to defend his title against Chris Jericho at least once in the coming weeks, and by riling Batista up before his match, he almost guaranteed himself an opponent who won't be 100% when they meet for the Heavyweight Title. This worked nicely for Batista's continuing story, and didn't even slow Jericho down all that much since he never had a chance to get the ball rolling after being taken by surprise right out of the gates. This was just long enough to say what it needed to say, which is more of a compliment than I can pay a lot of the matches taking place this month.

Coach vs. Rhyno was intriguing, since Coach actually stood up like a man for once and made a fight out of it before being distracted by the ref like a 'tard and taking a gore for his troubles. I'm liking this series of "beat down on Coach" segments, because it's something I can believe the guys in charge would get a kick out of and it hasn't been totally run through the ground yet. Bischoff isn't in the arena, so the faces are getting a rise out of demoralizing and obliterating his assistant, who also just happens to be a big-headed assface that thinks way too highly of himself. It's fun in the same way the Pete Rose / Kane segments at WrestleMania were fun, and like the previous segment it didn't take too long to get to the point.

I wish I could say we went three for three in the "got to the point and got out" department, but the Lita / Trish / Molly match kind of blew that idea all to hell. This was depressing more than anything, because the division is so totally dry and emotionless right now, just over a year removed from the height of its excellence. Lita didn't look as bad as usual here, but there was no emotion.

The six man never got time to develop, and I was surprised when the hot tag came at about the three minute mark. How much pain can you really be in after two minutes' worth of punishment? I like these teams, and they do seem to have good chemistry together, but this was just a nothing match that didn't mean anything to anyone. Benjamin an Conway, in particular, looked very good out there. If and when we get the La Resistance split and Rob Conway push I'm eagerly anticipating, that face-off has great potential as a midcard show stealer. They had a good thing going with a few good short, impact-filled matches earlier in the show and were just getting carried away at this point. This should've been twice as long.

Finally, after all the waiting and all the hooplah, Benoit marched out to the ring to a wild, eager reception and waited... and waited... and waited for Triple H to arrive. Finally, we cut to backstage in time to see Batista shuffling out of the Evolution locker room, Hunter flattened on the floor and VAL VENIS WITH NO HAIR. I thought maybe Kane and Lita's baby had grown up in a hurry, but nope... that was Val. Anyway. This setup was painfully obvious, and if Benoit's character had even an ounce of brains in his head, he would've taken the opportunity to grab a mic, announce that the title can now change hands on a count out, and rung the bell. He would've declared it a "last man standing match," rung the bell and let the refs backstage count to ten. He would've done SOMETHING to call Hunter's bluff and forced him to reveal that it was all a ruse because he's done this a dozen times in the past.

But no, rather than acting like a cynic, Benoit takes everything at face value, runs backstage and takes Ric Flair's word that Hunter is out cold. While there, however, he runs into Edge and the two exchange words, leading to a cage match between the recent enemies. This wasn't a bad match at all, but considering the venom that's been spraying between these guys in recent weeks, you'd think it would've been a lot more personal, not to mention a lot tougher to watch. Instead of a punishing, brutal war in the steel enclosure, they wrestled a solid match with a few traces of anger and frustration thrown in as an aside. Benoit was caught trying to escape the catch, not five minutes after he promised to torture his opponent in the cage, while Edge didn't seem to have anything to prove. I loved the spots with the baseball slides into the steel mesh, and they made for some awesome visuals, but the obvious hatred I was looking for wasn't there. I wish they'd bring back the blue bar cages, too, because slamming somebody into a mesh fence that swings away from the ring with a blatant amount of give just doesn't have the same impact as throwing somebody into a set of thick, immobile bars. A good match, really, with an ending I'm indifferent towards (it put Benoit over as both a seasoned veteran with great ring awareness and a coward, running away from the fight) and hopeless expectations to live up to after the Hunter / Benoit championship match we'd been promised all night long.

And I already covered the Hunter / Batista stare-down earlier in the writeup.

This wasn't as horrible a show as I'd remembered, but it wasn't really all that good at the same time. I liked the novel idea of cutting a match short after it had finished telling its story, right up until they tried to do it four times in a row. I loved the harsh words exchanged between Batista and Triple H, right up until I realized it was only heading to a disappointing swerve. And I really adored the idea of a Benoit / Hunter cage match, even if Hunter took it cleanly, right up until they yanked it away from us and gave us Edge in HHH's spot. This was an above-average showing, despite all the broken promises and wasted potential, but not by much.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.4

Monday, November 15, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Survivor Series 2004 Preview

Finally, a PPV that feels like it's worthy of a PPV. With the progression of PPVs from "once a year event" to "seasonal event" to "monthly semi-event" to "monthly, brand-exclusive shindig," a lot of the charm that was found in earlier shows has been lost. Gone are the days where each show had a distinct flavor, an underlying gimmick that set it apart (such as the royal rumble's battle royal, the survivor series' elimination tags and king of the ring's tournament brackets) and in their place are a series of watered-down shows just a step or two removed from your everyday TV broadcast. I'm vehemently opposed to the monthly, split-roster PPVs the fed's been running for well over a year now, and it's big, interesting shows like this one that remind me why, exactly, I cared in the first place. By stretching the rosters so thin, it's gotten to the point where too much talent and not enough time is an enviable problem, the kind of flaw you'd jump at the chance to tackle. Thus my interest in this month's offering, the nigh-legendary Survivor Series.

This is a well-rounded card, with a very good chance to succeed and a taste of something for almost everybody. Without the need to concentrate on any supplemental matches for this month's PPV, both shows have put together some very interesting storylines. Both of the classic Survivor Series-style tag matches have roots in pre-existing, heatedly-contested feuds, but rather than feeling rehashed and overdone, those lingering emotions only add to the tension in the air. All of the championships feel as though they're in genuine danger of changing hands, and none of the challengers would appear out of place wearing the gold when all is said and done. In short, this is the kind of show WWE could be producing on a regular basis if it weren't for the frequency and brand-exclusivity of the modern pay per view. I'm excited for this Sunday, but can't say the same for the month after that.

Spike Dudley (c) vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Chavo Guerrero vs. Billy Kidman
Cruiserweight Title

Should be a great example of four guys, completely in their element, doing what they do best. While I still miss the spontaneity of the matches these guys were putting on almost a decade ago in WCW and ECW, when they were completely unhampered by style limitations in the ring and could let it all hang out if they so desired, each one has taken steps to reinvent themselves within the confines of a WWE ring. They're each working a safer style, undoubtedly a less flashy one, but the matches are still very entertaining. Mysterio's had some outstanding matches with Kurt Angle. Chavo's always worked well with his uncle Eddy, but their matches at the end of 2003 were completely different than their clashes in the past. This is going to be interesting, no doubt about it, and unless the ringside area grows unnecessarily crowded, it should serve to energize the audience, regardless of where it's placed on the card. The real emphasis of this match looks to be Chavo vs. Kidman, and it's traditionally a bad idea to take your attention off the champion in a four way. For that reason I'm taking Spike, but in all honesty the only guy I'd be surprised to see win it is Rey.
Winner: Spike Dudley

Trish Stratus (c) vs. Lita
Women's Title

After being absolutely leveled by the recent roster cuts, I'm having trouble getting excited about the ongoing potential of the women's division. Not surprisingly, their choice of Lita as the current challenger to Trish's rarely-defended title isn't doing much to console me. The build for this match was started and then abandoned so long ago, it's tough to get excited about the payoff this Sunday night. Sure, they would dangle a fresh carrot in front of our faces with a random vignette or face-to-face backstage on RAW once or twice a month, but even those only seemed to serve as more of a reminder that both women are still on the program than an ongoing point of ignition for an eventual title match. These two have never really paired off well together, even before Lita underwent her style-altering neck surgery, so my hopes for the match itself are minimal. And even though Trish has been treading water with the gold for a few months, she's a much more interesting champion than Lita would be right now. I'm taking Ms. Stratus. If you should happen to hear the call of nature during this match, feel free to rise from your couch and investigate.
Winner: Trish Stratus

Shelton Benjamin (c) vs. Christian
Intercontinental Title

This should serve as a good indicator of how realistic a chance both guys have at climbing to the top of the card somewhere in the near future. It's interesting to note that they've both followed a similar path to their current positions on the card; surfacing as a silent tag team participant, part of a three-man operation helmed by a more vocal central figure, eventually splitting away from said figure and freelancing as a successful tag team combination, holding several tag team titles before discovering a personality and splitting from the team, then all but forcing their way to the Intercontinental Championship by participating in a series of very good singles matches. They've both suffered through badly-timed injuries, and they're both on the rebound in a thriving RAW midcard. Yet I've still got my doubts about each of their consistencies in the ring. Shelton's seemed to perform well opposite both slouches and superstars, but his offense is still very repetitive and he lacks a series to really pop the crowd. Christian, on the other hand, has a strong grasp of variety in his matches, but doesn't always put his best foot forward when opposed by a poor worker. I'm hoping they can teach each other a few lessons before this series is through, and if either one of them accomplishes that, the feud will be a great success. Christian takes this one due to his experience advantage (or outside interference, your choice) and the chase is on.
Winner: Christian

The Undertaker vs. Heidenreich

And here I thought we'd moved beyond feuds based solely around attempted vehicular homicide. Using automobiles as a weapon is SO 2000 - 2002. In case the blatant stalling didn't tip you off, I'm not all that interested in this match. The Undertaker's failed to recapture the original magic of his old gimmick since returning to the dead, and while I hate to be the conceded ass to say "I told ya so," well, I told ya so. The age of this gimmick is really hurting both the Taker and his unfortunate opponents, and he hasn't exactly ripened with age in the ring. This match is going to be painful.
Winner: The Undertaker

Kurt Angle, Luther Reigns, Mark Jindrak & Carlito Cool vs. Eddie Guerrero, Rob Van Dam, Big Show & John Cena
Classic Survivor Series Elimination Match

A relatively oddball couple of pairings, with unique histories that tangle and intertwine all the way back to at least late 2002. Kurt Angle's had beefs with every one of the guys on the opposite team, (sans RVD) and his close relationships with both Luther Reigns and Mark Jindrak make them a common enemy by proxy. Meanwhile, John Cena (who's never really seen eye-to-eye with the Big Show and never had anything to say about his other teammates) and Carlito (who seems to have joined up with his team by accident) feel more like they've been tacked onto their respective teams just to fill out their lineups. I like what they're doing with Angle, by moving him back into a mentor role similar to the one he previously occupied with Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin, and I'm interested in seeing how well that relationship translates to the ring this Sunday. No question about it, the heels should function much better together as a team, while their opponents don't have much in common aside from their alignment in the grand, face-heel scheme of things. For that reason alone, I've gotta give Team Angle a distinct advantage.
Winners: Kurt Angle, Mark Jindrak, Luther Reigns and Carlito

Triple H, Batista, Edge & Gene Snitsky vs. Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho & Maven
Classic Survivor Series Elimination Match

Bar none, the most interesting match on the card. The best possible reason to allow a heel faction to run wild on any particular show, especially for the amount of time Evolution has been manhandling RAW, is to eventually motivate, unify and mobilize the faces of that particular show. This past month, all those months of seed-planting, storyline-progressing and character-defining have finally begun to pay off. All the shit is hitting all of the fans, all at the same time for Evolution. Randy Orton finally decided that he was bigger than the stable, took the World Title for himself and was exiled from the faction, shrinking their numbers. Eric Bischoff, fed up by years of broken promises, senseless ass kissing and constant humiliation, has actually started to crack down on Triple H and his cronies, and their last, desperate attempt at recapturing his favor ultimately proved to be futile as he was driven to the verge of stripping Triple H of his title. Finally, all of the faces that Hunter's gone out of his way to individually demoralize and silence have banded together and pose what's possibly a more serious threat than the group has ever faced this Sunday at Survivor Series. This month's episodes of RAW have done a great job of not only emphasizing the match itself, but also the ramifications of its outcome on the World Champion. Adding to that, the physical portion of the competition should be extraordinarily good. Benoit, Orton, Jericho, Hunter, Batista and Edge have all been instrumental players in the show's constant parade of top-notch main events this year, most of which have been tag team competitions. Needless to say, these guys have had a lot of experience together, both as tag teams and as singles. Snitsky and Maven stick out like sore thumbs here, even moreso than Cena and Carlito in the Smackdown Elimination Tag, but both serve as wild cards in the scheme of things. Snitsky's already expressed his intentions, should his team win the general manager's powers, and something tells me Maven's been sleeping with the enemy. Somebody's gonna turn in this match, but it's anybody's guess as to who that might actually be. Despite the "last RAW victory curse," I think the faces are too completely unified to lose here, and are actually quite likely to recover from the loss of Maven, if he should turn his back on them and join up with Evolution.
Winners: Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Maven

John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. Booker T
WWE Championship

I'll tell you the truth, this has actually been a pretty fun ride. It's great to see Booker excited about his potential on the card again, and it's tough to pick a winner here because of the way things have played out. Even though he's still very poor in the ring, it's tough to deny the fact JBL has evolved into an interesting heel character, and I can't believe he's held onto the belt for as long as he has. Even if Booker is the one destined to take the gold off him, it would be almost anticlimactic to do it here, after such an abbreviated build. I'm thinking the match will be sub-par, since Booker hasn't been the same wrestler since coming to the federation years and years ago and JBL is... yeah, he's JBL. Still, the crowd should be awake and I'm intrigued by the various potential outcomes.
Winner: JBL

In Closing...

Like I said, a lot of possibilities on this card. The championship matches are there and they seem to mean something, the elimination-style tags are here in all their glory, and at least one of them should be out-of-this-world good, and the big, slow man match is there for anybody who's interested in seeing that kind of goodness. The RAW side of this card is hands-down the more interesting in the ring, while the Smackdown side is holding its own on the storytelling side of things. Not a bad card by any means, and if a couple of these matches exceed their expectations the night could be very fine indeed.
until next time, i remain

WWE RAW Review: 11/15/04

The dust of Sunday night's Survivor Series was still settling around our feet, and already it was time to proceed with the stipulations of the RAW main event. For all of November and even a little bit of September, the primary focus of this show had been on the eight men involved with that "classic elimination tag," plus Ric Flair, and I was curious to see how the show would fare now that the big match was in the past and everyone involved would more than likely float back into their previous singles feuds. Would RAW feel empty without that central storyline to thread everything together? Would the winning coalition of Benoit, Jericho, Maven and Orton throw down over who got the first shot at Hunter's gold? Would we get a new face or two on the scene, now that the gang warfare has subsided? I didn't have any answers, but I had a stack full of questions, so I was anxious to get into this show. That's a sign that the outcome of the Survivor Series main event did its job.

This week's GM, Maven, started things off for us by completely running through the show's itinerary within the first few seconds of air time. I liked this. It's strange that I'm refreshed by a complete lack of impromptu matches and wild, unprovoked swerves in booking strategy, but that's how I felt after this little bit. Some of the matchmaking was a little suspect, (like the lingerie pillow fight and the proposed JR / Coach face-off) but only worked to the benefit of Maven's character, as the slight changes in the status quo made it feel like he really was booking the matches on his own, not answering to an invisible higher power back behind the curtain.

In-ring action started off with a three team elimination match for the Tag Team Championship. This turned out much better than I'd expected it to, and while I think the time's passed for Eugene as a credible part of the active roster, the titles weren't exactly setting the world ablaze on La Rez. At the very least, this'll give the division a new team or two with some momentum behind them. I enjoyed Tajiri and Rhyno's run at Conway and Grenier's gold this summer, but they kept stumbling on the launch pad because the casual fan had no confidence in the ECW alumni as a steady tag team. Now that Eugene and Regal have won the belts, all bets are off. I was really surprised with how well Eugene and Tajiri worked together here, matching each other move-for-move, spot-for-spot and putting together a nice, fluid series of nearfalls along the way. Maybe all Nick Dinsmore needed to get over the hump in the ring was somebody who could help him build some confidence. Rob Conway looked great, as always, although he seemed to connect with a hard right hand on Rhyno a couple minutes in that brought the match to an awkward pause for a few moments. All things considered, this was probably the ideal environment for each of these guys to shine, and the end result was a match all six can be happy with. Good booking, good wrestling, good outcome.

Probably the one thing I'd enjoyed the most over this past month was the way each episode of RAW had an underlying theme to it, a conflict that hung in the background of every scene, no matter who was actually on-camera at the time. For most of this month it's been the locker room's stand against Evolution, along with Eric Bischoff's rebirth as a competent, believable master-in-chief of RAW. While we've seen women's matches and undercard matches and backstage vignettes that had nothing to do with either of those storylines, there's always been some sort of reminder as to what's going on with that storyline and the show has always dangled tiny threads in front of our faces, keeping that main plotline in the back of our minds, even as we're watching the development of a secondary story. I was really worried that the show would lose that aspect this week, in the wake of a feud so big they couldn't help but feature it, front and center. Fortunately enough, with Triple H's offer to Maven and the constant reminders about his big decision throughout the night, they proved that my worries were without merit. Make no mistake about it, that decision was the backbone to this show. Hunter's calm, collected offer and Maven's uncertain responses throughout the night gave this episode a great touch of dramatic tension. Instead of taking away from the other segments by stealing the audience's attention away, this story actually served to enhance the rest of the show. Edge's turn on Christian seemed to mean a little more after the little backstage face-off between Maven and Orton set the mood for it. This was a great example of one sound, show-spanning story working toward the greater good, and they used it with startling accuracy. Paired with the early announcement of this week's complete card, this was a great way to put the show on the fast track to success.

Triple H was outstanding with his delivery of the "invite heard 'round the world," but couldn't leave well enough alone and keep a concise little conversation... um... concise. So instead of hitting the nail on the head with a brief, effective display of mind games and subtle intimidation, he hit all his points, glanced at his watch, realized he had a couple of extra minutes to play with, then went back and rehashed all the same points over and over again. Watching this was like witnessing a student in speech class who didn't prepare enough material to cover the correct amount of time. For his part, Maven did a good job here. He seemed to expect it initially as a sort of threat, which is why he immediately fired back with "no thanks, I'll take the title shot," but slowly grew more and more unsure of himself as Hunter revealed it wasn't a ploy, and that the offer was real.

Not long after, Lita quickly and effortlessly disposed of Molly Holly. I'm getting tired of complaining about Molly's spot on the card, her treatment as a formerly dominant women's champion, etc. Still, it's tough to watch her being dismantled by Lita, still doing her best to scrape together a match that's worth watching and tapping out without putting up much of a fight. This match was just there. Molly was bouncing all over the place in search of a good match, Lita didn't botch anything, and I can think of half a dozen worse roles she's occupied in her career than this current "bully with a heart of gold" persona. I guess somebody's gotta be the dominant female, now that Jazz is gone. Post-match, Trish recaptured my interest by showing up with what's gotta be the most hideous nose brace (or would that be a face brace?) I've ever seen and blaming it all on Lita. Even though I'm not all that interested in seeing it result in a match, I've gotta admit I smiled when Lita responded by shoving the champ, nose first, down to the mat because that's exactly how somebody would respond in real life. Incessantly bitching about how I broke your nose last night? How about I break it again for you. Who flipped the switch backstage that let all the wrestlers start acting like human beings and not robots with pre-programmed actions?

I'm still scratching my head over Maven's logic with the whole "silent J in RKO" thing. Even if the letter's silent in everyday pronunciation, when you're spelling it out, you include the J. That whole segment didn't do anything for me, but it didn't seem to be designed for much more than getting Randy Orton out to the ring so the fans had something to cheer about. So I guess it succeeded, and it wasn't a twenty minute epic or anything so I won't complain.

I loved the one-night-only reunion between Edge and Christian, as they took on Shelton Benjamin and Chris Benoit. Even from the opening promo, you could tell that these two characters weren't gonna be able to coexist together any more. For once, the bookers forgot about happy feelings, emotional reunions and mark-out moments, and let the characters themselves dictate the proceedings. These guys have changed so much since they last teamed together, it's difficult to even recognize them as the same people. Christian's transformed from an underling, Edge's "yes man," into a domineering, cocky, self-centered prick. Edge, on the other hand, has grown more self-absorbed and resentful. He's lost the comedic edge (for lack of a better word) that's still present in bits and pieces of Christian's personality, and takes things way too seriously all the time. To throw these two together again in the ring, complete with kazoos, five second poses and goofy sunglasses would've killed all the progress they've both made over the last three years. Instead, by establishing them as two guys with enough familiarity together to still function as a tag team, but also with personal issues serious enough to prevent them from actually getting along, they've completely severed their ties to the past. Sometimes tag teams break up for a reason, and the sparring that went on between these two, both before the match and after, was a good example of why they went their separate ways.

The match turned out to be outstanding, with E&C focusing on Benjamin's shoulder the whole way through and Benoit eventually getting the hot tag and cleaning house. Benoit and Benjamin worked really nicely together, although the Wolverine seemed to be going out of his way to avoid his partner after the match. In short, this was every bit as good as you'd expect from these four, and while the fan in me was sad to see E&C break up again before they could really get together again, the critic in me was pumping his fist in the air and shouting "YES!"

Stacy and Christy had their lingerie pillow fight. Insert my usual line about "if i want porn, I'll go rent some porn."

I'm loving the continuing progression of Batista's character, and it really is starting to look like it's just a matter of time before he snaps and tears loose on Triple H. The subtle undertones of Hunter's relationship with Evolution's big man are working wonders here, getting the message across that Trips is taking him for granted while he runs off to search for Orton's eventual replacement, that Batista doesn't like this one bit, and that Helmsley is self-centered enough to not even realize it. The way he casually mocked and demeaned Batista last night when the big man came to him with legitimate concerns about his offer to Maven earlier in the night was a great way to hint at a future turn. I mean, think about it... when was the last time we saw Batista and Maven together? Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago? Wasn't Maven bitchslapping him, running like a wuss to the ring and stealing a fluke victory from him? That Hunter would offer a membership in the stable without at least mentioning it to Batista and Flair is one thing. That he'd offer that membership to somebody who had personally offended Batista not even a month ago is something entirely different. Keep an eye on this relationship, because it's about to get really interesting.

Finally, the main event. Maven's decision. Hunter's title defense. More interference than a 2" handheld TV set with a rusty set of rabbit ears in a forest. The crowd was surprisingly dead for the first half of this one, in sharp contrast to the Hunter / TAKA title match from a handful of years ago that I'm sure was in the back of everyone's mind as the events played out. The big difference between those two matches? The live crowd actually bought that Michinoku had a legitimate shot at winning the thing, especially with Hunter's cronies barred from ringside and the APA to watch the Kaientai member's back. Last night, even with Flair and Batista thrown out of the ringside area and Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho to watch his back, it was still tough to imagine a world where Maven is Heavyweight Champion. Adding to that, the fact that the match itself would've been close to three minutes long if it weren't for the constant, repeated, blatant interference from the floor... well, yeah, that didn't exactly lend him a world of credibility as challenger, either. This was a good start for Maven, and I'm interested in seeing how he responds to his buddies' interference next week, but it certainly wasn't a good match. Too much hypocrisy from the faces, doing everything in their power to lean the match in Maven's favor, and not enough focus on the match itself. Part of me thought there was an outside chance they'd hotshot the title just to fuck with the faces over the next couple of weeks, only to give it back to Hunter after they'd traded turns as GM and the imminent threat had passed, but... it's MAVEN.

I really enjoyed this week's show, that's all there is to it. Despite the mind-boggling amount of outside involvement in the Title match, a forgettable match between Lita and Molly, a meaningless brawl between Randy Orton and the Coach, and a Simon Dean segment so bad I don't even really want to comment, this was a good showing. While there were plenty of bad segments, they were kept to an abnormally short period of time, while the good moments were stretched out over about three quarters of the show's air time. The story with Maven and Evolution was exactly what this episode needed to grease the wheels a little bit, and the two separate tag team matches were both very, very good. Here's hoping the improvement carries over to the Thanksgiving RAW.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.9

Monday, November 8, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 11/08/04

Survivor Series is around the corner now, and although I was under the impression we had another episode before the PPV, the build is actually pretty solid this time around. RAW's central storyline hasn't really had a lot of time to simmer on its own, but the combination of several ongoing and / or historic personalities conflicts (Jericho / Hunter, Benoit / Edge, Orton / Hunter, Snitsky / Jericho, Benoit / Hunter, Edge / Jericho, Batista / Maven and more I'm sure I've overlooked) have done a great job of working to improve the whole. Now, rather than a hurried, elimination-style match at the top of the Survivor Series just for old times' sake, it honestly feels like a peak of the last year's worth of storytelling that's coincidentally reaching a crescendo just as the famed PPV happened to come around. That assimilation of several individual conflicts into one big, show-spanning war has gone a long ways toward keeping this show in the positive this month. Of course, the big question going into last night was 'can they maintain it,' and I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think there was any chance they'd mess the whole thing up and watch it all fall down just hours before the SS main event.

I liked the way this week's show opened up, with Hunter mid-sentence in the ring, reaming the locker room (and particularly Eric Bischoff) for their actions last week in his absence. It went quite a ways toward conveying the sense that Hunter was absolutely beside himself over the way things were turning out than any sort of backstage beatdown, slow, cocky walk down the entryway or overproduced video recap could ever hope to. Hunter was so angry this week, he couldn't even wait for the show to go live and when Eric Bischoff cut him off, he was instantly out for blood. When Eric got in the ring and Hunter immediately made a move to re-establish himself as the show's alpha male, (with all respect to Monty Brown) it marked a noticeable change in both men's attitudes. It wasn't a change on par with Kurt Angle's abrupt about-face when he turned face to contend with Steve Austin several years ago. It wasn't like Booker T and Shawn Michaels' mysterious apparent friendship, only a few months after Michaels superkicked Booker out of the nWo and hinted that his actions were racially motivated. Simply enough, it was Bischoff coming to the realization that he's had Evolution by the balls all the time. It was Triple H seeing a fire in the General Manager's eyes that he didn't like and making one last, desperate gamble to regain his stranglehold over his physically-diminutive superior. As Adam said before me, the reason this corner Bischoff's character has taken is so incredibly interesting at the moment is because he isn't a completely different person than he was three weeks ago. He's still an asshole, and he'll still hold a grudge if you cross him. The difference is that he's finally playing on the same field with the heels AND the faces. He's making decisions with the status of RAW's bottom-line in mind now, not the status of Triple H's next title reign. This was an incredibly important point for them to make if the "new" EB is going to succeed, and they delivered it in style. Too bad, then, that Eric won't be on the show for a full month now.

Speaking of solid character development, take a look at freaking Batista this month. Rather than holding tight as the flunky of Evolution, he's quickly becoming a well-rounded creature of his own, showing moments of unbridled rage from which no one is safe, and expressing some subtle aspirations to follow the same path out of the stable that Randy Orton took just three months ago. I think there's a good chance they'll reveal that Batista was the one to take out Flair last week, in a violent fury similar to the one we saw backstage after his loss to Randy Orton in the first match of the night. There's an interesting character starting to break through beneath that veiny facade, one who speaks well and dresses well, but loses all sense of right and wrong when overcome with anger.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into things again. I've made a habit of doing that.

Since I've pretty much stampeded past it already with my comments on the progression of the various personalities of some of the show's top heels, now's as good a time as any to backpedal a bit and mention that Batista and Randy Orton had a big, long match to open the show. Putting it as simply as I can, this would've been an outstanding match at ten or fifteen minutes. There was a good pace to the match, a natural progression from a violent brawl to a more submission-based game of "human chess" and a great gathering of momentum near the conclusion that would've been even more noteworthy if the match had ended on something a little more memorable than a fluke roll-up. The real problem was that extra five or ten minutes, which were basically recycled from earlier in the match, and the toll they took on the speed of the whole package. Starting a match with punches, shoulder blocks and plenty of irish whips is a good way to establish deeply-seated hatred between the two men in the ring. Chris Benoit and Edge did the exact same thing in their match at the end of the show, and it worked just as well there as it was here. The problem was, Batista and Orton lingered on that portion of the match for way too long, throwing punches and running into each other when they should've been slowing it down on the mat, slowing it down when they should've been heading for home and finally wrapping it up when the crowd had already deflated. It's good to see these two members of the current youth movement aren't afraid to test the water with some longer matches, but they don't quite have it down just yet.

Tyson Tomko and Shelton Benjamin followed that one up with a midcard match of their own, bringing some wordless promotion to the Intercontinental Title match this Sunday between Benjamin and Tomko's boy, Christian. Truth be told, I was expecting far less than we got here. Tomko is steadily improving, to the point that I'm now beginning to believe he might evolve into something more than Billy Gunn version 2.0, and Benjamin was really feeling it last night. The way he was bouncing around the ring to get Tyson just a little bit more over as a legitimate threat wasn't unlike a young Shawn Michaels, and he's just starting to gain enough confidence in the ring as a single to take charge of a match and transform it from something mediocre into something special. Take a look at the chokeslam he took for the tattooed wildebeest about two thirds of the way through that match, and then go back and look at the way every other Tomko opponent has taken it... it's two completely different worlds. If he can grab hold of a spot, a catchphrase or a character that the audience can identify with, Shelton's got big things in his future. The match was a bit hurried, but there is such a thing as too much Tomko so it's a fair trade.

I had no love for the Highlight Reel segment, neither before nor after Gene Snitsky made his appearance and delivered "the punt heard round the world." Beforehand it was just more of the same between Trish and Lita, who have been treading water, waiting for the whole pregnancy angle to run its course before moving forward with their Women's Title feud. Trish plays the bitch, Lita the outraged, furious scapegoat with a mean bite and we're on the verge of another painful cat fight when the baby killer interrupts. The baby punt didn't get as big a laugh out of me as it seems to have produced throughout the forums, and I'm once again feeling like I missed the joke with this guy. I definitely preferred Hunter's potted plant dropkick during his vow renewal with Stephanie a few years back, in terms of sheer unexpected comedy on RAW.

Right from that segment, which was itself toeing the line between light humor and bold annoyance, we then head into Simon Dean's second live appearance on Monday Night, with his lineup of plants and fakes following close behind. If the Snitsky baby-booting toed that line, this segment backed up, got a running start and performed an Olympic-sized long jump beyond it. It's one thing to build heat by annoying, insulting and basically begging an audience, it's something else to do it for over a quarter of an hour. They need to get to the point with this angle ASAP, because one more tedious segment like that and it's over before it's begun. How can they be moving in such a realistic direction at the top of the card and such a cheesy, unbelievable direction down here at the bottom?

And, just as we appear to be on the verge of a third match and a conclusion to this string of ugly segments, Gene Snitsky jogs down the entryway and wipes Tajiri around the ringside area, concluding the Japanese Buzzsaw's match with Triple H before it had even begun. I'm not sure what the point of this was, since Tajiri isn't remotely involved in the match this Sunday and Snitsky's only intent seems to be warning Triple H that he'll be looking out for number one in the occasion that their team wins the month-long RAW GM-ship. Don't get me wrong, I like that the heels are anything but buddies, and that they're having second thoughts about blindly following Triple H's lead, (actually, quite the opposite... I think it gives a fresh dynamic to Sunday's match) but I'm not sure the center of the ring was the only available spot to express that with Snitsky, especially so soon after his last segment.

I enjoyed what we got of the Benoit / Edge match, and have to admit I'm really getting a kick out of their feud as a whole thus far. It's something that was kept on the backburner for a little while, as Edge briefly occupied himself in the Intercontinental Title scene and took some time off to heal his wounds, but came back up to the forefront in a hurry and felt much more like an accumulation of several months' worth of animosity than an ill-timed change of heart. These guys had issues the LAST time they were tag team champions, and all that started to pour out as the match got underway last night in Austin. Benoit was really in his environment here in the early-goings, as he's never quite as good as he is when they give him a reason to get personally offended at his opponent, but as things settled down, the pace grew more and more awkward. It's like neither Edge nor Benoit couldn figure out who was supposed to be in control at any particular moment, so they substituted by trading off more frequently than usual. Unfortunately, just as things seemed to be coming together again, Evolution came down to ringside, followed closely by Team Orton, and all hell broke loose shortly thereafter. The post-match battle didn't have the emotion you'd figure it would, and in that respect I think Ric Flair was sorely missed. Simply enough, the faces are surprised and thrown out of the ring, take a moment to regroup and overtake the heels as they argue in the middle of the squared circle. For once the faces are all on the same page, while the heels are going in six different directions at once.

All things considered, I can't claim this week was better than the last, especially without the requisite outstanding match that's been RAW's calling card all through 2004. Edge / Benoit and Orton / Batista weren't half bad, in reflection, but both seemed to be missing something that kept each of them from being more than an average TV match with more time than usual. I'm loving the attention they're giving to character development on the show right now, especially in the mid-card and upper-card heels, and the main event storyline's been great this month, but it hasn't been there in-ring as consistently as it had been earlier in the year. Above average, no question, but not by much.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.7

Monday, November 1, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 11/01/04

RAW's been tough to figure out this year. It's floated from unarguably superb to unfathomably bad, despite the presence of a series of main events that have been consistently among the best free TV matches in the history of the program. Seriously, if you were to watch every main event of RAW from 2004, one right after the other, you'd be amazed at the kind of goodness we've been blessed with. On the other hand, if you were to watch every non-wrestling segment involving Kane, Eugene, Lita or even Eric Bischoff, you'd think this has been one of the single worst seasons since the show's inception. Naturally, both sides of the coin have been padded by either some very good backstage segments or some craptastic matches, but the rift between the quality of the writing and the quality of the performing is something that's really caught my eye this year.

Anyway, this week's program had some big footsteps to follow, at least as far as I was concerned. I loved last week's program, and the single-episode story it aimed to tell. Change was in the air, and I'm talking about a little more than the group of faces who finally decided to stand up to Evolution's stranglehold on the program. Eric Bischoff was a changed man last week, speaking with conviction and passion before abruptly taking the night off. Shelton Benjamin was working to establish himself in the midcard last week, successful in his defense of the Intercontinental Title opposite Chris Jericho. Edge was coming into his own as a heel, shaking up the status quo of RAW that's remained stagnant for quite some time now. Both Taboo Tuesday and last week's RAW gave us a small handful of new beginnings and promising fresh starts, and this week would be our first chance to see which ones they were serious about and which were just a passing fancy.

Well, I think I could've imagined a couple dozen better ways to start the show off than with a sequel to the chaotic Eugene / Gene Snitsky "rookie of the year" match from a couple weeks back. And, naturally, just as I thought maybe they'd get a chance to really surprise me and put on a halfway decent match together, the stipulations are revealed: a hardcore match. Well, actually, they may as well have renamed the gimmick "junk brawl," because that's all this was. Looking for a quick synopsis of the match? Here you go... Guy A hits Guy B with a chair. Guy B rolls around on the mat, then stands up and strikes Guy A with a Kendo Stick, completely ignoring the chairshot that caused him to be incapacitated in the first place. Guy B acquires chair and assumes the role previously occupied by Guy A. Cycle continues until match is complete.

I see nothing redeeming whatsoever about Gene Snitsky and I see no potential future storyline potential in Eugene, whether they finally get off of their asses and turn him or not. Just a horrid, horrid decision to open the show that started things off on the wrong foot for me.

Maria, RAW's newest backstage announcer, is unbelievably bad. Just unbelievably bad. Do they even MAKE people that stupid any more...?

Finally, the show started a slow turnaround with Batista and Flair's violent interruption of Tajiri's backstage antics and the eventual face-off with Eric Bischoff in the center of the ring. Batista was BORN to wear that suit, and I loved the slight nod to Flair's history with the brown-tinted sunglasses. Seriously, the man needs to dress up more often because he looked twice as imposing with the string goatee, shades and full suit than he ever has with the topless, pantsless ring attire outfit.

Incidentally, I loved the entirety of that showdown between Evolution and the upper management of RAW. I knew there was something to Eric Bischoff's tone during his promo last week that indicated a big change in his mentality, and it's added some very interesting new dynamics to the program. Rather than acting like the puppet he's been for almost two years running now, he's finally grown a set, accepted the fact that he's more than likely going to wind up on his ass no matter what and started making intelligent decisions. I'm eager to see how he faces off with Triple H upon his return next week, and I worry that the stipulations he added to the Survivor Series main event mean he's going to slowly fade away from the program now that he's finally developed into the commanding individual who deserves to be running the show. Even if he does wind up stepping away from RAW indefinitely, I'm looking forward to these next couple of weeks all the same. Eric was priceless here, particularly opposite Ric Flair, and the two didn't hesitate to allow their legendary personal hatred for one another enhance what was already a tense verbal round of fisticuffs. Just a glance at each set of eyes as Bischoff blatantly excluded Flair from the big Survivor Series match was enough to speak volumes. This was exactly what Bischoff needed to fully transition from heel to tweener and precisely how to continue the air of disintegration that's been surrounding Evolution all month. Very entertaining stuff, with a mix of both fictional and non-fictional hatred working to make the whole package that much stronger. With all of the issues he's had with his former employees in the past, I can't think there's any better role for Eazy E right now than as RAW's instigator.

I like Edge's new attitude, as the prima donna centerpiece of RAW, oblivious to everything around him and focused on little more than his own personal gain. I thought interrupting the Christian / Hurricane face-off was a decent way to go about introducing that new facet of his personality, but the execution itself felt a little awkward. Why didn't Helms or Christian say anything when the tag team champ disrupted their match? Were they both too worried about making a mistake? Why Edge just saunter off behind the curtain again when he was finished, instead of taking his sales pitch to the ringside area? I'm always one for a shakeup of the status quo, so I didn't mind all that much when his appearance didn't factor into the finish of the match, but it seemed like the live audience didn't know what to do when he left. Rather than getting into what could've been a really good match, their attention was diverted to Edge's promo and then, left flat by his disappearance, never made its way back to the ring.

I loved the story they told in the Tag Team Title match, with Benoit doing all his work in the ring with his body language, Edge handling the character acting and La Rez more than holding their own as former champions. This is exactly the way a handicap match should be booked, especially so if the single worker taking on the tough odds is a former or current World Champ. Conway and Grenier held an obvious advantage throughout most of the match, with Benoit exploding from out of nowhere from time to time, catching the tandem by surprise with his determination. The work here was top notch, honestly one of the better matches these guys have had together, and I'll go ahead and point out that Grenier's finally starting to show some signs of improvement. Oh yeah, and before I forget about it completely, that snap suplex, propelling Conway's back onto Grenier's prone body, was the sweetness. I love inventive spots like that. Again, Edge was solid here as the oblivious, conceded prick, strolling out to the ring a couple minutes after the match had started, complete with entrance music, pyro and that fruity pleather trench coat and then leaving Benoit to fend for himself while he further promoted himself at the broadcast position. The thing I like the most about Edge's recent turn is the sheer realism of it. This isn't a guy who did a complete about-face and became a totally different human being overnight. They've been planting the seeds of dissention between he and Benoit for months, and Edge was obviously bitter toward his partner during the last few weeks of their previous reign as tag team champions. Looking back, maybe he was even jealous, considering Benoit was World Champion at the time, and Edge is justifying his actions to himself by agonizing over the fact that Benoit never gave him a shot at the title.

Simply enough, Edge's obvious lack of interest in sharing the tag titles with Benoit, followed by his frenzied attacks after the bell, went a long ways toward cementing him as a serious heel at the top of the card. The live crowd bought it, and I can't say I'm not the tiniest bit excited about their singles match next week at the top of the second hour. At the very least, their continuing rivalry will add some additional spark to the Survivor Series main event, in which they're both invovled.

Bischoff turned the corner into full-fledged face in my book after that segment, finally addressing the situation of main eventers taking the night off at their own leisure by booking a main event of Jericho, Maven and Orton vs. Flair, Batista and Triple H, whether Hunter actually showed up or not. That's EXACTLY the kind of move I'd expect from a General Manager looking to regain control of his program, and further worked into the subtle angry vibes that were shooting between he and Flair all night long.

It's too early to weigh in completely on Muhammad Hassan's Arabic gimmick, but there were bits and pieces I liked and bits and pieces I didn't. I really liked the minor alterations they made to classic wrestling gimmicks and angles, especially their resurrection of the old "translator as mouthpiece" angle, only reversing it so that the worker speaks perfect English and the translator speaks in foreign tongues. Hassan himself has a good look, and seems to be charismatic enough to pull in some heat on his own, but just about anybody can look good if they're in front of a blue screen, rather than a live audience. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't getting some of the same worries I had when we first saw Eugene on RAW, however, and the potential of things blowing up in the federation's face has me concerned.

Benjamin vs. Viscera was, really, all I figured it would be going in. There's no excuse for WWE's rehiring of Big Vis at this point, with the wealth of amazing talent out on the independent scene, and I'm still totally floored that they decided to bring him back for a third run with the federation. Benjamin's the kind of guy who's had great matches with opponents of different shapes, sizes and styles, and the way Vis was written into this match was absolutely flawless... yet the whole segment just stunk. The guy is like a heat sponge. He soaks it all up and carries it with him back behind the curtain, never to be seen again.

So this makes two Women's Title matches Trish has booked herself into by commenting on her opponent's weight. Remember when she was giving Molly shit for the same thing over a year ago? Yeah, I'm getting really tired of Stratus as a heel.

Finally, the main event, which was a refreshing change-up from the usual practice. If you'd sat down in the middle of this match, having seen none of the last few months' worth of RAW, you'd swear on your life that Evolution had turned face after Randy Orton left them. These guys were pulling out all the stops, hitting every signature heel rule-bender while the ref's back was turned, and Batista was doing a great job of playing right into their hands, growing more visibly furious by the moment. Flair was really busting his ass in there last night, and I worry he may have aggravated the pulled groin he's been working with for several months now, but the segments truly wouldn't have worked with anyone else taking the falls, save perhaps Triple H himself. Orton and Jericho did a good job of directing traffic from their side of the ring, with Y2J even taking over without a tag when Maven lost his bearings in the middle of a series. All things considered, Maven's looking completely out of place alongside these guys, and though they've done a relatively good job of hiding that fact by keeping him out of the ring for 95% of the action, I don't know how they plan to account for it this Sunday, when he's going to have to get involved in some decisions. In short, this was a really fun match that felt a bit hurried but accomplished everything it was meant to. The faces running through the heel playbook was cute, but I can see mysel fit getting old relatively quickly if it were to become a recurring theme.

I didn't dig this week's show as much as last week's in the end, which is a shame because they made some great headway with Edge and Eric Bischoff this week, not to mention the whole of Evolution and most of the uppercard faces. Storyline progression is only half the story, and while the show also featured some nice action between the main event and the tag team title match, it's tough to look past the heaping piles of shit that were the Snitsky / Eugene opener and the Benjamin / Viscera match that kicked off the second hour. Still quite a ways above average, but it could've been so much more.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.9