Monday, January 26, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 01/26/04

I'm not sure why, but I couldn't get the Royal Rumble off my mind all day long as I awaited last night's broadcast of RAW. Sure, it had a lot to do with Chris Benoit winning the thing, but aside from that fact I can't understand why I was so interested in how they'd follow up Sunday's PPV. Aside from the obvious, the PPV really wasn't very good... yet I was chomping at the bit as the hours became minutes and the minutes became... negative minutes, as I got held up at my night job and didn't start watching my TiVo of the show until the live broadcast was well into its second hour. Thank god for that little black box, it honestly has changed my life. But how did all my uninstigated enthusiasm for the show pay off? Well, have a seat and let me tell you.

Chris Jericho started me off on a high note, entering the ring to brand-spankin' new music and cutting probably the best promo he's managed in... well, in years. He had something to say, didn't beat around the bush on his way to saying it, and came off sounding more "off the cuff" and believable than pre-scripted and unmotivated. It sounded like he'd thought up this grand scheme late Sunday night, realized the genius of it, and couldn't wait to get the words out of his mouth and into the nearest the house mic. Bischoff was at his best last night as well, playing the classic heel-in-charge and forcing Jericho's hand by booking Trish into a match with Kane. Not only that, he didn't even let Y2J agonize over the decision for long, assuming he wanted to save Stratus' ass before the Canadian could get a word in edgewise. How do you say "no, let her get her ass kicked by the resident monster, I want a World Title shot" without looking like a complete ass? Answer: you don't.

On the subject of Jericho's new entrance tunes, I'll admit I winced when I first realized what was going on. Upon closer inspection, though, it's actually a really good choice. I miss the days when wrestlers constantly had something to do with the production (pre or post) of their own songs, such as Shawn Michaels singing "I'm not your boy toy" or Ted Dibiase announcing "everybody's got a price," and Jericho's new song is a great throwback to those days. Add to that the fact that he's not a poor vocalist in the least, along with the perfectly fitting lyrics and you've got a combination I can't argue against. Wave goodbye to "break the walls down" and say hello to "don't you wish you were me," although I wonder how well those lyrics will sound alongside his upcoming full face turn.

Riding off that momentum, RAW cruised right on into the night's first match... a tremendous handicap tag between Evolution and the makeshift team of Jericho & RVD. What can I say about this one, really, except that I loved it? Every bit of this match was worthwhile, worked together to tell a larger story and made sense, from Batista's early crippling of Chris Jericho to Evolution's systematic destruction of Rob Van Dam's upper arm. The psychology was so well played here that I actually felt like my own shoulder would be aching before the show was over. Even Randy Orton's botched finisher couldn't derail this one, and to his credit the kid didn't accentuate the missed spot by standing around with his mouth agape. Instead, he sprung quickly to his feet, regained his momentum off the opposite ropes and caught Jericho the second time around, just as Y2J realized what was going on and attempted to release the liontamer he'd cinched in on Batista. I'll give Randy all the credit in the world... he messed up, but had the presence of mind to regain his composure immediately and finish the match as planned. Just a great performance from all five guys, and much better match than 90% of what we'd seen on PPV the previous night.

Jericho finished off his oustanding night backstage, with a continuation of the Trish / Christian storyline he's been working for the last three or four months. Funny, this angle's been going on forever with little or not progress, yet I'm still fascinated by it. All three of the superstars involved in this one are bettering themselves just by being associated with the storyline... not to mention the progress their characters are making every time they're near each other. I can relate with all three much better now than I could before the whole kit'n caboodle began, and that's exactly the kind of thing a storyline like this should set out to accomplish. And, for the record, I'm counting the minutes until Christian and Trish hook up behind Jericho's back.

There's only so many ways I can word the phrase "the women's division has been the most consistently entertaining part of RAW for the last six months" before I'm just repeating myself week after week. Victoria's face turn has been an unexpected highlight over the last week or two, as the bookers have managed to resist their constant urge to eff it up by completely altering her character so that she's more likeable. Remember when they did that to Kurt Angle, after he turned face and took the World Title from Steve Austin a couple years back? Yeah, it wasn't the first time I saw it happen, and it sure as hell wasn't the last. Anyway, kudos for failing to do so with Victoria thus far. I don't buy her as a title contender just yet, despite her status as a former champ, (and a rather dominating one, at that) but that can change with a couple more matches on the same level as the one she had with Molly just before the Rumble.

Getting my head back in the present, solid women's match between three of the strongest workers in the division and the single most recognizable face.

I loved the big star treatment they gave Chris Benoit upon his return to RAW, which perfectly fit the role they appear to be thrusting him into as the physical workhorse of the federation, but was more than a little let down by his accompanying promo. He was visibly uneasy with the microphone, despite the audience's support of him, and came off a little flat contrasted with Triple H and Shawn Michaels. He doesn't have a real hook on the mic or in his character yet, something to force the audience to attention during a long speech. Ah well, I remember Bret Hart's first promos as World Champion being bonafide stinkers, too, and we all know how well he progressed. Though the segment sent shivers down my spine by putting the Crippler in the same ring as the Heart Break Kid for the first time, it didn't really accomplish much else. OK, Chris Benoit wants the RAW title. Why? How did he get here? What extra value does that belt hold, as opposed to the Smackdown title? Why drop your quest to prove Paul Heyman wrong on Thursday nights? I guess there's still plenty of time for those answers... still, last night's arrival gave me an intial high, followed by a quick, uneasy drop.

Nice storytelling in the Kane / Dudley match. Buh Buh had a bone to pick with the large red one, after Kane dismantled his little brother both last week on RAW and Sunday at the Royal Rumble, but the big red machine was too much for him. This is a good example of what they should be doing with both guys... Kane absolutely crippling people with no regard for the rules of the contest, and the Dudleys doing something more than pandering to the fans. Seriously, watching a guy stick up for his younger, smaller brother makes me like him a lot more than watching a guy blindly salute everything American and throw his opponents into a table for no particular reason.

Like Brett mentioned above me, I'm not particularly thrilled with the idea of the Undertaker returning to his old gimmick, but that doesn't mean I didn't feel a shiver run down my spine the last couple times I heard that familiar "gong" shake through the arena. When I sit down and think about it, no portion of the old "dead man" gimmick fits with the current landscape of WWE. It's far-fetched and unrealistic. It's a gimmick-based character at best. It's overplayed and went away for a very good reason. Its home was the circus atmosphere of the mid '90s, not the gritty, underground sports atmosphere of today. Not to mention the fact that they were getting really ridiculous with this gimmick the last time we saw it... I mean, coming out to the ring with gregorian monks toting torches? Honest to god, that's retarded. But still, part of me is aching to see this guy wearing black and rolling his eyes back into their sockets again. I can't explain it, but the interest is there.

Watching the Rico / Rob Conway match got a chuckle out of me, as I watched Jackie Gayda vehemently slap the mat with both hands, burst out of her top, and frantically try to cover herself back up without attracting attention. I don't know, something about seeing things that aren't meant to happen always makes me laugh. At least they're making her inability to wear a shirt into a gimmick of some sort.

Goldberg vs. Mark Henry vs. Coach was worthless, as one could gather just by reading the list of participants. But you already know that. There's money in his feud with Brock Lesnar, so the sooner they can get on that and move away from these meaningless little squashes, the better. It's getting pretty obvious that our big buddy Bill has covered about all the ground he can on RAW.

Finally, Mick Foley came into the ring, needing a home run to really sell his feud with Randy Orton and to explain his actions at the end of 2003. Well, you know what I'm going to say. Not only did he hit it out of the park, but he ran all the way around the bases and scored, then pinch hit for the next guy in the lineup and proceeded to do it all again. What an astoundingly flawless promo from Foley, totally explaining his reasoning for walking out that night in Tampa and solidifying himself as a force to be reckoned with all over again, not to mention one HELL of a master on the microphone. The visual aides were spot-on, too, from the freaking BOOGER Randy Orton spewed onto Mick's cheek to the emotional, dramatic trickle of blood that ran down his face after that little self-mutilation. Like just about everybody else, I was astounded by this performance. The perfect way to end a very impressive post-Rumble broadcast.

Well above average, with great work from Jericho and Foley, a super-strong opening matchup, a constantly evolving Randy Orton (nyuk nyuk) and the return of Chris Benoit as Monday Night's savior. This show has set a grueling pace leading up to WrestleMania, and I'm interested as hell in seeing if they can sustain it. A couple throwaway matches pulled this down from a level well above eight, and I'm hoping to god Chris Benoit gets a crash course from Flair and Michaels on the art of the microphone over the next couple of weeks.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.45

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Preview

Another month has come and gone, and all we've got to show for it is a whole new round of bills, a rent-hungry landlord and another WWE pay per view. It's Royal Rumble time in the annual McMahon calendar, and this year's offering looks to be a step or two above average. You've got a couple brand title matches, neither of which really look all that bad at all, an in-the-family grudge match between two of the fed's greatest heels, a super hot cruiserweight title match and the actual Rumble itself, which is shaping up to be very strong on its own. Along with all that, you've got the internet audience frothing at the mouth over the rumor mill that's been churning in regards to Chris Benoit. OK, Vince... you've got our attention. Now's your chance to actually do something with it. This looks like it's got a very good chance at succeeding, and given a few lucky breaks and a handful of good choices, it's in good position to kick of 2004 on the right note.

Rey Mysterio (c) vs. Jamie Noble
WWE Cruiserweight Title Match

Should be a lot of fun. I was never really all that into Jamie Noble when he was in WCW as one of the Jung Dragons, but really warmed up to him when he came to WWE after the merger. He works a solid cruiserweight style, and has really been one of the most consistent, surprising shining stars of the entire division. I'd love to see him get the belt back here, but I'd also love to see Mysterio, possibly the most deserving champion in the history of the belt, retain. These guys match up well opposite one another, and the match will not disappoint. I can't say I like the storyline here.. Mysterio is way too vanilla as the virtuous face who only wants to help out Nidia, and the whole "blind girlfriend" thing is stupid. I'm not offended by it or anything, it's just one of those storylines you roll your eyes at the mention of... a distinct miss.

This is about the perfect show-opener, with two explosive cruisers who've proven they work great with one another giving it their all. My money's on the champ, but I'll be happy with either guy as champ.
Winner: Rey Mysterio

Ric Flair & Batista (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz
World Tag Team Titles - Tables Match

Ahhhg. Let's see if I can summarize this match in just two words; "Will. Suck." There. I've just saved you the hassle of tuning into the pay per view. There are so many confused question marks floating around this feud, I have to fight off my gut instinct to physically attempt to swat them all away. Why are the Dudleys the number one contenders? Why is Ric Flair still working as an active physical participant in weekly, televised, inconsiquential matches? Why is Batista mired in the ranks of the tag team division, when they'd hit a home run with him only a few months ago, successfully establishing him as a threat to GOLDBERG, of all people?

This won't be pretty. I love the guy to death, but Flair has really been lagging over the last few months, and working opposite the Dudley Boyz isn't going to aid his cause any. Batista is a solid, impact-oriented, physical wrestler who's best opposed by slightly smaller opponents that he can manhandle. Neither Dudley meets that description. With any luck, this will be kept short and precise, and the bomb-droppin' bastards will not be leaving the building as champions for the umpteenth time. Flair and the Deacon win, and I'm crossing my fingers the Dudleys are dropped from the top of the tag ranks as a result.
Winners: Flair and Batista

Eddy Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero

I've been waiting years to see this feud again, and now that it's finally arrived... it just doesn't feel right. Maybe it's got more to do with Michael Cole's indescribably bad calling of the action, or Chavo Sr's involvement, but I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to see Lil' Chavito get his this Sunday night. Something's missing, and I can't put my finger on what, exactly, that is.

The fight itself should be simply outstanding, though. Chavo's learned a lot about playing a confident, assertive heel since these two last met in a steady string of singles matches (remember the "Eddy Guerrero is my Favorite Wrestler" shirt?), and Eddy's done no slowing down of his own, either. At their best, these two are among my favorite talents in the world. At their worst, they're still head and shoulders above the majority of the pack. Though I can't say I'm looking forward to the storyline ramifications, I'm most certainly anticipating the match itself. Should be a load of fun if they're given time, and the ringside area is kept clear of Chavo, Sr. and Kurt Angle. I seriously doubt the chances of that, though, so my pick's with the youngster.
Winner: Chavo Guerrero, Jr.

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Hardcore Holly
WWE Title Match

The match everybody seems to be dreading, for whatever reason. If anything, Holly and Lesnar have proven over the last month that they have absolutely zero chemistry together, so this won't be an intense, dramatic, edge-of-your-seat excitefest, but it won't be "run to your bedroom and cry" awful, either. A lot of folks are overlooking this fact, but Hardcore still knows how to work a match. Only a handful of years ago, he was among my favorites in the WWF midcard, with his super-heavyweight gimmick and his exceptional tag team with his late "cousin," Crash. Holly's injury-prone, but he works a solid, enjoyable style and I'm interested in seeing how he pairs off with Lesnar in the ring, at the very least.

Of course, the writers are insane for assuming he's high profile enough to be headlining one of the big four events for the World Title, but let's not fool ourselves... Holly's just filler. Brock has a small army of potential challengers to his throne in the near future, with Goldberg looking more and more like his perfect WrestleMania opponent as the smoke begins to clear. Hardcore may get a rematch next month, but there's no way in hell he's carrying the title into WrestleMania. He's not ready for the role he's being expected to fill, but neither was Triple H when he defeated Mick Foley four years ago to finally arrive in the main event. You don't find any unexpected surprises if you don't try a longshot once in a while.
Winner: Brock Lesnar

Triple H (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
World Heavyweight Title - Last Man Standing Match

I'm honestly not all that thrilled by this "dream match" any more. I know that's one hell of an ignorant thing to say, but it's the truth. We've seen Shawn and Hunter brawl with one another, we've seen them wrestle with one another... we've seen them blast through four other men inside a steel cage, only to face off with each other once again. It's time to move on, and from any indication I'm getting from the buildup to this one, that's exactly the plan Sunday night. The blowoff between Michaels and Helmsley has finally come to pass, unnecessary, gimmicked stipulation and all.

The storytelling's been, honestly, pretty spot-on with this one. Michaels is still a conceded, arrogant bastard, even if he's being cheered for it at the moment, and Triple H was a student of that aspect of HBK. This is two bulls butting heads, it's the irresistible force vs. the immovable object, it's arguing with Xavier Von Erck. Limitless, endless frustration with only one outcome; one of the two involved parties breaks apart. So, I guess, in that aspect the gimmick makes sense. They've gone to battle with each other so many times in the past, it would only be an exercise in futility to continue the "wash, rinse, repeat" method of booking. One guy needs to come out undeniably ahead of the other, or else this will go on forever. On one hand, you've got a guy whose best days are more than likely behind him. A multiple-time champion who's become broken down over the years and, despite the fire that still burns in his eyes, can't physically compete at the same level he used to. And on the other hand, you've got Shawn Michaels... har har. No, actually, I've given a pretty accurate description of both guys in this case. Neither one of these guys are quite at the same level they were at in their prime, and it's only a matter of watching as the bookers decide whether their short term goals should involve HBK or HHH, because they're both on a steady downward slope. RAW's gonna need a new face in the World Title slot before long, because I can't see these two carrying that torch a couple years from now. I'm gonna go against the grain and pick Michaels in the upset, because nobody would see it coming, HBK's in arguably better shape at the moment, and a match between he and Benoit at WrestleMania looks that much nicer than a match between the Wolverine and the Game.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

30 Man Royal Rumble

This battle royal has always been one of my favorite WWE-exclusive gimmicks. I'm a big fan of over-the-top-rope elimination style matches as it is, for reasons I've never been able to understand, and adding the extra stipulation that the winner gets a shot in the main event of the year's most important card makes it that much more special and intriguing to watch. Though this match always seems to reach a point where it's just a handful of guys trying to push another handful of guys over the top rope as slowly as possible, it never seems to get boring or repetitive. Maybe it's the magic of the moment, maybe it's the tension of trying to figure out who's going to emerge victorious... and, upon closer examination, the balls out nature of the fight itself probably doesn't hurt either. Whatever the reason, this is a fun match to watch as it happens, and loses quite a bit when you try to go back and watch the tape a year or two later. I guess knowing the name of the man destined to win really kills off a lot of the suspense, and you can sit back and watch the match for what it really is.

The ongoing ramifications of the rumble match are undeniable. With no exceptions, every man who has won this match since the "winner gets a Mania title shot" stipulation was added has been a previous, present or future World Champion. Well, except for Lex Luger... but he doesn't count, because he was only co-winner of the Rumble, and because... well... because he's Lex Luger. More to the point, the vast majority of the men to make it to the famed "final four" of the match have almost always been either future main eventers or stars with big things in their future that, for one reason or another, never panned out.

This year's rumble looks to have a pretty healthy pack. While it's missing a few of the workhorses of last year's match (Lesnar and Michaels, notably, chose not to return in this year's rumble), it still boasts more than a few names and faces worthy of carrying the match on their shoulders. Chris Benoit is the current favorite, and judging from the build and storylines just waiting to spiral out of such a Rumble victory, I can't say I disagree. It's every internet fanboy's wet dream, watching their workrate hero win the second biggest prize in the company and qualifying for a moment in the spotlight at the year's biggest event. Seeing the Wolverine win this year's battle royal and then cap off WrestleMania XX with the World Title on his shoulder would be an awesome sight, no doubt about it, but something about it seems just a bit too perfect. Regardless, because my picks are notoriously bad when it comes to matches involving the Crippler, I'm gonna go with the obvious choice. Benoit becomes the second man to go the distance and I'm excited about the possibilities.
Winner: Chris Benoit

In Closing...

Like I said in the intro, this is looking good. There's only one match that I can honestly say I have no interest whatsoever in (the RAW tag title match), and the Rumble is still one of my all-time favorite gimmicks, so you can't really go wrong there. I'm eager to see who goes over in the year's biggest battle royal, and I'm ecstatic that neither World Title match has a slow, plodding, uninteresting hoss involved. In case you weren't paying attention, that's a thumbs up from yours truly. They're doing a lot right here, which gives me hope for the fate of WrestleMania XX a couple months from now. For another thirty, I'm outta here. See you at No Way Out, where I understand there will be absolutely no way out from the vengeance.
until next time, i remain

Monday, January 19, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 01/19/04

It's the last RAW before the Royal Rumble, and the RAW brand still hasn't really established a lot of momentum going into the event itself. Sure, we've got the Last Man Standing match and the Tag Title match, plus the rumble itself, (which, over the last month or so, hasn't seemed to be much of a priority) but past that... nothing. Sure, the shows themselves have been somewhat strong lately, but it all feels empty and directionless to me. Where do we go after this weekend? Hell, where do we go at the Rumble itself? I was looking for the answers last night.

I liked their strategy this week of kicking off the show with a program-wide angle. They established right off the bat that there wouldn't be any outside interference for the entire two hours, that we were in for more matches than usual, and that it was all with a specific purpose and reward in mind. I wish they'd do this kind of stuff more often, as it gave me more reason to pay attention to the result of matches I'd otherwise have likely overlooked, not to mention the obvious motivation it gave to each character in the ring. I could give a shit about Coach's week-long appointment to the GM position, though. Didn't we already do this story a couple of weeks ago?

I think they must've put some sort of subliminal message into last night's promotion for the "winner gets #30 in the Royal Rumble" match, since everybody else in the world seems to have drawn the same conclusion as I at about the exact same moment. That being: the guy who draws number thirty NEVER wins the Royal Rumble. And yet it's still a big deal.

RVD, Christian, Booker and Matt looked hurried, unmotivated and actually kind of bored during their show-opening tag match, which pretty much blew my whole "character motivation" idea right out of the water. The only really memorable moment of this one was the double axe kick Booker landed on both guys, which came off looking a lot better than you'd think by reading a text-only description.

I participated in an internal debate with myself during that first match last night, after listening to Jerry Lawler once again refer to Booker's shady past and time after time refuse to let it go while JR tried to call the match. On on hand, I thought, he's actually carrying on a storyline that's existed for almost a year now. He's developing Booker's character in a more believable and true-to-life nature, where otherwise he'd just be "that guy who shouts suckahhh." On the other hand, he's only doing it to one man. He never, EVER, shows this kind of interest in character development or ongoing storyline advancement. He's always been more concerned with the women at ringside, the women in the match, the woman sitting two rows in front of him, the woman in the upcoming segment or the backstage skit that just aired than he is in the match currently taking place in the ring, let alone said match's participants. Lawler's just being his usual, unnecessary, bigoted self by constantly bringing up Booker's past, and it never fails to piss me off. I'm sure he'd attempt to excuse it by claiming to play the heel announcer, but come on. The King hasn't been worried about playing a heel since he was feuding with Bret Hart in "kiss my foot" matches ten years ago.

The Jericho / Dupree match wasn't bad, but I would've much rather seen Rob Conway in there getting a chance to shine against one of RAW's brightest stars than his partner. They didn't get enough time to establish much here, but what they did was worthwhile. I liked the dropkick to the gut as a reaction to Jericho's jump from the top rope, especially.

Mark Henry vs. Rico was just about what you'd expect from a match involving Mark Henry and Rico. Constantino can work a good match if he gets a chance, assuming he isn't facing somebody three times his size and slower than... than something really slow. As is, he drew a couple of laughs out of me before doing the job without much of a fight. Then again, he had a lot of help from straight men Teddy Long and Henry himself. Long, especially, was priceless after Rico kissed him on the crown of his head, reacting with wild outrage and near-physical sickness. Watching Teddy's facial expression change in a split second, as his body went into convulsions and pulled his own shirt over his head made my day... truly hilarious.

I'm not sure if I'm crazy about Kane's apparent ongoing storyline, his struggle with the officials of WWE and the rules they're paid to enforce. But at least it's something, I suppose. Seems like a waste of the whole "I'm a scary, unstoppable monster and I will kill you" buildup they were building him up with a couple months back.

I could've done without the Goldberg / Test / Steiner match. I was looking forward to this when it was announced last week... Big Bill taking on the only other alpha male of WCW's dying days, Scotty Steiner... but Test's inclusion transformed it into a run of the mill handicap match with bickering partners. You could probably predict how this one was going to play out without even seeing the first punch thrown. Goldy advances to the pre-Rumble after cleaning up with a couple spears and a jackhammer. The Steiner recliner's really lost a step or two since the last time I saw it.

These pro-Orton campaign commercials are getting better every week. "Mick Foley is a little girl?" Quality stuff.

I adored the backstage attention they poured onto Trish last night. Between Molly throwing barbs at her, promising she'll never be champion again, and Christian destroying her self-worth and ruining her chance at reconciling with Y2J, the girl had a bad night. I honestly felt more sorry for her here than I did when I was supposed to a couple weeks ago, during the infamous "Trish is crying" promo with Chris Jericho. I could see all of these bottled-up frustrations coming to a head in the near future, with Trish eventually snapping and tearing into whoever's unlucky enough to be on the other end of the ring at the time. I know the women's division would really benefit from the fresh emotion.

I was getting all excited about watching a great match between Randy Orton and Shane Helms, when... the fucking thing ended, right out of the blue. These guys could put on one helluva match if given the chance, but it wasn't meant to be tonight, what with the inagural #30 battle royal right around the corner and all. Stupid, not to mention worthless and misleading.

I loved the strategy that opened the pre-Rumble, with everyone getting the startled shit kicked out of them by a sprinting, growling Goldberg, then collectively saying "...the fuck?!?!" and absolutely destroying him. This is what needs to happen to one of the big names at the actual Rumble Sunday night, with everybody realizing there's no way they can get this guy out of the ring on their own, teaming up to hit sixteen simultaneous finishers and then throwing him over the top rope like a lump of old garbage before picking up where they left off. I don't understand the logic of teasing Jericho's elimination, allowing him to skin the cat back in the ring, and then casually throwing him out a couple minutes later as though it were no big deal at all. Come to think of it, there isn't a lot about this match I did understand. Why send Booker and RVD out in the first match of the night, a TAG MATCH at that, so that they're totally rested in time for the battle royale, only to toss them out first and second, respectively, less then thirty seconds into the thing? Why put Goldberg over? Why didn't Batista and Flair just catch Orton and throw him back into the ring without allowing his feet to touch the floor? Bah.

All in all, I liked seeing more wrestling on the show, but this was overkill. It's just not possible to fit eight matches onto a two hour show with commercials... at least, not pleasantly. I'm still feeling a little underwhelmed heading into Sunday's big event, but tonight's episode helped out a little bit. At least I know the names of the guys from the RAW brand who'll be entering the Rumble match. A little bit of an irresponsibly booked show, but the basic ideas were solid. With Foley's imminent re-return and a possible set of title changes this Sunday, I've got a little more hope going into next week's show, but the week after that is a big question mark.

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

Monday, January 12, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 01/12/04

Well, the Royal Rumble isn't getting any further away, and still RAW has very little laid out for the big event itself. Going into last night's show, we had HBK vs. Triple H set in stone as a last man standing match, The Dudleys vs. Evolution in a sleeper of a tag title match, and.... not a whole lot of participants confirmed for the Rumble match itself. Unlike Smackdown, which has a small handful of individuals who could conceivably win the thing, RAW seems to have all but given up on any sort of motivation for their talent leading into the big battle royal.

The ladies' tag match set the tone for the night of underachieving across the board. As anyone who saw word one of my writeup last week should know, I'm a huge fan of this division. For the past six months to a year, the women have had more consistent and interesting personalities, more diverse and three-dimensional characters and lengthier, more technically sound matches than the men with very few exceptions. Molly Holly, as I mentioned, is doing a fine job of leading the way as champion while Trish, Lita, Victoria, Ivory, Gail Kim and (only recently) Jazz have given chase with fine results. Something was up with last night's tag match, though, as nobody appeared to be in the flow. Trish botched her "matrix move," (as Jerry Lawler has ingeniously dubbed it) Lita blew her hurricanrana and even the combined might of Molly and Jazz couldn't pull the rest of the match out of the shithole. This whole segment was put together so the creeping Jericho / Stratus storyline could move forward a teensy bit.

It was right about the two minute mark that the delirium of setting the camera on the opposite side of the arena really started to kick in for me. After years upon years of watching run-ins from the left side of the screen and tag matches where the uninvolved parties occupied the upper left and lower right hand corners of the television, it was unfathomably weird and unsettling to watch everything flipped backwards for one week. I wonder why in god's name they did that...?

As with most of the heels' promos over the last few months, I could relate to what Matt Hardy was saying last night. Everyone's been in a position where nothing's seemed to have gone their way, where it seems like those least deserving are getting all the glory, and everyone's felt the sting that just such a situation carries along with it. Matt's really taking the bull by the horns with his character, finally breaking free of the stale, unenthusiastic individual that was a part of Team X-Treme and emerging as somebody who understands the fundamentals of cutting a good promo and the owner of a very well-rounded character. What is it with the writers' fucked up perception of what constitutes a heel and what constitutes a face these days, anyway? It really says something when I empathize with three times as many heels as I do faces, and I'm constantly waiting for somebody to pie-face the biggest hero on the show. The bullies reign supreme on RAW, and the intellectuals are left to cower in the corners, wondering when they'll finally get their chance to do something worthwhile.

Still, he sold that spear better than anybody since Christian took one a couple of weeks into Goldberg's WWE career.

Speaking of which, I like that Goldberg's finally trying to do something new with his appearance. The bald headed, smoke breathing, goateed monster look was wearing a little thin, and I think the beard suits him decently enough. Not enough wrestlers wear beards, anyway... hm. Now that I think of it, his resemblance to Nikita Koloff has begun growing more and more uncanny. I mean, before he only WRESTLED like him. Now he's actually started to LOOK like him. If Goldy starts wearing USSR propaganda to ringside, you have reason to be worried.

Backstage, Austin and Bischoff confronted one another, and subsequently confirmed the storyline I'd hoped for in last week's RRC. Austin has no authority to make rules on RAW, he's only there to enforce them. So, if Bischoff books a match between Goldberg and Triple H, with every member of Evolution at ringside, and specifies that nobody else is allowed at ringside... Austin has to whup ass on every face that tries to run down the entryway and stop the four-on-one beating that would most certainly break out in the ring. They could go a long way with this storyline, with Bischoff playing god and Austin his unwilling angel of vengeance. Hell, if they really wanted to, they could even use it as a vehicle to turn the former co-GM heel and in turn refresh his lagging character.

I caught Orton's little "start what I finished" slipup almost immediately, which is odd because I usually seem to zone out and go deaf during backstage promos. It wasn't so much funny that he said it wrong in the first place, so much as it was that he said it more than once... like he actually believed that's how the phrase went. Still, the man was in rare form throughout the night, he's involved in what's quite possibly the best build-up on all of RAW at the moment, and he's a young star who's actually getting a chance to shine. I'll probably be in the minority on this one, like I was with the Foley walkout segment at the end of last month, but I really enjoyed the continuation of this feud last night. Orton was uncannily good all night long, playing up the whole "cocky dickhead heel" character as though he were born for it, teasing and taunting Foley at every possible moment and just asking to get what's coming to him in a million different ways. That Mick didn't accept his offer and appear on the show makes me want to see this big WrestleMania payoff that much more. They're building a great feud around a guy who hasn't appeared on the show in over a month.

The guy in the North Carolina outfit sitting next to Mick Foley's proposed seat had to be the most obvious plant in the history of pro wrestling, though. How hard is it to understand that the best way to look inconspicuous isn't to appear nervous, silent, uneasy and shifty-eyed?

Batista and D-Von, probably the two more able workers of their respective teams, (which is something it pains me to say about Ric Flair) stumbled their way through a slop fest last night. Not a good match in even the loosest sense of the word, but I've got at least a couple good things to say about it. For one, I liked that it went to a clean finish. Flair didn't slide a tag belt to Batista while the ref's back was turned, D-Von didn't take a low blow or a thumb to the eye, this was a simple wrestling match and the bigger man won it after hitting a maneuver that looked brutal. I'd love to see more of that. I also liked seeing the heels take the initiative outside of the ring. Instead of interfering in the match, allowing Bubba Ray to chase him, hiding backstage for the rest of the match and costing his man the match, Ric Flair actually took a proactive role in eliminating Bubba from the equation after the elder Dudley attempted to interrupt the match, and never really got his come-uppances for it. This is exactly the kind of stuff Flair should be doing every week... as a manager, lending his expertise to a young wrestler who really needs it. Fred Blassie did the same thing.

I like that they're giving us something fresh in Steiner / Goldberg next week. One of the things that really pulled me back into the wrestling scene after a long hiatus in the mid '90s was the banishment of the jobber match... no matter which federation you were watching, you could never be sure who would win a match. The big names were always battling the big names, and it was difficult to predict who'd even be involved in the next match, let alone who'd come out victorious. As someone who grew up watching WWF Superstars in the mid '80s, this was entirely new to me. I was used to seeing one big match a show, not seven. Now, things have drooped back into monotony after that initial hot streak... sure, big names are still fighting big names on free TV, but the matches are rematches of rematches of rematches. They aren't fresh, exciting or even interesting half the time. That's why it's exciting to see two guys who haven't met in years (for this instance, Goldberg and Steiner) interact, butt heads and agree to clash on free TV next week. The match may not be as good as their late WCW main events, but then again... maybe it will be.

Aside from the out-of-nowhere superkick to Coach, I thought the whole Triple H / HBK promo was dull as hell. I loved seeing these two verbally berate each other last year, when it was still fresh. This year, though, it's starting to seem like more of the same old garbage. OK, you're finally ready to blow off the feud, guys... I get it. You used to be best friends, uh huh. You both carried the wagon? All right already. You don't have to chew cud for twelve minutes on national TV to get that same point across.

The Booker / Kane match wasn't really worth the half minute it was given. I looked away from the screen for a second and missed what exactly had happened. Where do you go with either guy from here? What did that match accomplish, save a free-TV tombstone piledriver? Gah.

I thought the Jericho / Henry match told a great story within the confines of a not-so-great match. Jericho was really making an effort to go for the legs throughout, even attempting to lock in the Walls o' Jericho on three or four occasions with no success, so when he finally did manage to lock in his submission of choice, the crowd went nuts. I don't care about Y2J technically dropping the match, because there's no question he emerged from the battle as the victor. He came in with a game plan, went after it with determination and achieved his goal, albeit out of the ref's line of sight. This was a good continuation of the Millennium Man's face turn, gathering sympathy and respect from the fans who'd only recently booed his every action.

I can't help but admit how much I like Evolution once again. You want to know why? Because you could define their individual personalities just by looking at their choice in winter wardrobe during the parking lot scene with Austin. Triple H was out there, wearing his shiny black leather jacket... he wants everybody to know he's dangerous, a rebel, even if he is just an imposter with a weak heart. Ric Flair wore a stylish, if dated, black overcoat... he's the class of the group, established, with a good (if aging) fashion sense. Batista was seen in a long black trench coat and a bizarre maroon scarf... unsure of where he wants to go in the future, leaning a little towards the same direction as Flair with his classic, respectable style. And Orton, out in the cold in his short sleeved Evolution shirt, IC Title thrown over his shoulder... doesn't care about the elements or his own well being, and wants to make sure everybody knows what a decorated athlete he is. That's great characterization. That's what I like to see.

Or maybe I was just reading too much into that whole scene while Austin was busy swinging his ATV around in circles.

Finally, I really enjoyed the main event... especially so once RVD ran Orton's head legitimately into the steel ring post and woke him up. There were a couple of uncomfortable moments there, as Randy was clearly out of it for several minutes and Van Dam went into spot autopilot to cover for him. Once they came back from commercial, though, it was like the blow had awoken the real Randy Orton, the guy who deserves the massive push he's been getting thus far. He was fighting with emotion, giving us a brutal (albeit stiff) war with "Mr. Monday Night" and stealing the show with his facial expressions. The last several minutes of this one were superb, with the crowd biting on every false finish and both guys delivering on some magnificent exchanges. RVD pulled out almost everything in his bag except a frog splash and a Van Terminator, and Orton kept managing to get his shoulder up at 2 9/10ths... and then the kid sealed the deal with one of the most convincing finishes I've seen in years. What a horrific-looking DDT that was, and thanks to a great replay camera angle, what a tremendous bit of character acting Orton preceded it with. It was like a switch flicked in his brain as he locked in the reverse chinlock, his eyes went blank, he realized "Oh, this is gonna be brutal" and he liked the way that made him feel. Maybe he's got a future after all.

Unfortunately, one spotlight performance in the midst of the show's best feud does not a good program make. I was scratching my head during a bunch of this, and as far as I know I don't have any sort of scalp-related parasites. With only a couple golden examples, the booking just doesn't make sense and the talent had a collectively off night. I can't say this was average with a clear conscience. Let's just hope next week is better...

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.6

Monday, January 5, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 01/05/04

Here I am, fresh off a hiatus of a couple weeks, and I had to miss writing up last week's show for THIS?! Nah, actually I found a lot of this to be entertaining, well written and quite possibly a good sign for the future if they're building toward some of the stuff I think they're building toward. C'mon, let's take a gander at my detailed analysis.

I'm not all that thrilled about Austin returning to RAW, doing everything I grew tired of four months ago and not really contributing to the show all that much in the end... however, I'm going to accept it because I can see a homerun hidden away within the silly bit of writing that left us with Austin as RAW's "sheriff." For most of the night, a small thought kept tugging at the back of my brain, something kept telling me that acting as sheriff was more of a step backwards than a step up from Austin's former position as co-GM, and then it dawned on me. Sure, in the old west (and, I guess you could say, in today's world as well) the sheriff is the embodiment of final justice. He's judge, jury and executioner all wrapped into one, but all that power doesn't come without a catch. The sheriff still has to work within the confines of one set of rules, commonly referred to as the law. So who, you might be asking, determines the laws on RAW? I might be mistaken, but that sounds an awful lot like the General Manager's role to me. So, if they play these cards right, Austin is little more than an unwilling enforcer to Bischoff's set of rules and reasons. Stone Cold is now Eric's employee, not his peer.

Then again, it's completely possible I'm just going way, way overboard with this thing and the sticky sweet "Sheriff Stone Cold Cleans Up RAW" storyline could just as easily drag on for another six months. If nothing else, though, it's given me something to chew on and look forward to even if that something never pans out in quite the way I'm hoping for.

I didn't mind the Teddy Long segments all night long, though I wish he'd have been given more of a chance to flex his 24-hours' worth of muscle before the closing credits rolled and he was nothing more than another victim of the Stone Cold Stunner. It was a refreshing change from the same old formula of "Bischoff makes an unfair match, face buries his head in his palms, bell rings, face overcomes the odds" but wasn't really given the chance to go quite as far as it probably should have.

It was nice of the bookers to refrain from more than a couple moments' worth of in-ring participation from Jerry Lawler this week, since he seems to have won a match on every single WWE card in Memphis since the late '80s. Sure, it pops the home crowd but it makes your current crop of talent look useless and shines a glaring spotlight on how meaningless the in-ring product really is to your upper management. I'm still fuming over the time they jobbed Raven to Lawler in Memphis about a year ago.

I'll be honest, I was hoping somebody would give JR some shit for Oklahoma's loss in the big game Sunday night, but I didn't want to see it stretched over about a half hour of television time. Even during the matches, Coach and JR were busy bickering over their choice in NCAA football squads. That doesn't really establish you as credible competition to Monday Night Football, guys.

Why wasn't Rob Conway wrestling that match against Spike? Ever since the tag team turmoil match, he seems to have been unofficially barred from the ring... did he participate in some sort of "plane ride from hell" or something and I just didn't hear about it? Regardless, the match didn't set my forest ablaze by any stretch of the imagination, and really only served to remind me how far Spike's fallen since he was riding high in the main event opposite Mike Awesome in the twilight days of ECW. I miss the thick black glasses, the tie dye, waving at the audience like a lunatic and wrestling as the miniscule underdog who doesn't know when to give up.

Could've given two shits about the tag match between Vitamin C and the Superheroes in Peril. Rosey and the Hurricane are so dead in the water at this point that their carcasses are really letting off some nasty odors and the birds have pretty much picked their backs clean. On the other side of the fence, I've no idea where they're going with Jericho / Christian, which seems to be the theme with this lengthy story they've woven around the two of them. I'm starting to wonder if they ever plan on getting to the point of it, though.

I was glad to see Steven Richards wrestling on RAW again, but damn if that whole match and angle wasn't hard to buy. Test's taken some major strides over the last twelve months, but it's still extremely easy to tell when he's really putting forward an effort and when he's mailing it in. Last night? Yeah, make some kind of a clever joke aout the postal service because he mailed that sucker in. Ditto for Richards. I like that they're trying something with him, as he's been in storyline purgatory since the glory days of the old RTC angle, but I found myself trying to get into his "angry, vengeful man defending his lover" storyline more than I was being sucked into it.

Remember when gimmick matches had some sort of rhyme or reason behind them? Yeah, I do too. Like when Mankind used to hang around in boiler rooms all the time, cutting promos next to the water heaters, and then the Undertaker challenged him to a Boiler Room match, to fight him in his own environment? Like when Hell in a Cell was invented, so D-X couldn't get into the ring and save HBK's title? Like when an Ultimate Submissions match was the only way to determine a winner between two of the greatest pure wrestlers in WWE history? Yeah, so what does a Last Man Standing Match mean in this situation? Exactly dick. If you're not going to make a stipulation that makes sense, (like... oh... say, Hell in a Cell to keep Evolution from invading the ring and protecting Triple H's title) why make a stipulation at all? My interest in the Rumble's RAW main event isn't any higher now that they've put that stupid gimmick into the mix than it was before the show even started.

But then Molly and Trish went out there, following up that needless, endless promo, and tore the friggin' house down. Honest to god, the Women's division is still light years ahead of the men's division on RAW. Molly Holly is building a tremendous legacy as a fighting champion, (she's had the belt since July) putting on outstanding matches at almost every occasion and establishing herself as THE woman to beat on RAW's most underrated and overlooked division. Seriously, the women's characters are so much more interesting and versatile than the men's, it's starting to look like somebody's doing this on purpose. Now that Jazz, probably my favorite female wrestler in WWE history, is back in the mix, things are on the verge of getting even MORE interesting. So long as they don't hotshot the belt back onto Trish next week, forget Molly exists and plow headfirst into yet another feud between Trish, Jazz and nobody else, this has the obvious potential to get even more exciting in a hurry. The women's division alone is reason to watch RAW, and had Jazz not interrupted after only a couple minutes, that would've been the best match of the night.

I was pleased as punch to see that "friends and supporters of Randy Orton" promo vignette. And here I thought they'd forgotten all about the promos they ran about him before his arrival on RAW last year. I love the vintage, "NFL History" style they're breaking out on these things, from the ugly typography to the gruff announcer to the film-reel quality of the video itself. I want to see more of these.

Henry vs. RVD could've been much worse. I still like Henry and the Big Show as the resident immovable objects of their respective shows, especially since they're allowing themselves to do more than throw clubbing forearms, stumble around the ring and scream. They aren't there to win any titles or attempt to create a legend for themselves, they're hanging around to make guys like RVD and John Cena look like versatile, legitimate upper card threats who can win against all odds. Some of the spots were a little goofy in this one, granted. Like the bizarre "full facial hump thrust" RVD pulled out halfway through, or the mistimed moonsault out to the floor, for instance. When the dust had settled, though, the match itself had delivered a couple interesting segments (like the front flip legdrop RVD hit while Henry was on all fours or the joltingly sudden delivery of the Van Daminator) and Van Dam came out of it smelling like roses. I wouldn't get in line to watch this match again, but I wouldn't have stormed out of the arena if I was already there, either.

Hoorj. Mae Young. Instant hilarity. The joke's older than she is, guys. Move on.

I liked Kane's promo, too. No real long winded explanation here, I just ejoyed it. I like it when these guys show emotion and it doesn't feel stilted or overly scripted. And Coach falling out of his chair at the Shaved Red Machine's opening pyro was slapstick comedy gold that fit the situation perfectly.

Finally, there was the main event, which didn't feel like a major, important, show-headlining tag team title match so much as just another two-on-two chore. I like Batista and I love Flair, but neither of them looked particularly good here, and the Dudleys brought nothing new to the table (no pun intended) yet again. Now, I'm probably a bigger Nature Boy fan than most, (I spent a month an a half of my life detailing the life and times of his career as one of the Four Horsemen) but even I have to admit that the time has come to hang 'em up for good. This makes three weeks running that Flair has inadvertantly injured and / or dizzied himself over the course of the match, causing things to grind to an uneasy halt for a couple minutes while he regains his bearings and the other guys in the ring try not to look stupid. If someone were twenty years younger and causing the same kinds of problems, they'd be off the show in a heartbeat. Due to his age, his legendary status and his undeniable contribution to the sport, however, Flair's allowed to slide time and time again. I have nothing but love for the man, but he's got to admit his skills would be much better suited as either a manager / mouthpiece for a struggling young prospect or the brains behind a completely overhauled booking department.

An uninspiring two hours this week, capped by a main event that didn't feel like something that should've ended the show. Honestly, the RVD / Henry match felt much more like a show closer than the tag match. I'm madly in love with the women's division and I can see the faintest bit of hope shining within Austin and Jericho's respective stories, but it'll take some time before I can tell if those will develop into something interesting or just something else that's fallen by the wayside.

A slim margin below average.

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