Monday, January 31, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 01/31/05

Well, the Rumble is dust and Batista did it. He survived the alleged assault of "twenty nine other men," even though he only really went through a dozen at most, since he came in at number twenty eight and more than half the pack had been tossed by then. The fact of the matter is, so long as somebody doesn't get all sneaky and sign the World Title contract in his stead, (which is legally binding, you know) he's challenging for the World Title at WrestleMania. You'd imagine they'd jump right in with that gravy train and ride it for as long as possible this week, and judging from the opening segment that's entirely what they've set out to do.

I personally enjoyed most of the segment, although it didn't really feel like a continuation of the momentum they've been building up all winter, so much as it did an unexpected change of direction. This is still a good storyline, they're still taking their time with the payoff, and it's still got a lot of potential, but a lot of the subtleties are missing. It's got a lot of potential and I'm still interested in seeing which direction it runs from here, but the storyline took a few missteps last night, dumbing itself down with a tacky "whodunnit" that doesn't seem to have fooled a soul. There's no questioning who was responsible for the placement of that JBL promo, just as Batista appeared ready to say something he may have regretted later, but there's at least a little ambiguity in the air about the big man's opinion on the matter. When he left that ring after the opening segment with some hesitation in his steps and later in the night, when an accomplished smile crept up on his face after he was ordered to the back during the big tag team match, Batista basically announced that he had a pretty good idea Triple H was behind the airing of that video. As a member of Evolution, he's seen Hunter's mind games before, and he's seen how they've crippled his opponents emotionally in the weeks leading up to their big match. Likewise, he's been built (albeit infrequently) as a man of deceptive intelligence for his size, and it's refreshing to see that coming into play here. I don't think I can name more than a handful of instances where a face has seen through his rival's manipulations so immediately, and it's nice to see that such long-standing traditions as the ineptitude of the challenging face can still be questioned from time to time.

With that said, the execution of the opening promo and the delivery on its potential were two completely different things. I was expecting fireworks out of this promo, the time seemed right to capitalize on all of the tensions that had been carefully laid between these two throughout the last four months, but when the group had left the ring and the show had gone to commercial, it didn't really feel like anything special had really happened. There was that one moment of truth, when Batista took the mic and seemed ready to cut loose on his former mentor, that sent a sort of electricity through the audience, both in person and at home. You could hear an excited murmur, but more importantly, you could feel yourself holding your breath. And then the JBL video played, Hunter tried to pawn it off and Batista all but shrugged his shoulders. I can understand the allure of waiting even longer for the big reveal, but there's also a risk of missing that window of opportunity and souring audiences on the idea as a whole. Randy Orton's a great example of that mistake in full bloom. I don't mind the continued delay in Batista's official turn, but I was looking for fireballs and explosions last night, not a quiet, psychological thriller.

There isn't really all that much I can say about the Intercontinental Title defense, since it was less than a minute long from bell to bell and ended on one of the goofiest transitionary moves in Shelton Benjamin's moveset. It was really cool to see him hit that whip kick for the first dozen times or so, but after that it's just started to seem silly. Why wouldn't you scout a guy for a move like that before your match, especially with the IC gold on the line? I like Benjamin as a routinely-defending IC champ, and I loved the little tidbit they threw in at the end where Dean tried to slip in an extra promotional spot for his Simon System, but that was hardly enough to save this.

The Edge / Christy segment seemed to be sailing in choppy waters from the very get-go, as well. After months of really hammering the point home about how he gets no respect and upper management basically proving him right by constantly shitting on him from great height, Edge came out just one night after defeating Shawn Michaels in a match he requested and was granted, and made some bizarre, uncharacteristic claims about how Christy was dissing him by firing off WrestleMania T-Shirts into the crowd. Yeah, I know the point of the bit was to reinforce the idea that Edge is a whiner who never appreciates the opportunities he's been given, but this was so illogical and stupid that it completely clashed with everything they'd established about the character originally. He whined about being overlooked and cheated, but for the most part he was arguably right. Or maybe I've just got my rose-colored glasses on and I'm remembering things as being more intelligent than they really were. Either way, this was a needless interaction that I could've done without. It got a bit more interesting once HBK came out to the ring, though not for the reasons I'm sure they intended. If the entire confrontation between Edge and Christy could've been overlooked, HBK would've likely come across as the heel here. He lost the match last night, then came out tonight and bitched, moaned and made excuses, and finally took a cheap knockout shot when Edge refused to give him an immediate rematch. It was exactly that kind of line-toeing between the status of face and heel with both characters that had sold me on the series in the first place, and it's a shame it was virtually ignored here. Michaels really needs to go heel, because the pompous-ass-as-face act is getting a little tired.

Maven took on the Hurricane not long after, and to my great surprise it was Maven who worked a more technically sound match and Helms who forgot what body part he was meant to be selling halfway through. I like that somebody told Maven you're supposed to soften up a specific body part in preparation for your finisher, and I like that he's, uh... that he's got a finisher now. Ugly match, but in all honesty the Hurricane's more to blame for that than Maven.

Are they just flinging shit at the wall with Snitsky and hoping some of it's gonna stick some day? "Nice shoes?" What the fuck?!?

Words can't describe how disappointing the Benoit / Jericho vs. La Resistance match was to me. There's great history here between Benoit and La Rez on RAW, dating all the way back to their dropping the titles to he and Edge only weeks after WrestleMania XX, and there's an equally interesting tale to be told about Benoit and Jericho, considering all of their past friendships, rivalries, parallels and differences, but that's not the route we took here. Truthfully, the first half of the match was exceptional. The champs were in charge, with Conway carrying most of the load for his team, and they were building a great story with Benoit constantly fighting to his corner only to discover that Jericho had been either knocked from the apron or drawn over to the opposite corner, but once all hell broke loose... damn. There was a point where I just sat back and muttered "what the hell is going ON?" and seriously had no idea. It's like somebody accidentally flipped the "clusterfuck" button backstage and everybody in the ring became a clone of Sylvain Grenier. Horrible, horrible conclusion to what should've wound up being an excellent title match and I can't say Benoit and Jericho are entirely without blame. Bad booking, bad timing, bad execution.

I wish they would've held onto the Sergeant Slaughter / Muhammad Hassan match until next week, if just so I could laugh at Tokyo's reaction. Why can't pro wrestling be like other sports, where you can never again compete on a professional level once you're inducted into the hall of fame?

I had trouble really paying attention to the big tag team match near the main event, and kept thinking I heard JR call the pairing of Orton and Michaels "The Green Team," amusing me to no end. Well, he's half right. This wasn't a bad match by any means, but it seemed to be missing a hook or something. Nothing was tying me emotionally to the match, and though HBK was playing a great face-in-peril, it was kind of cheapened by the fact that he was doing the exact same thing seven days ago. When I rationalized it to myself, it made sense; Michaels wrestled two matches last night and ate some steel ring steps, before superkicking Edge earlier in the show. There's no question he'd be physically and emotionally drained, easy pickins for Evolution, but I just found myself having trouble getting into it. I liked the supposedly unintentional Edge spear that ended the match, particularly his reaction upon realizing he'd leveled the wrong man, and this was the usual solid affair between three legends and a superstar-in-training.

Finally, the match nobody seemed to be anticipating more than JR and the King, Kane and Gene Snitsky stepped into the cage to (supposedly) settle their differences once and for all. This was exactly what you'd expect from a cage match between these two, and when I say that I mean this was painful in all the wrong ways. Kane baffled me by attempting to scale the cage within the first two minutes of the match, which is surprising because he's the one who's supposed to be seeking vengeance and should value the opportunity to dish out punishment more than he does victory. Snitsky amazed me by opting against taking the three-inch plunge to the arena floor from the bottom step, instead almost nonchalantly pulling the cage door from the frame and re-entering the cage to dole out more punishment. Like that would've been completely impossible if he'd won the match beforehand. Both men abused me by employing the "I've been fightin', so I can't walk so good" method of delaying their approach to the cage door. Just a putrid display between two guys who have proven time and time again that they have no business in the ring together. God help us and end this feud.

All in all, this was a terribly underachieving show, especially coming out of what should've been a tremendously momentum-lending Royal Rumble outcome. Instead of a big welcoming party for Batista in the main event, we got an unnecessary delay along with more slow-burning. Instead of a solid, clean tag title match between three of the promotion's better athletes and Sylvain Grenier, we got a confusing, overbooked shitfest. Instead of continuing the trend of outstanding main events that was established around this time last year, we got... yeah. I can't call this a four without hating myself in the morning.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.9

No comments: