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

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