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

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