This year's card seems to be no exception with several key matchups taking place, a main event that just might see a title change, a couple possibilities in the undercard and plenty of room for a big storyline shift. Though Smackdown's starting to hurt right now thanks to the loss of Chris Benoit, nagging injuries to several big players and roster cuts, I find myself more and more excited about the program's predicament with each passing day. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if there were ever a time to create a new hero on the Thursday night squad, that time is now. The bookers are trying new things, and they're starting to realize that fans are kind of digging the new guys. John Cena is the most over man on the program. Brock Lesnar is making a serious name for himself as an unstoppable heel champion. Eddy Guerrero has more momentum behind him than ever. Chavo has become a serious heel with serious heat. It's almost as if you can smell the fuse burning on that show, like it's just a matter of moments until somebody explodes into the next cornerstone character. And that, at least to me, is an extremely interesting situation.
APA vs. Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas
I don't know what to say about this match, really. The World's Greatest Tag Team has evolved into more than a solid pair of amateur technicians over the last several months. Now, more than ever before, they work together as a tremendous duo, compensating for each other's weaknesses and relying on each other's strengths. They're both growing more comfortable, both as athletes and as characters, and they're becoming a perfect example of what great tag team wrestling should be. Unfortunately, the team opposing them has reached the point where they could be legitimately classified as a polar opposite to Haas and Benjamin. While I've never been a fan of Bradshaw, I can't say the same for ol' Ron Simmons. It's a bit unsettling to see the kind of regression the former WCW champion has made over the last few years, transforming from a guy with a constant chip on his shoulder and a horrifyingly realistic dominator into a man who's had too many beers, doesn't really know what to do with himself anymore and rolls around the ring without rhyme or reason. This match will be brutal, and I don't mean that in a good way. With luck, the WGTT will use their technical proficiency and ring smarts to isolate one member of the APA or the other, work them to pieces and then pin them or force them to submit just a few minutes into the match, ushering in a new era of Smackdown's tag team scene. A more likely scenario, though, has both men falling victim to an early Clothesline from Hell, falling on top of one another in a mock-homosexual position and staring at the lights together as Bradshaw pins them both in the center of the ring. I have faith this will be a little less cookie-cutter than that, and that the youngsters will actually manage to pull out a surprise win, but faith is about as far from certainty as a man can get in World Wrestling Entertainment. Cross your fingers, boys and girls, and pray to the booking gods that somebody back there isn't asleep at the wheel with this one.
Winners: Haas and Benjamin.
Jamie Noble vs. Nidia
How fitting... one of the dumbest angles of the last few years culminates in one of the dumbest matches of the last few years. Blindfold matches don't work, no ifs ands or buts. Rick Martel and Jake Roberts tried it, and looked like complete retards, at WrestleMania several years ago. Triple H and D'Lo Brown tried it, and may as well have come to the ring dressed as Gobbledy Gookers, on RAW at the first appearance of RAW Roulette. And... you know what? Nidia and Jamie are going to look like tools Sunday night when they trot out this unbearable gimmick yet again, whether Nidia wears a blindfold or not. It's really a crime, the way they've rewarded Noble for producing some of the best matches of the Smackdown brand and for progressing into one of the most air-tight characters on the show. The only reason to celebrate this match is because of the ending it represents, the light at the end of the tunnel that's almost within reach. Stupid.
Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty (c) vs. The Bashams & Shaniqua
WWE Tag Team Titles Match
This won't be a bad match, per se, but it won't be a particularly exciting one either. The Bashams are ever so slowly becoming a solid tag team combination, even though they're still stuck on the overdone "twin brothers that not even the ref can tell apart" gimmick. To tell the truth, though, both guys are so painfully bland that it's harder to tell their characters apart than it is their physical appearance. Likewise, Too Cool 2k4 aren't exactly a bad team, but they also aren't vibrant and recognizable enough to merit the championship run they've been given. They aren't all that exciting, they just go through the motions, produce a mediocre match and cash their paychecks. Scotty used to know how to work a very good match, in the days just before his entire arsenal became a setup for the worm, and Rikishi can still put on a great performance for someone of his size. They've just been doing the same thing for so long that their act has lost whatever novelty it had in the first place, and audiences are becoming indifferent to them. It's like two ships passing in the night, I suppose... one team is bland as bland can be, going through the motions on their way to discovering the single gimmick or trademark that will define them, while the other is bland as bland can be, going through the motions on their way down after discovering and exploiting the single gimmick or trademark that defined them. I'd say the Bashams have a better shot here, although neither team is really what I'd consider championship material.
Winners: The Bashams and Shaniqua
Rey Mysterio (c) w/Jorge Paez vs. Chavo Guerrero w/Chavo Sr.
WWE Cruiserweight Title Match
I really like the possibilities with this one. Tell you what, though, I'd like the chances even more if Jorge Paez and Chavo Sr. weren't involved. With Chavo Jr. really coming into his own once again as a tremendous heel and Rey rediscovering his youth by reclaiming his mask, this match could fly based entirely on the momentum, characters and natural abilities of the two guys who will be fighting in the ring. All they're doing by adding a flamboyant boxer and an old, retired pro wrestler to the mix is diluting the formula. That, or they're giving it legs to continue at WrestleMania. Either way, this match should be very good if given the time, and Mysterio is ultimately retaining.
Winner: Rey Mysterio
Kurt Angle vs. John Cena vs. Big Show
Number One Contender's Match
A good mix of styles, abilities and characters. Kurt Angle is, without a doubt, one of the best natural athletes in the sport, but his image could do with a little freshening up and the whole "super patriot" thing is getting tired. John Cena's a complete opposite; his act is still fresh, years away from its expiration date, but his ringwork could do with some fine tuning. And, finally, the Big Show has been performing to the very best of his ability since jumping to Smackdown over a year ago. He's not the fastest wrestler on the show, nor is he the most athletic, but he goes out there and does the job he's been asked to do. He's the kind of guy who can lose the Royal Rumble to a man half his size without losing any credibility whatsoever.
I suppose what I'm getting at is this; all three guys deserve a title shot for different reasons. Whether it's at WrestleMania, the night before or the month after, they all deserve a chance. It's tough to call a winner, which makes it tough to do the same for the World Championship match. If Kurt Angle wins this match, chances are much better that Eddy's leaving the show with gold around his waist. If Cena wins it, I'd give the advantage to Lesnar. Big Show? Anybody's guess. I think Angle's the most obvious choice here, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop this one to Cena, lose his mind as a result of dropping so many high profile matches in a row, and turn full heel.
Winner: Kurt Angle
Brock Lesnar vs. Eddie Guerrero
WWE Title Match
Talk about a pleasant surprise. I was so tensed up and worried about Chris Benoit's upcoming main event push and World Title shot that I didn't give a second thought about who Brock's opponent would be this month. So, when Guerrero earned the chance at that sequel to the Royal Rumble, I smiled and welcomed it with open arms. "Latino Heat" has deserved this opportunity for some time now, after returning from his well known problems with drugs and alcohol, proving his worth to the federation and reestablishing himself as one of the foremost workers on the whole show. Part of me wishes he'd been given more time to flesh out this sudden shot at the big time, but another part says I should just sit back and enjoy it, no matter what the result, because losing a World Title match at No Way Out is much better than never receiving one in the first place.
Brock's been very good with his portrayal of the angry, slightly paranoid heel champ, and despite slowing down a bit over the last couple weeks (come on... that bit with the mariachi band was lame), he's still a tremendous champ and an unbelievable talent especially considering his age. He's already this good, and he's got at least another decade and a half in him. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the two pair off against each other, even moreso since I saw their brief contact in the tag match that closed out Smackdown this past Thursday. Given time and not too much goofy interference from Bill Goldberg, this could be a real jewel of a show-capper. And, much as it doesn't make sense to do so, I'm going to go against John's patented "win on TV, lose on PPV" formula that's served him so well over the years. Lesnar / Goldberg doesn't need the added drama of the Title mixed in, not nearly as much as Guerrero / Angle would. OK, WWE. I'll bite. You've convinced me that Eddy Guerrero is the next WWE Champion.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero
As I alluded to in my introduction, there's a lot of empty space on this card... six matches to fill three hours, and I really don't see any of these going 40 minutes+. Something's going to happen, I just haven't the foggiest what that might be. Guess there's only one way to find out.... not a horrible card, but not a great one either. I'm sure it'll be remembered fondly if Latino Heat wins the belt.
until next time, i remain