Monday, February 2, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 02/02/04

The more I thought about last week's show, the more I liked it. After originally taking it in, I thought it was good despite a few glaring flaws. After I'd slept on it, I found myself a little more excited about the direction RAW seems to be headed in, and the show jumped up a couple notches in my imagination. Once I sat down and started putting my thoughts into written form, I realized the show was more than just "good," it was "very good." Well above average. It was something that reminded me why I fell back into love with wrestling more than half a dozen years ago. It was meaty, it provided both intrigue and follow-through, it offered physical collisions in the ring that I'd consider PPV-worthy and it had an underlying electricity that really tied the whole thing together into a superb, explosive package. But, ever the worrier, I quickly moved past last week's show and began to daydream about how they'd manage to drop the ball with this week's. It wasn't a conscious decision, but it's something that happened nonetheless. I sat down to press "play" on my TiVo with an overbearing sense of dread, like I was about to watch video of a plane crash but didn't know where exactly it was on the tape. I didn't have high hopes going in, to say the least, which is more than likely a by-product of so many let downs over the last two years than any sort of personal disorder.

Fortunately enough, RAW worked quickly to alleviate my fears, sending not only Chris Jericho out to the ring, (seven days removed from an outrageously good showing on last week's RAW) but Chris Benoit, Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff as well. I'm still a little worried about Benoit's presence on the mic, not to mention his ability as a face that can garner instant crowd support, but I'm willing to sit back and take in a couple more promos before I make a real decision on that front. He seems to lack the intensity and conviction on the mic that defines his performance in the ring, and his eyes often betray him during long interview segments. I want to see him gritting his teeth, going brow-to-brow with anyone that bothers him and really putting some fire behind his words. Instead I'm watching him posture, look around the ring with a hollow expression on his face and use the phrase "Well, ya know..." before every single sentence. I'm worried.

Fortunately enough, he was in there with two of RAW's best heels and one of its hottest face / tweeners. Flair was good enough in his demeanor to overshadow Benoit's lacking presence on the microphone, and could single-handedly put the Crippler into serious main event contention again with a good showing during their match next week. Watching Ric tell his former pupil that he doesn't have what it takes to become a legend is pure gold, and lends instant sympathy to Benoit's character.

I like Bischoff in the glasses. It's a look that not many people can pull off in pro wrestling, but adds a new dimension to his on-screen presence. He feels more like a member of the old guard now, like he's been around long enough to know every trick in the book, not to mention a way to turn any situation into his own favor. He doesn't seem to have been as rash in his decision making over the last month, either, now that I think about it. Bischoff is slowly transforming from an impulsive manager, who books on the fly and often makes poor decisions as a result, into a cool, calculated owner who's begun to think things through before taking action. His master plans have a bit more planning now, as evidenced by his booking of the Trish / Kane match this week and his efforts to halt Benoit's momentum before it's gathered too much steam. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, (and, on reflection, when am I not?) but I like the way Bischoff appears to be headed.

I'm usually the first to defend Mark Henry's role on RAW, but not this week. Sure, the situation they booked him in was absolutely perfect for the kind of character he's been meant to portray. A similarly-themed match between Benoit and the Big Show a couple ofyears ago on RAW resulted in one of the Crippler's most memorable ovations, after he fought the entire match to cut the Show down to size, work his shoulder and apply the crossface. When the Big Show finally realized that he was stuck in the center of the ring with nowhere to go, he screamed in a mixture of frustration and pain and tapped out. Though the match was only about seven or eight minutes long, the two had told such a compelling story from bell to bell that the previously tame audience was on its feet with excitement. This week's match was a perfect chance to try that same strategy again, but a combination of time restrictions and Mark Henry's lack of effort and mobility spoiled the opportunity. Honestly, I'm not surprised to learn that Mark was injured going into the match, because he really didn't look like he wanted to be in the ring last night. I like the storyline that Benoit's crossface tore "The World's Strongest Man"'s shoulder right out of the socket, but I think it might've meant more if it had absorbed a little more damage before the crossface was applied. Bad match, but a good story.

Great backstage storytelling between Test, Orton and Foley. Orton and Test, especially, impressed the hell out of me. Instead of immediately joining forces because of their shared role as heels, the two squabbled like a pair of hyenas hovering over the same kill. Orton wants his victory over Foley to be unquestioned, to be his alone. Test merely wanted some payback for the backstage assault that took him out of the Royal Rumble and ruined his shot at a WrestleMania main event. Both guys had motivation to tear into Mick, but Orton's reasoning was more emotional. Thus, he came away with the kill. Great continuity, writing and execution.

Despite my fiancee's announcement that she loves watching Rico act like an ass, I'm getting tired of his gimmick. It was funny and original the first half-dozen times I saw it, but now that act's wearing thin. It's time to do something new, and I don't think the unnecessary addition of Stacey Keibler is what he needs. Rico's a unique worker in the ring, and he's got a character that's started to click. Now's the time to take it to the next level and maybe reveal a little more about who he is and what he's trying to do.

The "Trish-as-Yoko" reference has been batted around and praised pretty largely since last night, and I don't really have anything new to add to it. Very nice little vignette that greatly enhanced the ongoing saga between these two and Chris Jericho. Christian, as the self-centered dickhead, is in rare form.

Kane vs. Trish was everything you'd imagine it would be. Once again, Bischoff shows that he'd put more than ten minutes' worth of thought into last week's show, as not only did he rob Chris Jericho of his much maligned "favor," but he got the end result he was after only seven days later by taking advantage of Jericho's lovesick gullibility. It's a win-win situation for Bischoff, as he gets out of having to redeem the last favor he promised at the Survivor Series, aids his buddies in Evolution by all but guaranteeing them a win later in the night, screws over his most recent enemy in Chris Jericho, and scares the fuck out of Trish. Kane delayed a bit too long with the chokeslam, but now I'm really nitpicking. I loved the spot where Kane took Y2J's legs out from under him with a chair, just a split second after he'd stepped between the ropes. It was a transitional spot to set up the big leg injury on the steel post, sure, but it was done so well that the entire segment succeeded based off of it.

I'm liking this Undertaker return less and less with each passing week. As I admitted last week, it was undeniably cool to hear the gong at the Royal Rumble and to enjoy the tingle that ran down my spine as I heard the audience's reaction to it. It was a little less inspiring to hear it the next night on RAW, and then to see the Ring-style video that accompanied it. I was still interested in seeing the deadman's return... then it took another step in the wrong direction last night, as lightning struck the ring, mist coated the apron, Kane ran like a little girl and the announcers tried to act witless, as though they had no idea what was happening. It's getting silly again, and I'm losing my anticipation with each week. I honestly don't want them to rush his return, but I also don't want to see all the stupid quirks that are associated with his character coming out of the woodwork and ushering in a new age of childlike "supernatural" gimmicks and unbelievable storylines. What's next, Paul Bearer with his urn? A buzzard flying through the arena? Flaming cameramen at six o'clock? All they need to do is put him in his original mortician's outfit, wipe some purple paint under his eyes, drop the arena lights and trot him out there again. Instead, they're over-producing it and I'm losing interest. Get on with it.

I wasn't crazed about the Booker vs. V1 match. Neither guy was clicking last night, and I've really lost my high on Booker over the last year or so. I didn't mind the spinaroonie when it was his equivalent of Shawn Michaels' kip-up, just a cool little transition he threw in while regaining his vertical base after a big spot. As the central focus of a match, a maneuver he uses randomly and needlessly throughout the match, I'm really getting sick of it. I dislike the spinaroonie for the same reason I hated the Worm, the People's Elbow and the Road Dogg's dancing kneedrop. It's stupid, it demeans his opponent and the audience, and it degrades the sport. Worst of all, it's applied after a simple punch or kick nowadays... his opponents just lay in the ring, wait for him to complete the minute-long process, and then get up like nothing just happened. Ugh.

Triple H accomplished exactly dick in his promo-turned-match with Spike Dudley. That was a balls-nasty pedigree, though, wasn't it? Yeah, I can't wait until he pulls that out against a guy who's just regaining his momentum after returning from a career-halting neck injury. Poor Spike... his win-loss record's gotta be like 3-2900 over the last couple of years. Remember when he actually meant something to ECW?

I wasn't inspired by the Flair / Batista vs. Jericho / Christian match, which was a real let-down after their superb handicap match last week. Granted, RVD and Randy Orton were in the ring for that one, but the majority of the same competitors were in action with one another here last night. I like that the figure four was used as the finisher, no matter how obvious that was going in, but I just didn't like the way they got there. I don't understand why every heel victory must first be preceded by a "behind-the-ref's back" submission, the use of a foreign object and / or a ref bump. Can't people just win and lose anymore? Do we really need to see elaborately written finishes, when in most cases a simple "Christian makes the hot tag and collapses from the apron, Jericho fights but ultimately succumbs to the figure four" will do? Why can't we trust the four guys in the ring to get from point A to point B on their own? Let the wrestlers do their job, honest to god.

And, lending a theme to the night, the HBK / Orton fight I was enthused about at the show's opening didn't do anything for me, either. Nobody came out on the right foot last night, it seems. There was no real direction to this match, nothing to drive it. Orton's been unexpectedly good over the last couple of weeks, and Shawn Michaels has been... well.... Shawn Michaels, but even their combined hot streaks couldn't produce something great here. Maybe somebody put something in the water backstage.

All in all, an extremely well-written show that was largely marred by poor performances from the talent and / or overbooked finishes. I like the direction they're going with Benoit, teasing his tension with everybody on the show, (because everybody's jusitifiably jealous of his Rumble victory) and I'm head-over-heels for this Jericho / Christian / Trish thing. And hey, Orton and Foley are out there kicking asses too. All in all, if the matches had panned out last night and every promo had been solid, this would've cracked the eight barrier. As is, it's just a notch or two below last week's. Still above average, still a show I'm enjoying tuning in to, but not as inspiring as what I took in at the end of January.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.8

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