Monday, March 29, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 03/29/04

Gliding off of one of the biggest ratings successes in recent memory, RAW needed to take the bull by the horns this week and give those fresh, new viewers an excuse to tune in again next week. They needed to really embrace Vince McMahon's request that the draft lotto "shake things up" and launch the "new rivalries, new superstars and new directions" the CEO had promised in that fateful promo. Not only that, but they needed to get those gears turning in a hurry for the rapidly approaching Backlash PPV, which was only three shows away at the time of those opening fireworks. It was a perfect example of the writers having their work cut out for them, not only accomplishing the big semi-relaunch that Vinnie Poo had demanded but also doing so in an extremely short period of time. Basically, they needed to deliver results without hesitation. I'm usually their harshest critic, but even I was feeling for them coming into this week.

Evolution started the show off, with Ric Flair firmly planting the stable's two youngsters under his wing and displaying the proper method of delivering a promo, interesting the crowd in an ongoing feud and living his character. Flair was absolutely on fire last night, both in this segment and in the main event. The guy's interaction with the live crowd, his body language and his facial expressions are still completely unheard of. He's such a master of his art that it's borderline scary. Orton played his role as well as could be expected, since all he really needs to do is stand around and act conceded to be successful, but I really can't get over how perfect a team he makes with Flair. Evolution really could've survived without Triple H, and more than likely would've thrived in his absence. I miss Flair's seamless mockery of the ringside crowd on a regular basis.

Tajiri and Coach were hysterical together last night, but it's not really something I'd like to see drug out across more than a single night. As Brett noted, sometimes the slapstick stuff works given the situation, and this was the right time and place to use it. Coach's totally over-the-top reaction to getting misted was great stuff.

The whole "Molly Holly losing streak" thing is getting to be overplayed. They spent nine months establishing her as a competent, experienced Women's Champion and gave her clean defenses against countless opponents, before handing her a couple months of endless losses. I can understand the need to shake up the names on top of the division, but it doesn't make sense to push Molly that strongly and then abandon it without an end in sight. Her feud with Victoria appears to be over, and I'd imagine the only reason she's still on TV is because she was willing to shave her head and they feel bad about letting her do it without planning any kind of payoff for her. Nidia looked decent enough... at the very least, she's carryable... which means she should do fine in the division, provided they continue pairing her off with competent ladies.

I don't remember a thing about the Triple H promo aside from the freaking World Title match he booked for himself at Backlash, which I guess is par for the course. The guy has the ability to spew words with little or no purpose like few in the history of the industry. Honestly, he and Hogan are in a league of their own, though the Hulkster's were a little more abstract while Helmsley's are more blatantly self-serving and egotistical. But I think I've harped long enough in the past about my dislike for long vocal circle-running in lieu of lengthier matches and more substantial storyline development. Needless to say; less talkie, more workie = Q more happy. I think about 75% of my writing can be simplified into that one statement.

I didn't mind the booking of the tag title match, but the work itself seemed too rushed and breakneck stop-and-go to me. I think they worked through half their combined signature maneuvers and big spots in the first minute with little or no build, spent a couple minutes exchanging rest holds and submissions, went back to another series of explosive big spots and then back to the rest holds. It was really bizarrely paced, is what I guess I'm trying to say. I'm a fan of all four guys involved with this one, (yes, even Batista) but I think they're all capable of much better. I don't understand why Shawn and Chris are all buddy-buddy now, either.

The Highlight Reel segment was sucking air until Jericho jumped in with all his face catachphrases and a couple new ones. It was gratifying to see Y2J say to Trish what every guy who's ever been cheated on has wanted to say to his ex, but the whole "trashbag ho" thing was getting stale when he abandoned it a few years back, so I really hope he isn't planning on breaking that old line out for the long run again. The audience participation bit was fun, no doubt about it... I wish more segments took advantage of the live crowd in this fashion, because it simultaneously makes for good TV watching from home and a fun experience for the ticket-holders themselves. Trish sounds disturbingly like Officer Gunderson in Fargo when she's trying to be a mean, deceitful bitch. On top of that, her whole act came off as really canned and poorly performed in general. She's improved in the ring since her debut, no doubt about it, but her acting chops are beyond poor.

Kane and Tajiri were genuinely awful in their little pseudo-match last night, which is a real shame because both guys can be tremendous assets if they're motivated, driven by a great storyline and / or opposed by somebody who knows what they're doing. Tajiri, in particular, has been extremely versatile in the past, putting on a great show opposite heavyweights and cruiserweights alike while in his prime in ECW. Like anybody else on the roster, though, he's absolutely wasted in a match like this. There's no reason to waste ANY athlete's time with a dumbass, meaningless, treadmill match like that one. Yeah, all right... let's all go out to the ring, no-sell for twenty seconds, attempt to run into a ringpost (and miss by a good six inches) and then wrap it all up with a convoluted, gimmicked finish that doesn't get anyone anywhere on the card. Huh, when I put it that way I guess I can understand why neither of these guys were motivated last night.

Finally, the match that defined the show in everyone's minds; Benjamin vs. Triple H. Shelton's been tearing up the competition in the ring lately, with a great couple of weeks on Smackdown up to and including the three falls in one night he fought in the infamous "gauntlet," and he really pulled out all the stops last night. Everything they did with this guy was spot-on, from the nervous face-off with Batista and blindsiding by Triple H to the blunt rubs from three of the show's most popular faces to the booking, pace and outcome of the match itself. They told, in two hours, the kind of story we've been demanding for the last year. They gave that Cincinnati audience a motive to get behind the kid, the endorsement to justify their motive, the momentum to elaborate upon those endorsements and the payoff to catapult him into instant recognition. I won't even attempt to give the match itself a star rating, since that issue's been debated to death over the last twenty-four hours and I don't put very much faith in star ratings to begin with, but I will say it was above average. It was a wonderful surprise, with Benjamin doing much more than pulling out the fluke win and delivering an excuse for JR to get all loud and excited at the end of the night. He didn't just splash Trips at the right moment and roll him up for the cheap win, he matched the eight time former champion move for move, countered everything The Game had to offer and won the match without outside interference. This was a great story, and that was enough to keep me interested throughout the match, no matter how much it seemed to lag while in Triple H's control.

And, no matter how much I hate his promos, I've got to hand it to Triple H. The guy's been undeniably on since WrestleMania. That's three great main events in a row, putting over deserving young talent in each instance. And you'll note that I didn't just say he laid down for new faces... he actually went out of his way to put them over. Benoit is a much more credible champion right now because Triple H was the one to tap out at 'Mania. Guerrero looks every bit like a legitimate World Champ, since he went blow-for-blow with Triple H one week ago and didn't fall victim to the pedigree. And now Benjamin is the real deal in the eyes of the fans, thanks in large part to the efforts of Helmsley. Surely it takes two to tango, but HHH deserves just as much credit for that match's success as Shelton.

I think the thing I liked best about this match was the number of directions they could potentially go with it from here. Shelton's character has so much potential at this point, with the momentum and dedication that put him over Triple H this week making him a great face, but his cockiness and natural heel charisma making a heel run inevitable. They never have to change this guy's character, they just have to play up one aspect of his personality more than the other. Then again, they've messed up far more promising situations than this one in the past...

All in all, this was the very definition of mediocrity aside from Flair's performance and Benjamin's elevation. I'm really enjoying this string of solid main events, and I hope to god it continues, but the actual guts of the show could still use some work. Needs less lengthy, meaningless promos, less worthless, forgettable little thirty second matches, and more stuff like the beginning and end of the program.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.2

Monday, March 22, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 03/22/04

I was hesitant to really think about the Draft going into last night's show. Following up on a very hot and cold episode of RAW just seven days ago, which started off on the right foot, lost a LOT of steam after Vince's big announcement and then picked up again in time for the main event, I had absolutely no idea where they could go with a storyline gimmick such as this one. On one hand, I was worried. I thought both shows had really distinguished themselves over the last two years, proving me wrong and making the brand extension work as planned, and that a mix-up like this was both uncalled for and very ill advised. I was afraid that the storylines that had been brewing over the last few months would vanish without a second thought, even the stories that still had a lot of fight in them like Orton / Foley, Jericho / Christian and Triple H / Benoit. More than that, I was worried that the federation's two fresh champions would suffer a blow to their credibility by winning their respective title matches at WrestleMania, but not making it official by defending their belts the very next month. Turns out most of the fuss was about nothing at all...

I was absolutely adoring the interactions between Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff last night. Paul was priceless in his little neck brace, grinning from ear to ear and acting like a completely arrogant little prick. The schoolyard fight-inspiring grin he fixed Bischoff with as the RAW GM was attempting to make some sort of retort said more than either of them could've managed to put into words. These guys are cut from the same cloth, and that's why they had such utter contempt for one another... each realizes the threat the other embodies, and attempts to conteract that threat in exactly the same way. I've gotta say, it's too bad Paul quit before his first day as a member of RAW, because I found that he brought out the best in Bischoff, who had been letting himself slide in recent weeks. I would gladly tune into a program that consisted largely of these two throwing barbs at one another, because they're both so unbelievably smooth at doing just that.

I can't say yay or nay on Renee Dupree's selection as draft selection number one, as he hasn't had a lot of time on his own to establish his value to either show. He's got decent ring presence, but I'd rather have seen Rob Conway go to Smackdown than Grenier or Dupree. It would've been a more natural conclusion to Conway's story, (the traitor who turned on his own country would no longer have the Frenchmen in his ear, and could establish a name for himself on his own) and the two foreigners who entered the fed together could wrap up their own tale a little later. Guess it's too late now.

Not a particularly bad match between the new Smackdown superstar and Y2J. Jericho needs something to grab hold of very shortly, because his face act is starting to slide already. I had trouble paying attention to the matches last night, no doubt due in part to my preoccupation with the draft. I like the premise of matches ending on more unsuspecting maneuvers, like the enzuigiri last night, but that's not going to make the first couple times it's done any less awkward. However, I don't understand the reason to crush Dupree beneath RAW's boot just as he's getting his big chance to make something of himself elsewhere.

I'm more excited about the promise of Shelton Benjamin as a singles star than Dupree right now. He hasn't had much chance to break out on his own, but I guess that was sort of the theme for last night. Benjamin has a natural charisma in the ring, and there's no doubting his abilities, so I'm more than mildly interested in seeing how he does next week on RAW. It's looking more and more like the dawning of a new era in WWE, and the timing could be right for Shelton to make it big. Let's just all pray he doesn't start using the old Titan Tron video they had him using when I saw him in a dark match a couple of years back. "It's all about the Benjamin"? Pheck...

Hoo boy, Kane is spiraling. There's only so many people they can feed to him before the whole roster starts to look weak as a result. Sad thing is, I don't know what else they can do with him right now. Talk about a guy who could've benefitted from a change of scenery and a new stack of opponents.

Nothing much to say in regards to Jindrak and Nidia. Jindrak's tag team never cleared the first floor, and I've never seen Nidia work a match so it's too soon to say whether she'll be an asset or a detriment to the ever-strong women's division. Speaking of which... I'd have loved to have seen them show Molly wearing a baseball cap backstage, after the cameras had already caught Shawn Michaels, Tajiri and the Ultimo Dragon wearing them.

I can't do much but echo the opinions of every wrestling fan in the world, as they all immediately realized "hey, John Cena would be perfect on RAW!" Cena's a guy who needs a nemesis, a live microphone and the benefit of improvisation right now to really blossom as a ready-made main eventer. He's got more going for him than Orton at the moment, despite all that the bookers have placed at young Randy's feet, and a move to RAW would've put him right over the top.

Though it's since been nullified by a big trade, moving Triple H to Smackdown (even for twenty three hours) was an interesting prospect. I'd have loved to see the steps Evolution would have made in his absence, with Orton getting the chance to really reap the benefits of his association with Flair and take charge of the young group. Remember when Triple H himself got a similar chance just about... oh, six years ago?

I wasn't terribly impressed by the Spike / Christian match. Christian's the kind of worker who seems to need a significant amount of motivation and / or a great worker on the other side of the ring to put on a solid show, and he had neither last night. His angle with Trish has already contradicted itself, as he abandoned the "tough love" style that got him in with Ms. Stratus and instead gently put his arm around her on their way down the ramp... and I was about to say he also acted a bit oddly by getting angry at Spike for going after her, but then I realized that he was probably just protecting his investment. If Spike had succeeded in striking Trish, according to her character, there's a good chance she'd get a little turned on by it and develop some sort of attraction to the youngest Dudley. I mean, who wants to say they lost their girl to Spike?

Both the RAW Tag Title match and the World Title match came off as more than a bit uninspiring, due in large part to the disturbingly quiet Detroit crowd. I'm no fan of Flair and Batista as tag team champions, but since they appear to be the only freaking tag team LEFT ON ALL OF RAW, I guess there wasn't much choice. Seriously, of the eight teams competing for their various tag titles at WrestleMania, only three of them are still in contention for those same titles today. Why not just confine the tag scene to one show, like the women's and cruiserweight titles, and get it over with?

Good to see RVD, Tajiri and Rhyno getting new chances, as they're each guys I'd like to see succeed, although I think we're all probably overestimating the importance of such a swap. I mean, the only guy to ever do ANYTHING noteworthy after switching shows is Chris Benoit, and he had the momentum of a Royal Rumble win behind him. Seriously, what did swapping shows do for the Hurricane, Matt Hardy, or (looking back a ways) Chris Jericho, Christian, Crash Holly, Lance Storm or William Regal? It's easy to get wrapped up in the whole "these guys are entering a whole new federation" notion, but in reality they're not. It's not like they're jumping from the WWF to WCW at the height of the wars, when both shows had legitimately dedicated audiences and a jump between them meant a genuine clean slate in front of a crowd that honestly might not have ever seen their work before. With Smackdown and RAW, it's like a phantom of that same sensation. It's not like there are real, honest to god, "I'll never watch RAW because my blood pumps blue and silver" fanatics out there like there were with the two major federations of the late '90s. On the large, people who watch RAW also watch Smackdown and vice versa. They aren't competitors in the most honest definition of the word, and that's a big part of why the jumps between the brands haven't resulted in any really dramatic changes in a superstar's public perception.

The Edge jump (and subsequent spear) was slightly uninspiring. His whole entrance schpeel isn't as cool without the plastic trenchcoat, but that can be corrected over time. There was just something missing from this that I can't put my finger on at the moment. Something's not right.

Finally, Eddy and Trips put on a very inspiring main event before it boiled down to an all out, Smackdown vs. RAW, streetfight in the ringside area. Like him or loathe him, you've got to admit that Hunter's put on a couple of solid matches in a row opposite two of the internet's favorite underdogs. Guerrero looked really frighteningly small next to Triple H out there initially, but through good storytelling, a solid series of counters, exchanges and maneuvers, and a nice pace, they managed to make the size difference less of a handicap and more of a rallying point. Both competitors looked like they belonged in the main event out there, with Eddy immediately showing his ring smarts by focusing on the arm that Trips had in a sling just one week ago and Hunter launching a more powerful, ground based attack. This didn't resort to the Helmsley mail-in-and-squash I was fearing, and as a result was a very pleasant surprise. Thumbs up to both guys. Looking back on it, this served as a nice catalyst for the big brawl that concluded the episode. Triple H, representing RAW, and Eddy Guerrero, representing Smackdown, fight to a dead heat that brings each locker room out in an attempt to tip the scales in their man's favor. Good stuff.

On the whole, this was an oddly paced show. The looming threat of an upcoming draft pick slowed down what matches they interspersed throughout the program, and the strange choices for the draft itself lent a feeling of realism alongside a sense of bizarre confusion to the proceedings. There's no question in anybody's minds that these were rigged, but the strange choices managed to raise that little flag of uncertainty in the back of the viewers' minds all the same. I'd call this slightly above average, but not much better. The whole program was buoyed by that feeling of not knowing what's around the next corner and a strong main event.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.2

Friday, March 12, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE WrestleMania XX Preview

It's the biggest weekend of the year, the day we've all been anticipating since they began running that obnoxious "countdown" after every other commerical break almost a year ago. It's the World Series of Professional Wrestling, the event every worker, no matter what they say, dreams of becoming a part of. No matter what you think of Vince McMahon, WWE, its roster, its bookers or its history, there's no denying the aura that constantly surrounds this event. WrestleMania has survived dry spells (see WMIX or WMXI), it's enjoyed some hot streaks (WMII, WMV and WMXV), and it's become, without a shadow of a doubt, the single most important word in the history of the industry. No matter how cheesy the commercials may seem, everything Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Ric Flair, Triple H, Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit discuss in that brief promotional spot is spot-on. Almost inexplicably, 'Mania has risen above all the petty grudges, the accusations and the backstage politics as an emotional, career-summarizing experience that's shared by both the athletes themselves and the fans witnessing it around the world. An opportunity to appear on the card is more than enough for any wrestler to brag about, and a chance at the main event means near immortality. It's where stars are made, where storylines are concluded and where dreams are realized. It's our everything.

This year's show looks to be a real champ, too. Not only are the WWE employees excited about the celebration of the event's twentieth anniversary, but virtually all of their key players are healthy. The card is overflowing with fresh new face-offs and golden opportunities. It's a big, big chance for Eddy Guerrero, Randy Orton, Christian John Cena and Chris Benoit to solidify themselves in a much larger spot on their respective cards, and an opportunity for Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho to justify their current positions on either RAW or SmackDown. This will be an extremely interesting show to watch, not only this weekend, but this time next year... if just to see how these individuals' performances affected their booking over the next twelve months.

I know I'm excited, and I don't even have the added pleasure of witnessing the show live and in person, as Dave does. I wish I weren't poor, and could've afforded to make the long trek to Madison Square Garden for this appears as though I'll be missing something special.

Chavo Guerrero Jr. (c), Akio, Funaki, Billy Kidman, Shannon Moore, Rey Mysterio, Jamie Noble, Nunzio, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Ultimo Dragon
Cruiserweight Open for the Cruiserweight Title

There's little question in my mind this match will be opening the show for us Sunday night, and I can't argue with that logic whatsoever. Cruiserweight matches in general are absolutely ideal for getting a big crowd off its feet, excited and into the action right off the bat, and with the lightweights starting to make a little noise on their side of the show, this could be key to the division's ultimate success or failure. This is a tailor-made WrestleMania opener, with several of the show's brightest, most underappreciated stars, and I'm glad to see it happening now that the federation finally has enough talent to make some sparks with their long-suffering Cruiserweight division.

There are a million guys who deserve to win this one; everybody from the established names like Rey Mysterio, Tajiri and Jamie Noble to the underutilized Ultimo Dragon, Billy Kidman and Nunzio to the unexpected Hurricane, Paul London or an unannounced new hire. I'd love to see them kick off the show with a bang by sending somebody like Low Ki or Sonjay Dutt out there to make an instant name for themselves, but that's daydreaming at its best. If you look at the way they've built this, there's really no third option: Rey Mysterio has been the undeniable focus of the division over the last six months, and Chavo's just starting to ramp his game up in the aftermath of the split of his tag team. They're both odds-on favorites to take this one, and no matter how much I'd rather see somebody else shock the audience by pulling it out here, I just can't pick against them. This comes down to a face-off, and I'm betting Chavo retains the belt for at least another month.
Winner: Chavo Guerrero, Jr.

Sable & Torrie Wilson vs. Stacy Keibler & Miss Jackie
Evening Gown Match

I guess every WrestleMania needs to come fully equipped with a teased-nudie scene anymore. At least this year's show has set aside enough time so that none of the matches on the card should need to be cut so that Vince & co. can justify the expenses they've paid to cosmetic surgeons over the last twelve months. And, in keeping with that trend, at least the girls they're trotting around this year have been involved with the programming in the past, unlike last year's worthless segment.

I knew they were headed in this direction from the first moment Stacey and Jackie started protesting the newest Playboy magazine covers, and I wasn't really all that pleased about it then, either. None of these girls know the first thing about putting on an entertaining match; at least half of the participants have taken part in singles matches in the past that were so bad, viewers can only dream about blocking them from their memory. All I need to do is say the words "Jackie Gayda" and "bulldog" in close proximity to one another, and visions of blown spots should dance through your head like so many holiday sugarplums.

I don't care who wins this. It'll pop the audience, Jackie will more than likely bare her chest (either by accident or by design), and the end result won't really be all that pretty.
Winners: Sable & Torrie

Booker T & Rob Van Dam (c) vs. Jindrak & Cade vs. La Resistance vs. The Dudley Boyz
World Tag Team Titles

The tag team scene is in an extremely sorry state these days, both on RAW and on Smackdown. Only a handful of legitimate teams still exist, amid the "throw two singles stars together and let the good times roll" atmosphere that's handicapped the division since the mid 90s, and even they aren't treated as anything out of the ordinary. I've always believed that the merits of good teamwork, a couple guys who know each others' weaknesses and how to cover for them, and a straightforward tag team mentality should be more than enough to overcome the power of two former World Champions, teamed together temporarily. Alas, the logic World Wrestling Entertainment has been filling us with over the last decade or so claims otherwise.

I like both Booker T and RVD as singles stars, but even I have to admit they've been underachieving at best over the last six months. Neither guy has any of the spark, the fire that set them apart from their peers not all that long ago. Van Dam has finally succumbed to the prescribed McMahon method of repetition in the ring, and Booker's concentrated on completely pandering to the audience, rather than maintaining his excitingly original style both on the mat and in the air. I'm no fan of their tag team run, and it'd be a pity to see the division "begin again" with such a lukewarm, unenthusiastic team holding the belts. If I had my choice of the four teams presented here, I'd hand with La Resistance. Aside from the stale anti-American sentiment they've based their gimmick on since day one, these guys are actually starting to grow as individuals. I've never had a problem with Rob Conway, who seems to be a natural in the ring, and even Renee Dupree is maturing into a much more entertaining, less risky package. Though it's a long shot and the more likely team is the Dudley Boyz, I'm gonna go with my gut instinct here. The Frenchmen recapture their titles.
Winners: La Resistance

Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty (c) vs. The Basham Brothers vs. World?s Greatest Tag Team vs. APA
WWE Tag Team Titles

Smackdown's tag team scene is in even worse shape than RAW's. At least the Monday night program has a relatively deep pool of individual talent to pull from when their ranks start to dry up; Smackdown's so low on talent right now, almost everybody who could be active on the show already is. I'm surprised the APA and Too Cool were brought in to the title scene this year, when younger teams like Kidman / London and the FBI are still available, but who can say really why the bookers move in the ways that they do.

This'll be weak. Scotty and Rikishi were both very sound workers when their team was first put together nearly five years ago, but today they're still inhabiting the same roles, performing the same moves and... hell, they're even wearing the same outfits. There's something to be said for a successful gimmick, but there's something to be said for striking while the iron's hot, too. Scotty should've been grandfathered into the cruiserweight scene after carrying the division on his back for so long in its infancy (along with some help from Dean Malenko), while Rikishi is large and agile enough to make something of himself in the midcard. The Bashams have the makings of a good to great tag team, but haven't done enough to get themselves noticed, while the APA is basically just there for filler. If there's any justice in the world, the belts will go back around the waists of Hass and Benjamin this Sunday, but I have a sneaking suspicion that option hasn't even been considered at this point. I'd love to take TWGTT in this one, but my brain tells me otherwise.
Winners: Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty

Victoria (c) vs. Molly Holly
Women's Title (Molly's Hair is on the Line)

I've been one of the more vocal supporters of the rise of the women's division over the last year on RAW, and I've been just as vocal in my opposition of its direction over the last month. The ladies worked their asses off over the last year to improve dramatically, both as individuals and as a collective division, and we've now arrived at the point where the focus isn't on any one lady so much as it is on the title. Where, in the past, the entire competitive roster has been one spotlighted star and a random roster of evil challengers (see the eras of Alundra Blayze, Sable and, to a degree, Trish Stratus), the current division boasts easily half a dozen women who could legitimately make a successful run for the title at any time. Though Molly held the belt for the majority of the last year, it was never to the point that all the other women looked ineffective and non-credible. With very few exceptions, every match has been competitive and underbooked, while the storylines had settled down into a refreshingly competition-only mindset. Sure, occasionally we'd see some sort of confrontation between the ladies backstage, but on the whole the only real story has been each lady's desire for gold.

That changed early last month, when the writing took the division into more of a sports entertainment-ized direction. Instead of facing off in long, generally very good bouts and limiting their appearances outside of the ring, the women started showing up in Eric Bischoff's office, catfighting their way to the ring and enduring matches that had no pace or substance, lasting just seconds instead of minutes. It's hurt to watch this transformation go down over the last couple weeks, but it'll be worth it this Sunday as Molly and Victoria go at it for all the marbles. I'm actually very pleased with their choice of a title match here, as the focus has been placed squarely on the two women who made the most progress over the last year, not the two competitiors who posed in Playboy or concentrated the most on gaining an audience's affections. Following only an audience's reaction, you'd think this match should feature Trish and Lita, the two most recognizable faces in the division who gather the most cheers. Instead, they're giving us what's sure to be a much better match with two hard working ladies that deserve a lot more credit than they've been given. Sure, it's been tainted a bit with the needless addition of a "Molly wins or shaves her head" stipulation, but I think the match can succeed despite that mild setback. Given time, these two can get any crowd in the nation involved in what they're doing. Given less than three minutes, they'll only take steps backwards.

The stipulation leads me to believe Molly's taking the pin here and shaving her head the next night in an attempt to set her character apart from the rest of the division. I'm gonna disagree with that logic, though, and say Molly finally snaps her losing streak here Sunday night. This feud's only begun to kick.
Winner: Molly Holly

Big Show (c) vs. John Cena
US Title Match

I can't rag on the Big Show whatsoever. 2002 and 2003 were banner years for the big guy, as he finally shed the slow, boring, absolutely useless label that had followed him for years and emerged as one of the most valuable members of the Smackdown team. He's a very big guy, so it's to be taken for granted that he won't be sailing through the air or participating in many iron man matches, but for what he's been given, the Big Show is making one heck of an impact. He's built himself into exactly the kind of position a guy of his stature should fill: the seemingly unstoppable monster, always there to fill in the other half of a main event, and always a gigantic threat. Whether he succeeds in squashing the little guy or falls in dramatic fashion, his purpose is clear-cut and (this is the key) very difficult to book improperly. He can only serve a couple real purposes, but he's been mastering those over the last sixteen months.

Likewise, John Cena has become one of World Wrestling Entertainment's biggest surprises. He's certainly not the best athlete in the world, and to the casual viewer his character is contrived and stupid. But the guy's got that extra something, that undefinable ingredient that sets the live audience ablaze. He's arguably the most popular man on Smackdown at this point, invoking a reaction that's frighteningly loud with almost every appearance. He's got a lot of momentum behind him, and unless they play their cards very carefully with him, it'll all be for naught.

To be truthful, though, this won't be a very good match. Cena's never been good enough to carry the Big Show to the kind of outstanding match he's capable of with just a little help, and with his knee injury complicating matters even further, I think it's safe to say this won't be anything special. The Show has needed to drop the US title for some time now, since he never defends it, and Cena could really use the shot in the arm of a win here to keep his popularity on the upswing. The self proclaimed master of thugonomics pulls out the miracle in my book.
Winner: John Cena

Christian vs. Chris Jericho

The build's been ramping up for almost half a year. They finally pulled the trigger only a few short weeks ago, and it came off perfectly. So why am I losing interest in this match with every passing day? Jericho's generally the master of the initial build, before eventually losing interest and half-assing a feud's conclusion or blowoff, so why do things seem to be moving in the opposite direction this time around? Hey, I don't have the answers... I just ask the questions.

I'm a big fan of both these guys, but this feud's running out of gas. There's only so long you can play the "innocent puppy dog in love" card before it gets overdone and boring, and we're reaching that point right now. Either get together with him or turn heel, admit you liked it when Christian shoved you around and kick Y2J to the curb, Trish. She's been in need of some freshening up for a while now, and though a vicious, heartless heel direction might contradict everything she's been for the last few years, that won't exactly be new ground for Ms. Stratus. Remember when she was on all fours, barking like a dog for Mr. McMahon to take her back? That's a pretty far cry from the squeaky-clean, girl next door image she tries to flaunt every week on RAW these days.

I'll admit to being a little anxious to see how these two work together in the ring Sunday night. Jericho's a real hot and cold performer, and Christian's in the same ballpark. They'll either team up to put on one hell of a show and tear the house down from the center of the card, or they'll both mail it in and leave a nasty odor in the middle of the ring. My money's on Jericho here, because a Trish heel turn (and the natural accompanying Christian victory) is a bit too much to ask of the current writing crew. I wish I could say I had more confidence in them than that.
Winner: Chris Jericho

The Undertaker vs. Kane

I'll admit to losing myself to emotion when that familiar gong sounded at the Royal Rumble. I'll even admit to thinking the whole idea was pretty cool the next night on RAW, when they pulled the same stunt again. By now, though, I've remembered why I was glad to see the old Undertaker go and the new one arrive. The "supernatural" stunts they pull off to get this guy over, the goofy catchphrases they're still trying to trot out, it just doesn't work any more. The focus of the federation has shifted from children to teens and young adults. Imagine the Undertaker trying to make a career for himself in Major League Baseball or the NFL. Crowds wouldn't know what to do with him at first, then they'd realize they were being played for fools and turn on him violently. If the goal is a more physical, sports-themed federation (as I'd imagine it is, considering the main events and characters of the last five years), this is the wrong move to make.

Kane's capable of a very good match when opposed by a sound worker and an emotional audience, but I seriously doubt he'll be able to do anything with his "brother" this Sunday night. Besides, they've already all but killed off all his momentum by jobbing him out on several occasions to Shane McMahon, so why not lay him down yet again for another match against the Undertaker? The 'Taker wins this one, and there's no real second guessing it.
Winner: The Undertaker

The Rock & Mick Foley vs. Randy Orton, Ric Flair & Batista

I know I'm not the only one who thinks this needed to be a singles match. Foley and Orton are the ones who have the beef here, not Foley, Orton, Flair, Rock and Batista... that's the way it was built for the first two months, that's where the heat really was, and that's how it should've ended up. Rocky could've been busied elsewhere. Flair and Batista could've lived without dropping the tag titles on RAW a couple weeks ago. The heat, the meat and the money is with Foley and Orton. Likewise, I'm not sure where they're going with this booking. Every step of the way has been a completely Evolution-dominated annihilation. It's been a total heel romp, which naturally leads to the face overcoming all odds and coming out victorious at the epic blowoff... except that doesn't help anyone. Foley doesn't gain anything with a win here, aside from maybe a little peace of mind as he returns to retirement. Orton, on the other hand, suffers substantially by dropping a clean loss to a guy who hasn't wrestled competitively in four years. The only reason to even launch this feud is establish Orton, which is something they're completely missing the boat on thus far.

In the ring, I suppose these guys match up OK, but it's really a luck of the draw. Flair has been on-again, off-again for the majority of his "farewell tour," Orton absolutely carryable and has an undeniable ring presence and charisma, Batista is still a couple of years away from becoming a player, and Foley & Rocky are both wild cards. These guys have been away from the ring long enough to merit a little concern. Rock, perhaps, a little less so... he's proven time and time again that he can jolt from one thing to another and continue to excel at both, while Foley hasn't done much aside from referee a match here and there, play behind-the-scenes commissioner once or twice, and fall down a flight of stairs. If Mick's up to it, Flair puts on his game face and the younger half of Evolution are interested, this match could be a real pleasant surprise. If not... well, I hope it doesn't come to that. Mick and The Rock go over here, with the Foley / Orton feud that could've triple-headlined this event goes on to a singles payoff at Backlash or King of the Ring.
Winners: Mick Foley & The Rock

Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar
Special Referee: Steve Austin

Even though we haven't seen much of ol' BG and the rumors have been floating about Brock's disappearance after the event this Sunday night, I can't help but get excited about this match. This is a high impact, no-frills, all flash and no substance kind of match, and while I'd normally tear something like this apart without a second thought, I can't help but agree with its placement on the card here. If there were ever a time for a match that's all flashes and bangs, it'd be in the middle of a five hour block of WrestleMania.

This should wake the crowd up for the final portion of the show, and I'm expecting it to be pure, mindless fun. Brock and Goldberg are two guys you'd naturally want to see face off with one another, and I'm glad they're getting this out in the open before Billy-Bo's much-anticipated and speculated exit from the company. This shouldn't be extra long, and it shouldn't be a psychological masterpiece. It should be two goliaths swinging at one another with all their might, scales tilting from one guy's advantage to the other's with reckless abandon and a couple very close nearfalls. The obvious choice is for Brock to go over here, since he's the more valuable commodity to the company's future, but I wouldn't put it past them to have signed Goldberg for another full year in secret, just to surprise us all by finishing the match with a spear and a jackhammer. I only hope Lesnar doesn't try anything retarded, like another full-ring SSP... because Goldberg doesn't have the ring awareness and presence of mind to get out of the way and save both their asses, like Kurt Angle did last year.
Winner: Brock Lesnar

Eddie Guerrero (c) vs. Kurt Angle
WWE Title Match

I can't complain a damn bit about this one. Eddy's championship win (and subsequent public acceptance and popularity) has been the nicest surprise of the new year, and Kurt Angle's return to the heel stature that helped him rise to fame is something that's worth celebrating completely on its own. The fact that these two guys are co-headlining the biggest show of the year is almost enough to make you believe there is such a thing as justice in the world. Here you've got two of the best all around packages in the entire business; a former Olympic champion who made the transition from the amateur style to professional with uncanny ease and an international phenomenon, a guy who toured the entire globe, who wrestled his heart out in just about every federation in the world. This isn't a storytelling masterpiece, it's two of the most dominant forces on the entire Smackdown scene going toe to toe for the World Title on the biggest stage of 2004. In short, it's a championship match, not an epic poem.

I can't wait to see how Kurt and Eddy square off together in the ring Sunday night. The little taste we got on the Smackdown-televised Royal Rumble a couple months ago was enough to whet my appetite, but now I'm ready for the main course. Holy shit, that sounded cheesy. Seriously, that was like a line out of a bad porno. "I'm ready for the main course"... gah.. somebody shoot me. Anyway, there's only so many ways you can say "this will own every ass in the building." Guerrero and Angle are gonna tear that house apart Sunday, and I've got Eddy retaining. With the kind of success he's had since winning the gold last month, there's no way they're stopping his forward momentum now. At least, not to a guy who's still redefining himself as a heel. I'd be surprised if this ended here.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero

Triple H (c) vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit
World Championship Match

Hah, I can't wait to see the backlash on the 'net if Benoit loses this one. You're gonna hear so many "never watching this shit again" and "can't believe they think Triple H is over"s, you'd think they'd aired an episode of RAW featuring necrophelia and bad puns. I've gotta agree, though, if Benoit somehow doesn't come out of the next couple months with the World Title around his waist, my faith in the writers will have been completely obliterated. Everything they've done to the guy since his win at the Royal Rumble has been to undermine his status with the audience, to place his ability under stress in question and to basically make him look like a nobody. He's been cheap shotted, he's been distracted at the least opportune moment, and he's been basically brushed aside in the rush to continue this never ending Triple H / Shawn Michaels feud. If they're not building this guy up to be an underdog emerging from the warzone as a newly-crowned champion, they're doing a pretty good job at killing any future chance he'll have at the top.

The match itself, though, will be good. Scratch that, it'll be great. Shawn and Hunter can still go when they feel like cutting loose, and Benoit is... well, he's Chris freaking Benoit. The things I've read in the house show reports between these three have been nothing but promising, and if they tap even a fraction of their potential in this one it'll be an instant classic. I'm not a big fan of three-ways, but I'm willing to make an exception considering the participants. While I'll come clean and admit I'm not really looking forward to this one as much as I am Guerrero / Angle, this match (and its potential conclusion) is still a big reason why I'll be tuning in Sunday night. And, so long as Triple H doesn't come out smelling like roses for the third straight WrestleMania (the fourth out of five), the match will be a success. This story has been completely leading to Benoit / Michaels for all the glory next month in Edmonton, and the thought of a heel Michaels north of the border is just too good to pass up. HBK wins the gold here, turns heel the next night on RAW and goes on to face the Wolverine in his hometown.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

In Closing...

A really stacked card, absolutely befitting of a good WrestleMania. I haven't seen a lineup this full of talent, potential and compelling storytelling in just about three years. With several favorable breaks, a couple better than average efforts and a good decision or two, this could be more of a WrestleMania X-7 and less of a Wrestlemania IX. Ha! Ha! I made insider humor. Anyway, my heart is out to all the lonely souls like myself who couldn't afford a ticket and transport to this year's big event, and my foot is looking for the ass of the lucky folks (like Dave) who'll be there in person Sunday night. Nah, I'm sure you guys will have a great time and I'll be looking for you next year. I'm excited, and you should be too. WMXX looks legendary.
until next time, i remain

Monday, March 8, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 03/08/04

The weeks just before and just after WrestleMania have traditionally been among my favorites of the entire year, not just for the fact that the year's biggest resolution point is finally just around the corner, but for the intense feelings of anticipation, excitement, intensity and dedication that flow from the episodes of RAW and Smackdown! immediately preceding and following that legendary Sunday night event. It's almost as much fun watching the talent get caught up in the festivities as it is becoming engulfed by them myself. WrestleMania is truly an addictive event, not to mention an all-encompasing one, and its inborn electricity never fails to invade the federation's regularly scheduled TV broadcasts. This year, though, something feels like it's missing. Honest to god, I almost forgot this Sunday was the big day after taking in this week's RAW. But allow me to elaborate.

Kane and the Undertaker opened the show with perhaps the most ridiculously silly non-interaction of their entire non-feud. Up until this point, Kane had been single handedly carrying this storyline on the strength of his promos and his obvious dedication to the character, but even he had an off night in the ring on this night. They're really playing up the wrong element of the Undertaker's character with these little segments and mind games. The whole unbelievable, "supernatural" element of his original run was certainly a big selling point, there's no question... but as the years went by, the seams began to show in his facade. The Federation began to move in a more realistic direction, while the 'Taker stagnated and then went even deeper off the edge of reality, reverting to an elaborate, inexplicably orchestrated "devil worshiping / corporation embracing / championship seeking / cross burning / unholy raising the dead" creature. While Bobby Heenan's claims that shaking the 'Taker's hand was like "shaking hands with a dead man," complete with balmy, cold skin may have worked in the early '90s, alongside wrestling garbagemen, brawling barbers and dancing turkeys, it just looks childish and completely out of place today, next to pure athletes like Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Ric Flair, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle.

I've always thought that the biggest attraction of the original Undertaker's character wasn't its graveyard gimmicks, but the deeply emotional psychiatric torture such an act must evoke in the minds of his opponents. An enormous man who fights for a living is more likely to be thrown off of his game by an opponent who approaches the ring in complete darkness, dressed in morbid attire and seemingly numb to pain than a ring that "miraculously" shakes around, an impromptu rainstorm or a flurry of indoor lightning bolts. It's also much easier for the viewer to suspend their disbelief when the former is going on in the ring, versus the latter.

The reason this character is going to fail after WrestleMania is because they're embracing that wrong aspect. They're trying to pander to us as six year olds again, when in reality it's been almost twenty years since those tricks last worked on us. It'll be cool to see the deadman in the ring again after all this time, but after that the flaws are really going to stick out.

Getting back to the present, though, this whole segment was outlandish. If continuity were to be believed here, why wouldn't Kane just pick up the urn and gain the supernatural powers that have always seemed to accompany it, rather than kicking it away like a sissy?

I don't have anything nice to say about the eight man tag match, for several reasons. For one, I find it extremely difficult to accept a "face in peril" scenario in any match of this nature, since the guy could basically trip over his own feet and hit a teammate on the other side of the ring. Making a tag when there's a small army in your corner of the ring is not as difficult as last night's booking would lead you to believe. Likewise, with three other guys to watch his back, how could Booker be swept off his feet and pinned without any of them realizing what was going on? This was hurried, (I don't even think every participant in the match got ring time) needless and boring. Matches with more than six participants don't work unless the word "elimination" is in the description.

The Evolution tag vs. the Hurri-powers was just about as dull as they come. It didn't put over Flair, Orton and Batista as unstoppable, enraged monsters... it just buried the Hurricane and Rosey even further, delivered the outcome everyone was expecting, and actually exposed a few of Evolution's weaknesses in the ring. It didn't make any sense to book this as a handicap match unless it was the other way around, with the Hurricane and Rosey taking on Orton or Batista alone and still doing the job. This didn't build momentum for Evolution or put the ball in Rocky and Mick's court, it just discouraged the fans from ever expecting any hint of an upset.

Benoit didn't perform any miracles in the minute he was given with Matt Hardy, which really sucks because this could've been a very sound match if it were given closer to seven or eight minutes, as Smackdown viewers will remember from the US Title tournament a year or so back. I'm confused about the reasoning for this match, because you either kill Benoit by forcing him to struggle against a guy who hasn't won since coming to RAW or you kill Hardy and the crowd by force-feeding them a squash job. Benoit's popularity is dying down noticeably now, after a couple weeks as Shawn Michaels' emotionless, brain dead bitch. If the guy's promos aren't very good, but he floors the audience with his intensity, his dedication and his never-say-die attitude... well, I guess you shouldn't send him out there with JR, a microphone, fifteen minutes, one of the best promo men in the industry and Mr. Monotony himself, Triple H. Let the guy do what he does best and he'll deliver. Force him into unfamiliar territory over and over again and he'll flounder.

They're killing me by highlighting Benoit vs. Michaels and Michaels vs. Triple H, but not Benoit vs. Triple H. That's the singles feud I want to see, guys. Unless you turn Shawn ultra-heel in the next seven days, let him cut loose on Canada as a whole and send Benoit out there to shout and wipe him across the mat a couple times, let me see the Crippler opposite a straight heel Helmsley.

The sports entertainment-izing of the women's division continued this week. I'm still pissed about what they're doing to this division, after it had built such a nice little legacy completely on its own over the last year. It's like Chris Jericho in WCW: he was at his best when they just handed him some time, told him to entertain us and just cut him loose. When he came to the WWF and the writers started scripting his speeches, tightening the reigns and constricting his moveset, bad things started to happen.

In what's becoming a theme for the night, Jericho and Steven Richards did what they could with the minute and a half they were allotted... which adds up to about "dick." It's a shame, too, because I'm a really big fan of both these guys. Steven Richards has been criminally misused since coming to the federation, while Jericho's status has ranged from hot to cold with little or no middle ground. I'd love to see these guys get as much time as they want to DO whatever they want, but within the confines of the current WWE scene, that's never going to happen. Not a memorable match by any stretch of the imagination.

Johnny Spade has a much nicer sound than Johnny Blaze, plus it avoids another needless relation between Vince McMahon and Marvel Comics (remember why they always had to have a disclaimer after every PPV on which Hulk Hogan appeared?) so it's all good. The guy actually grew a pretty solid personality during his time in the minors, too. I'm anxious to see him in a larger role as the year goes on... he could actually go somewhere. Just so long as they avoid the obvious tag team with Johnny Ace.

Finally, the Rock n' Sock revival. I'll be honest with you here; I really wasn't looking forward to this segment. I absolutely despised the original "This is your life" bit, and immediately tore it apart in an issue of Ringside Shadows when it first aired in late 1999. Later in the week, when the ratings came in, the masses disagreed with me in great number. It was one of the highest rated segments in federation history, but when I look back at it today I still cringe just thinking about it. I could NOT understand why they were going back to this painful memory, a full five years later, when it was announced for RAW last night.

And then... I was pleasantly surprised. This didn't feel forced and unfunny, as the original segment had. It didn't feel TOO overly scripted, (even though there's no way this was ad libbed) and Mick and the Rock really seemed like two old friends having a good time. This shouldn't have been the main event, but it was fun nonetheless and was probably the only partially successful segment on the show. My major complaint is how much Rocky was cheesing it up out there. I don't understand... he was stale as hell in this exact same character a year ago, to the point that the fans were DEMANDING he turn heel, the bookers finally turned him, he reinvented himself and started drawing cheers again... and then they brought him back as the annoying, pandering dipshit? It's a good thing he won't be around long, because this adoration wouldn't last if he were back full time. It's good to have him back, but I already miss the heelish Rock.

The Evolution beatdown that closed the show didn't make much sense either. They've built this whole feud around Foley overcoming the odds to finally beat the young upstart, when it really should've been the other way around. Mick doesn't need the win at WrestleMania, Orton does. However, if Orton takes it now, the victory won't be as important, because he's killed the whole element of suspense by completely owning the former World Champ at almost every single opportunity. Foley looks like a guy who hasn't wrestled in nearly a decade out there, trying to relive his glory days with a body that just can't do it. Orton doesn't benefit by beating down an old man, WrestleMania or not.

Six days to the big show and the bookers continue to shuffle their feet, minimalizing their risks and playing their waiting games. I realize there's something to be said for caution, and if there were ever a time to be careful with their big names and storylines it'd be the week before WrestleMania, but that doesn't necessarily have to go hand in hand with a slow, uninspiring, altogether boring show. There are ways to keep guys visible without endangering their availability for the big show Sunday night, but this was not one of them. This week should have been one of the most exciting shows of the year, with personality conflicts building to the breaking point, physical altercations spilling into the locker rooms and last words being shared by all. It should've given me an itch to run out and watch my entire back catalog of past WrestleManias, not to call it an early night.

Despite an unexpectedly fun performance from the Rock and Mick Foley, this was an extremely dull show. I'm still thrilled to be seeing WrestleMania this Sunday night, so it didn't completely kill my interest in the big show, but it certainly did a marvelous job at flattening its own momentum. It's already hard to imagine RAW ever being as good as it was just one month ago.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2.6

Monday, March 1, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 03/01/04

Let's keep our introductions short and sweet, and dive right into the match-by-match, shall we? Yes, I think we shall. Yes.

I like little things like the La Resistance protest that opened the show, but I generally like them better when they progress naturally and pay off with something more than a stupid Austin run-in and ATV-drivin' segment. It was good storytelling, since I believe both announcers mentioned the pinfall on the illegal man during last week's match, but I don't think JR or Lawler ever really mentioned anything about the protest paying off for the Frenchmen. Later in the show I saw their goofy little animated picture on the promo for the fatal four way tag match, so I can only assume they were awarded with that spot due to their vocal protest at the beginning of RAW... but you'd never know if you weren't paying attention. It's just sloppy to go through the trouble of starting the show with these two and then dropping it entirely fifteen minutes later... almost WCW-level sloppy.

Watching Steve Austin drive his four wheeler on top of Vince McMahon's limo didn't do anything for me. Why was Vince so freaked out when Stone Cold parked over the sun roof? Did he think the Rattlesnake was about to leak some oil or something? The whole reason the infamous "vehicular assault" bits worked in the late '90s was because they were unexpected and a lot of fun for the live crowd. Nowadays they've become more of a cliche than an unexpected surprise, and the audience participation was sapped out of last night's exhibition, as all the real action went on behind the scenes. This didn't make me want to buy WrestleMania, and with just one show left before the year's biggest event, that should be their number one priority.

The quick execution of the women's division continued this week. Maybe the writers are bored with the men's storylines, since everything's already in place for WrestleMania, and have set about working their "magic" with the women now that they've got a spare moment or two. It's a real shame that, in two weeks, they've undone all the good that these athletes spent the last year crafting. It's sad to see what was once the sole consistent part of the show turned into just another watered down men's division, complete with needless post-match garbage and a large serving of overbooked finishes. The only good thing about this match was that it reinforced the only obvious conclusion to this angle: a Molly Holly victory at WrestleMania. If she doesn't recapture that title, her career's just about shot. Thanks, booking geniuses!

You know who I miss? Shane Helms. This Hurricane gimmick has been going on for just two and a half years, but it feels like it's been around for closer to fifteen. Speaking of which, the guy had absolutely no passion for what he was doing last night, not that I can blame him. What a horribly boring tag team match.

I've been meaning to mention it for a while now, but Kane's been seriously kicking ass with his promos over the last couple of months. He's constantly taking the corniest material in the entire federation and turning it into emotional, convincing masterpieces. He's speaking with conviction, his facial expressions are telling volumes and he's really coming into his own as a character. It's too bad, then, that the booking is taking such a long, runny shit on him. He's been absolutely incredible on the stick lately, but all that gets forgotten right away when it's followed immediately by a spontaneous indoor thunderstorm or a set of burning crosses. God, is this stupid. The Undertaker's going to stick out like a sore thumb in this day and age.

I didn't think the tag match was all that awful, really, although Michaels and Benoit make less convincing "dueling tag partners" than HBK and Austin did in the mid '90s. I'll agree that it was a little stupid to see Benoit fall flat onto his back after a single punch, which seemed to contradict everything wrestling has taught us in the past. I mean, these guys go out there and punch each other every night and don't have a bruise or black eye to show for their trials and tribulations, (unless it's a particularly bad, televised, beating or a big blade job on PPV) so why should Benoit be completely lights-out after a single swat? They really do need to pull the trigger on Michaels, though, because this tweener shit isn't doing him any favors. You can't be an egotistical, self-centered prick one week and a pandering, over-the-top face the next. Make up your mind, bro. This was lengthy enough to tell a very nice story, but it just never really happened. Batista seems to be getting worse as time goes on, rather than the other way around.

The Jericho / Christian thing was, in a word, anticlimactic. I think I was just expecting a little more than that for the six months of teasing, misdirection, lingering threads and development that went into it. I kept waiting for something really awesome to go down and send chills up and down my spine, but, like the last segment, it just never happened.

I watched my Monday Night War DVD the other night, and honestly didn't recognize Booker T during his match with Chris Benoit on that disc. He's become such a complete flip-flop of the guy he was when they were first letting him emerge as a singles star in the TV Title scene, it's almost comical. He went from a great, quick, innovative wrestler with a unique offensive repertoire and little idea how to involve the crowd with his matches (aside from staring into the bleachers and shouting or "raising the roof") to a slow, boring, repetitive worker with an unrealistic style who can just glance at the audience and get a "Spinaroonie" chant off the ground. I honestly cared a lot more for the younger version, still trying to gain his footing. This current incarnation reminds me more of a tired, defeated old also-ran than a promising young face one short year outside of headlining his first WrestleMania. His match with RVD opposite Matt Hardy and Test was surprisingly bad, considering the talent in the ring together.

And, of course, then you've got the big Rock return. I was extremely underwhelmed, to tell you the truth. Every soul in that building knew what was coming, yet the preceding promo tip toed around the issue for more than a couple minutes before finally conceding and delivering the big return. I have a lot more interest in a Foley / Orton singles match than a Rock n' Sock vs. Evolution handicap tag, and I know I'm not alone in thinking that way. For all the legends, past, present and future, in the ring together during this segment, it really fell flat. Think about it; Flair, Foley, Rocky and Orton in the same ring... and this was all they could produce.

Be it a string of very good shows or a string of very bad shows, consistency has just not been one of RAW's strong suits over the last three months. The show's gone from a blistering, white-hot pace (just before and after the Royal Rumble) to a lackadasical, uninspired trot (umm... last week, the week before... and this week..) in a very short period of time. Basically, the shows were very strong as the build to WrestleMania was beginning to get off the ground, but established what they had set out to do in a shorter amount of time than had been anticipated. Now RAW is just killing time until the big event, trying to feature the big names around which WrestleMania will be built without putting any of them in a situation where they could be in danger of a major injury. They're protecting their roster with tag matches, pussy footing around the anticipation and one-on-one faceoffs that made January's shows so exciting and producing boring stuff as a result. I can understand the need to keep the roster healthy, but they're killing 'Mania's build as a result.

Honestly, one of the lamest shows I've seen in quite a while. Very little, if anything, was accomplished and the matches were performed at half speed, with notably less motivation than usual. Not even the return of the Rock to WWE television or the first signs of a payoff to the ongoing Jericho / Christian / Trish storyline could save this from monotony. Well below average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2.6