It only took a couple of minutes, really, to deflate that little high I was riding. Triple H came out and belched out another of his remarkably unremarkable opening monologues, failed to show any sign of weakness and basically worked to slow down the blistering momentum behind three of the show's faces with all of his might. One might expect Hunter to storm down to the ring, demand a rematch with Benjamin, curse his family's name, hunt him down in the locker room... hell, ANYTHING but just stand there with a smirk on his face and gloss over last week's events. I can understand the value of the show's top heel playing a cocky, arrogant bastard that fans love to hate. There's no questioning the fact that Triple H was attempting to do just that last night. He's proven, over the years, that he's very good at that job. The fact of the matter, though, is that the fans are meant to be salivating at the thought of this guy actually dropping the facade and losing control. They'll spend their money on a pay per view if they believe the heel has honestly been thrown for a loop by the actions of the face he's opposing. They'll bite if they believe there's a chance the heel will be soundly defeated. Hunter worked against that logic last night, by not only brushing off last week's loss as though it were nothing but also doing the same to Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels. Hunter looks like he really couldn't be any less concerned with the outcome of his main event match at Backlash. It's a foregone conclusion in his mind. And, honestly, that personality worked wonders for him when he had the title around his waist and we were still building toward WrestleMania XX. Now that he's lost the title, cleanly, in the center of the ring, and has been booked into a rematch opposite that very same man, it just looks ridiculous. Cockiness only works if you've got a sound resume to back it up. Opposite Chris Benoit and Shelton Benjamin, Hunter's track record doesn't look all that great right now. Thus, the cocky act just makes everybody involved look like one giant collective ass.
It was bizarre to see the World Champ active in the opening match of the night, especially with little or no fanfare regarding his arrival... but no, any lack of crowd interest we might be seeing in the World Title picture is entirely Chris Benoit's fault, and not these ingenious booking decisions. Honest to god, hand a chimpanzee a pen and a pad of paper and you'll see stuff that makes a little more sense from time to time.
I was actually really looking forward to the Benoit / Conway match once I learned of the competitors involved. Conway's a guy I've been enjoying ever since he debuted a year or so back, though he's still a little inconsistent, and Benoit is... yeah. Unfortunately, the length of the fight and the eyebrow-raising inclusion of Johnny Nitro (appearing this week for the first time without changing his name on the spot) really screwed with the pacing of the whole thing. As I watched these two exchange blows in the center of the ring, I wondered if it would be a good idea or a bad idea for Conway to establish himself as more of a legitimate threat with some clean offense and a couple minutes in the driver's seat of this match. On one hand, there's this perception that Benoit would look like a wussy champ. He's out there, facing guys that I'm positive Triple H would have smothered to death in an instant, if given the chance, while he was still champion... and he's not exactly dominating the action. It makes the Crippler look a little less convincing, just by the association. On the other hand, by sending out the message that even a World Champion is fallible and could potentially fall to an unexpected upstart at any time, RAW would become an infinitely more competitive and exciting environment. I'd love to see Benoit's title reign return the idea of competition to professional wrestling, now that the viewers have been conditioned to believe that anybody without lyrics in their entrance music and a whole line of catchphrase-plastered merchandise isn't anything of a threat to the gold.
Oh yeah, and I loved that Johnny Nitro was using TNT's old Monday Nitro theme as his entrance music. What a great little touch that added to his ass-kissing character... now all they need to do is bust out the old diamond plate metal, flames, burnt out cities and explosions for his Titan Tron and he'll be completely awesome. I'm seriously impressed with the kind of character he's been playing, and the conviction with which he attacks the role. This guy could really be something in the future. It's an interesting little side-feud they're running with him and Benoit at the moment, but it's got to wrap up quickly because it's making the champ look less and less main event with each passing day.
It didn't bother me all that much when they changed Chris Benoit's hometown a couple of weeks ago. I was wary of it, as I thought it might be leading to a heel turn in Canada at Backlash, (which would be among the dumbest things I've ever witnessed) but now that almost everybody on the roster is shuffling locations it's getting a little out of hand. Honestly, how many people have switched hometowns in the last week? Gail Kim's now from "...Korea," (as Lilian put it) Rob Conway's from north of the border, Chris Jericho lives in New York, Renee Dupree no longer calls France his home, Nidia has relocated to Puerto Rico and... yeah, Benoit's from Atlanta. This's gotta be leading to a storyline or something.
Jericho and Matt Hardy were looking good last night, which caught me off guard. I've been a mild fan of both guys for quite a while now, but both have been in kind of a funk over the last set of months. Regardless, they overcame that here and put on a nice little match for the time they were allotted. I'd like to see these two face off again somewhere else down the line.
I didn't go as wild for the Foley promo as everybody else seems to have. It was solid, no doubt... better than the vast majority of the other guys on the roster... but it all came off as really forced and unbelievable. I don't know if it's because we've seen so much of the happy, jovial, goofy Mick Foley to take him seriously as a mentally disturbed individual or what, but there was something that didn't set right with me during that whole segment. It's like the happy Mick was still trying to climb out and dominate the preview, that it took all his energy to scowl, swing around a barbed wire baseball bat and talk about blood. I want to see the same guy who fought in all of those insane brawls overseas, who fell off the steel cage in Pittsburgh, but something tells me he retired in 2001.
Foley / Orton is still a great feud, but it's getting to be time to wrap it up.
Shelton vs. Hunter wasn't nearly as good as last week's showcase. Trips had been on fire over the last month, but it all ended here. This was way too rushed to do much good, with both guys basically recycling the same stuff they put to use last week in a slightly different order. Shelton was missing the whole cockiness that set him apart last week and made him such a great rallying point for the live audience, and the match really revolved around Flair, Orton and Batista's involvement. Poor Shelton took some major punishment from bell to bell, too, with that nasty, nasty bump off the barrier (and subsequently headfirst to the floor) and his man-sized blade job to close the fight. Between Shawn's blade at WrestleMania and this cut last night, I think RAW has spilled more than its share of blood for all of 2004.
Good call on airing each of the women's introductions but then slicing out the entirety of the match itself. Before long, we won't even have to bother with this "wrestling" thing. We'll just watch big, sweaty guys flex in the ring, flap their gums and perform dramatic introductions. Then they'll get to the ring, we'll go to commercial, and they'll go through the finish a couple of times in the ring so the cameramen can get it from all angles in time for the show to come back from break. That was an unbelievably nasty fall Gail took, though, basically just going limp on her way to the floor and slapping, chest first, onto the concrete.
I have very little to say about Eugene, since we haven't seen much of the way they're going to handle it yet. I will say this, though... his introduction was met in my household with the kind of silence usually reserved for Katie Vick, the Alliance "Wind Beneath My Ring" sing along and anything involving Mae Young and Mark Henry. It's not funny, it's not controversial, it's not something that's going to get anybody talking about WWE at the water cooler (unless it's something along the lines of "Gaw DEM! I'm glad I don't watch that crap no mo")... it's just stupid, and I don't see the up side to something like this. You'd think they would've learned from their experience with Zach Gowen that such obvious handicaps have a limited storyline lifespan. You can only watch a guy overcome the odds so many times.
That whole segment with Kane, Rhyno and Edge was a disaster from the beginning. I did bump the TiVo back a couple of times to watch the rope spontaneously collapse upon itself again, but that was the only portion of the match that was really worth watching in the first place. These guys just threw their hands up and panicked when the rope fell, hurried to the finish (basically killing Rhyno's heat for the gore in the process) and stumbled their way through the Edge run-in. I loved the look on Kane's face when he was trying to prop the chair up in the corner, but couldn't due to the missing middle rope. He looked like a hungry animal whose master had just taken his dinner away from him. Scared, confused and more than a little angry.
And, of course, we wrap the show with yet another unnecessary Evolution beat down. It's funny, for a guy who just dropped the World Title and seems to be all about elevating a few new names for a change, (not to mention the fact he'll soon be taking some time off to shoot a movie) Hunter was involved with just about every freaking SECOND of this show. I almost expected him to turn up to bury Jericho during the Women's battle royal, or to be hiding under the ring with a pair of scissors during the Kane / Rhyno slopfest. This was NOT the way to end the show, no matter how you look at it. The show's top three faces look like complete idiots now, not to mention completely ineffective athletes, after patiently waiting for Evolution to assault them from behind and then barely putting up a fight before falling before their collective might. Seeing Hunter ascend the ropes with the World Title in his hand just doesn't seem like that imposing of an image right now. Maybe it's got something to do with the goddamned two YEARS he's been doing the exact same thing. Three weeks of a Chris Benoit title reign doesn't exactly eliminate that twenty four months' worth of domination from your mind right away.
On the whole, this was a substandard show. They had a lot of momentum behind them coming in, with an extremely successful angle with Shelton Benjamin going full steam, and basically smothered it right off the bat. The World Champion looks more than ever like a place holder until Hunter decides he wants to be champ again, and there isn't really a lot I'm looking forward to at Backlash. Not all that entertaining of an episode, all things considered.
Overall Score: 4.2