Monday, April 12, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 04/12/04

It's been a strange couple of weeks to be a RAW viewer. Following a thrilling elevation for Shelton Benjamin just one week after the Draft Lottery and a weak follow-through on last week's airing, I came into this week's episode perhaps a little worried about the direction of the show. RAW has a PPV in just six days, and as the opening bell was tolling only four matches had been lined up for that big event. In addition, what storylines they HAD established hadn't quite been developed in as much detail as you'd expect of a big time, post-Mania pay per view. They had a lot of ground to cover in a very short period of time, and that hasn't really been one of RAW's strongest abilities over the last couple of months.

Though I've never been a fan of obnoxious face stables, (see post-HBK DX, not to mention The Union) I'm really not minding the segments with Benoit, Foley, Michaels and Benjamin thus far. They don't seem like the cookie cutter, pandering idiots that the other set of groups did, at least not yet, and their individual personalities actually bounce off of one another in interesting and original directions. Hm... on second thought, HBK has been cheesing it up a little more than I'm comfortable with recently, but he'll be turning heel this weekend anyway so that's not really a big deal in the long run.

I wasn't really all that thrilled about Mick Foley's promo, same as last week, until he broke out the old Cactus Jack mantle and basically forced me into a mental double-take. Looking back at what I wrote about his promo last week, I can't believe I didn't see this little turn coming but it honestly caught me completely off-guard. What a great little tweak of the storyline to fix the one aspect that wasn't really working; the audience's willingness to buy Mick as a bloodthirsty maniac again, after years of goofy antics and funny promos had conditioned them to see him otherwise. I'd almost forgotten, not only about Foley's darkest alter ego, but also about how easily and effortlessly he could control an audience's emotion with just a slight change in wardrobe. This match could be epic.

Lump me into the crowd that was surprised, perhaps unpleasantly so, to see Brian Lawler back on RAW opposite Kane last night. I was a big fan of the guy back when he was teaming with Scott Taylor as "Too Cool," he hadn't gained forty or fifty pounds of pure chunk, and he still cared more about his wrestling than his dance on the way down to the ring. Ever since he swapped those old tights for cow-print and hip hop, however, the Grandmaster has gone further and further downhill. If last night was any indication, he's even worse off than he was the last time we saw him on WWE airwaves... which makes it all the more confusing why they brought him back after all this time. At the very least, his return was unhyped and he was jobbed quietly and convincingly to Kane, a guy who needs all the momentum he can get going into his match with Edge this Sunday night.

Al Snow's another guy who's really gone backwards over the last half decade or so. He used to be an interesting character, a very good promo and an above-average worker. After missing his chance at the big time when the cords were cut on his make-or-break feud with the Rock, he's lost just about everything that made him interesting in the first place. Snow looked horrible in the ring last night, opposite Tajiri, to the point that I almost felt bad for him. Coach, on the other hand, is just dying for somebody to manage. He's got both the charisma and the mouth to make something out of nothing, both for himself and for somebody in need of a little extra boost in their careers. There's no shortage of athletes who meet that description hanging around HeAt, Velocity or OVW right now. Get this guy a couple of athletes to promote, get them some air time and get the bank deposit bags ready.

I loved the minute-long interaction between Flair and Shelton, moments after the Nature Boy was granted a match with the former Tag Champ. Ric's incredible... he can go from over the top and goofy one moment to deadly serious, as we witnessed in this spot, at the drop of a hat. The best part? He has such a firm grasp of the audience that they're drug along for the ride every time.

Trish and Lita didn't exactly turn any heads with last night's little impromptu matchup. Trish is only good when she's opposed by somebody who knows how to push her in the right direction, no matter how much progress she's made since her debut, and Lita is... well, let's just say she's in the same boat as Al Snow and the Grandmasta. What's worse, they missed a key opportunity to involve the audience in this match by playing up the on-screen friendship they'd established between the ladies just a few months ago, before turning Trish full heel on her old buddy. From the looks of things, this is the Women's title match we'll be seeing in a couple of months' time, which is nothing but bad news for what had been RAW's most consistent division prior to the Royal Rumble.

I did really enjoy the post-match segments with Y2J, Christian and Ms. Stratus, though, as the audience was absolutely rabid for the physical confrontation and both guys were going full throttle, out for blood. I loved the emotions we saw out there after Lita's match had been thrown out, but what was up with the way those two were running the ropes? Jericho bounced off the north ropes to gain momentum running... east? I didn't know physics worked that way.

Horrid, horrid matchup between Sylvan Grenier and the Hurricane. Shane Helms? Yep, you guessed it... same book as Grandmasta Sexay, Al Snow and Lita. At least Shane's got a chance, though... they just need to get all that green off of his back ASAP.

I said last week that I didn't think Mick Foley's promo was as great as everybody else was making it out to be, but this week... with the aid of the incredible WWE production team, I'm ready to go back on that statement. That was one hell of a promo, I just didn't see it for what it was with the bizarre setting and the mystery of what Foley had in the box on his lap. Thumbs up on the decision to re-air it this week, accompanied by clips from many of the matches, moments and memories Mick had referenced in the promo itself.

Finally, the show wrapped up with another jaw-droppingly good main event. To be fair, I don't think I would've enjoyed this as much as I did if the crowd hadn't been so completely out of its mind, but that's part of what's so cool about professional wrestling; it's not just a performance put on by the athletes themselves. If you purchase a ticket to the event, you're putting on a big part of the show as well. When they're performing in front of a rabid, electrified audience, the workers themselves turn it up two-fold and the match itself improves vastly. Such was the case with last night's eight man.

I think my favorite part of the match itself came when Benoit and Triple H finally met, face to face, in the center of the ring. The fury those two portrayed with their body language alone sold me on the Backlash main event without need of any further elaboration. The combination of Benoit's mocking Helmsley (and his willingness to tap out at WrestleMania) and Triple H's overwhelming fury worked magic, not only for the fence-sitting PPV audience at home, but also the Chicago crowd. Once those two exchanged words and dove headfirst into their attempts to completely cripple one another, the air in the arena got a little heavier and the seats got a lot lighter.

I wouldn't go as far as Brett did in his writeup, but I will say that was one kickin' main event, and I hope to god this little top of the hour trend continues next week. Awesome main events rule! Whooooooo!!

In retrospect, I had nothing to worry about with this show, since it worked itself out fairly nicely, several storylines fell together in time for the big PPV, (including a few I hadn't anticipated, but made sense in hindsight) and the show returned to glory with the third strong main event in four weeks. I won't call this outstanding, since there was more than a little dead weight hanging from last night's bones, but all in all it was a better performance than last week. It got the job done, which is more than I'd given it credit for going in.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.3

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