Still, it's tough to watch a new episode without that tiny bit of hesitation plucking away at the corner of your mind. All good things must come to an end, and as a grim pessimist at heart it was tough for me to go into this week's broadcast without the slightest hint of worry hanging over my head. I'd seen these writers screw up situations just as promising as those currently on the show throughout their tenure(s)... but I suppose there's no use in crying over spilled milk... especially when said milk hasn't even left the carton yet.
Regardless, the women's match kicked things off for us this week.. and was underwhelming yet again. It really is a sad thing to see how utterly fucked this division has become since the writers decided to quit letting the stories work their way out in the ring. Since the title was taken off of Molly prior to WrestleMania, all hell has broken loose. Victoria's successful heel character has become a horrifyingly boring, run of the mill, Alundra Blayze-esque face with little or no depth. Molly's been moved away from the lengthy matches that showcased her excellent ring awareness, and is now participating in three minute matches that are nothing more than vehicles for the face to remove her wig. Trish has been turned heel and completely removed from the division. Jazz has lost her manager and subsequently vanished from the show entirely. Lita has been pushed as a top face, with the focus placed squarely on her abilities in the ring, which rank somewhere between "shitty" and "very poor" (only technical terms here, boys and girls) And... yeah, Gail Kim's been brought back from purgatory. Actually, I'm kind of relieved to see Gail back again, as her tandem with Molly was one of the last successful things the division had done before spiraling into the stinkpit. Judging by last night's performance, she's still fairly green on the whole, but she's improving and the couple new maneuvers she's learned are impressive, fresh additions to the division. This match wasn't horrendous, but it wasn't pretty either and the handful of new directions they've taken with the major players are already stale.
I'll let the Kane / Lita / Matt Hardy thing develop a little further before I comment on it, because they're keeping it rather open-ended at this point. I don't see how putting the moves on Lita will make Kane any less "soft," (aside from the obvious sexual pun) but I did enjoy the brief beat-down he put Matt through backstage last night. That was seriously one of the most realistic beatings I've ever seen, and Matt sold it like he'd lost the ability to stand upright. Who knows, though, maybe they thought that door was gimmicked and Kane didn't make the realization until he'd already turned Version 1.0's spine into a gelatinous dessert dish.
Coach wasn't at his best opposite Tajiri last night, but I'll forgive him. I don't know why they had to revert to pulling the race card in this brief promo, (an instant sign that the writing is uninspired and lazy) but it managed to basically blow off the lingering Coach / Tajiri feud and shuffle us right along to this week's mini-main event of Trips vs. Tajiri, so I guess it all evens out in the end. I'm really enjoying Triple H's contribution to the program right now, even if he is still on-screen a tad too often. He's working his ass off, his flagrantly dismissive attitude towards midcard athletes is finally starting to catch up with him, and his character is really hitting high gear as a result. Both guys' timing was perfect for the mist spot at the end of this segment, which reminded me (perhaps incidentally) of the Muta / Flair spot at the end of the 1989 Great American Bash, albeit with the face / heel roles reversed. I also really loved that you could actually hear Tajiri go "PTHTPTHTPTH" over the house PA when he spit. Little touches like that make me fall in love with a segment.
The backstage bit with Hunter talking to trees, walls and (when pointed in the right direction) Eric Bischoff was amusing at best. I didn't think it was all that funny, personally, but it's certainly a lot better than some of the other comedy they've churned out.
Though the announce team was almost exclusively focused on Eugene and William Regal at the time, Rob Conway and Rhyno were busy putting on a very solid showcase in the ring while waiting for Eric's nephew to set off the pyro. Conway was noticeably in charge for the vast majority of the match, and seemed to have things wrapped up before the spot with Eugene caused the obvious distraction and cost him the match, kickstarting their little feud. I won't lie to you and say it was a breakout performance, or even the match of the night, but it was a nice showing by two guys who should have big things in their future. Especially good when you consider they only had four minutes of time to work with.
The trigger shall be pulled on the Eugene experiment next week. Let's see how the fans deal with bodybuilders who attempt to beat mentally retarded people.
I didn't care much for the match between Christian and Grandmaster Sexay. Though he continues to improve, both in the ring and on the mic, (as his pre-match promo proves) Christian still has a ways to go before I'd send him out there with the task of pulling a good match out of dead weight like Brian Christopher. This was just awful, there's no two ways about it. Sexay isn't interesting any more (and yes, he WAS at one time) and the years have not been kind to his abilities in the ring. Chris Jericho's still hanging around, but I'm worried he was here to move on to a feud with Tyson Tomko, rather than to wrap up his ongoing series with Christian. Somebody explain to me why he's not in the main event, either here or on Smackdown?
Triple H and Tajiri strolled out there after Y2J was removed from Trish, and actually did exactly what they needed to do. You're crazy if you thought Tajiri should've gone over here, but Triple H went out of his way to really establish the buzzsaw as a credible threat and a genuine talent. I'll borrow a phrase from the RAW thread in the forums, by saying "you don't have to lose to put somebody over." Helmsley made Tajiri's kicks look like the brutal, muscle-shredding weapons they used to be in ECW, and took so many of them that it honestly seemed as though he wouldn't be able to stand to deliver the pedigree. The momentum was back and forth throughout, with the smaller man commanding a surprising portion of the match. I thought the mist spot came off a bit contrived, but on the whole I was extremely impressed by this match. Trips is positively untouchable in the ring right now.
Matt Hardy and Kane can't really be judged on the match they pounded out last night, since it was about as competitive as a solo game of checkers, and Matt kept right on bumping regardless of what kind of internal bleeding he had as a result of the backstage throw down. Seriously, either this guy woke up with an IV in his arm or he put on one of the best performances of his career last night, and in the process made Kane look like exactly the kind of overwhelming monster he's needed to be since day one. The kiss with Lita was bizarre, but like I said earlier; I'm gonna withhold judgment.
Randy Orton was walking the walk last night, proving that post-concussion syndrome wasn't to thank for his outstanding performance on last week's RAW and he really HAS turned the corner. This guy has become one of the most entertaining names on the show, and has FINALLY wholeheartedly embraced his gimmick. Before his battle with Mick Foley, there was always some sort of a childlike smile in his face, like he was always thinking "this is so COOL!", no matter how serious the subject of his speech may have been. As of last week, that smile has vanished and Orton is infinitely better as a result. I loved the interaction with Harley Race, as I seem to have been the only person alive who didn't see it coming, and really enjoyed the restraint the grizzled veteran showed. Everybody in the arena expected him to hop that rail and climb into the ring, Orton seemingly included, and when he didn't it lent legitimacy to Randy's claims that he's the real "next big thing," so to speak. I'm glad they've decided to put Shelton Benjamin opposite him in the IC title race, rather than Edge, but it came off as a little awkward that Shelton made the save last night and didn't bother to even nod in Harley's direction. Does he have any reason at all for disliking Randy Orton, aside from the natural association with Evolution?
I swear to god, there were WORMS crawling just underneath the skin on Batista's shoulders during his backstage promo last night. I couldn't pay attention to what the man was saying, I was so transfixed by the freakish, unnatural vein structures of his upper arms.
And, yet again, RAW absolutely cleaned up in the main event. I honestly preferred last night's tag match to the one we saw last week, despite the obvious emotional boost of seeing Benoit hold two belts above his head for the first time. Everyone in the ring was on last night, including Batista (who I don't think deserves a lot of the negative reputation he's gathered thus far) and the end result was a thing of beauty. Flair's facial expressions have been dynamite over the last few months, and last night was no exception in that department as the Nature Boy continued to turn it up a little bit beyond the comfort level. He's really seemed to have a fire lit underneath him recently, and has even begun shaking up the usual spots. For instance, when he performed the Flair Flop last night, it wasn't the usual "take a hard chop in the corner, walk a couple steps and flop." Instead, he teetered, tottered and fought his own knees before finally succumbing to a fall in the center of the ring. Benoit and Edge are functioning like they were born to tag together, and it was honestly very easy to forget this was only their second week together as a tandem. I will say there seemed to be a little something missing from last night's match, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it was. Maybe it was the sense that this shouldn't have been a title match, but rather a grudge match between four bitter enemies. It didn't need the added attraction of the tag team titles to make it successful, the match did a fantastic job of doing that itself.
I'm not positive what to make of the post-match business with Shawn Michaels, nor the audience's reaction to it. I honestly didn't hear a boo upon my viewing of the match, but it's entirely possible that my own enthusiasm, combined with JR and the King's frantic screams, drowned out the audience altogether. I wouldn't call Benoit's sharpshooter a particularly heelish action, especially considering the guy was flat on his back, seeing stars while Edge was getting his explanation from HBK in the center of the ring, but it's really up to the audiences to decide what they thought the right action should've been in that scenario. I did notice that Benoit was INSANELY over with the Topeka crowd at his introduction, however. Seriously, that was a champion's reception.
All in all, another very strong show. It's still got its flaws, but I'm LOVING the quality of the work on these programs, the string of outstanding main events and the quality of the new storylines. I've got a lot of hope for RAW all of a sudden, and I cannot WAIT for next week's main event. I'd rank this week's show just a hair above last week's, with the women's division, Grandmaster Sexay's performance and a little uncertainty about the direction of a couple feuds the only things that are keeping it down. And, for what it's worth, JR's wild flailing of his arms when Eugene set off the pyro was my pick for funniest moment of the night. That was priceless.
Overall Score: 7.4