Monday, May 31, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 05/31/04

This week's episode opened with a Memorial Day tribute that was more eerie than patriotic. From Vince's gruff, reverb-filled, "voice of god" overdub to the lengthy, bizarre playing of taps to close it out, this was just odd from start to finish. I wonder how the live crowd there in Canada liked all the pro-American propaganda they threw into this week's show? And why is the name World Wrestling Entertainment if 95% of their shows are booked in the United States and they loudly celebrate all of the Amercan-exclusive holidays? Jeez, the NHL and NBA have more of a claim to being Worldwide sports, and they're both still quote-unquote national leagues.

I loved the choice to kick off the show with the tag team title match, expecially considering the instant support La Resistance enjoyed from their "home crowd." When did Rob Conway cease to be an American again? Regardless, the challengers were giving it their all even if the quality wasn't really up to the standards I'd hope for in a title match. Conway's right there, ready to bust out as a star under his own power, but Grenier still has a ways to go before he's up to snuff. I won't complain about the title change, because the belts weren't getting defended anyway and I'm glad to see them back on a permanent team. This was a lot of fun to watch with the wild crowd and I loved the spot where Conway fought the pain of the crossface just long enough for his partner to get into the ring. It showed that their experience together gave them an advantage over the champions, since Conway would've most certainly tapped out if he didn't know Grenier would be making the save within moments. This was a great way to hook the crowd right off the bat, even if it wasn't really a great match... probably the worst Benoit's been involved with since he came to RAW.

I could've sworn Eric Bischoff was alluding to a Eugene vs. Regal later in the night, but the actual plan turned out much better than that. I was really digging Bischoff's work last night as a heel with a heart, and judging from the forums and my fellow RRC members, I wasn't alone. Eric can play this role SO well when they allow him to, and these little segments with Eugene were perfect examples. He's not just playing a heel, he's playing a believable character with individual perks, hangups and ticks. I was POSITIVE they were going to pull the standard WWE "smarmy heel hugs innocent face, camera pans to reveal heel is grinning mischievously" trick when he embraced Eugene, but by revealing that Eric was serious in his concerns they threw a curveball at the viewing audience. Eric's an asshole, no doubt about it... he's doing this in part to look big in front of his buddies, but he also seems to be genuinely worried about Eugene. His conscience is visibly giving him one hell of a hard time about it. Between that and William Regal's portrayal of silent, helpless rage about what was going on, this was some of the finest character development and acting I've ever seen in WWE. VERY well done.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure about the way they're jerking Kane's status around in front of the cameras and crowds. He's been playing stark blacks and whites over the last month; one moment he's the heel, stalking Lita and choking out Matt Hardy... the next he's the face, opposing Evolution and eventually overcoming the odds to win the battle royal and a shot at the World Title. One moment he's a heel, storming to the ring to beat down on Eugene, the next he's a face... actually giving Eugene a hug and appearing to stand up for him. And then you blink your eyes and he's a heel again, turning around and obliterating Dinsmore with a clothesline. Now, I'll agree that feigning a face turn only to return the character to his / her heelish tendencies is a great way to add some heat to a lagging character... but overdoing it like they have been with Kane recently only serves to kill the crowd's interest in the character altogether. Kane doesn't seem like he's on the right level to be competing for the World Title right now, and his shot at the belt is almost a week away.

Jazz and Victoria put on the best Women's match we've seen since WrestleMania, although that's admittedly not saying much. Jazz is an outstanding part of the women's division when she's motivated and healthy, and last night was all the reminder I needed. She completely took Victoria apart last night, and only dropped the match due to a lucky roll-up. Once again, I'm loving the competition in the women's division right now, and just about any active competitor is a serious threat to the title. I still burst out laughing when Victoria strolls out and explodes into her little Backstreet Girl routine, but I'm sure it'll pass. Then I'll be more annoyed than entertained.

Benjamin and Orton didn't click at all last night. I'm not really worried about their Bad Blood match, for the reasons that Brett detailed earlier, but this was definitely food for thought. One thing I don't understand; if winning the match meant a guaranteed Intercontinental Title shot at Bad Blood, why did Benjamin sprint up the entryway to stop Orton from getting counted out? Why did Orton try to walk away from the match in the first place? Reminds me of the time Dean Malenko instinctively slid out to the floor for a break during a "first man to touch the floor loses" match and had to subsequently accept the loss. It's funny how different the paths are that these two have taken to get where they are today. Randy initially struggled in the ring, but found a killer angle / character, embraced it and eventually the ringwork caught up to him. Shelton is currently kicking all sorts of ass in the ring, but is missing that one great storyline, phrase or character to really get him over the top and into the fans' imaginations. Despite all of his recent high profile wins, he doesn't seem ready for the Intercontinental Title... maybe a lengthy chase will get him to the point where he is.

I had no beef with Triple H's promo last night. It was brief, simple, to the point and understandable. He let the video do the talking for him, touting his expertise in this kind of match, and left the ring before he'd run completely around in a circle on the mic. On that note, I did think it was funny that the audience wasn't all that upset to hear that Shawn wouldn't be there. What did he expect them to do?

I seriously didn't see a redeeming factor in Garrison Cade last night. He's got a bland look, he doesn't have anything special in the ring and he's going nowhere. Good to see Matt Hardy finally pick up a win, but they're both just dead weight right now.

I'm trying, but I really can't get excited about this Jericho / Tomko feud. The teased romance between Trish and Y2J has been milked dry, and the only imaginable reason for Chris to even bother with the new kid is to kill some time and maybe rub a little more salt into the Christian's wound. I wasn't sold on the ferocity of Tyson's assault this week, and I don't believe Jericho's heart is in this side-feud.

Finally, the main event was pretty much forgettable. Seriously, they've covered all the bases with Eugene in the ring now, from the airplane spin to the bridged pinning combination to the "hulk up." All that's left is for him to really get his ass handed to him, and they almost gave away that one last night. I can't really remember much of this match aside from the finish and the aftermath. It didn't surprise me, it didn't excite me, and it barely kept me awake. Neither of these guys are at the point where they should be main eventing RAWs right now, and Kane's on his way to a Title shot. I dug the post-match stuff, with Benoit trying desperately to overpower the behemoth and give him a taste of the crossface, but the note they chose to end the show on felt really hokey and stupid. They could kick some ass next weekend with an outstanding David vs. Goliath-style match, like they did with Benoit vs. the Big Show several years ago on RAW, but they've got to have a believable Goliath before that scenario could ever work. Kane beating up on Eugene and temporarily aligning with the Coach isn't getting him there.

As I'm sure you've noticed, my recap was a bit abbreviated this week. Heh, instead of fifteen thousand words I wrote fifteen hundred, right? I was just lukewarm to the great majority of this show. There were a couple things that really stood out, (Bischoff and Regal's performances, the decision to put the tag belts back onto a real tag team) but on the large I found this week's program to be much more stale than in previous weeks. I didn't have any meat to really sink my teeth into, just a bunch of garnish and a couple very nice side dishes. The show's still above average, and nothing was remarkably bad, but they need to add a touch of excitement and suspense to this recipe.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.7

Monday, May 24, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 05/24/04

There's no denying the fact I've been absolutely lovin' RAW as of late, and judging by the scores contributed to the regular RRC, I'm not alone. This is a show that's been clicking on 90-95% of its cylinders recently, for all intents and purposes. Sure, sure, a couple wheels are squeaking, a couple gears are grinding; the women's division has been tanking for months and a couple storylines are weak and uninspired. Still, regardless of how many stupid, over-used engine metaphors I can find a place for, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable program since WrestleMania. The stories have been largely original, entertaining and realistic. The characters are becoming much more thoroughly developed and multi-dimensional. And, as if I even needed to make mention of this fact, the matches have been out friggin' standing. Every week we've had a main event worth archiving to the permanent collection, and it's not all revolving around just one or two men. The main event scene is as refreshed as it's been in years, and a lot of the younger or underutilized workers are actively making the most of the opportunities they're being given. I'd be lying if I said I'd never been as excited about an episode of RAW as I have been these last couple of weeks (that honor would go to the episodes between WrestleMania 13 and 14, when anything really did seem possible) but I've been extremely happy all the same. This has been a show WORTH getting excited over of late.

This week's episode kicked off with a bit of foreshadowing, as Triple H and Evolution complained to Eric Bischoff about Shawn Michaels' involvement in last week's battle royale. I liked bits of this, but alternately disliked others. I love the tension and frustration they're building within Evolution; Trips, Batista and Flair looked like a small pack of feral dogs in this bit, snapping and shouting at one another with a strange mixture of ferocity and fear in their eyes. Flair and Hunter in particular seemed to be staring fierce holes in one another, almost to the point that I expected the Nature Boy to be ousted from the group later in the night. On the other hand, I loathed the way Eric Bischoff came off by quickly and quietly folding in light of the stable's demands. Bischoff should be sharply dominating the segments he's invovled with regardless of who he's confronting, not bowing his head and taking all the abuse his talent feels like dishing out. This is a guy with the power to make or break careers, at least in storyline terms, yet he acts like he has no power at all. Why should an audience fear and respect a man who suspends an athlete, then comes crawling back to him two weeks later and has to agree to special conditions to get the guy to come back to work? It's silly booking, and it's a side of Eric's character I'm getting really tired of seeing.

Flair and Edge just weren't clicking in their match. Both guys looked completely out of place and unfamiliar with one another, both in their interactions and their physical exchanges. The match felt really forced and rushed, and the finish came up out of nowhere. Flair was totally off his game, nearly killing himself on the turnbuckle flip and then forgetting to kick out of the following pinfall attempt. Not the kind of opener I was hoping for, and a step down from the kind of quality both guys had been putting forward lately. Flair needs to stick with the tag matches or relegate himself to a supporting role, interfering and expressing himself with his remarkably good body language during Orton or Batista matches.

What's that? A Diva Search? Sounds like Vince is raiding more of WCW's old ideas again. Or have you forgotten where Stacy Keibler came from?

I've got next to no interest in finding out what "the magic question" was, because it's only going to lead to more shit down the road. Seriously, I can't for the life of me imagine a decent payoff to this lame, lame setup. It's either going to be comedy ("Can I help brush your hair?"), sexual ("Wanna do it?") or attempted psychological ("Do you want me to hurt you?") and none of those paths have any interesting twists or turns to introduce. On that same note, the complete homoginization of her relationship with Matt Hardy is just disturbing. They look and act like robots, programmed to do things average people in a relationship would do. Neither one of them has a personality that reaches beyond their choice in wardrobe for that particular week, and their interactions with one another are stiff, wooden and lame. It's like the Spike / Molly storyline of several years' back, just without the charm, the audience support or the potential. And this time Kane has some bizarre fixation on the Molly character.

I appreciate the story they were trying to tell in the ring with the Hurricane / Rosey vs. La Resistance match, but there was just too little at stake to really make much of a difference. Once he'd taken that ugly, ugly bump over the top and out to the floor, Helms was noticeably favoring his knee and Conway capitalized on it. It's a simple thing to focus on, but it can really make the difference between an OK match and an entertaining one. Like I said, though, there just wasn't any kind of motivating factor to push this match up another notch or two, and it wasn't given any kind of time either. Hurricane is less than insignificant on RAW right now, only used when there's a three or four minute gap in the program that needs to be filled, and I can't begin to fathom why he hasn't been sent back to Smackdown and repackaged already. Conway and Grenier are at least in slightly better shape, but the complete lack of competition and a justifiable tag team division is hitting them pretty hard as well. Can you honestly remember the last time the Frenchmen were actually involved in some sort of storyline as a team? Conway had a short little stint with Eugene, and Dupree had a really brief story with Steve Austin before they both fled the program, but those were both singles programs and I can't remember much more before that.

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Jericho and Orton last night, especially the conversational nature of their little chat. This didn't seem like two guys exchanging catchphrases or reciting a few lines they'd been fed by the writers backstage, it honestly seemed like a pair of loud-mouthed, intelligent, egotistical guys sparring on the mic. Orton's simply on fire right now, and Jericho's been no slouch over the last couple of months either, so this was an unexpectedly fun little one-off between a two of the show's biggest names.

The following tag match was, like the interview itself, unexpectedly good and very entertaining. Jericho turned it up noticeably for this match, and was clearly outshining both the competition and his own partner from bell to bell. Occasionally Y2J will fall into a rut. His matches will become formulaic, his spots will become tedious, overplayed and telegraphed, and his pacing gets a little goofy. This wasn't one of those nights. He was hitting all of his spots in original ways, his timing was spot on and he was very motivated. That's a really nice thing to see.

Not to shit on the rest of that tag match, either. As I said, Randy Orton is right in the middle of a great run, but so is Shelton Benjamin and even Batista is taking some giant steps in the right direction. This will be a fun match to watch a couple of years from now, when we know what's just around the corner for the current midcard workhorses of RAW, who became the next next big thing, who burned out and quit the business and who's still lingering in the middle of the card. A very nice match that wound up being the evening's best.

While Shawn and Hunter were brawling in Eric Bischoff's office, something else caught my attention; that photo of Bisch and Johnny Nitro that they flash at the start of every episode of RAW? You know the one, the goofy little "I'm an evil bastard and I'm grinning at you" shot that Eric's always got printed out on foam core and hung on the wall of his office? When the show starts and it fades in, you can't see below chest level because of the crop... but the full blown shot was hanging in the background of that little fight, and I swear to god Bischoff's either wearing black shorts or no pants at all. If you've got a tape of the show or TiVo'd it, (another shill for the product that's changed my life) go back and check it out. I swear I'm not crazy.

As if that little shot of unintentional humor wasn't bad enough, they then moved straight on into the women's match and Victoria's accompanying choreographed dance number. Honestly, when she stepped out there and flew right into that intricate routine I just started laughing. That was truthfully something I would've expected out of an N'Sync video or maybe, MAYBE a Bob Sapp promotional tape. To see it thrown out there so elaborately and suddenly was, to me at least, extremely funny and sad. Victoria was a character that seemed so stupid and doomed from the very beginning, but to transform her into this after she'd struggled and struggled to make her heel act so successful is a little questionable.

Also of note; poor Molly. I like that they're keeping the division so competitive and unpredictable, but I just wish they'd let the former champ get a win once in a while. There's a great aura in the air that any one of these ladies could possibly win a match against any of her competition, especially now that Victoria's stood up for herself and proven that she can do more than tap out to Gail Kim. I just wish they'd stop worrying about tinkering with the characters and let the girls do their jobs.

The Benoit and Eugene vs. Coach and Cade match was about as close to a Benoit squash as we're ever going to get. Cade was thoroughly owned in that match, but still managed to get a few shots in to keep things competitive and Coach was an afterthought, rightfully so. He's a tremendous heel manager but he shouldn't be in there laying into the World Champion or even a guy the size of Eugene. Truth be told, though it was short, that match did everything it should've done. Garrison wasn't completely dismissed, Benoit came off looking like a good guy and a legitimate champion, Coach drew some solid heat and didn't put up much of a fight, and Eugene got the big rub of working next to a legend like The Crippler.

Oh yeah, and I can't believe they didn't try calling this a "handicapable match" before Benoit came in to even the odds.

I feel let down that we didn't get a true main event, and I've got to echo the sentiment of just about everyone else who covered the show when I say the Triple H / Michaels encounters went on way too long. One or two segments and the big announcement would've been more than enough, but to pepper the show with them like that shrieks of overkill. It's not like the PPV is tomorrow night and the bookers have completely forgotten to build for the match, so the entire month-long feud needs to be condensed into one show. I don't understand how this was supposed to be bought as such a sporadic fight when the last match wrapped up with fifteen minutes to spare. It makes Bischoff look bad for not planning as far ahead as he had recently, not using his TV time as efficiently as he has throughout his career as GM and trying to go all Heyman on the RAW locker room when that's really not who he's been up until now. Pull aparts like this are tough enough to buy when it's just a bunch of referees trying to hold back the three hundred pounders... but when HBK and Triple H are pulling away from everybody else on the roster, it's getting out of hand. I'm thrilled about the potential of this match, but they're really killing it for me by force-feeding it like that.

Despite my complaints, this was still an above-average show. We got our standard quality tag team match, which managed to shake up the participants successfully for like the forteen-hundredth time in a row. We got some quality character development from Evolution, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. And, overkill or no, we got confirmation of a match worthy of your excitement at Bad Blood. Unfortunately, we also saw a lot of sloppy writing, contradictory character directions and an overabundance of Hunter vs. Shawn. This was better than average, yeah, but not by nearly as much as the last couple months' worth of episodes.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.7

Monday, May 17, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 05/17/04

Well, like I said last week... and the week before... and the week before... and so on and so on, RAW's been at a high water mark for almost two months running now. There's no two ways about it, the talent is fresh and exciting, the writers are pumping out some great material, the main events are delivering and the momentum is exciting. The sense of impending doom that's accompanied the opening theme of RAW ever since the shows started getting good is starting to subside. I'm starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, it's more than just a lucky break and a hot feud, and this streak will keep going for a while. It's nice to turn on the TV for my Monday night addiction with an unyielding sense of optimism for a change.

Last night's episode launched on an off note, throwing Trish (who's quickly becoming nothing more than a part time wrestler) into the ring with Lita (who really hasn't been all there since coming back from neck surgery) to open the show cold. The match honestly wasn't that bad, although it still pales in comparison to the matches we were getting routinely from the women's division six months ago. Yes, I'm still harping on what they've done to what used to be RAW's only worthwhile division, and no I won't be forgetting about it any time soon. Even a show as good as this one can have its flaws, and the complete dismissal of the ladies who buoyed this program during a sub-par 2003 is glaring.

As I was saying, though, the match wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be, and was actually building to something of a hot finish before a silly Kane monologue from backstage interrupted things and cost Lita the victory. Personally, I was looking for them to pull the old "boy who cried wolf" routine here; Trish would see Kane coming down the entryway and freak out, Lita wouldn't believe her because of what she did last week, and the match would come to a similarly abrupt halt. One silly finish is just as good as the next, I guess.

I've said it before, but I'm still amazed at what a sharp corner Randy Orton turned during his match with Mick Foley at Backlash. Beforehand, right up to the RAW before the PPV, he was a kid with potential, some problems in the ring, difficulty establishing an interesting character, a good gimmick and a humongoid push. Literally the next night, when he strolled out with the Intercontinental Title slung over his shoulder and a jigsaw puzzle of cuts zigzagging his forehead, he was like a completely different person. He spoke with confidence, his eyes no longer danced worriedly from side to side during a promo, even his ringwork seemed dramatically improved. It was like that one match symbolized the end of his innocence, his growth from boy to man, amateur to professional.

He picked up right where he'd left off last night before Shelton Benjamin broke up the public display of verbal masturbation and threw down a challenge for the Intercontinental Title. Bejamin seemed off in his promo, like he was forcing the words and had no emotion behind them, but that's not really what the segment's going to be remembered for. I'm having trouble deciding my position on the racial slant they seem to be taking with this angle, right from the get go. I was a big fan of the race-related storylines of late 2002 / early 2003 involving D'Lo Brown and Teddy Long, and then Booker T and Triple H, but my immediate feeling is that enough's enough. They screwed up both of those potentially hot feuds by making a lot of initial noise with the racism angle and then tiptoeing around the subject for the remainder of the storyline. What's to make this time any different, and does the potential Benjamin / Orton feud really even need it?

On the other hand, take a listen to the heat Orton garnered the very moment he uttered the words "you people." The crowd turned on him, not in a "oh shit, not this storyline again" fashion, but something more along the lines of a "oh shit, this boy needs to get his ass whupped." There was an instant vibe, even though neither guy came right out and said it was about the color of their skin and Benjamin even seemed to let the issue slide right off his back. That told me there's definite money to be made here, as well as a really emotional, honest story waiting to be told. I'm gonna hold off on making a judgment until I see if and how it plays out over the next couple weeks.

I love where they're going with Eugene and William Regal, with Regal subtly throwing in hints that he's working on growing a heart while Eugene remains oblivious to his Uncle's maneuverings. This could really pay off big for both guys if and when they reveal that Eugene's been faking the whole time, somewhere way down the road, and I can't wait to see the matches that such a revelation would produce. Think about it; Regal would have been not only completely humiliated and manipulated, but one-upped by a guy who's already proven he's more than a match for him in the ring (as last week's training videos proved.) So long as they don't rush this storyline, it could be monumental.

I was thinking along the same lines as OTC war hero Mark Price in reference to the Kane / Lita mystery question. I was waiting for them to reveal that Kane was just testing Lita's resolve all along, and that the real answer he was looking for was a no. Alas, it was not to be and this abysmal Kane / Lita mock Stockholm Syndrome storyline trudges on.

I did think the visual of Kane choking Matt out with the chair was extremely powerful, and was legitimately one of the most disturbing things I've seen on WWE television in quite some time. Matt's throat honestly seemed to be collapsing right there on the screen, and Kane couldn't have cared less. I'd put it right up there with the mist fluid draining out of Tajiri's mouth last week on the scale of cool, effective, subtle little touches that make the product look a hundred times more realistic and entertaining.

Batista's gotta quit with those weird bodybuilding poses on his way into the ring. He looks like a fruit.

I know I've already raved about Randy Orton for several paragraphs tonight, but I've got one more hunk of praise to throw his way before the night's over; I'm starting to love watching the guy work in the ring. Every week I notice something different about him, and this week I realized his tendency to sell offense differently than most anybody else on the roster. When Chris Benoit chops his opponent, 99% of the roster would take it, bend at the midsection and clutch their chests, waiting for the next one. Orton took one of those knife-edges, lost his footing, attempted to recover it, gasped for breath and fell to the mat. Sure, it took a little bit longer from start to finish, but it made the match much less of a cookie cutter and more of a live, exciting environment.

Speaking of which, that match was right on pace with the rest of this month's main events. I love watching Benoit and Edge defend the tag titles, even though they've only been opposed by members of Evolution thus far, and seeing Orton in the ring learning from the champ makes for great television. There's really nothing more I can say about this defense, except it was everything it needed to be. A fast paced, entertaining ride that we're lucky to be getting on free TV. Enjoy it while it lasts, I know I am.

The Eugene / Coach / Rock segment was a tremendous ride, guiding viewers through just about every emotion in the book and leaving them on a high. It's just amazing to me how quickly and easily the Rock can cruise in for one night only, ad lib half a dozen new catchphrases, put over talent without tainting his own star and leave the show for another six months. Watching this guy after a couple of months away from the ring is like watching him in the middle of an eight month run at the top... he never loses a step. This was a tremendous segment, though, not just for the Rock's contribution but for the crowd's great reactions and interaction. This wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining without that audience, and combining their excitement with Rocky's natural charisma, Coach's solid heel work, Eugene's momentum and a very well written storyline produced a really statisfying segment.

The battle royale was uninspiring at first, but wrapped up very hot... which, I guess, you could say about every battle royale ever booked. I really enjoyed the ongoing tale of Evolution's domination, Kane's excessive power and Shelton Benjamin's desire to succeed. I actually enjoyed what we saw of this (thanks to the half dozen fucking commercial breaks they snuck in) and it honestly didn't feel like another typical, lackadaisical, half-assed fight where only the last couple participants are really putting in an effort. There was a real sense that everybody had a vested interest in winning this match, which is the way it should have been considering the reward. Little touches like Rosey saving Hurricane and Shelton Benjamin refusing to let Evolution throw him to the floor made this all the more exciting. I also like that they put Kane over here, as it further reinforced that "anybody could win" atmosphere. I'll guarantee you nobody would've picked Kane if the result hadn't been leaked onto the internet, especially considering his ongoing issue with Lita and Matt Hardy. Unpredictability is good, especially when it comes as the result of matches like this one.

I've also gotta applaud the booking of the last five minutes or so of that match. Everything fell into place with perfect timing, just about every one of the last ten men in the ring looked like they could honestly win the thing thanks to the way they were booked, and there were several great, in-continuity moments that were genuinely cool. Kane and Batista barreling down upon one another in the middle of the ring, motionless bodies strewn around their feet? Very cool. Edge attempting to skin the cat, only to get caught in the act by Randy Orton and physically forced to the floor? Very cool, and something that's not seen often enough. Ric Flair nonsensically locking in a figure four halfway through the match? Uhh... yeah, that was weird and slightly comedic. Shelton Benjamin avoiding elimination by sheer willpower alone? That was HELLA cool. Aside from the odd elimination of Triple H at the very end, this was extremely well-booked and performed from beginning to end.

The first time I watched this show, I wasn't overly thrilled by it. I thought it was a solid seven at best, that it was boring in places and that the main event wasn't all that great. Upon my second viewing, my viewpoint had changed. This was a great show, probably the best written we've seen in years. The talent was on all night long, despite several guys working double or triple duty. The Lita / Trish and Kane / Val matches weren't all that I'd hoped they would be, but the Tag Title match and battle royale more than made up for those two mishaps. I'm loving life as a member of the RRC right now.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.1

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Judgment Day 2004 Preview

WHEW!!! WHAT DIED IN HERE?!?! Holy lord, what's happened to Smackdown? I mean, honest to god, it wasn't THAT long ago we were salivating over the new tag division, enjoying Brock's ascent to the throne and applauding Kurt Angle's return to action.... was it? It's mind boggling to me that a federation with such a deep talent pool can't manage to divide their roster into two equal sets and book them somewhat intelligently. I can't even begin to understand how they've overcorrected so wildly for RAW's initial weaknesses at the outset of the brand extension, rather than learning from their mistakes and patching the holes. This card is sad, and that's not just because of the lame, hurried storylines surrounding these matches... it's because the show legitimately doesn't have much more top-level talent than this. Surely, the cruiserweight division has a few bundles of joy hidden away for us somewhere, but with the introduction of Jacqueline as a face champion, what does that say about the other guys? The tag division is beyond the point of disarray, as the lottery split just about every tag team in the federation, and the US Title is just an afterthought in the Dupree / Cena story (which is, when you think about it, a lot more about Dupree and Wilson than Dupree and Cena.) This is not a pretty card. I fear for the souls of those just reading this preview, let alone those who are planning to order it this Sunday night.

Jacqueline (c) vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr.
Cruiserweight Title: Chavo will have one arm tied behind his back.

Somebody explain the logic to me here. You've got, probably, the one division that's been unquestionably strong in its efforts over the last six to seven months on a show that really needs some sort of a spark to get the ball rolling once again. You've got a tremendous collection of athletes who are all but specifically geared to working that division's style, many of whom have been given a chance to prove themselves under the big spotlights. You've got deep pockets, which means you've got access to probably every cruiserweight that made WCW's division so legendary, in addition to the hundreds of new faces that have popped up since the belt's heyday. You've got an undeniably successful heel champion, who's been turning positives into negatives ritualistically for the last four months, and you've got a hot storyline that enables you to put anybody in the world in the ring with him (potentially in an introductory role) for almost guaranteed face heat. So what do you do? You inexplicably steal Jacqueline from RAW, throw her into the ring and hotshot the title onto her. Jacqueline. A woman who's never been able to build a name for herself in the women's division, despite opposing Sable at the height of her popularity and working in the current women's division during its peak about six months ago. Seriously, what the fuck. How do you come up with shit like this and manage to fool yourself into believing that it'll work. That old method of "throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks" is perhaps not the best method for continuing the cruiserweight division's success right now.

Not even Chavo can save this match. Fuck, I can't BELIEVE they screwed up that "mystery challenger" storyline as badly as they did. This match will be an abomination to mankind. And I mean that in a REALLY bad way. I can't see them keeping Jackie as champion for very long here, and the only way to salvage even a little bit of anything out of this story is to put Chavo over big.
Winner: Chavo Guerrero

Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie

Oh, right. Like the war these two went through over Torrie's dad didn't already expose to us all how absolutely putrid they both are in the ring. It hurts my head just trying to visualize the way this match will play out. Maybe ol' Al will come to the ring and interfere, proving that the age-old comic book theory "Nobody ever stays dead except Bucky" also applies to Pro Wrestling. Hell, maybe he and Katie Vick will both interfere, and then Al will announce that not only was Katie his long lost daughter (and, naturally, Torrie's sister) but that he's also taken her hand in marriage and plans to consummate their marriage in that very ring, later on in the PPV. You know, to offend and drive off anybody lingering fans they may have retained throughout the build to this PPV. Then again, even the most hardcore of fans will probably be taking a piss break during this one, so I don't think even that plan will work quite as well as they would hope.

Dawn wins with help from Rene Dupree, because there's no way in hell the Frenchman's winning his match later on in the night.
Winner: Dawn Marie

Rob Van Dam & Rey Mysterio vs. The Dudley Boyz

I've actually been pretty entertained by the Dudleys' heel turn. There's interest, emotion and (most importantly) money in the old ECW name, and while they've still got so many of the promotion's old stars under one roof, it doesn't make sense NOT to take advantage of that opportunity. I've always preferred the Dudley Boyz as heels, and while I won't go so far as to say they're on my list of favorite performers just yet, seeing anybody alongside Paul Heyman is good enough for a bump up in my attention span. I wish they'd do something less bland with Rob Van Dam (like, maybe, showing just a little bit of CHARACTER?) but if they haven't done so with him by now, I seriously doubt they ever will. Rey doesn't really fit into this storyline as well as somebody like Tommy Dreamer, Tajiri, Tazz, Rhyno or even Jerry Lynn or Steve Corino would, but if you dig back far enough into the archives you'll find that Rey once worked in the house of extreme, too, so he's not as outrageous an addition to the feud as Billy Gunn or Rico would've been. The Dudleys have been a little more motivated than usual lately, with the momentum of the turn still behind them, so this could turn out to be the best match of the night. I've got Bubba and D-Von coming out on top, though I've no idea how.
Winners: The Dudley Boyz

Rico & Charlie Haas (c) vs. Billy Gunn & Bob Holly
WWE Tag Titles

They should subtitle this match "the battle of the boring, blank-faced blonde guys... with special attraction, Rico, the dancing pseudo-gay beast of American Gladiators fame." At least then they'd capture the "What the fuck?!?! Now I've GOTTA order this" crowd. Man, what happened to tag team wrestling in WWE? Well, scratch that, I know the draft lottery happened to tag team wrestling in WWE... but why? This is a set of divisions (both RAW and Smackdown) that have been severely de-emphasized for no particular reason over the last few years, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Tag team competition is one of the most unique aspects this sport has going for it, yet it's taking the backburner so a few of the younger competitors can break out on their own. I'm all for elevating young talent, but why do it all at once, especially when the entire division is comprised of young talent?

This gimmick Rico's working has begun to wear thin for me. It was a lot of fun for the first couple months on RAW, but it's just repetition at this point, as they haven't yet explained anything about him or his sudden change of direction and affiliation with Jackie Gayda. I like Charlie Haas, but I like him as an athlete, not the straight man in a comedy pairing. As for Billy Gunn and Bob Holly, if I had a nickle for every time these guys blew an opportunity to make something of themselves, I'd... I'd have a lot of friggin' nickels. Haas and Rico get the V, and Billy n' Bobby go back to searching for mid-carders to job to.
Winners: Charlie Haas and Rico

John Cena (c) vs. Rene Dupree
United States Title

This'll be an interesting match, to say the least. Interesting to see if Dupree's really got the talent to make a play for the big time, and interesting to see if Cena's got the wherewithal carry the match on his own if Dupree's a mental no-show. My first impressions on both guys have been more flash than substance, but a good showing this Sunday will be enough to change my mind, as well as quite a few other skeptics. I don't really care for Rene's character all that much, since they went so over the top with the French generalizations and gave him a weak little talk show segment, but at the very least they've kept Fifi consistent throughout his appearances, so I'm kept entertained. I love watching that poor animal react to everything around it; the fans, the monitors, the pyro... it's scared to death of EVERYTHING, and always manages to miraculously disappear just before the segments escalate into violence. Fifi is an entertainment workhorse.

I'll call Cena retaining in this one. I realize the rumors are claiming they're really high on Dupree, but they can't be THAT high. At least, not yet. Wrestling's other JC is still too hot a ticket to be dropping his title right now. He'll hold on to it for at least a couple more months.
Winner: John Cena

The Undertaker vs. Booker T

Yet another bad idea. Like the Dudley Boyz, I definitely prefer Booker as a heel rather than a face, but he's not going to get anywhere opposite the Undertaker, especially this soon after his return. Booker should've been Eddy's opponent this month, and then gone on to lay down to the Taker at the Great American Bash... he had the successful "I'm pissed about being traded to the minor leagues" angle rolling, he's stepped up his work in the ring and he's an extremely credible threat, despite a year of midcard hell on RAW. Add to that the fact that it's a fresh match with some fan interest and the possibility of a very good performance, and you've got a main event that has nothing to do with heart attacks, racism and cartoony heels, and everything to do with the World Title, competition and respect. But that's not the way the cards fell, I guess, and instead we've got The old school Undertaker, looking horribly outdated with his no-selling zombie act, trotting out there and killing the competition. Lovely.

This storyline is bad, the outcome of this match will be bad and the impact it'll have on the Smackdown upper card will be bad. Baaaaaaad. Bad bad.
Winner: The Undertaker

Eddie Guerrero (c) vs. JBL
WWE Title

Unless Bradshaw has stepped in some sort of mysterious, talent-enabling liquid in the last couple weeks, he doesn't stand a chance in hell. I don't think anybody looks at that paper-thin JBL gimmick and thinks "main event" aside from maybe Vince, the bookers and Bradshaw himself, and I'm saying that as an evaluation of just the character itself, regardless of his ability in the ring. I'd be saying this if they'd strapped that gimmick onto Bradshaw, Rikishi, Kurt Angle or Chris Benoit. It's just a transparent attempt at garnering cheap heat, they didn't even bother coming up with music that doesn't sound like it came off a "100 themes" disc at the dollar store.

The match itself is gonna be sickly. It'll be like watching an old woman with a walker, arthritis and a colostomy bag attempt to keep pace with a fiery, pissed off racehorse with the runs. And, when the old lady doesn't make it to the finish line, the trainers will blame the horse, shoot it and turn it into glue. But, I guess, doomed or not the horse still makes it to the finish line in first place.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero

In Closing...

I read somewhere that WWE management is worried about how the buyrates will look for this PPV. Whatever could've given them that idea?
until next time, i remain

Monday, May 10, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 05/10/04

There's only so many ways you can say "RAW's been good lately, natch, but I came into this week uncertain that they could keep it up!!" before it gets tiresome and overdone. Of course, those were my thoughts going into this week's show, but I guess it'd be a little hypocritic, not to mention redundant, for me to type all that up a second time.

The show lifted off with a surprising second straight curtain-jerking performance from Triple H. The match wasn't really even off the ground yet when Shawn Michaels aimlessly meandered into the ring, brawled for a minute and called Trips out. I didn't really care for this... everybody knew it was coming, and the only real questions were when and how. It just felt weird. Wouldn't Benjamin be angry with HBK for disturbing his match, when a win would've most certainly solidified his chances at the top of the card? Wouldn't Triple H have anticipated it and ordered Evolution to be standing by, ready to intervene? Wouldn't Michaels have checked with Shelton beforehand, or at least warned him, since they've been all buddy-buddy in the past? This didn't make sense on several levels, and though I know we're supposed to stick by the mantra of "suspend your disbelief," it's character inconsistencies like this that make doing so more of a task and less of an afterthought.

HBK's suspended? Yeah, I think the grumblings elsewhere in this review address the errors in that call pretty accurately. The only way to believably punish somebody in the world of WWE nowadays is to a) Trade them to Smackdown b) Put them in the ring with Kane, or c) Put them in a handicap match against all of Evolution. Nothing else really seems like that much of a punishment to me. If my boss walked up to me tomorrow and said "Hey, I know you're really chomping at the bit to get started on this next project, but I think you're getting a little TOO excited... so take your ass on a paid vacation," I wouldn't run in the next week just to do my job. I'd hit the highway.

Or, more likely, I'd sit at home and play video games. But the fact remains, I wouldn't go out of my way to get into the office.

Tajiri and Batista looked at least decent out there. This wasn't the best outing I've seen from either guy, but it was booked well. Tajiri appeared competent and intelligent, constantly focusing on the big man's knees, and Batista seemed to be every bit the muscle-bound powerhouse with little more than destruction on his mind. He didn't have much more of a strategy than "get him into a spot where you can hit a power move, and FOR GOD'S SAKE avoid the mist." I really enjoyed the way they played Tajiri's green spray up as the devastating, momentum-shifting factor it was when the Great Muta was using it in WCW, and how it was brought into play after the match was over. Batista was on the lookout for it from the very moment he climbed into the ring, and when the Japanese Buzzsaw attempted to use it as a last resort after the match, Batista calmly gripped him by the neck and kept him from exhaling. The visual of that thick green fluid running out of Tajiri's mouth as he passed out was tremendous, and Batista standing there after the beatdown, with green smeared across his chest reminded me of when Brock Lesnar busted open Hulk Hogan on Smackdown a couple of years back.

Aside from that super-cool bow and arrow around the ring post, the Edge and Orton match wasn't anything special until they marched into the false finishes. I love watching Randy Orton's facial expressions when he locks in a submission, as he seems to be genuinely stressing himself to further inflict pain on his opponents and really gives them hell about it, shouting "TAP OUT" right in their face until they either oblige or reverse the maneuver. With that said, the submissions were a little too numerous and too poorly executed last night to really take advantage of the extra efforts Orton gives them with his screams, facial contortions and body language. I did like the closing minutes, though, as I said. That reversal of a hurricanrana into a Liger Bomb was insane, and the finish was both entertaining and understandable. Edge doesn't lose credibility by laying down to an RKO, Orton gets a little boost by showcasing his ring awareness and Flair proves his continued worth to Evolution by saving the match for his man. Some of the best storytelling of the night was after the match, as Orton stumbled up the entryway alone, leaving Flair face down and motionless at ringside, still selling the after effects of Edge's spear. Both guys deserve special respect for salvaging that audience, which had been horrible up to this point and did a complete about-face about halfway through their match. They bought the first set of near falls, woke up for the rest of the match and were off the charts for the remainder of the show.

I'm still not crazy about the direction the women's division has taken, but last night's booking at least made sense. Victoria was in the ring for the entire match, since neither Stacy nor Nidia are known to be accomplished wrestlers. I'm also a big fan of their build of Gail Kim into a legitimate challenger for the title. Of course, I'd rather they'd picked somebody else as the new megapush challenger, since Gail hasn't shown me she's up to the task, but you take the good along with the bad and I'm a sucker for submission finishes. I don't understand why Molly and Jazz are buddies now, since the last time we saw them together Molly was abandoning Jazz in a tag match... I guess the booking wasn't that good after all.

Why do they roll out a bad Kane angle at least once a year? In 2002 it was Katie Vick. Then in 2003 it was the feud with Shane that didn't know when to die. Now this dumbass series of moments with Matt Hardy and Lita.

The Conway / Eugene match was a disappointment in my book, but the audience's reactions almost made up for it. Maybe it's the stilted gimmick, maybe it's the knowledge that this has to blow off sometime hanging over my head, but all the action felt like one of those wrestler vs. celebrity matches that WCW was so fond of. All the action was basic and silly; backslides, basic submissions, and a freaking airplane spin. Put simply, Dinsmore didn't impress me and Conway was having an off night.

I'll give credit where it's due, though, that main event was tremendous. Chris Jericho had owned a string of bad or below-average cage matches over the course of his WWE run... the guy just couldn't seem to get the hang of it and always seemed to be holding back with his offense, but last night he removed that monkey from his back with the help of a great blade job and some superb work from Christian. The booking here did just about everything you could ask for; addressing the addition of Tyson Tomko to the feud on more than one occasion, while also finally resolving the physicalities between Trish, Christian and Y2J. While I still LOATHE the use of a cage door as means for an escape in this kind of match, I've got to admit those final moments as Jericho held onto his Liontamer and Christian tried to force his way out as a last resort were powerful. This did everything it needed to do and then some, and I can't wait to see where Jericho goes from here.

All in all, this was once again a show that was very much above average. Two solid matches that featured four faces not usually associated with the main event were enough to ensure that almost entirely on their own. The booking was almost universally solid, and the momentum continues into next week with the big battle royal and the build to Bad Blood beginning. On the other hand, they really fucked up with the HHH / Benjamin match, sending Michaels out WAY too soon and completely ignoring his effect on Shelton, and they're pushing the wrong woman into the title scene. The Kane / Hardy / Lita thing continued its slow, embarassing walk and Eugene didn't do anything to impress me whatsoever. There was still an awful lot of good coming out of this show, but I can't give it a score anywhere near last week's program. This was a good RAW, but not a great one.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.7