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.
Overall Score: 6.7