Monday, June 28, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 06/28/04

It's been a bad day and I'm having trouble concentrating, so my apologies if this week's contribution isn't up to my normal standards. The Q you recognize will likely return to this spot next week.

The Eugeneolution story carries on this week, uneasily at first but picking up speed before the end of the opening monologue. Triple H and William Regal are about the only things keeping the wind in Eugene's sails right now, because the character has pretty much peaked on its own. I know, I know, I feel like I'm saying that every week... well, that's probably because it feels like it's the god's honest truth every week. There's only so long I can stand watching an airplane spin, a hulking up or any other contrived, gimmicky maneuver from the circus-era WWF before I start to yawn and look at my watch.

But yeah, Helmsley and Regal are just glorious together right now, with Trips playing the intelligent bastard and Regal occupying the role of the tough guy with the heart of gold. I wish the former commish could've had a chance to show a little fire in this promo, shooting back at Triple H about how he only accepted a match with Eugene "because Eric Bischoff promised you a title shot," but I guess that would've sabotaged their booking for the next couple of weeks. Still... it would've been unexpected and a lot more entertaining, since nobody's stood up to Trips like that since the McMahon-Helmsley era. I like the emotional game of tug-of-war they're portraying with Eugene right now, but the question is how long it can go on before it feels drug out.

Orton and Batista vs. the Floridian Canadians, in their quick rematch from last week's show, was a marked improvement over the previous week's clash. I was distracted by the fire alarms (and the crowd's absolutely hilarious reaction to them) for the first part of the match, and couldn't really pay full attention to the match at hand, but once that little issue was taken care of, this heated up in a hurry. Autumn wanted to see the whole place burn down, audience included, since we'd just watched a special on the History Channel about famed, fatal theatre fires throughout history and nobody seemed to be taking this loud alarm too seriously, but I guess we all know how that turned out. Like I was saying, though, this match picked up at an excellent pace and told an intelligent, entertaining story when all was said and done. Jericho kept teasing a loss of balance, selling the storyline KO that took him out of last week's match, and Orton kept introducing new ways of rejuvinating rest holds. Seriously, when anybody else sits down with a side headlock I take a second to check out the news or play with my cat, because they all perform the move in exactly the same way. It's a dead hold, nobody buys it as a finisher, because they've never seen it end a match. Ever. Orton brings the crowd back into it by cinching in with enthusiasm, taking a knee and brutally wrenching the guy's neck in six different directions. It doesn't look like two guys seated in the ring, huggin' away, so much as it looks like two guys wrestling. I like it.

Edge was still a little spotty (he actually sent Orton on an irish whip into the ropes, stopped him mid-stride and hit a reverse russian legsweep. Somebody explain to me how the momentum of the irish whip aided the legsweep, which gently drops him to the mat in the opposite direction) but showed noticeable improvement all the same. I'm a big fan of the Edge-o-matic, so it was cool to see that make a return appearance. Everybody and their brother praised it, but I can't help but mention how well done the finishing sequence was on this match. They managed to simultaneously put over Batista's clothesline of doom, Edge's spear, Batista's power (kicking out of the Liontamer, even though he'd just collided with Orton) and Jericho's Lionsault. I'm glad to see they're taking away Texas' legendary exclusivity of the lariat as a finisher. If I'm going to buy a guy getting knocked unconscious by a slightly-more-ferocious clothesline, I'd be much more inclined to do so if it were performed by somebody who looks like Batista, rather than somebody who looks like Bradshaw. Great match that made up for the lag generated by last week's match. Evolution is right back in stride.

Regal vs. Triple H wasn't all that bad, but it wasn't all that good either. I was glad to see them bringing Regal back up to speed as a sound competitor after his match with Kane last week. They did a great job of establishing that he'd been away from the ring for a while, and likely wasn't prepared for last week's match, and he proved that fact by keeping up with the former World's Champ here. Regal seriously looked like he'd lost a good fifty pounds, but he's killing me in those granny panties out there. The pale complexion I can excuse, because that's a part of his identity, but those shorts that ride up to his tits are just... blagh. He was moving around the ring much more nimbly than when last we saw him, and still had the fire in his eyes that I noted last week. This is a guy who's just itching for the opportunity to do something remarkable, just like he did opposite Chris Benoit at the Pillman show all those years ago. Somebody give him a chance.

I didn't go wild about the booking of this one, because it was horribly transparent, but I guess it got the job done. Eugene now hates William Regal and trusts Triple H that much more. I honestly hope that isn't the last we hear of Regal and Eugene, because there's a big story waiting to be told between the two of them.

Rhyno looked just as energetic and enthusiastic as Regal last night, in his first RAW match in over a month. That guy went out there with something to prove, an extra spring in his step and a fire under his ass. I guess he was determined to make the most out of a bad situation, because tagging up with Sarge isn't gonna get you anywhere. I'm seriously repulsed by how often they roll out Slaughter and / or Jerry Lawler to stomp all over with the younger guys. It's like any time we're near a patriotic holiday or the Tennessee border, one of these two needs to be wheeled down the entryway to start no-selling. It'd be one thing if they'd go out there with the intention of putting over somebody who could use the help, (Tsuruta / Misawa style) but throwing him out there to no-sell the punches of the TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS? Honestly, what the fuck?

The main event was kind of iffy for me. It was every bit the traditional Benoit vs. Big Man match, with the added interest of the "Kane must tap" stipulations. Full of solid work from both men, and it ended with a wicked series focusing on Kane's shoulder and Benoit's complete inability to give up on an opponent, but something felt like it was missing here. This didn't really feel like a World Title match, I didn't buy the fact that the most prestigious title in the world was in danger of changing hands as much as Brett did. I can't pinpoint why, though, so I don't really have a place complaining about it. I loved the way they wrapped this up, with Kane powering out of the crossface, falling from the top rope into a second crossface, powering out of that one but falling onto his back and eventually submitting. Kane still looks like a monster, and Benoit still looks tenacious. Beautiful.

The finisher hinted at a storyline twist that could single handedly save this horrid, horrid Lita / Kane / Matt pregnancy thing. If they would just elaborate on the ideas they touched upon last night with Lita and Kane's interactions, this story could become one of the most heated, interesting, downright realistic feuds I've ever seen. Well... maybe that's going a bit too far. But if Lita suddenly came to the conclusion that the best way to hurt Kane and rebuild her relationship with Matt is to taunt the big red machine until he gets so angry he does something horrible, causing her to lose the baby... well, I'd say that would go in intriguing new directions. It would turn Lita heel as a cold blooded psycho without nonsensically aligning her with Kane in the process, would give Matt a whole new ballpark within which to further establish himself as a sympathetic face, and would almost put Kane into the role of a tweener, which makes sense since the fans have already been alternately cheering and booing him depending upon his opposition. More importantly, it would fit right in with the direction the story's taken thus far and would do more for Lita's character than any of the silly skits she's been involved with in the past. Make no mistake, I'm not even implying that miscarriages are a joking matter, nor that this would be misconstrued as a cool thing to do, but I truthfully think it could work to the benefit of all involved.

Just an idea, anyway. This week's show was better than last week's, no question in my mind. Not as many missteps and the booking wasn't TOO bad. I'm gonna go above average, if just for the continuing story between Eugene, Regal and Trips, and for the two solid matches we got at the top of each hour. Thumbs up, but not way up.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.35

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Great American Bash 2004 Preview

It's feeling like late 90s WCW again, in more ways than one, and I know John can sympathize with that. You see, way back in the day... when Hulk Hogan and Sting were still main eventers, when the term WWF wasn't so legally associated with the image of a Panda Bear, ol' JC Money and I were sitting around doing the very same thing we're doing here today. We were writing upwards of three pay per view previews a month between the major federations, and not all of them were sunshine and roses. For the most part we were writing these things weekly, and if that regular commitment weren't enough, the cards we were previewing were often filled with some really nasty, runny shits. As the years went by, the federations consolidated into a single fed, which meant that a lot of the crap was cut out. Instead of three mediocre or bad PPVs a month with a handful of really interesting matches between them, they were offering one decent or good PPV a month with most of the interesting matches contained therein. I won't lie and say they've all been quality since the death of real big league competition, but I will admit that the bar has risen. WWE's pay per views have been consistently better than those of WCW, ECW and even the WWF in the late 90s... and now that they're toying with the idea of spreading their rosters a little thinner and promoting two big events within one month, I'm starting to notice the return of that trend. Instead of one big card with a half dozen interesting matches and deserving athletes brawling the night away, we're seeing two events that split the exciting feuds and workers. It's not a time and place I'm anxious to see return.

This month's PPV from Smackdown is just a touch more promising than the card they presented at the now-infamous Judgment Day a month and a half back. The main event is the same, but the US and Cruiserweight titles are the objects of a little more heated competition. The undercard is still some of the most forgettable crap I've seen in years. There's no excuse for a card with such a lack of depth, especially considering the level of talent floating around in the pool right now (both on and off the Smackdown roster). Despite a couple good-looking matches, this show isn't worth the price of a full PPV. If they're going to limit themselves to half a roster-per-show, they should cut the price of the events accordingly.

Kenzo Suzuki vs. Billy Gunn

I've no idea what they're thinking with Kenzo Suzuki. I have yet to see anything redeemable from the man thus far, but then again I guess he hasn't exactly been given the time or excuse to do much more than grunt, stare at the crowd and perform his weak, dated offense. I guess, if I had to say one nice thing about him, it's that his finisher isn't totally awful. I was scared to death he was going to start employing the dreaded "claw" when he grabbed Scotty 2 Hotty's face near the end of his Smackdown debut match, but fortunately enough he turned it into a kind of modified leg sweep. Controlling the head as it's thrust into the ground? Hey, it's more credible than the F-5, which puts most of the force of its impact on the opponent's torso. You're not gonna knock a guy out by spinning him around and then putting him down.

I'm getting off track, aren't I? Anyway, this match doesn't look like it's giving Suzuki any more of a reason to impress than his first pair of fights has. Billy Gunn has accomplished everything he's ever going to by this point, and something inside of me says Kenzo has as well. Suzuki's newer, though, and they seem intent on pushing him as a serious heel so he gets the nod. Cover your eyes and your ears during this match. You'll thank me later.
Winner: Kenzo Suzuki

Torrie Wilson vs. Sable

Wow. What insightful, dramatic, attention-grabbing booking. Torrie and Sable have a match this Sunday, and instead of just throwing them in there to dance around in their thongs (which is really the only value they have to the roster right now... and is debatable in Sable's case) they actually waste the time to book them a short feud (over an Uncle Sam outfit, no less) and put them in a match. I wasn't a fan of Sable in the height of her popularity, and I'm even less of one today. I used to enjoy seeing Torrie around during her WCW days, admittedly, but she's been involved with so much dull, insultingly bad stuff since coming to Vince country that I'm having trouble remembering why. The only way this match will be successful in my eyes is if it's granted a last second "loser retires" stipulation. In which case... go Torrie!
Winner: Torrie Wilson

Rey Mysterio (c) vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr.
WWE Cruiserweight Title

The first of two fresh, exciting midcard championship matches. I enjoyed seeing Chavo Sr. as much as anyone, but I've got to admit that putting the Cruiserweight title on him was a big mistake and his departure is nothing more than a blessing in disguise for his son. With any luck, the bookers will take the hint that the division's supposed to be about stuff like this match and not womanizing old men, worthless former challengers for the women's title and rushed, multiple-participant elimination matches. Chavo and Rey have been indirectly feuding for almost six months now, constantly reminding us that they've got a bug up their ass about one another since long before WrestleMania but never really getting a chance to do anything about it without outside interference or other challengers getting in the way.

I'd love to see Chavo take his belt back here, as his work has been a brilliant light in the midst of an extremely dark, depressing 2004 Cruiserweight division (don't get me wrong, either, that's through no fault of the workers who are left sitting on the sidelines) but I think Chavo Sr's exit only served to hurry the eventual conclusion of the three way they were originally building toward in this slot. Rey would lose a lot of credibility if he dropped the title so quickly after winning it, which is why I'm taking him here.
Winner: Rey Mysterio

John Cena (c) vs. Rene Dupree vs. Booker T. vs. Rob Van Dam
Fatal Four Way Elimination Match for the United States Title

Truthfully, I've been pleasantly surprised by the build to this one. This is basically the entire midcard of Smackdown that's worth a shit (cruiserweight non-inclusive) and they're each going after the second biggest belt on the show. There's no question in my mind that either Booker or RVD should be in the main event right now, challenging Eddie in Bradshaw's place, but this, I suppose, is the next best thing. Angle's disdain for Cena has been portrayed interestingly, as he favors just about anyone who's challenging for the title regardless of heel / face status. I loved the gauntlet matches Cena went through on Smackdown a couple weeks ago, even though he blew up midway through the second one, and the elimination format this Sunday should give him a bit of a break in that department.

I love elimination style matches. Make no mistake about it. I love them even more when I have no idea how the order of elimination is going to go down, as is the case with this one. Any one of these guys could walk out carrying the US Title without throwing everyone for a loop. The storyline seems to lean toward Cena or Dupree, though, and I don't think Dupree's ready yet. The grandmaster retains.
Winner: John Cena

Undertaker vs. Dudley Boyz
Concrete Crypt Match

I really don't care about this match, or the angle around which it's been hurriedly built. Paul Heyman was finally starting to do something interesting with the Dudley Boys, motivating them violently even when they seemed to have come out victorious and making them legitimate threats as heels when they more than likely would've just fallen back on their stale old heel act after their stale old face act had come to a close. Now that he's nonsensically gone after the Undertaker (and all his mystical powers) the whole story just seems contrived and stupid. The Undertaker gimmick as a whole just doesn't belong in today's WWE, where the emphasis is more on personality and ability, and a guy like Paul Heyman looks really out of place holding an urn and magically controlling a walking zombie. If The Undertaker were really going to do "the right thing," he'd hang up his boots before this match.
Winners: The Dudley Boys

Eddie Guerrero (c) vs. John Bradshaw Layfield
WWE Title: Texas Bullrope Match

It's really sad to see Eddie poisoned by such a crappy main event storyline. Even Chris Jericho's World Title run wasn't as poorly orchestrated as Eddie's has become in the months after WrestleMania, since Jericho at the very least had a good match to look forward to at the end of the road. Bradshaw looked better than I'd assumed he would in last month's main event, but he still didn't look good and the fact of the matter is Eddie needed to lose a gallon and a half of blood for anybody to even remember the match the next week. This story's been cruising around in circles, almost since it started, with Bradshaw coming out and saying something derogatory, Eddie taking exception and doing something stupid and then eventually paying the price before they do the whole damned thing again. This doesn't feel like a World Title-caliber match. This doesn't even feel like a US Title-caliber match, considering the build for that championship has been based on athletic ability.

Like I said last month, I don't think anybody really believes JBL has a chance here, and that's leading to a lot of viewer apathy toward the match. Well, that and the fact that it's Bradshaw. And he's wrestling. For a title. Guerrero has his work cut out for him here if he wants to put on a good show without slicing a river into his forehead again.
Winner: Eddie Guerrero

In Closing...

Like I said in the intro. Potential for two good-to-great matches and absolutely nothing else. Something needs to happen soon to shake things up, because this show is on life support. It needs talent, not gimmicks, and it needs a really exciting main event. Whoever's in charge seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction.
until next time, i remain

Monday, June 21, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 06/21/04

RAW was already on the right path even before this week's show kicked off. The Monday night giant had once again managed to promote a highly anticipated and unpredictable main event throughout the previous week's program, without infringing upon the rest of that particular show's needs. Bulding Triple H up as a master manipulator, using every bit of leeway Eugene gave him to his own advantage, the bookers had hit gold. The audience participation and reactions during last week's Highlight Reel confrontation told volumes; not only were they simultaneously feeling for Eugene and hating Triple H, they were really enjoying themselves while doing so. They enjoyed having clear-cut faces and heels to cheer and boo respectively. The show had successfully rebuilt substantial momentum going into this week's episode, after a couple weeks' worth of missteps and strange decisions. With a great showing this week, the program could finally jump back onto the fast track it had occupied only a few weeks ago and cruise all the way into Summerslam on the strength of the feuds that were already in place. This would be a defining moment for RAW, whether it was a positive episode or a negative one.

This week's episode kicked it off in high gear, trotting out the Rock almost before the opening theme had finished playing. I knew there were rumors that the guy would be showing up, but it's still difficult to overstate the thrill of seeing a big surprise right off the bat like that. Ultimately, this was probably the worst segment Rock's been involved with since the audience forced him to turn face about a year ago. He's starting to hit the cruise control in his monologues again, taking things further over the top than he should, concentrating on being "the cool guy" more than on being "the Rock," and unless he does something to shake that up again, the audiences will start to turn on him as soon as he appears more than once every six or seven weeks. With that said, I loved the face-off with Orton that followed his exercise in tire-spinning. Not so much the verbal sparring as the sheer electricity that shot back and forth between those two. That's a feud I'd pay good money to see unfold over a long set of months, no questions asked, and I think Orton's almost to the level that he could hold his own with "the great one." This was a hot way to kick off the show, but I was left wishing it had a little more substance.

Trish and Victoria had a few glimmers of hope in their match, but the majority of it was disjointed thanks to Tyson Tomko's presence at ringside. It seemed like every time Victoria would start to get the upper hand, she'd turn her attention to the "problem solver" without rhyme or reason. The kick the former champ hit Trish with near the end of the match was gorgeous, and it was followed by a beautiful moonsault, but Trish basically killed all of that by miraculously recovering a split second later, rolling Victoria up with a hand in the ropes and prancing around the ring victorious. Jesus, at least TRY to sell the near falls.

Did everyone except JR, Jerry Lawler and Victoria herself recognize smilin' Stevie Richards in that outrageous red wig and shimmering golden dress after the match? They could really get him somewhere by turning him full heel, berating her for abandoning him after her rise to glory / face turn and treating her like shit whenever their eyes crossed paths... but that doesn't really work if he's too busy throwing shoes and dressing like a woman. These bookers just make me shake my head sometimes.

William Regal looked great in the fourteen seconds we got of him opposite Kane this week. It's refreshing to see somebody who's actually energetic to be involved with a match again, and Regal was doing everything within his power to make Kane's offense look like a million bucks. The best part is this aids Kane's reputation without doing much of anything to damage Regal's, since the announcers made certain to mention the fact that this was his first match in over a year and a half. I can't argue with this logic, and I can't wait to see Regal back in the ring again on a regular basis.

The Evolution vs. Floridian Canadians match wasn't the best I'd seen all week, but it also managed to tell a necessary, compelling story. Jericho was rolling again this week, hitting all of his spots before the big clothesline spot that took his head off and forcibly removed him from the match. Batista's reaction to Jericho's condition really made the injury seem legitimate, (to the point that I'm still uncertain it was staged) trying to dead lift the downed athlete, looking at the referee blankly and then running to his corner to hide like an animal that knows it's done something wrong. If Y2J's KO wasn't in the script for this match, the rest of the fight's booking substituted for it infallibly. Evolution, Batista especially, came out of that match looking exactly like the kind of dominating, physically intimidating monsters they should be right now. Orton came out looking like the mastermind, picking his shots and taking advantage of a very late Batista powerbomb. I liked the messages they sent with this match; a common maneuver like a lariat could potentially end any fight, one athlete (no matter how successful) will ALWAYS have a hard time trying to defeat two opponents at once, and Evolution is a dangerous coalition to piss off. This wasn't a great match, but it wasn't bad and the booking was difficult to fault.

Words can't really do justice to how stupid this Kane / Lita / Matt thing continues to be. None of them are what I'd call decent actors, even calling them passable is a stretch, and I doubt even Oscar award winners couldn't take this awkward-ass storyline and make it work. Imagine that, Robert DeNiro is proposing to Jodie Foster in a public place. It'd almost be romantic, if it weren't for the thousands of loud, jeering spectators. Jodie's overcome with emotion when DeNiro takes a knee, and then... holy shit! Orson Welles is drunk, and he's on the Titan Tron! "Lita... Liiiiitaaaa...." Is this going to spell good things for any one of the workers involved with the storyline? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Finally, the main event. The show was pretty tame up to this point, with a lot of emphasis being placed on the match itself and the developments contained therein... and it wasn't a good sign when the audience suddenly split 50-50 on Eugene. There's no question he wasn't nearly as popular in Miami last night as he'd been in other regions previously, and it's got to do with more than the big "Eugene Sucks" sign(s) near the front row. A good section of the arena was getting into his gimmick, but a notable portion was either silent or completely against him. That was strike one.

The match itself really, REALLY didn't deliver. They worked an overly gimmicky match, based more off of Eugene's memories of the most ridiculous offensive maneuvers in history than his supposed abilities as a decent technician. That's one of the biggest problems I've had with his run thus far; he's been priceless in promos and backstage segments, but he's been really stupid and comedic in the ring. That's fun for a week or two, but to see him still doing it a month after his debut is worrisome. Triple H looked like an idiot, allowing Eugene to "hulk up" or catch him in an airplane spin, and considering Hunter's credibility on the program, that's a really really bad thing to see. Strike two.

Finally, the conclusion just made no sense whatsoever. OK, you've got the continuing momentum of Eugene's friendship with Triple H, as well as a bump in the road with Chris Benoit. It didn't resolve anything, it didn't accomplish Eric Bischoff's goal of completely obliterating him and chasing him from the program (if anything, Eugene's more inclined to show up next week, to see why Benoit hit him) and it ended the program on a really cheap note. As the marquee match of this week's show, around which they'd promoted the entire episode, it failed. Strike three.

A really strange episode to take in. Everyone seemed to be treading water, holding back for the big main event, and when that fell flat it cast a dark shadow over the rest of the show. Had the booking of that single match been better, the execution more believable and the audience more interested, it could've saved the show. As is, it knocked it down a couple additional notches. I can't say this week's program was better than last week's, at least not with a clear conscience.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.5

Monday, June 14, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 06/14/04

Coming out of PPV is generally a very strange hurdle, one that's usually very difficult to predict before showtime. Sometimes the writers and talent will be so excited about the upcoming angles, new storyline twists and momentum that they'll rush right out with killer new material and great, entertaining matches to go along with it. Others, the Monday night show is more of an afterthought, a "cooling down period" to follow up the heights reached on the previous night's big show. It's really a hit-or-miss deal, as the writers either have something planned or they don't, or the fan reactions from the previous night were so opposite of what they'd expected that the entire plan is trashed and we start from scratch. It makes my role as a viewer a little more exciting, as there's that element of surprise thrown in, but at the same time it serves as nothing more than an excuse for a bad show much more often than I'd like.

To tell the truth, I really appreciated the opening segment with Triple H and Shawn Michaels; not because of the length of the segment, nor because of the eventual result, but because of the legitimacy it lent to last night's Hell in a Cell match. Probably the most important thing about a gimmick match like that isn't the build towards it, it's not the video segments hyping its history, it's not even the match itself... it's the repercussions and the lasting impact it has on the feud and the individuals. If Shawn and Hunter had worked their HIAC match last night, strolled out tonight with something to prove and picked up right where they left off with a heavy duty, ring-clearing brawl, the gimmick would've been meaningless. By visibly selling their injuries as near-crippling, by allowing their feud to end cleanly and by showing such respect for one another, despite the very personal war they'd just concluded, they reinforced the Cell's image as a final proving grounds. It's where feuds go to die, it's reserved for only the most ferocious of rivalries, and it's one hell of a gamble. Helmsley and Michaels knew that when they stepped through the curtain last night, and by selling their injuries so visibly and then appearing to be on the verge of making peace because of the end result, they did more for that gimmick's image than any big spot at Bad Blood could've. I just wish they'd pay this same kind of attention to ladder matches and regular cage matches.

The Kane / Michaels beatdown went on way too long for my liking, and truthfully made absolutely no sense. They opened the show with a great establishment of Kane's frustration at losing his title shot and accompanying status as number one contender, so he stormed out to the ring at the earliest opportunity, destroyed the first guy he saw, and... completely ignored the new number one contender, who was standing directly opposite from the target of Kane's aggravation. I can understand why they'd want him to focus on Shawn, or to keep him away from Hunter, but the way they handled it was just asinine. There were dozens of better ways they could've handled that, from Trips shoving HBK into the monster's path to Hunter simply escaping from the ring when he saw that Kane's attention had been diverted. Anything but what they did, which was for Kane to basically give Hunter his blessing as the new challenger.

The mixed tag between Lita / Matt and Trish / Tomko took the ring next, and was little more than a collection of bad spots and ugly confrontations between the ladies. Matt wasn't up to the task of carrying the new guy to anything watchable last night, although the majority of the blame can't exactly be placed on his shoulders. I still haven't seen anything more than a good, physical look from Tyson, and there are hundreds of guys looking for work out there who match his physical specifications and could wrestle a circle around him.

Great unintentional bit of comedy from Bischoff last night, cutting himself off as Triple H stormed into his office; "I'll give you three guesses as to what just happened: KANE!"

Thank god I TiVo'd RAW yet again (shill! shill! Just like RAW, I know the power of the shill!)... I'm sure that endless Joe Schmo 2 segment was much more bearable for me than it was for everybody else.

La Resistance has been really good lately, but they're just running them into the ground again with all these nationality-central angles, gimmicks and storylines. It's one thing to give a team the win (and the emotional boost) by putting them over in their "home town," but it's something else entirely to saddle them with the "lol lol wrestler singing his own national anthem is a really bad singer" gimmick, then involve them in a flag match or "us vs. the US" match every other week. It was a step in the right direction to allow Dupree to take the French thing to Smackdown with him and transplant the remaining members to Quebec, but it was a couple of steps backwards to leave their gimmick unaltered, save for the design on the flag they wave.

I was an enormous Shane Helms fan from the debut of Three Count in WCW, all the way up to his discovery of the Hurricane gimmick during the Invasion, but even I have to admit I'm bored to death of him right now. This alliance with Rosey needs to crawl off and die somewhere, or at least move forward in some way, shape or form, because nobody's buying them as a valid tag team or as singles and their careers are on life support. I'm so blinded by my dislike for their gimmicks and their total lack of storyline progression, I've stopped noticing Shane's outstanding work in the ring.

I kept waiting for Lita to go totally over the top and talk directly into the camera during her backstage pregnancy test. "Stacey, please don't tell Matt about this... I want to be the one who lets him know. And that goes DOUBLY for you folks at home! Can you keep a secret? Pleaaaase?" (Cue ridiculous camera nodding motions, a'la the glory days of Totally Pauly.) Seriously, this shit with the phantom cameraman is getting out of hand. Whatever happened to subtlety and allusion in storytelling? Why do they have to spell it out for us with this mythical, invisible entity every single time?

I'm having a tough time admitting this, but I was wrong about Eugene. Again. Not only has his gimmick not reached the lip, it's searching for new heights. Last night's segment in the Highlight Reel, first with just Y2J and Regal, then later with all of Evolution, was simply outstanding. The little ways the writers keep finding of sliding him into ongoing stories and situations have just been flawless. His memory for events I'd honestly forgotten about has been almost universally appropriate and entertaining. If they can just find a way to progress his work in the ring from comedy to serious competition, he'll be one of the most well-rounded characters on the show, and it looks like they've got a key opportunity to do just that in his match with Triple H next week. Hunter was playing his role extremely well during this segment, too, underlying almost everything he said with threats and jabs at Regal and Jericho while keeping Eugene's attention on his gifts. He had that crowd eating out of his hand when he told Eugene to count "1, 2, 3, Pedigree" and it was truly a marvelous thing to see. Likewise, Jericho and Regal were spot on throughout the little meet-and-greet, with Regal particularly speaking volumes with his facial expressions. No matter where the Eugene story takes Nick Dinsmore in the months down the line, there's no denying the positive impact it's had for Regal's character. I can't wait for the day he finally snaps and tears into someone in Eugene's defense.

There's really no excuse for Stacey being involved in a match at this point in her career, even if it's tapping out to a credible submission like she was last night. It's been established dozens of times that she has no clue what she's doing in there, and the best possible use for her is as a valet, lending her instant popularity with the audience to someone who needs it. This was a horrible little match between the ladies, with Gail firmly going over. All of my hopes and dreams about a turnaround for the women's division were, apparently, for naught.

Finally, the main event... and what a fucking main event. I'm a sucker for elimination style matches as it is, so thay had me from the opening bell regardless of the length, order of elimination and whatnot. Everybody was really nailing their spots in this one, working to make this one of the best matches of the year so far and stretching the overtime to the very limit. In terms of booking, everything made sense about this match yet it wasn't something I'd say was overly predictable. Batista, the biggest guy in the ring, was eliminated first... but only after taking three finishing maneuvers in rapid succession. Randy Orton was quick-minded and physically speedy enough to use his RKO twice in legally-questionable situations, while the ref's back was turned. Ric Flair worked the bulk of the match and managed to keep up with the competition much better than I'd thought he would. Seriously, the guy's conditioning has improved noticeably over the last month, and even though he's still not the best physical specimen in the fed, his know-how, determination and understanding of the live crowd make him a valuable addition to the roster. Even Triple H, who wasn't technically involved in the match, was logically handled. He got involved on very few occasions, but when he did risk disqualification with a helping hand, it made an impact. Hell, it even made sense for a single Benoit suplex to take him out of the equation at the end of the match, as he'd been selling his injuries from last night's match all night long.

Likewise, each of the faces were handled logically. Jericho was working his ass off for his team, but fell to a well-timed RKO when his teammates were out of the ring. A more cohesive unit, like Evolution, would've kept their heads up for such an occasion, but since this was the first time these three had tagged together, they had no such familiarity. Edge worked a brash, risky style throughout the match, often taking chances he probably shouldn't have, and he ultimately paid the price in the form of another RKO. And Benoit proved his mettle as a champion by not only being involved in two falls last night, but by repeating the performance with another pair tonight. He came out looking like a million bucks, as a World Champ should, and drew an easily visible line between the level of athleticism required of an Intercontinental Champion and the level necessary to be World Champ. This was just a beautifully written and executed main event that managed to tell a tremendous, dramatic story without stepping on any toes along the way. And I loved that it went so far beyond eleven o'clock, when the standard had generally been to wrap it up before five after. This keeps the audience guessing and lends a great sense of tension to any main event in the near future, as the fall could truthfully come more than twenty minutes after the show was expected to finish up.

Just a quick note, before I stamp the show with my seal of approval: Evolution is the lifeblood of this program. They're such a strong heel stable that they bring instant heat to their matches, and have given the current crop of faces (many of which are experiencing sizable pushes for the first time in their careers) a great roster of heels to bounce off of. They win enough to remain at the top of the card, but lose enough to remain fallible in the audience's eyes. They're each sound enough in the ring to take the quality up a notch, and if they weren't around at the moment, RAW would be a completely different ballgame. All of these incredible main events we've been enjoying since WrestleMania? Take a look back and note how many of them featured a member of Evolution. No offense meant to Chris Benoit, obviously, as he's done much more than his fair share and makes an excellent champion, but the importance of Triple H and company cannot be overstated right now.

Despite the sensational main event and a memorable Highlight Reel, I can't lie and claim this week's RAW was better than last week's. Aside from the obvious exceptions, this was a pitiful episode that told the wrong stories, focused on the wrong individuals and really didn't make a whole lot of sense. One match and one promo can only carry a grade so far.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.1

Friday, June 11, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Bad Blood 2004 Preview

It's been a rocky, entertaining couple of months for RAW. From last month's free-TV supercard that was judged by many to have been superior to Smackdown's full price PPV, all the way through several unanimously applauded episodes to the settling process seen over the last couple weeks of airtime, it's been quite a journey for the members of the Oratory RAW Review Crew. And, if the trend established just before and after WrestleMania XX is to be trusted, it would appear that things are just about ready to start rolling again in the world of Monday night wrestling. Summerslam isn't getting any further away, and once they get this show behind them and blow off a couple of the small feuds currently under way, things could get very interesting in a very short period of time.

That's not to say this is a bad collection of matches, per se. It's easy to see the wisdom in putting World Champion Chris Benoit in two matches on the same card, considering the kind of miracles he's worked for RAW as a whole, and the Hell in a Cell match is definitely something worth getting excited over. It's just that the brand extension has finally begun to stretch a bit thin and the rosters are becoming visibly worn. The draft lottery helped to shake things up for the few workers fortunate enough to have been traded, but the constant repetition of the same names opposite the same opponents is starting to cause a bit of concern on both shows.

World Tag Team Titles
La Resistance (c) vs. Chris Benoit & Edge

This should be quite good, honestly. Benoit and Conway have proven they can work extremely well together over the last month, and both members of La Resistance have turned it up a notch in their climb back to the top of the Tag Team ranks. They've toned down the campiness of their "angry foreigner" gimmick to the point that they're now somewhat credible and believable and they're functioning much better as a tandem unit in the ring. I like the way they've played up the tensions between Benoit, Edge and their opponents over the last couple weeks, to the point that you can't truthfully predict exactly who will be pinning who this Sunday night. Benoit and Edge could easily pick up this win without killing the respectability of the belts, and La Resistance could cleanly score a victory without diminishing the importance of Benoit's World Title defense later in the night. This mini-feud has been a perfect example of subtle, non-confrontational storyline development and booking. I'll go with La Resistance to win, with Benoit and Edge having further miscommunication and nearly coming to blows after the second bell. Conway and Grenier have a chance to repair RAW's tag division, and it wouldn't make as much sense to put the belts back onto the former champs right now.
Winners: La Resistance

Eugene vs. Jonathan Coachman

The Eugene gimmick's topped out. At this point, at least, there's nothing more they can really do with the guy apart from facing him off with William Regal with Regal's working papers at stake. This quick series of face-offs with Coach and company have given Bischoff's nephew a solid villain to oppose, but they've also run their course. It doesn't do anyone any favors to put Coach over Eugene this Sunday night, while it signifies the end of that brief running feud if Eugene grabs the win. I haven't been as overly impressed with Dinsmore's abilities in the ring as I'd thought I would be, and opposing a guy who's much better suited outside the ring than within, like Coach, won't deliver the big breakthrough match he needs to move any further up the card. Audiences still adore him, but even that window of opportunity is on the verge of passing if they're not very careful with him from here on out. Eugene takes the win, and I'm curious to see where the plan to take him next.
Winner: Eugene

Victoria (c) vs. Gail Kim vs. Trish Stratus vs. Lita
Women's Title

Oh, but if they'd only learned not to fix things that aren't already broken. Near the end of 2003, this was a healthy, competitive, talented roster of women with a simple, common storyline threading them all together; they each wanted the Women's Title. Sure, the stories were occasionally a little more involved than that (remember Gail and Molly's alliance to destroy Trish?) but even those minor sidestories were manageable and only worked to strengthen the entire division. Then the bottom dropped out. Molly, a champion who'd done a tremendous job of defending her title, was beaten regularly and eventually saddled with Kurt Angle's old "wig" gimmick. Victoria, who had busted her ass developing a worthless gimmick into something genuinely unique, was abruptly turned face and given a stale face title reign. Lita was returned to regular competition. Jazz was forgotten. Trish was removed from the division all together. Not good times.

This Sunday represents an opportunity to return to form. Over the past couple weeks, that theme of competition and unpredictability has returned to the lagging Women's Championship. Gail Kim has reinvented herself and improved her game. Trish has returned to competition, bringing with her a new heel attitude. Anyone could walk out of this match as champion and hold the belt with credibility. This won't be the best women's match of all time, but I'm willing to bet that it also won't be the worst. I'll go with Gail.
Winner: Gail Kim

Tyson Tomko vs. Chris Jericho

This feud just feels really hollow to me. With Christian out of action, the Jericho / Tomko rivalry lost its one big connection, and shifted the story itself from "I can't beat you, but I've found someone who can" to the old standby "Hey, I don't like you... watch now as I beat the holy hell out of you for no reason." Y2J's been very motivated recently, particularly during the last couple months, but I really don't think he's going to be able to get a great debut out of Tyson here. It's still a little too early to be casting judgment over the guy's abilities between the ropes, since he's yet to physically debut in a match on RAW, but I remain confident it's way too soon to be pushing him into the upper midcard. But, because there's no justice in the world, he'll be getting the nod this Sunday night. Jericho has too much going against him here, between Trish's presence, his on-screen rib injuries and the obvious difference in size. Either they give Tyson the "V" and the feud drags on or they legitimately surprise me and push Jericho back toward the main event.
Winner: Tyson Tomko

Randy Orton (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin
Intercontinental Title

I don't know what to say about this match. Both of these guys have "future champion" written all over them, they're both just dripping with potential but they're both the owners of no small amount of flaws. Watching the two of them in singles action opposite other athletes, you'd think they'd be a perfect fit for one another, but seeing them in the ring with one another tells another story entirely. It could have been that they just had a collective off night when they met a couple weeks back on RAW. Or it could be that they were saving all of their big, crowd pleasing spots, transitions and exchanges for the crowd this Sunday on PPV. It could have been any number of things, but what sticks out in my mind is they didn't really look all that impressive together. There's the potential for a really electric, memorable feud here, but for whatever reason it's just not happening. It feels like somebody's holding back, like they're afraid to make the commitment it takes to get this over the hump and into the crowd's mind. I get the idea that this feud will be carrying over to Summerslam and perhaps even beyond, so I can't honestly take Shelton here. Orton needs the legit defense to add credibility to his reign, and he seems to be much more of a complete package at this point than Benjamin. With any luck, the real heat hasn't yet been turned on with this feud.
Winner: Randy Orton

Chris Benoit (c) vs. Kane
World Heavyweight Title

I like this match. This is exactly the kind of match that Chris Benoit needed at this point in his reign. This is the kind of match that Chris Benoit has sculpted into something beautiful in several instances throughout his career. The quality of this match will surprise you. The champion's character has always been focused on the uphill battle, on continuing to fight when all seems lost. In strikingly similar situations, he's told incredible stories opposite the Big Show, both in singles action and at the end of the 2003 Royal Rumble. Judging just from their few short encounters in the ring together, he and Kane could have something really interesting planned for us this Sunday. They've been highlighting all the right aspects of this one; Benoit's ability to reverse anything, even the chokeslam, into his Crippler Crossface, as well as Kane's ability to power out of even that devastating submission maneuver. Naturally, because of his track record over the last year and a half, Kane doesn't seem to be as much of a threat to Benoit's title as, say, Triple H. That doesn't mean this can't still be an exciting, dramatic, back-and-forth war. Give it a chance and I guarantee it'll deliver.
Winner: Chris Benoit

Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
Hell In A Cell Match

What is this, the third "final encounter" these two have had together? I'm tempted to shout "Get it over with, already" but then I realize that's more than likely what they're setting out to do here. If this doesn't end within the confines of that cell Sunday, it's never going to end. They've covered so much ground with this feud, done so many matches together, that this match should have ever reason to succeed beyond even our own wildest expectations. It has to, because I'm betting this is the last time the crowd will be truly excited to see these two fighting at the top of the card. I'm intrigued to see just what Shawn's cooked up for us here, what he's willing to do, and what kind of damage Hunter will deal out to him. Neither one of these guys have lost a singles Hell in a Cell match; Michaels practically invented it, setting the bar extremely high with his participation in the first ever HIAC, and Hunter all but perfected it, using it as a last resort and winning in dominating fashion. It's really tough to pick a winner between the two of them; Shawn seems to have the crowd support to challenge for Chris Benoit's title this summer, but Hunter has the on-screen momentum and perhaps a lengthier future in his favor. I'll go with HBK, but I'm far from certain in that prediction.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

In Closing...

Looking back, my initial assessments were correct. This really does just feel like a placeholder card, full of short feuds and miniature rivalries, with the one notable exception being Michaels vs. Triple H. This is a sound card, and I'm surprised to see Batista, Tajiri and Ric Flair not involved in some way, and it's more than likely going to produce a fair number of good matches. It's not something I'm tremendously excited about, but it's also not something I'm loathing the thought of. It's just kind of... there. If it weren't for that main event, I don't know if I'd be able to distinguish it from a title-heavy episode of RAW. And I'm not really sure if that's a dig at this PPV so much as it is a congratulations to RAW.
until next time, i remain

Monday, June 7, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 06/07/04

Jeez, how did Bad Blood sneak up on us like that? That was my thought at bell time last night, anyway, and from the looks of things it's somewhat along the same lines of the bookers' trains of thought as well. RAW's still chugging along in the wake of that unimaginably good string of shows last month, and I'm probably being a little too harsh in saying the writers hadn't fully prepared for Bad Blood 2K4. All things considered, they had half the card set in stone last month and this isn't even a big four PPV. What I was getting at was this episode seemed a little hurried, especially as time wound down on its closing moments, where they were treading water to kill time just a couple of weeks back.

Stacey Kiebler kicks things off for us, surprisingly, wandering out to the ring on her own to promote the upcoming deadline for the £159,456,000 diva bikini talent search challenge or whatever. I'm still a bit surprised that they haven't made mention of the fact this is how WCW discovered Stacey in the first place, especially since she's been the only gal on RAW thus far involved with the contest's promotion. I guess they want to eliminate any trace of the fact that she was once one of us, looking in from the outside, but on that same hand she's a pretty solid example of what a successful run as a diva / valet in the federation can do for a girl's reputation. This should've been on Experience this weekend or something, not in the leadoff position for RAW, and set the tone for a very strange episode.

Lita and Gail kicked things off from there, and honestly managed to put forward an impressive little match considering their respective reputations in the ring. There were a few little slip-ups here and there, but nothing too brutal. I'm enjoying this shift of focus on Gail's technique from the high flying she debuted with to a slower, more grounded submission style. The majority of this one was focused more on Gail destroying Lita's leg, which was a good call considering Lita's limitations in the ring, and I liked the explosive, sickening DDT that finished the match off. It's cool to see a match conclude suddenly with a convincing move like that, it teaches the audience that the end could come at any moment and the pinfall doesn't necessarily need to come immediately following a signature maneuver. The trend that "anyone could conceivably win the belt on any night in the Women's division" continues, leading to a logical four-way at the PPV. It's strange to think about, but I'm actually getting excited about this division again despite all the negative progress it's made over the last six months. Things have certainly been worse.

I wasn't quite as impressed with Batista / Benjamin, but I was also expecting more of them. Shelton's starting to lose steam now that he appears to have settled in for the long haul. They need to concoct a hook, a recognizable personality or a really hot angle for this guy, quick. And I mean something beyond the whole "oh, oh, can he beat every member of Evolution in singles matches?" thing they're running him through right now. He's working (and winning) the right matches, but he isn't getting an opportunity to stand out as an individual. Everything about his promotion is cookie cutter and bland, from the tame entrance package, theme song and pre-fight graphics to his choice in offensive maneuvers. Bringing the stinger splash back as a major part of your offense? Come on, man. He's obviously a sound technician in the ring, but he's missing one or two big, impressive crowd-pleasers to tie the whole package together and round him out. The match was by-the-numbers, nothing more, nothing less.

The little backstage segment with Benoit and Edge trading mild barbs was well done, adding a bit of tension to Benoit (and later Edge)'s match later that evening. This is what we need to see more of... a quick little backstage segment to add a touch of extra interest and drama to an important match later on the card. Didn't take more than a minute and a half, but it gave a little push to the semi-main event and kept viewers interested in upcoming matches on the card.

Hear the audience's reaction to the brief backstage face-off between Kane and Tyson Tomko? That's something to look into in the near future... Kane's been slowly turning face over the last month, merely because of his bad ass, don't-give-a-damn attitude and a couple chance staredowns with other large guys on the RAW roster. The crowd doesn't always come in the front door to see two hours of theatrics, backstage vignettes, complex storylines and shocking changes in character... sometimes they just want to watch two monsters tear into each other. I'd be lying if I said I shared their enthusiasm about Tomko and Kane in the ring together, but it's the thought that counts. It doesn't always require two and a half years' worth of backstory to build a feud. Sometimes thirty seconds of silence, a little tension and two imposing figures will do the trick just as well.

A-Train was really putting forth an effort out there last night in his first match since returning to RAW, but it just wasn't gonna happen. He and Jericho were on different pages for one thing, and the match was over before the three minute mark for another. The Walls looked surprisingly weak last night, Jericho didn't even bend the Train's knees to sit down on it. It'd be really disturbing to compare last night's "Walls of Jericho" with the "Liontamers" he was applying to Juventud Guerrera and Rey Mysterio back in WCW. It can't even be called a Boston Crab any more. Before long he'll just be laying down, chest first on top of the other guy, hooking his opponent's feet under his arms and shouting "tap! tap!"

Hey! After months of asking why it never happens, they finally did it! They took a commercial break during a Triple H promo instead of during a big match!

I've got to applaud the way they've built La Resistance over the last couple of weeks, (well, aside from reintroducing the pre-match serenade to their repertoire. Seriously, first they're singing France's National Anthem and now they're singing Canada's?) as they've developed from an afterthought into a credible tandem in just the bat of an eye. Every bit of the booking in La Resistance's last two matches has been phenominal, from the location and method of their Title win to the way last night's match played out. They pinned Edge last week, while Chris Benoit had dominated his portion of the match, so Bischoff rewards them by giving them the Crippler alone this week. Benoit, as World Champion, naturally holds his own for the first portion of this week's match and then starts to lag when fatigue begins to set in. They're making stars out of Conway and Grenier without destroying Benoit and / or Edge's legitimacy in the process.

I really enjoyed the set of matches we got this week. Benoit and Conway work very well together, and though I can't say the same for the champ and Grenier, their interactions were kept to a minimum. I LOVED the inventive full nelson in the ropes that Conway pulled out, and Benoit sold it perfectly. Edge's interference came out of left field, but you've gotta like Bischoff's immediate attempts to restore order by adding Kane to the match. The final moments of this match were about as solid an unspoken build for a World Title match as you can ask for. Benoit hit both of his big finishing maneuvers on the monster, and Kane sat up from one and powered out of the other... but the point could be argued that Benoit had just wrestled two matches, and his finishers didn't have quite the same emphasis behind them as usual. The champ still looks able, but the challenger is beginning to cast some doubt over the outcome of the upcoming title match. This set of handicap matches was exactly what I wanted to see, and I can't wait to see Benoit pulling double duty again this Sunday night.

Eugene's just about hit the lid of his potential at the moment. There was no reason to kill the successful Bischoff / Nitro coalition in that fashion and the joke of Eugene recycling old workers' most contrived, silly spots is starting to wear a little thin. They've surprised the hell out of me by taking the gimmick as far as they have thus far, but it's time for something new.

OK, I'll admit to snickering at the JYD "piss on your opponent" spot, but that was more for Nitro's instant flailings and face-wipings, as though he'd honestly just had piss on his face.

Finally, main event time, which I only caught bits and pieces of. Michaels and Orton were their usual above-average selves, but something felt like it was missing here. Neither guy was looking to go for the kill, perhaps because they're both working high profile matches deep on the card this Sunday night. This felt a little slow until Batista came down to ringside and seemed to legitimately crush HBK's noggin up against the ringpost. That one looked even nastier from the alternate angle, and either Shawn's got a transparent third arm that he used to deflect the blow or he hit really hard. After the bladejob, things seemed to pick up with the match itself. They worked to a weird finish, with Batista nonsensically sliding into the ring and taking the fight to HBK right in front of the ref. This was too long for what it went out there to accomplish, and it resulted in a match that moved too slowly to do much good.

After the bell, HBK went haywire and single handedly destroyed Evolution. Can't say why, but I enjoyed every bit of that. Michaels was waging a one-man war on these guys, and somehow managed to come out on top in convicing fashion. What can I say, I love it when faces completely lose their minds and destroy everything in sight, from his opponent to their buddies to the ref to the security guards. That would've been a really fun conclusion to see live, with Michaels sailing into the crowd, obliterating Ric Flair on the staircase in a confrontation only the Nature Boy could pull off and pulling Hunter out of his skybox and into the audience to brawl. One of those rare occasions when the electricity of the arena itself really translated to the home viewing audience, and it made the final moments of the show seem that much more entertaining. Great final hard-sell for the Hell in a Cell match this Sunday.

And once again I'm left with the conclusion that this was above average, although not above and beyond the call of duty. The booking's been on and off lately, with writers hitting homeruns for La Resistance, Benoit / Kane, Shawn Michaels and Evolution but just killing time with Lita / Kane, Shelton Benjamin, Eugene and Chris Jericho. The good seemed to outweigh the bad here, despite the overwhelming sensation that everyone involved with this week's RAW was half-assing it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.5