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.
Victoria (c) vs. Gail Kim vs. Trish Stratus vs. Lita
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
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
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