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.
Overall Score: 6.5