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.
Overall Score: 5.1