I'm sure if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes I'd be killing myself for saying so, but that opening game of musical chairs was genuinely one of the funniest things I've seen on RAW in recent memory. Ric Flair absolutely made that whole segment, from the initial fury over being involved in such a stupid stipulation (and the subsequent, anger-dripping removal of his sports coat) to his eventual enjoyment of it (doing the Flair strut to wild fanfare behind Stacey) to his determination to win near the end (throwing Kiebler to the floor even though she didn't seem to have much of a chance anyway). Flair's character work over the last few months has been utterly breathtaking, as he runs a gamut of emotions with staggering ease and no lack of credibility. There aren't (m)any guys on the roster who can work such successful comedy one moment and then turn around and fire up some crippling intensity the next, but Flair does it effortlessly. I'm really happy to see him slowly moving away from an active role in the ring, even though he's teaming with Eugene this Sunday, and focusing more on selling the action in the ring as a manager / mouthpiece. The guy knows how to read a crowd like no other, and lending some of his heat to Randy Orton or Batista will do nothing but good for Evolution as a whole.
Truth be told, that entire musical chairs segment was just WAY too good to be true. It made sense as a means for selecting a challenger later in the night, since Eugene was the one doing the booking, it put Jericho over as a quick thinker in front of probably the loudest crowd support he'll ever enjoy, it gave Flair, Tajiri and Coach a stage upon which to showcase their comedic assets and it ended up delivering a solid match later in the night. This was a great, lighthearted way to start RAW. I wouldn't want to see it trotted out there every other week, but for a one-time joke, this was very successful.
I was impressed with Rhyno's hunger for action last week, when he was tossed out there as an afterthought alongside Sergeant Slaughter, but I can't say the same for this week's match. No question about it, he was still busting his ass out there, aching for a chance to make a serious run once again, but something just wasn't clicking between he and Venis. They obviously didn't function as a team, since this is the first time I can recall ever seeing them together (off the top of my head, at least) but the match as a whole left me feeling underwhelmed. I honestly have a lot of faith in the abilities of Conway, Venis and Rhyno, but they didn't give me anything to justify those opinions last night. Still, I like that they're giving the tag division a bit more focus, with Rhyno seeming to begin a weekly hunt for the titles.
Unlike the musical chairs number, I thought the bits with Eugene's office and his decisions therein were overkill and not really all that funny in the first place. I can understand the need to give a little more attention to the commissioner this week, since it was a one time thing, but the combined exposure of that role plus his spot in the main event was too much for me to handle. If I'd ordered this program as a dish in a fine restaurant, I'd send it back to the chef, complaining "Too much Eugene." Well... it sounded good in my head, anyway. Damn this stream of consciousness writing style.
Edge and Triple H's face-off wasn't doing anything for me, and I know I'm not in the majority in saying so. I've never had a problem with Edge, just to get the records cleared, and I actually think the guy had the momentum to possibly become a main eventer when he went under the knife a year and a half back. He'd had a series of good to great matches with Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle, he had the crowd support and his character was at least somewhat fresh and entertaining. Since his return and subsequent trade to RAW, I haven't seen any of that. His matches haven't been even close to the level of those he'd had on Smackdown prior to his injury, his character's reverted into a dull, typical badass face and worst of all, his audience support is waning rapidly. Yet they keep putting him in situations like the one we saw last night, where the bookers are all but begging the audience to get behind him and chant his name... to little response. I still think the guy has all the tools to make a run of it at the top of the card, but they're all still sitting in his toolbox. If the very idea of standing up on his own to the most dominant, convincing heel faction in WWE history doesn't get a crowd behind him, it's time to do some serious re-evaluations about his use.
Kane and Batista didn't even get out of the gates before Matt Hardy caused an early disqualification, attempting to beat the life out of the big red machine. If they build Sunday's match like that, as though Hardy's got a chance if he catches Kane by surprise, uses his head and uses everything in the environment as a weapon, the match could surprise us all and really spin an interesting yarn. If they shove them out there to hit one another with cookie sheets, throw each other through tables and wrestle one another as though they're both over three hundred pounds, I'll be able to smell the stink from here.
I really liked what I saw of the Jericho / Orton match, but I've got to admit my attention was elsewhere during parts of it. The crowd was simply outstanding in this one, and really did their part in turning what would've been an okay match under normal circumstances into something special. This is why it's stupid to transplant everyone's location, since you'll never get as loud a reaction as when you put a guy in a major position on the card in his home town. Jericho and Orton have worked well together in tags in the past, and aside from the crappy, lame finish that carried over into their singles work here. I'd love to see an ongoing feud between these two, more for the promos than for the work, but the matches would be nothing to sneeze at either. And you've gotta love the return of the "come on baby" muscle cover.
I can't say I liked much of anything about the women's title match. Aside from the somewhat unpleasant surprise of putting Nidia over, (especially right in front of Molly like that) the booking was stupid and the match didn't get any time. I like the attempt to get Trish over as a serious heel, rather than a valet who also happens to be women's champion, but it seems to be too little too late since she'll be nursing that broken hand for the foreseeable future.
The main event wasn't bad at all. They told a great story here, with Benoit furious at Triple H and Flair for their promises earlier in the program and their ongoing manipulation of Eugene, and Evolution taking full advantage of the champ's uneasiness at facing off with Eugene himself. This wasn't technically as strong of a main event as we've been getting for the last few months, but the story and booking more than made up for it. Benoit and Triple H still have a significant beef with one another heading into Sunday's Title match, and Eugene's loyalties are still in question. They kept Benoit strong as the champion who had Hunter ready to tap before Dinsmore's intervention while not burying Hunter either. It's been argued that the crowd turned on Eugene midway through this match and upset all of the bookers' hard planning, but I'd disagree. There's no question in my mind the audience was supposed to boo Eugene, as he gave in to his darker side and assaulted the faces after a brief moment's thought. They weren't booing the gimmick or the storyline, they were booing the character's choice. They were engrossed in the story, and for that one moment before he decided to go ahead and break up the champion's sharpshooter with a steel chair, they were in stunned silence. That's the sign of a connection with the crowd, when they're holding their breath in anticipation of what's just around the corner. Not a bad match at all, though Dinsmore still hasn't shown me anything worthwhile and Edge is still a pale impression of what he was a year ago. I can't wait to see how the World Title match plays out Sunday night.
This was above average. The bookers are extremely hit and miss right now, tossing out some real shit one minute and following it up with a unbelievable, compelling drama the next. Last night they were more "hit" than "shit," but the balances weren't exactly tipped entirely in that direction. Better than last week, but still not far above average.
Overall Score: 5.65