I'm getting off track again (seems to be a trend). The point is, Vengeance featured Triple H and Chris Benoit in the main event, and we didn't get a clear winner. Eugene interfered, tainted the finish of the match and convoluted something that should've been crystal clear. I had major apprehensions going in that he'd be the central focus of the show, as usual, and that was casting a bad light on RAW even before the opening pyro had been lit.
And, right off the bat, my fears were justified by a backstage segment between Euge and the whole of Evolution. I actually didn't have a problem with this, since they had to pay off the angle they'd started in the main event last night and it effectively set a tense air for the rest of the night. You knew something was rotten, and you knew it had to come to a head sooner or later (or, rather, you did after you saw Randy Orton, Ric Flair and Batista's faces after Trips let him pass through their locker room unscathed) and you knew something was gonna go down. I'm enjoying the little hints of tension amongst the members of Evolution they're throwing in from time to time, as it makes their savage beatdowns a lot more believable (they need a way to release said tension without tearing the group apart, so the beatings they hand out are a little longer and more brutal than those of the other heels on the show) and Orton's body language in particular is making some great progress. He's still no Flair, but he's well on his way. All things considered, this was the opening segment they needed to air, confronting the issues of last night's main event and leading into the brawl that would close the show.
It felt strange to see Batista out there so soon after Evolution's backstage promo. Not sure why... maybe we're just conditioned to expect a lengthy walk between the backstage setting and the ring. I couldn't get crazily into Edge's defense against Evolution's big monster, but it was far from the worst outing from either guy. I really like that they're shaking up Edge's repertoire, reintroducing a lot of his self-titled maneuvers from the past so he's got a little more to work with near the end of a match than that notorious spear. Both of these guys seem to be in the right place on the card for the time being, as they're big enough names to merit upper midcard status but haven't honed their skills enough to be considered main event players. At the time it seemed weird that this was non-title, since defeating every member of Evolution with a belt on the line would add a little more salt to the wounds Edge seems bound and determined to inflict, but it made sense later on when we were told Benoit would be defending his title in the main event. What's the purpose of paying for Vengeance if almost all of the same belts will be on the line the very next night on free TV?
In case you're wondering, I haven't commented on the Diva Search segments yet because I TiVo RAW every week and skip right over them. They don't count as part of the program as far as I'm concerned. Go buy yourself a TiVo, kids! You too can scoot right past lengthy Joe Schmo promotional spots and needless, unrewarding T&A segments.
The Flair / Helms interactions were incredible, incredible stuff. I've made no secret of the fact I'm constantly finding myself astonished by Ric Flair's ongoing evolution (no pun intended) as a character, and his momentum didn't slow down a bit here. This made so much sense for both guys and their recent mindsets, with Helms making an effort to approach one of his idols and Flair bullying the younger guy just because he can, eventually getting in the last word. Helms looked and felt as though he was having a hard time justifying his superhero character to both Flair and himself, which hopefully means the end of the Hurricane gimmick in the near future. I've always felt it was way too over the top and thus could never get into it, but I've gotta admit he's been a lot more recognizable with it, and the fans were certainly not biting when he initially came in with the wCw invasion as "Gregory Helms."
Rhyno and Rob Conway didn't get a lot of time to work with, and as a result the match felt cluttered and tough to buy into. The high kick Tajiri speared across Sylvan Grenier's head was beautiful, though, and thank god they're taking steps toward building a true tag division once again.
I've yet to see one redeemable value about Tyson Tomko, and last night's match didn't do him any favors. Seriously, why do they keep calling these guys up if they're just going to stink up the place for a couple weeks, mysteriously vanish from the program without a trace and head back to the minors? I guess they're hoping something will click, they'll stumble upon a happy accident and the next big star will be born, but the guys they've been bringing in recently (Dinsmore, obviously, is an exception) are so far away from ready I've got a better chance of being struck by lightning and winning the lottery on the same day. Pretty tattoos and impressive facial hair does not always equal an interesting character.
I loved the Highlight Reel segment with Lita and Kane, as they took a chance and actually surprised me with a new direction in the ongoing "who's the daddy" story. I honestly believed they were going to run with this "Kane threatens Lita, Lita cowers, Matt gets angry, Kane hits Matt, repeat" method for the entire length of the storyline, since it wouldn't be the first time they've done something like that, but this was a welcome change. Lita cut the best promo of her life out there, not only saying the words but doing so with conviction and fire in her eyes. I'm intrigued to see where they can take it from here, which is a whole lot more than I ever thought I'd be able to say about this angle.
Jericho kept the ball rolling, entertaining the crowd and infuriating Kane as only he could, but then the entire segment was almost spoiled when they cut to commercial just as the two were about to butt heads. Seriously, first we go to the advertisers when Randy Orton appears and wanders down the entryway during Edge's match, and now we hit the break only a few seconds before Kane and Jericho go face to face. Talk about anticlimactic. It didn't help any when we came back to live TV and found Y2J on the mat, suffering in the grip of Kane's side chinlock. The match these two worked was so completely at odds with the story they were trying to tell, it was almost comedic. Kane looked ready to shoot steam out of his ears when he came back down that entryway, as well he should've been, but something was lost in the transition from promo to match. Instead of coming to the ring hungry for blood, blindly throwing everything in his repertoire at Y2J in a fury, Kane just sat there and worked a traditional wrestling match. If you're as pissed off at someone as Kane was with Chris Jericho, you don't march up to them and start slowly wearing them down, hoping they'll make a mistake and you can cover them for three somewhere down the line. You tear into the ring with no regard for the rules, no strategy of your own, and attempt to erase them from the ring. This could've been a great way to further Chris Jericho as an intelligent guy (working Kane into such a frenzy he'd become easy pickings for a level-headed former champion such as himself) and Kane as a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off in Lita and Matt's faces. Instead, it was just confusing, awkward and stupid. The low blow that ended the match made sense, since Kane was getting desperate, but the rest of the match was totally inappropriate.
The Hurricane / Flair match was painful to watch. I've been a fan of both of these guys at one time or another, and this was just disappointing on both fronts. The lack of crowd heat destroyed the momentum these two were carrying from their previous backstage segment, and instead of creating some heat on their own through a hot series in the ring, they panicked and started almost pandering to the audience. Flair wasn't at the top of his game, and after a minute or two of inspired attempts to kick start the match, Helms threw his hands up into the air and just went through the motions the rest of the way. The psychology was there, with Flair grounding the lighter man throughout the match and eventually putting him away with a solid figure four, but that's about the only compliment I can pay this.
Finally it was time for the main event, which I found to be more than a little bit rushed. I had no problem with the World Champ selling Eugene's offense as a legitimate challenge, because they made a big deal of pointing out Benoit's residual bruised sternum from the previous night's match. That's why it made sense when the rabid wolverine, a guy who's laughed in the face of some of the finest knife-edge chops in the world, was gasping for breath and howling in pain when Eugene started to lay in with some knife-edges of his own. Watching this was seriously like watching the first minute and last ten minutes of a long, drawn out, exhausting sixty minute marathon between two masters of their game. They started out on the right foot, but after a minute or two they were already running through the nearfalls and false finishes. I felt like I missed something substantial, like we were seeing all the flash without any of the substance. And when Evolution strolled out to the ring before the bell had even sounded, it pretty much summarized the entire night. Strangely timed, somewhat confusing and occasionally surprising. I'm interested in seeing how this pays off with Eugene and Regal next week (not to mention Chris Jericho, who was conspicuous in his absence) but they've really got to get to the conclusion of Dinsmore's story soon. That beatdown and eventual bloodying at the hands of Evolution was just about the last heart string they had available for pulling.
It's funny how completely a good crowd can transform a bad show into something memorable and vice-versa. That's one aspect of the match that always seems to be taken for granted until it's overly good or bad, and then the shift of emotion is just as readily visible in the actions and mannerisms of the guys in the ring as it is in the roars or silence of the crowd. Last night's show was a great example of the wrong kind of crowd, and it unquestionably drained the show of any emotion or spark it might have had going in. The fans weren't cheering anyone, they weren't booing anyone and they weren't making much of a fuss about being there. Even though the vibe was kind of strange going in, as a result of the odd booking at the end of Vengeance, this could've been halfway entertaining if it were held in a different arena. The audience's apathy took what was probably a show I'd have ranked similarly to last week's performance (at the very least) and knocked it down several notches, due to both the atmosphere it presented and the havoc it wrought on the matches and athletes themselves. This wasn't amazingly booked by any stretch of the imagination, but its cold reception made it that much worse. I'm calling it a step below average.
Overall Score: 4.1