Monday, August 30, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 08/30/04

Seems like we're building to PPVs a lot more often than usual this year. I know, I know, that can't be the case since the roster split has cut the number of PPVs each show has to build towards by a little under 50%, but the fact remains... RAW didn't seem ready for Unforgiven coming into this show, and they had their work cut out for them with Edge's injury complicating one of the better developed rivalries on the show. They really needed to knock one out of the park here if RAW's streak of solid PPVs in 2004 was to continue. In short, it was time for evasive maneuvers.

Well, opening the show up with a lengthy Triple H promo and one of the least inspiring Randy Orton speeches in recent memory wasn't exactly what I'd call evasive, nor really all that entertaining. While I was pretty vocal in my support of his initial turn, I've gotta admit that Orton's follow-through and full face turn themselves have been pretty lackluster. This segment didn't do anything for me, as Randy's character is doing exactly what I'd hoped it wouldn't. Not only is he sliding into a spot as one of the most stereotypical faces in recent memory, but he's doing so in a way that wildly contradicts his actions of just a couple weeks back. Why is he aiding Eugene now, when he participated in Bischoff's nephew's savage beating about a month ago? Why the sudden burst of self confidence, chasing all of Evolution from the ring with a sledgehammer, when he was scared to death of jumping into the ring only a few months back, for fear of losing his prized Intercontinental Title? Does the World Title mean less to him than the IC belt? About the only contradiction in this story that makes sense so far is Eric Bischoff's about-face in his relations with the new champ. There's been no questioning Bischoff's loyalties since day one; if it makes Triple H unhappy, it makes Eric Bischoff unhappy. So, naturally, swinging a sledgehammer at Hunter's head would probably irritate ol' EB just a teensy bit, "legend killer" or not.

This whole opening segment felt exceptionally paint-by-the-numbers, almost transparently so, and it didn't sound to me like the crowd was buying it. I'm not liking Orton's face run thus far, but I'm willing to give him a couple of months to grow into it. I mean, God knows he wasn't a great heel when he first turned, but at least he had a unique angle to cruise on with the RNN Updates. This cookie cutter "confident face" thing doesn't measure up.

I was having trouble paying attention to the La Rez / ECW Alum tag match, as I was watching the line of security guards in the front row who seemed to be searching for one particular sign to confiscate. Seriously, there must've been three or four guys hassling these people, one at a time, throughout the match. I was waiting for one of them to march away triumphantly with a piece of cardboard slung under his arm, so I could be outraged, but they never seemed to find what they were looking for. Either that, or the enormous drink vendor who stumbled around that same aisle a minute later covered the sign's confiscation completely with his own girth. And, now that I mention it, you don't really see a lot of drink vendors making their way all the way up to the front row. I'm OUTRAGED!

Since I can't really comment on the work of the match, seeing as how I wasn't paying attention to it, I'll just comment on the booking; I kind of figured Tajiri wasn't going to be much of a factor, since I'd read somewhere that he was working through a knee injury, and they took that in stride here. I like that they're building both teams as competent units, capable of defeating their opponents at Unforgiven if a couple lucky spots fall their way. I'm really not sure who's going to be coming out on top of this little feud, since both teams have been put over strongly at different points in the last couple of months.

Batista and Regal didn't suck, to speak the truth, but they didn't tear the house down either. Regal came off as the determined underdog, coming back from an early failure to successfully hit an exploder suplex and only falling in the end after a bit of well-timed interference from Ric Flair. Like I said, this wasn't a bad match, but I can't think of much more these two could've done together before things slowly began to fall apart. I'm digging the Flair / Regal feud over the knucks, by the way.

Skipped the Diva Search, and the accompanying potty mouth that seems to have transpired therein. I remember reading about the comments in question during my late-night run through the RAW thread on the forums, and debating about whether or not I wanted to go back and watch the segment after all before deciding not to waste the time. The only times I've been tricked into watching a Diva Search segment thus far have involved the unexpected inclusions of Kamala and the Rock, and both times I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I can't imagine how bad these segments have been on their own, if they've managed to kill my enthusiasm for those two guys just by association.

I wasn't really amused by the Kane / Lita / Hardy family segment, and I know you're just shocked to be reading those words. It's crazy, what a completely different page this storyline is on, when compared to the rest of the program. It's like a completely different world. On one hand we've got Randy Orton and Triple H coming to blows over attempted homicide, a lack of respect and the World Heavyweight Title, and on the other we've got Kane attempting to upset his wife by chokeslamming bouncing, comedic indie workers dressed up to look somewhat like Matt Hardy. I mean, just TRY to set this segment in the real world and maintain a straight face. What would the guy in Kane's shoes expect to see when he looks over, triumphantly, at his uncaring bride-by-law? Shock? Horror? Pleasure? Disdain? Seriously, I don't know what kind of reaction this was supposed to invoke.

I really enjoyed the Benoit / Flair match, or at least what we got of it, because Flair went into it with a game plan and Benoit let it develop into something really interesting. Rather than working the same singles match he's pushed out for the last six months, (take some offense, gouge the eye, take some offense, flair flop, scary back body drop on the hip, clip the leg, drape it over the bottom rope, flying butt-thrust, "now it's time to go to school," figure four, reversal, closing sequence) Flair and Benoit went balls-out, with the former champ looking for an early Crossface and Flair relentlessly working the leg, taking pleasure in Benoit's agonizing screams. This wasn't the best match they've ever had together, but it was still among Flair's best free-TV efforts of the year. I didn't like the finish, because it wasn't gonna kill anyone for Naitch to tap out, but it makes sense when taking a step back to look at the big picture. Evolution's scrambling to show they can still function as a cohesive unit without Randy Orton, while Benoit's looking to regain his momentum after a pair of high profile losses. They achieved both goals here, and it'll come to a natural head in the tag match a week from Sunday.

Probably the only completely successful segment of the night was the highlight reel between Jericho and Edge, which really showcased how shitty the timing of Edge's injury was this past weekend. Although they misstepped last week, (which was more the booking's fault than the talent's) Edge and Y2J have done some good work together recently, the angle behind their feud's probably the most interesting thing on RAW at the moment and it was just about to take an even more interesting turn with the return of Christian to the active roster. Regardless, they handled things as well as could be expected, maintaining the champ's status quo as a tweener while reinforcing Jericho as the face and introducing Christian as the full-blown heel. Edge still felt a bit stilted during his promo here, but he's taking giant steps in the right direction and I love the tension they're slowly accumulating between RAW's two prominent midcard blondes.

I don't have anything really remarkable to add about the women's title match. Like seemingly everyone else, I loved that sick submission Gail had locked in just before she was rolled up for the pinfall, and I like the majority of the faces they're pushing in this division at the moment. Nidia's in gimmick limbo, and really needs to get away from whatever the hell she was wearing last night.

Likewise, I couldn't focus on the main event. It's surprising to note how quickly Eugene's become just an afterthought on the RAW roster, as he was in completely over his head during this one, with or without the cheap pop SF Giants wardrobe. I kept waiting for this to go somewhere, for something special to happen as is usually the case in big, feud-decapitating, balls-to-the-wall No DQ matches. Instead, we got a relatively straightforward match save a prominent low blow and some outside interference at the very end. This felt like a meaningless filler match near the bottom of a PPV, not the conclusion to a story that dominated the main events of RAW for several months.

All in all, I was unimpressed. This wasn't a horrible show, really, but it wasn't an average one either, and they needed something big to get things back on track in time for Unforgiven. I'm losing faith in the strength of Orton vs. Hunter, I'm still enjoying Evolution vs. the Former Friends of Eugene, I'm LOVING Edge vs. Christian vs. Jericho, and the tag title match is decent at best. This was an entire episode of slow action, weird finishes and lame, forced commentary. Better than last week, but not quite something I'd call average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.3

Monday, August 23, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 08/23/04

I heartily enjoyed most of last week's show, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering the two solid singles matches that filled the body of the episode and the outstanding angle that closed it up. The writers finally came to terms with the old idea of "striking while the iron's hot," and shook things up impressively with the Evolution save-turned-beatdown that signified Randy Orton's expulsion from the stable. This was an angle that could've been drug out over the course of six months, with hints dropped here and there, eventually leading to a singles match sometime in 2005... but instead, they used the potential to boost the new champion's image and get him immediately involved in a red-hot main event angle. It's still nice to be surprised from time to time, and I think this is great evidence of that fact. I was salivating at the sheer number of possibilities regarding where they could run with it from here, and all but forgot about the previously-announced wedding that was scheduled for the very same show. Seeing that cheesy invitation up on the screen almost immediately following the familiar introductory video snapped me back into reality. I didn't have high hopes for where this could lead, judging from the overplayed angle's track record.

We kick things off with the Diva Search, which results in instant mashing of the "thirty second skip" button on my TiVo remote. Imagine my surprise (and sudden switch to the "eight seconds prior" button) when I spied The Rock suddenly in the ring, soaking up the cheers. Even the Rock's charisma couldn't pull this one out of the crapper for me in the end, although I'd be lying if I said he didn't put in a valiant effort. This was fun at times, but really started to drag after the initial high of "OMFG ROCK'S ON TV!!1" wore off. He's at his best when opposite somebody he can verbally berate without censoring himself, and that wasn't an opportunity he was gonna get here. Must've been a blast for the live crowd, with Rocky's attention to the folks around ringside and the area in general, but it lagged when watching at home.

The Divas themselves were particularly tough to watch here. One girl challenges Carmella to a match (met with instant screams of horror from the live crowd) and then nothing comes of it, which leads me to believe she thought that little gem of an idea up all by her lonesome. Another sits on a pie. SITS on a freaking PIE. How many more weeks of this do we need to trudge through?

I did like the little nods to continuity and Unforgiven matchbuilding at the end of the segment, continuing Rock's on-again, off-again feuds with Coach and La Resistance while also giving the Tag Title match at this month's PPV a little bit of love. That stuff was such an afterthought to the "main event storytelling" of the Diva search, though, that it barely deserves mentioning. Blah.

Edge and Y2J were really having trouble in there together last night, standing in great contrast to the match they put on just two weeks ago. Both guys seemed to be an inch or two off with their punches, both were misstepping during their big spots and they each started reverting to the rest holds when things got a little out of control. The booking wasn't doing them any favors, either, with two commercial timeouts and a notably bad set of overbooked finishes. A big part of what made their last singles match together so good was the slow build they were allowed to construct, their dedication to telling the entire story in the ring and the extremely light touch of the booking team. This week's match had none of those things, and felt extremely rushed to boot. They've both earned a little bit of slack for their past work, both together and apart, but this was just a stinker through and through.

The face-off between Hunter and Orton felt odd, even before Trips started going on about how he'd hunt down, torture and kill the new champ if he didn't come to the ring and hand the belt over to him. H was all over the place in this one, going from bizarre metaphors about hourglasses to furious demands from out of left field to sheer pleasure when it seemed as though he was going to get his way after all. I'm not sure what good a referee would've done in the ring here, even if Orton HAD decided to hand over his gold. Would that've been an officially sanctioned match? Would the ref need to count three, or just raise Hunter's hand? At any rate, we don't get a chance to find out as Randy pouts his way down the entryway, pauses for dramatic tension and hawks a juicy one in his mentor's face. Honestly, that was the one part of this segment that I thought came off as outstanding. Not only does Orton buy his own hype, but he knows why others buy it, too. He didn't even have to say a word to telegraph the message into the minds of the viewing audience; "I did it to Mick Foley. What makes you think I won't do it to you, too?"

I'm indifferent to Orton's decision to then turn ass and run. On one hand, it puts him at stark contrast in two lights to former champ Chris Benoit. He simultaneously looks like a much bigger pussy than the Wolverine, but also a much smarter athlete. He's tactically choosing his battles, escaping the wrath of Batista and Flair, but he's also running from a fight and delaying the inevitable. The longer you run from these guys, the angrier they'll be when they walk down to the ring alongside Triple H at his next title shot. Orton wasn't in the form I was learning to appreciate last night. Bits and pieces of his character were there, no doubt, but he was missing something. He still doesn't feel like championship material.

There were bits and pieces of the Regal / Flair match that I liked; Regal's insanely good selling of that big, nasty, swollen eye, the concentration on ground-based submission wrestling for a change, and that super-solid finish. On the whole, though, this too fell quite a ways short of my expectations. Flair is no longer at the point in his career where he can change up styles wildly from night to night, and Regal wasn't up to the task of carrying the Nature Boy to a solid faceoff. Ric kept looking like he wanted to pick up the pace a little bit, and Regal kept reacting by grabbing him in a bizarre, painful-looking chinlock and slowing it down even further. Both of these guys can still be quite good in the right situation, but this was no such situation. The added distractions of Batista, Eugene and Chris Benoit didn't do much more than highlight how slow the action in the ring really was moving. Like I said, though, great finish that fit both men like a glove.

Finally, we wrapped things up with the wedding everyone was dreading. I'm still not sure what to think of this segment. On one hand, it had some genuine, laugh-out-loud-absurd moments, (like the midgets, smiling, adorned in eye-makeup, wandering down to ringside as if we should know better than to question these things!! WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!!!) and on the other it had an excess of poorly acted, wannabe dramatic moments. I will say one thing; it definitely wasn't as bad as I'd feared it was going to be. OK, now I'll say two things; it went on every bit as long as I was afraid it would. I'll fess up to loving the ochestral remix of Kane's theme, (and I was seriously waiting to see if they'd go ahead and have them play Matt Hardy's music, too, when he inevitably ran in) as well as the hilarious "so you're having my baby" video package Kane put together for his bride to be. Even Matt Hardy's run-in, long and drawn out as it may have been, wasn't totally horrible. The camera angle for that big chokeslam off the entryway was just about perfect, and if it hadn't been preceded by the return of Kane's superhuman weather-control abilities, the whole thing might've gone down a little bit easier in my opinion. Then again, accompanied by a pregnant bride willingly rolling herself down a set of stairs to join in a fight, a pint-sized wedding party, a bible reading from Eric Bischoff and a complete lack of speaking roles during the "speak now or forever hold your peace" portion of the ceremony, maybe a sporadic, unexplained wall of flame isn't such an abnormality after all. This wasn't awful, but it didn't fit, either. I don't see how we can take a segment like this at face value, while also being asked to cheer the matches themselves as genuine competition. That's a pretty big leap for anyone to take.

This was the first show I've seen in quite some time without a match I could call above-average. Chalk that one up to the running total of two total matches they actually graced us with, I guess, coupled with the insane length of the Diva Search / Evolution / Marriage segments. Speaking of which, those were crazily bad decisions as bookends for this show, starting us off slow with the least popular segment on the program before Rocky's appearance, and then closing it up with a humor-lined ceremony and a long shot of Kane and Lita heading backstage after the wedding that just wouldn't die. I can't call this even close to average. I didn't hate it, but I sure didn't like it, either.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.6

Monday, August 16, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 08/16/04

I'm not sure what I was expecting going into this past Monday's show... could've been Orton turning a cheesy face with no real reason other than his big title win, could've been Benoit bowing down before him and taking a kick in the side of his head for his trouble, could've been Orton straight-up ignoring his actions of one night prior and remaining a heel. Whatever was coming, though, I was anticipating it. I honestly did not expect Randy Orton to emerge victorious last night, I'd chalked the whole thing up to hype and hype alone. The last time I was this wrong about a World Title match was at No Way Out 2001, when I picked Kurt Angle to retain the belt and head into WrestleMania as champion. Of course, he dropped the belt to the Rock at that very event who, in turn, dropped it to Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-7 in front of seventy thousand in the Astrodome. But where was I?

I was itching to see where they carried the ball from here. I thought there was definite potential that Benoit could regain the title just one night after losing it, and I knew there were bound to be some fireworks in the Evolution camp. I had no idea just how bright they'd shine, but explosions were imminent.

Naturally, the show kicked off with the new champion strolling to the ring for his first promo with the belt. I've always found it interesting to watch how a first-time champ carries himself during that initial trot to the ring with the belt around their waist... some guys merely clip it to their hips and act as if nothing's different, others sling it over their shoulder and carry it as a trophy, still others alter their choreographed ring introduction to show off their new prize (Chris Jericho, in particular, springs to mind). It's almost a way to gauge how successful they'll be with the title; if they look uncomfortable or unprepared, they typically won't be a very good champion. If they allow the gold to lend a certain sense of credibility and confidence to their manner, they might have a long history together. Orton, for the record, landed somewhere in the middle. He still carried himself with confidence, but he also shifted his eyes from side to side, allowing his inexperience and age to peek through.

Regardless, this was an above average promo from the champ, and I was glad to see him working as a heel right out of the gates. I'll be interested to see if they shift him away from this style of promo in the near future, as he establishes himself as a face, or if they allow the crowd to gather behind him without changing a thing about his character. That's one thing they always did poorly with Angle; he was such a tremendous heel that fans slowly started to come around to him, and when the back office heard his reactions slowly turning more and more positive, they decided to turn him. But rather than sticking to their guns and allowing the fans to continue cheering the same guy they'd rallied behind, his character took a jarring turn into left field and lost all of his momentum in the process.

Man, I'm just all over the place this week. I loved the interaction with the audience (the repeated pans of the crowd and closeups on the hundreds of 24-year-olds lifting their shirts were a nice touch) and he covered ground that was relatively new to him. Rather than strutting out to the ring and basically saying "I'm cocky, don't you hate me!" he had a point, which is refreshing to see. Benoit's interruption and subsequent challenge was well executed, with the former champ sticking by the character that had carried him so well since WrestleMania. He never gives up, not even the night after one of the biggest losses of his career. You could tell that these two respected one another, but that there were also some unresolved disputes between them. Great fodder for a main event.

Rhyno and Sylvain Grenier went into the ring with a tag-title-related stipulation, which usually means instant victory for the non-champs. However, in this instance the outcome was cast into a little more doubt thanks in large part to the Rhyno / Tajiri team's loss in last week's "win in two minutes and get a title shot" match. I like booking that works toward casting doubt over the outcome of a later match. Not the best match I've seen from Rhyno, and Grenier's slowly improving but he's still far from worthwhile as a single... but I still like this feud. It's keeping the ECW alumni in the picture, building La Resistance as lengthy champions and (most importantly) keeping the belts in the picture. This was an off match, but the feud still gets a thumbs up from me.

I loved the little meet and greet between Lita and the heel Divas... but it's not something I'd want to see on-air again. Kind of like the Diva Search / Kamala segment, only a tad better, since the women involved actually have a future in the industry. Fun fact; every woman in the room was a past or present Women's Champion. That's how stiff the competition in that area could be right now if the bookers cared enough to give them time to do their thang. Almost every active woman on the roster is a former champ, and hasn't been buried to the point that her winning the title would come as much of a shock. Well, except maybe Molly. Poor Molly.

I'll give them credit where it's due, however, the Gail vs. Victoria match was probably the best we've had out of the division since 'Mania. There's no question it was Gail's best match since arriving in the fed, and though it did come off as a hair too short, it told a surprisingly detailed story in that time. I particularly liked the little nod to the history these two had together, with Gail locking in her sick tangling, climbing, reverse-octopus-lookin' submission maneuver and Victoria finally figuring out a logical escape to it. Remember when she tapped to that a few months back, while carrying the women's title? Monday night's similar circumstances proved that not only is Gail a relentless competitor, focusing on what she's doing, but also that Victoria can and will learn from her past mistakes. I loved that finish.

I'm also loving this Stevie Richards in drag angle, but for all the wrong reasons... it's great to listen to the guy in the front row clearly and eloquently stating "That is Steven Richards," while the rest of the audience chants "STEVIE STEVIE" and Victoria still acts as though she hasn't a clue. Actually, that reminded me of the Blue Blazer gimmick they were running with just prior to Owen Hart's death, which despite the tragic conclusion was actually a pretty humorous little angle. Let's just hope next week Koko B. Ware doesn't come out to the ring wearing that same wig and dress.

Unlike his last few outings on free TV, I just couldn't get into Edge's title defense with Kane this week, even after it'd had enough time to gain speed and barrel on into the closing moments, which is usually the IC Champ's strongest point. These two just weren't clicking, and the additional inclusion of Lita and Matt Hardy to the picture only complicated things. Maybe if Edge had done a baseball slide on Lita for no particular reason halfway through the match, simultaneously turning himself full heel and throwing Kane off-balance, it would''ve woken me up. As is, I've seen better from both guys. Off nights happen to everyone.

Likewise, Jericho and Batista were similar in their failed efforts to get the ball rolling... although to be fair, they didn't go a dozen minutes. Batista's still improving, but much like Grenier, I wouldn't say he's there quite yet. Flair was great in this one, offering a distraction whenever Y2J so much as glanced in his direction and ultimately finishing the match by draping his jacket over the ropes, causing Jericho's Lionsault to slip and slide and the ref to call for a DQ. They're biding their time with this Edge heel turn, which is something I'm glad to see. I'm enjoying him more now as the bitter, "you did it to me first," vindictive asshole tweener than I think I would as a full-blown heel, and it's working as a great transitionary period for his character. So many times you see a face suddenly, inexplicably turn heel and basically spit on all the moral values he'd demonstrated as a face... which doesn't make sense. At least with Edge they're allowing that betrayal to be a gradual one, not to mention an almost-acceptable one thanks to Y2J's past actions.

Finally, the main event... which, again, I loved. I'm constantly humbled by the tremendous string of main events RAW has put together this year. No matter how bad the rest of the show may be, no matter who the participants may be, this show has delivered at least one outstanding match per week for nearly all of 2004. That's got to be some kind of record. Anyway, I loved the build to this one, I loved the action itself but I questioned the message they sent by putting Benoit over so hard on the kid they're betting so much on at this point. Like I said, I had serious doubts Orton would be retaining here (and, honestly, after a couple very long-standing championship reigns, perhaps a set of competitive, unpredictable title changes is finally in order) which boosted my enjoyment of the match by several notches. Benoit stepped out to the ring and just obliterated Orton, essentially from start to finish. He darted into the ring with something to prove, systematically disassembled the new champ, refused to release the crossface after more counter attempts than I can honestly recall seeing in recent memory, then finally laid down for the RKO after fending off three additional men. If anything, this match reinforced the stereotype of a lucky-as-sin, inexperienced, fluke champion that's already starting to hover around Orton. Don't get me wrong, I loved watching it as a die-hard fan of Benoit, but I was left questioning the logic of it when the dust had settled, Benoit had been deposited on the floor and Orton had moved on to his ultimate fate at the feet of Triple H.

These guys worked their asses off in there, and despite the strange booking, put on quite a show. I'd absolutely call this the best match Orton's had on RAW and may even venture so far as to call it the best match he's had in his career thus far. He was selling the leg relentlessly, grimacing in pain with each offensive maneuver and almost crying from the pressure of it all, moments before finally reaching the ropes while locked into the sharpshooter. He still didn't quite look like a champion out there, but he absolutely looked like an upper-tier talent.

Post-match, I truthfully didn't see the turn coming until the moment Hunter turned his thumb down. Sure, I knew the explosion would be coming sooner or later, but I really didn't expect it this soon... and I'll praise them for handling it in such a manner. Think about it, if they'd drug this turn out like everyone seems to be wishing they would've, the monotony would've been overwhelming. How long can you believably hold onto an "everybody hates him now that he's the champ, and wants to kick his ass" mentality without killing the whole kit n' caboodle? Realistically, a guy like Triple H would strike early and decisively, ripping the base out from under his usurper before he could gain any more ground. Great closing segment that's got me eager for next week's show.

In all, this was just the next in line of an offbeat series of shows for RAW. Parts were outstanding, parts were weak and parts were just sort of "meh." A really hot main event and closing angle, and not much more worth remembering this time next year. This was a head above last week's show, and they seem to be on the verge of some ass-kickin' stuff, but that's not here just yet.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.1

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Summerslam 2004 Preview

I don't have a lot of time to put this one together, so my apologies if this year's Summerslam writeup isn't as in-depth and memorable as my previous contributions. Blame the big storm that had me thinking I'd break my ongoing streak of unmissed PPV Preview.

Anyway, I'm really happy with this PPV as we head into Sunday evening. The matches should be almost universally quality, the names in action are generally the names I'd like to see and the theme of the show itself is both intriguing and historically accurate. They've built Summerslam as a big proving ground for the rookies over the last few years, from the proving grounds of Brock Lesnar and John Cena a few years ago to the first big chance for Randy Orton and the first PPV appearance of Paul London on this year's card. It works as a nice contrast to the established, big show atmosphere evoked by WrestleMania. These are the two biggest shows of the year, at least in my perception, and it's good that they aren't overloading both with such a crazy, epic feel. It maintains the prestige of 'Mania while lending a fresh feel to Summerslam, one of the fed's longest-running PPV events.

Diva Dodgeball

Hahaha, I can't believe I'm previewing this. Twenty bucks says neither John nor Dave bothered to even mention this match, and here I am previewing it like a big chunky turd. The angle behind this is rooted in reality, which is a good thing, and I'm interested in seeing the little feud between the regular divas and the search contestants play out... but a worked dodgeball match on a PPV of this calibur? Strange decision. Unless they send the girls out there to legitimately compete (and don't think the image of Jazz just spanking the search gals with ruthless dodgeball shots to the head hasn't entered my mind) this will be really limp. If it's legit, the regular divas can't be stopped. If it's worked, the search gals will come out ahead through some sort of silly tomfoolery.
Winners: The Diva Search Contestants

Rey Mysterio, Billy Kidman & Paul London vs. Bubba Ray, D-Von & Spike Dudley

I've really enjoyed this current heel run by the Dudley Boys, can't lie about it. Since aligning with Paul Heyman (and then just sort of forgetting about him) they've shaken the rusty, boring, stale act that had ruined their face run and emerged as an interesting little dysfunctional family / group of solid heel competitors. They've been instrumental in London and Kidman's portrayal as more than just fluke champions, and have even tied together the tag division and cruiserweight division by recruiting Spike back into their ranks. That, in particular, is a good thing in my mind since both divisions weren't getting the kind of attention they needed on their own, and by working together they're keeping both belts in the spotlight.

This should be a pretty good match, as the Dudleys have done a decent job of keeping up with the lighter opponents and Spike's improved noticeably since coming to the cruiserweight division full-time, and it could really go either way without hurting the loser's momentum. I like the faces here, though the Dudleys could probably use the win a touch more.
Winners: London, Kidman and Mysterio

Kane vs. Matt Hardy
Till Death Do Us Part Match (Winner Marries Lita)

There's no question in my mind Kane's winning this, Michaels interference or no. Matt took the win in their previous encounter (which I called, for the record... not to toot my own horn...) and it's time for Kane to quit toying around with him and end the feud with emphasis. Besides there's more potential in a Kane / Lita storyline than there is in continuing the drawn out, running-on-empty Lita / Matt relationship.
Winner: Kane

Booker T (c) vs. John Cena
United States Championship (1st match in best of 5 series)

Probably the catalyst for Smackdown's gradual improvement was the return to competition in the US Championship division. Lately I've been enjoying not just the competition in this division but the diversity of legitimate competitors. Truth be told, Smackdown's midcard scene isn't in bad shape at all with Booker, RVD, Cena and a regularly improving Dupree factoring heavily into each title defense. They've managed to simultaneously build everyone involved in these title matches intelligently without undermining the loser's credibility. Booker T won the elimination match Teddy Long booked a couple weeks ago by using his head and minimizing his ring time, catching both Van Dam and Cena off-guard in the process. It put over Van Dam's finisher as a devastating maneuver, Booker's ability to think on his feet (which is kind of at odds with his past portrayals, but you know what they say about the effects of making an omelette on a few eggs) and Cena's conditioning, working the majority of the match and absorbing most of his opponents' offense, yet still surviving until the very finish.

I don't think this feud is quite over just yet, which leads me to believe Booker will be coming out on top. They've been doing a good job of keeping his character in motion, and a loss here would end all that without really aiding Cena all that much. The conclusion of the story is obviously Cena retrieving his belt, but to do that here would be rushing it.
Winner: Booker T

Edge (c) vs. Chris Jericho vs. Batista
Intercontinental Championship

Another midcard division that's becoming more and more competitive as the days go on. Though there aren't quite as many names thrown into this mix as there are in Smackdown's US Title hunt, RAW's Intercontinental Title has been very nicely built, defended in very good to great matches and booked intelligently. They haven't rushed in turning Edge heel, instead fading him back into a tweener role that's twice as interesting as any cliched "oh, you eliminated me in the battle royal so now I'm going to completely forget all my morals" turn could've been. The big story here is the relationship between Edge and Chris Jericho, which leads me to believe that Batista is their choice as the new IC champ. Edge and Y2J will be concentrating so heavily on demeaning and obliterating one another that all it'll take is a well-timed spinebuster or powerbomb for Batista to put this one away. Like Orton in the main event, this is a big chance for Batista to prove he can do something in the ring as a single and doesn't need the crutch of Flair or Orton in his corner and a chance to rest on the apron to have a good match. If he steps up and supports his own weight here, he could have big things in his future... and alongside Edge and Jericho, he's got a good chance of delivering.
Winner: Batista

Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle

They've done a good job of keeping this one on the burner during Angle's time off the active roster. While Angle temporarily distracted himself with a mini-story opposite John Cena, Eddy Guerrero wound up dropping his title to Bradshaw, (I've developed large hairless patches on my scalp from the repeated head-scratching that decision invoked) they maintained a relationship on-air to keep the crowd interested. Now that Angle's back in the saddle, it's time to pick up where they left off. I honestly couldn't ask for a match with more potential, both in and out of the ring, and I can't wait for this to play out. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned about Angle's conditioning, but considering his track record that's a passing worry at best. I'm not sure who to go with here, since I'm almost certain the feud will continue after the PPV. Initially I went with Guerrero, but in retrospect I'm gonna pick Angle. Should be a great one, and I think Kurt's got too much to prove here.
Winner: Kurt Angle

Triple H vs. Eugene

As a stark contrast to the Cena / Booker match, this is a feud that's ready to blow off. They're just about at the climax of the relationship between Eugene and Hunter, and to continue it beyond this point would be overkill. Hunter's really done great work in this storyline, utilizing his promos to establish himself as a manipulative sonnuvabitch, rather than meandering along on the mic with no real end in sight. If they play their cards right, they could move right on to a super-hot feud between Hunter and William Regal right after this, though I'm not honestly sure if that's what they've got planned. I'm losing confidence in Dinsmore's capabilities in the ring, and if there were ever a time for him to knock one out of the park it's right here. If the match itself is along the same lines as their initial confrontation on RAW a couple months back, it's bad news. Regardless, Hunter's my pick here. He'd be crippled if he dropped this match.
Winner: Triple H

John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. The Undertaker
WWE Championship

Oh man, I think I'd rather be writing another paragraph about the dodgeball face-off. Seriously. The Undertaker's done a great job of justifying my fears, no-selling his way through his matches (of which there have been... what... four since WrestleMania?) and relying on his gimmick to grab some cheers both before and after the bell. I can't be happy with either of these guys wearing the belt after Summerslam, but at least the Taker's over. JBL's just floundering...and really, who could've predicted that?
Winner: The Undertaker

Chris Benoit (c) vs. Randy Orton
World Heavyweight Championship

To the masses who seem convinced Orton is walking out of this one with the title, I say this; you've bought the hype. That's not to completely rule out his chances, but I think it's far from the sure thing I've been reading about everywhere on the web in the month leading up to this match. They've pushed Orton as a solid competitor who often gets the lucky shot in at the right moment, squeaking out a win just as his tank hits empty... but they've also pushed Benoit as a guy who's tough to sneak anything past in the ring. He's countered every move imaginable into the crossface, including the RKO. He's finally emerged as a believable face alternative to Triple H, succeeding in the situations failed by Goldberg, and I think his title run has more legs than this. I think Orton may just be the guy to finally take the belt off of him, but I don't think the time is now.

Should be a great match, though, and it'll be a great chance for Orton to learn from the best. It's no secret he's had some problems with pacing his matches, and with the Crippler in control that shouldn't be a problem here. I'm eager to see how both guys perform under that enormous spotlight, and I'm crossing my fingers hoping for success.
Winner: Chris Benoit

In Closing...

I can't look back on this card and say nothing's terrible, but there's definitely some potential for the bad to be heavily outweighed by good. My one complaint is that this doesn't really feel like a major card... JBL / Undertaker and Benoit / Orton don't feel like the weighty kind of matches you'd expect from a show of this magnitude, but if they succeed (well.. if half of them succeed) it could be a hint of things to come. I'll be interested to see the end result, at any rate.
until next time, i remain

Monday, August 9, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 08/09/04

Whoah hell, Summerslam caught me by surprise. I feel like I'm eighty years old and senile, the way these big PPV shows are catching me by surprise this year. So RAW didn't have as much time to build toward this show as I'd previously imagined, what with the big Iron Man match a couple of weeks ago and a PPV the week before that. They had a lot of work to do in a relatively short amount of time this week, and if they wanted their half of Sunday's card to be halfway competent, the time to kick-start those lingering storylines was last night. Which isn't to say they had absolutely no momentum going in... to tell the truth, most of these stories had been brewing for quite some time... they just don't quite feel ready for that big late-summer card. Not at this point, anyway. Sure, there's a lot of backstory in the Kane / Hardy and Triple H / Eugene feuds, but neither story is at the point where it's "do or die time."

I liked the Orton interruption that started the show (to be honest, I had to rewind the TiVo to see what had happened... that "30 second skip" button looks brighter, shinier and more inviting than usual every time the Diva Search segments come on screen) but I wonder if maybe it was a bad decision for a heel to try to gather a little extra heat by halting such a poorly-received series of segments. He has so much momentum behind him at this point that it doesn't make much of a difference one way or the other, and they recovered nicely with the standoff opposite Benoit, but little things like that are what's making me scratch my head about the intelligence of these writers. Regardless, Orton was in prime form, both before and after Benoit's run-in, and they're handling the champ's vocalizations almost ideally as far as I'm concerned. Benoit's evolution since becoming champ is really reminding me of Bret Hart's in-character strides after his first World Title victory. Both guys were just putrid on the stick before winning the title, but after defending the belt a couple of times, gaining a head of steam and allowing their actions to say as much as their promos, they've both uncovered previously-undiscovered wealths of confidence. After regaining the title for the first time, Bret was a completely different man than he was the night he first won the belt. Benoit's slowly making the same progression, as evidenced by this well-booked, well-performed little segment. I was expecting them to run the footage of Orton tapping out to the sharpshooter at the end of the elimination tag match RAW hosted a couple of months back, but a live-action tap-out served the purpose just as well.

The women's match was forgettable at best. It's bothersome that this division's become such an afterthought since Molly dropped the title around Royal Rumble-time, since it was so undeniably entertaining in the months before. While the men's division was floudering, the ladies were delivering solid matches week after week, working a highly competitive and unpredictable division that emphasized physicality over storylines. Now that the guys seem to have gone back on track, the women have been left in the dust. And now we're getting six-woman tags that feature Stacy Keibler and her godawful selling. For somebody whose entire offensive arsenal consists of a Kevin Nash resthold and a kick, you'd think she'd at least know how to fall down and act hurt. She's great as eye candy, just keep her out of the ring.

Jeez, what kind of a skank is Lita if they're convincingly throwing doubt into the viewing audience's minds that Kane really is the father, after she's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt ain't the daddy? Though I couldn't care less about the angle at this point, I've gotta agree that it's time to cut Matt out of the equation and move forward with the Kane / Lita stuff... I mean, if they're dead set on going forward with the story at all. There are only so many times we can see the same "will Matt leave Lita in tears?!?!? Will he propose?!?!?!?!" segments before the audience collectively sticks their tongues out and turns violently on the storyline's participants.

Incidentally, I'd love to have taken a look at the paperwork those two signed. What kind of legalities did that lawyer have to navigate to make a match with these stipulations acceptable under US law?

Gotta agree with the popular sentiment on the Jericho / Edge match; it started WAY slow, but eventually built up into a very solid match, especially for TV, that told a story and a half from bell to bell. For the opening four or five minutes, it's like these two were knowingly working a completely different style. Both guys usually stick with a light-heavy hybrid style, not quite slow and plodding enough to be a gen-ewe-ine, Hogan vs. Andre-style heavyweight match, but not quite risky, acrobatic and original enough to be a crazy-ass, Rey Rey vs. Psychosis J Cup cruiserweight match. Well, for those opening minutes they threw that balance all to hell and went for Hogan / Andre, part II. They were wrestling like they each weighed in excess of four hundred pounds, totally unlike either man. Once the momentum finally picked up, though, this was better than usual on both sides of the ring. I loved the little barbs they threw at one another as the fight progressed (Edge trying to lock Y2J into a liontamer, Jericho winning the match with Edge's favorite "feet on the ropes" cover) and both guys pulled out stuff they usually reserve for special occasions. I can't remember the last time I saw Chris Jericho hit a hurricanrana like that... but I guess his opponents are usually too large to make it look right. Great, unique spots were everywhere in this match, come to think of it. I loved seeing Jericho sell the power of the back-spear by sailing into the front row, and then reading the telegraphed spear Edge was transmitting later in the match, choosing to bail out to the floor rather than take the maneuver and lay down for the three count. This was a fun match in the end, because it didn't look and feel like a recycled series of spots, shuffled, combined and selected from every other main event in WWE history. These two were visibly upset with one another in there, stealing shit from each other left and right in an attempt to spit in the other guy's face. That's something I wish we'd see in the ring from more feuds. Too often it's just two guys who've worked together in an entertaining story, going through the motions but never really selling the fact that they want to cripple one another.

The post-match beatdown with Batista made sense on all fronts. Batista would naturally aim to take advantage of his opponents' weakness after such a lengthy match, further softening them up for the three-way this Sunday, (and who cares if one of them gets away... if Edge is incapacitated throughout Sunday's match, Batista's just got Jericho to concentrate on from start to finish) while Jericho would obviously have no love lost with Edge after last week's Hilight Reel and would have the same motivations as Batista in seeing one of his opponents worn down prior to the match this Sunday (plus, motherfucker tried to use the LIONTAMER!!). And I don't think Edge had much of a decision to make, one way or the other.

I loved the Eugene / Hunter stuff throughout the night. They've progressed this story impressively since it kicked off several months ago, and it's great that Hunter is STILL manipulating the hell out of Eugene, even after the kid's realized that he's no good and only in it for himself. Trips is just having his way with this whole situation, and that works beautifully with the image we've always been given of Hunter's character.

The gimmicked "two minute tag" wasn't awful, and served as a nice little surprise since the team under the crunch in a situation like this always seems to come out victorious at the last second. It didn't make the rookies look totally inept (because these are two heavyweights, coming at them with everything in their arsenal from the very get-go... it would be like playing poker against a guy who's viciously aggressive: even if he's got nothing, he usually cleans up because the other folks at the table are too afraid to try anything) and it didn't make Rhyno and Tajiri look useless, because they truthfully had the win. La Resistance came off as thinking champions, successfully defending their titles at Summerslam by arranging so that they won't BE defending their titles at Summerslam. Given the time limitations involved, I don't see how they could've built this mini-feud any more successfully. Even with an additional four or five minutes (assuming the Diva Search wasn't on this week's broadcast) it couldn't have done much more.

And finally, we wrap up with yet another competitive, wholly entertaining main event. Benoit came out looking like god for lasting as long as he did (and all but winning the match on his lonesome, as Orton seemed ready to tap for the second time in one night) but maintained that illusion of fallibility for this Sunday's big title match, falling in the end to the combined might of Evolution. Benoit and Orton looked sharp working together, which gives me hope for Sunday's match, and I loved that reversal of the RKO into a crossface. Fun match, but I would've liked to have seen the Eugene run-in end with a nasty chairshot, flattening Regal's protege right in the center of the ring. You need to give the heels momentum leading into the PPVs, and as a simple observer I wouldn't buy Orton's chances at the World Title.

Not an outstanding RAW by any standard, but not an awful one either. The endless Diva Search segments pulled it down quite a ways, but two great matches and some interesting build leading up to Summerslam helped to buoy it right around the average level. A step down from last week's show, but still a nip above average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.1

Monday, August 2, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 08/02/04

It's tough for any show to follow in the footsteps of a nine, which is the score I declared last week's episode to be worthy of bearing. Not only did this week's show have the lack of a huge, previously booked, attention-demanding main event, (or even a single match that had been announced the previous week) but it was also assigned the unenviable task of kick starting half a dozen feuds within a single two hour broadcast. Summerslam isn't getting any further away, and I guess the higher-ups decided that it's now or never... which is good logic, really. I'd much rather see a handful of new angles and feuds that all started right around the same time than a crappy Summerslam card, saddled with half a dozen matches that are basically meaningless due to the lack of build. Every PPV needs a build before it can be deemed successful, and every build needs to start somewhere.

We opened up with Triple H, surprisingly bringing the opening credits to a halt at about the fifteen second mark (I'm waiting for somebody to claim it's yet another way he's burying Chris Benoit, since a lot of the footage of the champ is in the second half of that opening montage) which was something that was just unexpected enough to work. It wasn't too obnoxious, nor too predictable and fit right into the character Hunter's meant to be portraying. I kind of zoned out during his promo until William Regal shook things up with an appearance defending Eugene and basically claiming he masterminded last week's main event run-in. It felt like Regal had something to prove out there with his promo (maybe that he can hang with the big boys if given the opportunity?) and he stepped up to the plate and just pounded it out of the park in this opening segment. He's seriously come into his own as a character actor during this story with Eugene, and he no longer feels like he's just going through the motions as a face or a heel. While he spat his words with disdain at Triple H in that opening segment, I found myself believing he meant every word of it. He came across as both a legitimate threat to Helmsley inside the the ring and a genuine human being who's not ashamed of his past outside of it. Great segment that really boosted Regal's stock in my eyes.

The non-title Tag felt like it was just off to a great start when Tajiri made the cover and the ref counted three. Weird booking, but it's still great to see Rhyno and Tajiri motivated like this.

After all the teases, turns, last-second regrets and whatnot, the Hardy / Lita engagement came off as very unremarkable. Basically, Matt just wandered up, said "OK, you're pregnant. Now I'm cool with that. Uh... let's go get married," and the credits rolled. What a storybook romance. I pretty much had the same reaction to the signing of their Summerslam match as I've had for the rest of this ongoing torture room of a storyline. It's beyond the point of recovery now, so I don't even bother going into the segments with the sense that anything involved therein will do anything other than suck. I don't understand why they keep doing this with Kane; they'll give him such a high profile for a couple of months and then completely flatten his momentum with an unthinkably bad storyline, before slowly building him up as a monster and repeating.

Tyson Tomko continues to stun me with his total ineptitude for professional wrestling. He's not a good character, he's not a good talker, he doesn't have any conviction in what he says or does, he's worthless in the ring and he's ignored by the fans. About the only thing I've been impressed with about him thus far is his ability to fall down. That doesn't mean he's a good seller, it just means he's got that "falling down convincingly" thing down pat. I'm not sure I really followed the logic nor the momentum of his match last night, either. Rosey kicks the hell out of him for a good 90% of the match and hits two big legdrops, only to be distracted by Trish long enough to Tomko to hit a tame kick and cover him for a three count. Huh? Does Rosey have a notorious glass jaw or something? Whoever thought this match was a good idea needs to sit down and think about why it went wrong for a very long time. Climb a mountain, grow a beard and contemplate why you booked a match this inherently weak.

The Highlight Reel gave us one of Edge's best performances since coming to RAW. He acted like everybody should have expected him to, but did so in a manner that didn't make the whole near-turn feel as predictable as it really was. Both of these guys played their cards as well as possible, and gave me a reason to look forward to their three way with Batista at Summerslam. I like that they're covering all their bases in that match with a clear-cut face (Jericho), a heel (Batista) and a tweener (Edge) since face-face-heel or heel-heel-face matches always have that awkward "testing the water" period where it's two on one until one member of the tandem makes a mistake and it becomes a free-for-all. This should be a fun build to take in over the next couple of weeks.

There wasn't much to the Regal / Triple H match itself, but the performances and booking before and after were extremely tight. Regal came out with an unmitigated fury and had Hunter backpedalling from the very get-go. So complete was Regal's early domination that he forced Trips to forfeit the match through the use of a pair of brass knucks. For a guy who's always been booked as a great "thinking on his feet" ring general, it says a lot about Regal's assault that the best Hunter could come up with was a quick cheap shot with a foreign object. Picking up where he left off in the opening segment, William Regal was obscenely good here, digging a river into the middle of his forehead and making the most of the excess of red pouring down his face. Two images from this match really stick in my mind; Regal in profile on his hands and knees, the sickening fountain of blood that was pouring from his face quickly drenching the mat, and Regal just after retrieving the brass knuckles, sliding them onto his fingers, looking over his shoulder and shouting a berserk "COME ONNNN!" That's a guy who knows how to make the most out of a rich blade job. Another great segment between Hunter and Lord Steven, doing the impossible and selling me on a match between Hunter and a guy who wasn't even on the show. If the build to Goldberg / Lesnar would've been this good, the fans in MSG wouldn't have turned on them. Well.... perhaps not quite so ferociously, at least. My one question is why nobody from the back came out to aid Regal in his time of need. Didn't Benoit appreciate the win William basically hand-delivered last week?

Kane and Maven didn't give me anything worth remembering. Moving on...

Things were looking a little sluggish heading into main event time, but this week's mix of the usual suspects pulled through again with yet another tremendous match. Truth be told, I don't think there's been a single RAW this year without at least one outstanding main event at the bottom of either the first or the second hour. That's just amazing to me, that this show has been so consistently good in the ring throughout 2004, at least once a night. As you can probably tell from my foreshadowing, I enjoyed the hell out of this match. It did everything it needed to do without coming off as forced or awkward (and with all the potential interactions between new foes Edge, Jericho, Batista, Orton and Benoit, the chances of something coming off as such were actually very high) and delivered another very solid main event to wrap up the program. If anything, I think they built Benoit too strongly here, considering the fact he's just one week removed from a brutal sixty minute Iron Man match and just two weeks from a violent beating at the hands of Batista. While Triple H was putting over the effects of last week's match in his quick loss to Regal, (intentional or not, that's how it came across to me) Benoit was working the better part of a main event opposite three of the show's strongest heels and holding his own. Don't get me wrong, I'm as big on Benoit as anybody else, but they've got to get some main event momentum behind Orton if they want the outcome of their Summerslam main event to put a little question into the fans' minds. I'm sorry, but administering a few chinlocks, making some well-timed tags and stealing a win with a nicely-placed RKO isn't getting him into the main event for me. Benoit went through thirty men at the Royal Rumble six months ago, (one of whom was Orton himself) not to mention an extremely tough triple threat at WrestleMania before winning the title, and I haven't seen anything even remotely on that level from Orton in the last few months. He's a great heel with a connection to the fans, no question, but it takes a little more than that to become World Champ material.

But I'm rambling again. This was a great main event that accomplished a surprising number of storyline actions without ever becoming heavy handed or complicated. I could keep watching matches like this for the rest of my life.

These shows are really quite a ways better if you give TiVo a forty minute head start and click right through the Diva Search segments. An average show when the dust settles, which is much better than I'd have expected of it if I'd known it was going to be so focused on launching new stories in time for Summerslam. The main event really performed some miracles in terms of bringing the whole thing together as a decent package, but there was an awful lot of weak in-ring action during the rest of the show. It's a foundation, I guess. Now let's see what they can build on top of it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.6