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.
Overall Score: 5.6