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

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