Monday, September 27, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 09/27/04

With last week's "season premiere" feeling a little bland, I was expecting a bit of a boost this week. I mean, they've got about a month to establish and promote a plateful of candidates for this upcoming "interactive event," Taboo Tuesday, they've got an entire undercard to fill so fans will have a reason to PAY for the thing besides simple curiosity, and they've got a footing to re-establish with RAW, which is basically their bread and butter. The PPVs don't mean anything without a weekly show to build interest, and the weekly show doesn't exist if things stagnate and the fans continue to go away. I won't lie, I wasn't expecting everything to get tackled with this one episode, but I certainly expected a start.

Eric Bischoff started things off for us, in the ring with a few words to say about the big event on the horizon, announcing that our choices would be limited to either Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels, Edge or Randy Orton. I'm starting to get tired of the same old schtick from Bischoff, who hasn't done anything overly surprising or even original since the draft lottery. He's still golden on the stick, and I most certainly don't want to see him separated from RAW, but this character has been treading water forever, and he's starting to gasp for air. What happened to the guy who wasn't just content to book matches on RAW, the guy who coordinated a surprise invasion of Smackdown during the heavily-promoted Billy and Chuck wedding? He doesn't seem to have the same drive and conviction that he once did, instead of ruling RAW with an iron fist he's bouncing back and forth between appeasing Triple H and appeasing Kane. I want to see fire in his eyes when he cuts a promo, I want to see a mad dictator with no regard for his own safety. SOMETHING.

As for the elected candidates for Taboo Tuesday's main event, I was caught a little off-guard by the number of options, not to mention the choices themselves. Chris Benoit and Randy Orton are gimmes. There was no question in my mind they'd be including the two most recent champions in the running for this one. The surprises came in the forms of Shawn Michaels and Edge, both of whom are closely tied to the erupting scene surrounding Chris Jericho's Intercontinental Title. I don't understand the reasoning behind removing these two key components from RAW's midcard without also throwing Jericho himself into the running. Michaels has had more than his share of chances recently, and I really don't see anything new coming from a makeshift match between HBK and the current champ. Edge sacrificed his Intercontinental Title to an injury not even a month ago... and he'll be back in top shape in time for the event, should he be voted in? Jericho, on the other hand, hasn't been granted a singles shot at Triple H or the World Title on PPV since dropping it to "The Game" at WrestleMania X-8, yet he's delivered as one of the show's greatest assets consistently since coming to RAW over two years ago. I guess I'm just rambling here, but I don't see the point between including two of the biggest names in the midcard without including its heart and soul as well.

Well, Hunter had something to say about all that (jeez, two paragraphs on the opening minute alone?!) and wandered down to the ring, spouting insults all the way, before Shelton Benjamin confronted him and we were suddenly treated to an impromptu matchup between the two. I didn't care for this promo, and I'm once again starting to sour on Triple H's work as a whole. More often than not, he feels like he's just going through the motions, and he lacks conviction in his words. Sure, he makes the ugly faces, he shouts at the right moments, he shifts up his metaphors somewhat regularly, usually doesn't rely on catchphrases and never trips over his own words. He's also never delivered a promo that's had me hanging on every word. I'm never fooled into thinking he believes what he's saying. He doesn't seem genuine, and that's why his promos seem to drag on in my opinion. He starts off hot, and simmers quickly once you realize who he's addressing and where it's heading. His follow-through is weak.

Likewise, Shelton Benjamin wasn't breaking down any barriers with his counter-speech just before their match. This felt like two guys going painting by the numbers and reading their lines, not two guys with a long history together ready to rip each other apart. The match that followed was pretty solid, par for the course considering the talent involved, and I like that they're continuing to tease us with this months-old rivalry. Hunter still hasn't knocked Benjamin down the few pegs that are standard for his regular opponents, and the fact that they're still slowly running with that is what's keeping Shelton afloat. This feud will go somewhere eventually, and I'm glad they're taking their time with it, keeping it on the burner but not quite on high. The time for Shelton to expand his moveset with a few more legit maneuvers is now, however. The stinger splash is great sports entertainment-based stuff, but means nothing without a sound rotation of moves building up to it.

The Superheroes / ECW-ites tag was probably the best match they've had together thus far. It was, without a doubt, a go-through-the-motions affair, but that's something that's easily overlooked. Every match on the show can't be a barn burning, high flying, career-making classic, and it's good to see these guys haven't forgotten the basics of working the crowd and putting on a simple tag team match. Helms looks to have put on some bulk and definition during his time off, and if they pull the trigger on his heel turn this month it's a good bet his motivation will stay high, his matches strong. Nothing super here, but nothing bad either.

I think I blinked and missed Kane's face turn. That sit-down interview was twice as serious as the rest of this drawn-out fairy tale has ever been, and they're visibly shooting for the "awwww, he really fell in LOVE with her" effect with the big red machine now. I can't complain, really, because I'll take that over 'lectro-testes, raped corpses, burning dumpsters and dark marriages any day of the week. I'm curious to see how well this turn of events goes over, and how Lita handles what happened in her absence, but I'm far from sold on the whole thing. Not bad but not good... they may save this angle yet, if Snitsky can get that goofy look off his face and convince me he isn't a total dipshit.

Of course, there's also the issue of his abilities in the ring, which looked to be below average at best in his match with Val Venis. Kane isn't exactly the best worker on RAW (nor, truthfully, is he the worst) and Val's easily a better opponent than ol' Gene-o's gonna get with the big, red, angry ex-poppa later in the month... so it's not a good sign that last night's Venis / Snitsky match was sub-par. I've seen them call up and retain worse athletes in the past, (the names Tomko and Heidenreich, Viscera and Henry spring immediately to mind) but I don't know what makes this guy more worthy of a huge feud than any of other stars who are sitting, unused, back in the locker room. I wish, just once, they'd be content with the toys they've got and not constantly yearn for the newer ones.

I also don't see how we're supposed to buy Snitsky as an immediate threat, especially one competent enough to crush a former Intercontinental Champ like Venis, considering his introduction. This is a guy who was called in as a "nobody" for Kane to obliterate in a fit of rage. In that role he was successful, only escaping permanent injury thanks to Lita's interference and a lucky shot to Kane's back. Now, all of a sudden, he's a force to be reckoned with? Guys, he was cannon fodder just seven days ago! Give us a break!

Ric Flair then proceeded to march out to the ring and launch into a tirade that kept my attention the whole way through, slowing down just enough to allow Randy Orton to climb onboard before taking off once again, the young former champ in tow. Remember all the things I pointed out about Triple H's speech earlier in the show? Flair basically schooled him in every instance here. His emotion wasn't misdirected, even though his points seemed to roam all over the place. His intensity came out in all the right places, and his body language basically sealed the deal. This didn't feel like a pre-recorded promo, it felt like a guy speaking his mind. It wasn't the Gettysburg address, it was a guy overflowing with emotion after taking a beating the previous week. Flair's still the teacher on the stick, and if this segment was any indication, Randy Orton's becoming a better pupil than Hunter. No matter how this segment played out later in the night, on its own it told a tremendous story and didn't end with a nose-to-nose, violence or some other gimmicky, overplayed nonsense. Very solid stuff.

The IC tag match was solid, at most, and I wasn't all that excited by it, to tell the truth. Maybe it's because it followed up such a great segment in the Flair / Orton promo, maybe it's because they were marching along the same path we just traveled a couple weeks back, I can't really put my finger on it. I'm still digging this intense, well-balanced midcard scene, and I can't wait to see how Edge climbs back into the equation, but they merely hit a single with this repeat match-up instead of a homer. Tomko's steadily improving, (thanks, no doubt, to working with three of the bettter athletes on the show) but he looks completely out of place in the ring with these guys.

I hated the promotional segments with Eugene, William Regal and the various proposed gimmicks with the match against Bischoff at Taboo Tuesday. I'm not excited in the least about seeing EB in the ring again, since he's great as a personality and nothing more, and Dinsmore's done nothing to give me any confidence in his abilities. William Regal's great in his role as the bad-ass with the heart of gold, and they threw him out there last night to do straight up comedy. To say he came off lame is a bit of an understatement. This was so uninspiring it defies accurate description, and I'm sad to see that the long, potentially interesting Eugene angle has faded away into such a weak finale.

I tried to watch that bit with Christy and the evil Divas, but it got to the point that I couldn't bear it any more. Trish, Molly and Gail make a great trio of feminine evil, (with the occasional visit from Jazz) but this was so poorly written even they couldn't save it. Yuck. Yuck, yuck. When did they let Jerry Lawler into the booking meetings?

Finally, we wrapped it up with a main event pitting Randy Orton against Batista, with his role in the TT main event at stake. Not really anything noteworthy, although I'd be lying if I said it was better than I thought it was going to be at the opening bell. This was pretty much all Batista, which makes sense if you judge the characters solely by their physical attributes and not by their history, personalities, motivations and strategies. Orton should have been taking advantage of Batista's temper and speed, working furiously considering the grim circumstances surrounding him, but carefully considering the risks. If his hype were to be believed, he would've slowly, surely taken apart the bigger man and proven his worth as a former Champ. Instead, this was even more traditionally structured and simple than the Hurricane & Rosey vs. Rhyno & Tajiri match earlier in the night. And, while I mildly sung that match's praises, that also wasn't in the main event slot. There's a difference between lending solid meat to the middle of a fast-paced show and slowing down an entire program with a forgettable main event. This needed to do a lot more than it did, I guess, is what I'm getting at.

Post-match, (or, rather, at the very end of the match) the early confrontation between the Legend Killer and the Nature Boy paid off in another Flair swerve. I saw it coming, as did the rest of the internet by any indication, but didn't really mind it all that much. It isn't a good time to split Evolution apart, and Flair can do a lot more as a heel right now than he can as a face. The split's going to happen eventually, and unless they continue to cry wolf with it until that time, it'll be huge when it does.

I don't like how obviously they pandered to Randy Orton as the chosen one for the upcoming TT World Title match this week. Despite that, I still think the voting's going to be tight. Consider this; They're POLLING WRESTLERS' POPULARITY on the INTERNET and CHRIS BENOIT IS ONE OF THE FOUR AVAILABLE CHOICES. It's like asking a guy wearing the color-coordinated Mario T-Shirt, Nintendo hat and Zelda boxer shorts whether he prefers Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony. But I'm getting off-topic, if you can imagine that. What this week boiled down to was some average-to-slightly-above-average storytelling and angle progression, a couple decent matches, a couple bad matches and one big, ass-kickin' promo. I liked this week's show better than last week's, and they succeeded in getting the ball rolling toward mid-October's PPV but I'm starting to wonder about the competence of the men behind the steering wheel.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.9

Monday, September 20, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 09/20/04

I'm not sure how, exactly, this was considered a 'season premiere' by any stretch of the imagination (and, to be honest, every time someone has used that phrase in reference to pro wrestling, I thought back to the commercials the WWF ran during the '94 baseball strike, featuring Randy Savage lamenting the season's premature end alongside a young boy and Vince's big overdubbed voice reminding us that "We don't have an off-season." Which, actually, is pretty funny when you look at how ferociously Vince has denied the workers the rights to a union of their own. DAMN how I'm already off-topic this week...) but when Vinnie Mac himself comes out to the ring and tells you to expect big things, it's usually a pretty safe bet he'll deliver. So, needless to say, I was interested in finding out what the special occasion was, and why they didn't bother promoting it until just seven days prior. As it turned out, I didn't have to wait very long.

I'll buck the trend and admit to thinking this is a pretty cool idea on the surface. Fans voting for the World Champ's challenger on an upcoming PPV? That's about as much audience participation as humanly possible. It's living up to their promise to constantly listen to their audiences and give them what they want. On the other hand, however, this is a company that regularly alters inconsequential polls on their own web site and OBVIOUSLY did everything in their power to keep Carmella in the recent Diva Search right up until the bitter end. It all comes back to the very heart of the business; this international conglomerate was founded on taking its fans for a ride, on twisting facts and reality to maximize their entertainment value. Buying into this idea, no matter how cool it appears on the surface, and then getting all bent out of shape about the way it turns out is no different than following WWE on tour almost religiously for years, buying up all of their merchandise, attending all of their big events, uh... writing... writing columns about them on the internet... ... and then acting completely betrayed and surprised when the heels win a match or two. You've gotta go into it with the notion that things aren't always going to turn out the way they seem. Have the participants and outcomes of Taboo Tuesday already been determined? Probably not. Will the legitimate feedback from their fans impact their decisions about who to push in the near future and who to de-emphasize? Quite likely. Will they muck around with the numbers they show the public to add drama to a reality-based event? Absolutely.

And hell yeah, I'm voting. If he's on the ballot, I'm giving my vote to Chris Jericho without a second thought.

Back to reality, this segment between Bischoff and McMahon came out of the gates on fire and then died a slow death in the ring as the events unfolded around them. I'll always love watching these two cut promos on one another in the middle of the ring, just because of their roles in the history of the business (the fan in me is always screaming "THAT'S VINCE McMAHON FACE TO FACE WITH ERIC BISCHOFF!! WHOAAAHHHH!!") but last night seemed to stumble over the same point half a dozen different times. I enjoyed Vince's dig at Bischoff's expense ("that's why you're the general manager of RAW and I'm not the general manager of Nitro") but aside from that I could've really done without. Eugene has more than run his course here, and if they miss this one last chance to turn him heel, revealing that he wasn't really mentally challenged after all, I don't see how his career will ever recover.

I don't really want to get into how I feel about the women's tag team match, because I think I covered most of it adequately last week. I don't know why they're continuing to drive Molly's character through the floor, especially considering her lengthy, convincing run as champion just one year ago, but between her series of losses to Victoria at the beginning of the year and this set of defeats at the hands of Stacy, things are looking darker and darker for her role on the show. The best thing for all involved would be to blow this off with a singles matchup where Molly systematically breaks her down and embarrasses her in front of her peers. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a Molly fan, I'm saying it because it makes the most sense in terms of storyline, character and future draws. Molly would double up on her heat almost instantly and regain the respect she's lost over the last six months, Stacy would sheepishly admit she doesn't belong in the ring, one of the face Divas could take offense to Molly's treatment of her pal and jump into a legit feud, and the fans could go back to staring at Stacy's ass at ringside during matches. Ha, I just sold myself on that one. Pull the trigger, bookers, lest I sit here and complain like a tool for another couple of weeks.

I was disappointed to see that the short little one-off between Tajiri and the Hurricane didn't get more time to develop, especially since both guys seemed to be on their 'A' Games. Well, aside from Helms obviously feeding his arm to Tajiri in time for that final rollup. I like the occasional surprise pinfall to keep an audience on its toes, but when it's two guys who haven't had enough time to establish themselves lately and the match gets less time from intro to pinfall than that whole conversation / hugging / kissing bit with Vince, Eric and Eugene, it's more than a little disturbing. Right now the Hurricane's heel turn is reminding me quite a bit of Jeff Hardy's pseudo-turn a couple of months before he left the promotion altogether. It happened, albeit with little fanfare, it's got a lot of potential to reignite a star who's been lagging lately, but I can't see them getting behind it and there's a good chance it'll be overlooked as soon as next week.

I don't know what to think about this ongoing mess between Kane, Lita and now Gene Snitsky. Nor do I really care to think about it, either. At the very least, the baby's gone, Lita's doped all to hell (or were those Kane-like black borders I saw around her eyes?) and Kane is FURIOUS. I like furious Kane. It beats mock-humorous Kane or supernatural, fire-shoot-out-my-dick Kane by a longshot.

Moving on, I had some trouble getting into the HBK / Y2J face-off to end all face-offs for the Intercontinental Title. The momentum was there, the intrigue was there, but the match fell short and the constant threat of outside interference loomed over any sort of storyline the two guys in the ring were trying to build. Shawn in particular looked sluggish here, almost convincing me he'd gassed at the five minute mark, and the match never really went anywhere. Right when it looked like they were going to start telling us a story, with Jericho's leg for instance, somebody would pop up outside the ring or we'd take a commercial break or the face in peril would suddenly land a flurry of desperate offensive maneuvers. HBK even kipped up about a minute after Y2J scored a nearfall on him with the Lionsault... like nobody would've minded if Jericho had gone for the "come on, baby" muscleman cover out of the blue after tasting some Sweet Chin Music. Sorry, but this was a major disappointment and I'm frustrated about the lack of clean finishes in the history between these two. I'm thrilled to see Christian moving up in the world with a prime time feud opposite the show stopper (and I love that "show stealer" jab he used in reference to himself all night long) but couldn't it have waited until we got a clean fall?

Sylvain Grenier and Maven met just after that in a match pitting the two greenest members of the roster not named Tomko off with one another. It's amazing to me that Maven's been around longer than Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton combined, yet he still seems to be the epitome of a bland rookie who hasn't found his niche on the roster just yet. This was watchable at best, if extremely by the books. And hey! Another roll-up out of nowhere for the finish! It worked so well in the Tajiri / Hurricane match earlier in the show they decided to go for it again here! Blah.

I'm loving these Simon Dean promos. There, I said it. It's instant hilarity to me, watching this promotion poke fun at and condemn the products and services that kept them afloat throughout most of the early 90s. All they need to do is print ICO PRO on those big drums of vitamins and powders to make this parody complete. Nova's kicking ass with these thus far.

And we wrap things up with an offbeat, odd main event between the usual suspects. Benoit, his various partners and Evolution have been almost unstoppable recently, owning RAW main events with frightening regularity, and for the most part this was no exception. I'll always enjoy a "two men fighting the odds" match like this one, as one guy goes down early and his teammates have to fight the battle in his place, and the underlying message here was surprisingly pro-Benoit and anti-Orton. While, at a glance, you see Randy Orton fearlessly taking on more than he can handle and returning just in the nick of time to collect the victory for his team, the underlying message was that Orton's young, inexperienced and lucky while Benoit's the real deal and Benjamin's starting to follow in his footsteps. Who took over the match immediately after Orton's exit? Benoit. Who finally turned the momentum after a lengthy isolation of Shelton Benjamin? Benoit. Who cleaned house, cleared the ring and softened Flair up with several finishers just before Orton's miraculous recovery? Benoit. There's a major story waiting to be told here, but the time isn't right just yet.

This was a nod below what you'd expect from the guys involved, with the glaring focus on Orton but the subliminal reinforcement focusing on Benoit.

A lot of near-misses, really. The Jericho / Michaels and Orton & Benoit & Benjamin / Evolution matches sounded great on paper but fell way short in execution, while possible surprises like the Helms / Tajiri and Maven / Grenier matches didn't even get off the ground. This was a stone's throw from last week's program... unfortunately in the wrong direction.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.7

Monday, September 13, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 09/13/04

I'm battling a mind-numbingly painful / bizarre inner ear infection this afternoon, so my apologies if this isn't the best nor the longest writeup I've ever contributed. It's really weird when one ear is totally OK, no problem whatsoever, and the other has been moist and throbbing all day long, clogging itself up and shutting out the surrounding noise seemingly at random. So, uh, yeah, I'm sure I didn't need to get into detail with you. But still... pity me.

It was bound to be a big show this week, not just because both of RAW's major singles titles changed hands the night before, but because the booking committee needed to act quickly and decisively to either save or abort Randy Orton's face turn after a less-than-stellar run as champ and an underwhelming main event at Unforgiven. Basically, the direction the company takes for the next four months is going to be defined in these next couple of episodes, so it's important that they don't screw things up right out of the gates. There was, naturally, quite a bit of momentum carrying over from Sunday's PPV, but with the added importance of the main event's future being decided on the same broadcast, this felt even larger going in than it probably should have.

The broadcast opened up, naturally, with a lengthy in-ring celebration by Triple H, Batista and Ric Flair, who managed to simultaneously celebrate and flaunt Hunter's victory at the prior night's PPV for well over ten minutes. I didn't really care for all of this, since the purpose of the segment was all but spelled out from moment one and nothing happened to even remotely throw us off as things unfolded. You see a big, human-sized cake in the ring, none of the heels will claim responsibility for setting it up, the champ assumes there will be a beautiful woman inside, BOOM, the challenger springs out of the cake and assaults his opposition. This was either booked twelve years in advance or somebody thought it would be fun to play around with a cliche or two at the top of the first hour. It's a shame, too, because it could've been a really cool little parody of the sport's more gimmicky past. A jab or two at the overdone segments of days gone by, not unlike the teased physicalities between Triple H and Eugene a few months ago, when Trips instructed him to chant "1-2-3-Pedigree" and then did absolutely nothing while the audience nearly lost their minds waiting for (and dreading) a pedigree that just wasn't gonna happen. About the only good thing I can say about this segment is how great the line of blood connecting Batista's nose to his chin was after Orton bloodied him with an inadvertent fist. That was a great visual. Triple H flailing around, both legs hanging out of the cake, was not.

Benoit and Conway put on a nice, neat show out there, opening up the program in the ring. I'm really happy to see these two getting the chance to work together on a regular basis, as each of their matches have been better than the last and it's helping Conway immeasurably. He's been solid in the ring almost from the get-go, but over the last couple of weeks he's been stepping it up as a character as well, doing more to get the crowd into the match during the lulls and really living his gimmick in the way he kicks, punches and carries himself. It was too bad the announcers didn't mention Benoit's history with La Rez (think back... who did these guys win those belts from in the first place?) but it's early still, and if they're going to pursue Benoit & Regal vs. the Flaming Frenchmen, I suppose there's plenty of time for that later. This was strangely paced, with the Rabid Wolverine looking for the Sharpshooter on more than one occasion inside of the five minute mark, but I guess it's been said that variety is the spice of life. I did love that lead-in from an apparent fourth rolling German directly into the crossface that eventually ended the match. As if audiences weren't nuts enough about the interlaced suplexes. I'm constantly amazed by the noise these crowds are making for Benoit appearances in general.

The Molly / Stacy face-off didn't do anything for me. Molly's dance and subsequent pride in her performance was amusing, but just like the opening segment, you knew where this was going and they carefully painted by the numbers the whole way there. The following tag wasn't the best I've seen from this women's division (not by a long shot, now that I mention it) although it wasn't the worst, either. Stacy's obvious weaknesses were catered to nicely by keeping her on the apron from start to finish, though it makes me wonder why they want her involved with the Women's division in the first place if she can't be trusted in the ring with much more than a simple roll-up at the end of a match. Didn't have enough time to get rolling, but even if it did, I doubt it would've amounted to much of anything.

Chris Jericho is being used about as flawlessly as possible at the moment. He's still cocky enough to maintain a connection with the heel character that brought him to the dance in the first place, but quotable and charismatic enough not to sour fans on him right out of the gates. His promos feel a lot less scripted, (especially the bit with the population in the front rows of last night's episode) which is giving him more room to ad lib and has visibly bumped up his confidence during a big, important speaking segment like we saw last night. It's unfortunate that he's still hovering around the Intercontinental Title, two years removed from winning the Undisputed World Championship, but with the level of competition he's got hanging around with him it's not all bad. Hell, with Christian, Edge and Shawn Michaels running the midcard alongside him, we could be in for a great series of fall IC Title defenses. Last night's Highlight Reel was serious when it needed to be, comedic without getting overly silly and effective at all the right moments. Introducing HBK to the midcard for the first time in twelve years is a challenge no matter who's involved, but thanks to some good booking and some great, character-driven dialogue, it didn't feel like a step down for the showstopper.

The tag match had its moments, serving as an enticing taste of what's just over the horizon for the IC scene, but felt lacking in more ways than one. I can't really put my finger on it, it just seemed as though something was being held back here, like the athletes were hesitant to hook up with one another. Regardless, Michaels and Jericho inarguably carried Tyson "goat beard" Tomko to the best match of his career and, surprisingly enough, he kept pace much better than I'd ever have given him credit for. Michaels has had some stinkers in his time, (his match a year or so back with Mark Henry springs immediately to mind) so it's relieving to see Tomko avoiding total embarrassment in his first meeting with the Heart Break Kid. I liked the little bits of story they threaded into this match too, almost confronting the obvious question (why the faces are all buddy-buddy now) by working together throughout the match as near-twins. When they hit that double-crossbody to the floor, it answered a lot of questions. Jericho came right out and admitted to being a fan of Michaels's career during the build to WrestleMania XIX. By working together as such a strong team here, by showcasing the fact that each knew the others' weaknesses and how to cover for them, it proved that Y2J wasn't the only one who was a fan of his partner's work. I honestly can't wait to see where they go from here with this.

One more week before the Diva search comes to a close. Not that I'm counting.

I guess that's an out to the Kane / Lita love story, albeit a weak one. But hey, don't get confused, I'm not complaining. At least, I'm not complaining if and when they decide that this really is the conclusion of one of the year's worst storylines. I am, however, complaining about the three whole segments of TV time they devoted to its execution. They wasted so much time on this that it started bringing back bad memories of the night the New Age Outlaws shoved Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie off the entryway in their dumpster. I loathed that angle, as it ate up close to half of the week's show, but at least it led to a match and involved characters that I gave a damn about.

Weak main event that didn't have enough time to live up to the build, thanks to those countless, nail-bitingly tense shots of Kane and Lita slowly wheeling their way out of the arena. Not that I would've really cheered a three-on-one match in the first place, but... come ON! If I've gotta choose between Lita's acting and the standard "three guys vs. one... OH MY GOD THE ONE GUY IS HOLDING HIS OWN AGAINST ALL THREE OF HIS OPPONENTS" match, do you think there's even a choice? This felt hurried as hell, and though the conclusion left us with some interesting questions, it also left behind a comparison I'm not sure of my feelings towards. Benoit, Orton and Benjamin facing off against Flair, Hunter and Batista. What's the premise of the Evolution stable again? Past, present and future? Hm. Past, present and future. Past, present and future. Past, present and... oh shit.

I don't really mind that Benoit's the perceived "past" of that face version of RAW's most dominating stable, but there's no doubting which side the cards are stacked towards in that face-off. This could go somewhere, and I'll concede that the time is right to counter Evolution with a strong face stable, but the moons are going to have to align just right for it to work with that trio. Benoit, Orton and Benjamin have their work cut out for them.

They asked a lot of questions with this show, and didn't provide many answers. That's a good thing, in case you were wondering, but I can't say I'm terribly enthused about a lot of the new directions they've chosen. The IC Title scene is good to go, no question about it, and the main event could put on a great show, but something's missing from this picture. It's like they're afraid to engage. At a glance, I'd call this better than last week, but I can't give it a score of much more than average. I kept waiting for them to stop unravelling fuse and start igniting their lighter.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.3

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Unforgiven 2004 Preview

It's harvest time again for RAW, as we're rolling into yet another brand-exclusive PPV weekend and the first title defense of "the youngest WWE Champion ever" Randy Orton. I was surprised to hear that Unforgiven would be a RAW-exclusive PPV a couple months back, since Vengeance, the last event before last month's Summerslam, was also RAW-exclusive. In hindsight, though, RAW has been unquestionably the better show this year so if they had to choose one program or the other to double up on, I think they made the right decision. RAW's current storylines have more substance behind them, and the payoffs have more potential. Sure, Smackdown has been running with Eddie vs. Kurt and Booker vs. Cena, but the former has seemingly blown off in favor of a big-money Luther Reigns push, while Book and John aren't exactly measuring up to Book and Benoit with their "best of" series. So yeah, RAW it is.

Despite the size of the lineup, this really is a nice, tight little card. Every one of the show's active big-match performers is represented here, opposite an opponent (or two) that could bring out the best in them. Chris Benoit's long string of outstanding tag matches on RAW is translated here to a monster tag that teams him with William Regal against Evolution's Flair and Batista. In various combinations, these four guys have worked together to absolutely outstanding results on free TV. Christian and Chris Jericho, a feud that's been burning since last winter and has never disappointed in the ring, is coupled here with a gimmick that could really deliver. Kane vs. Shawn Michaels, along with Triple H vs. Randy Orton, are fresh matches we've never seen before and have the potential to take off if the participants have come to work. This looks like an extremely solid show on paper, but so did Summerslam. It's far from a given that WWE will deliver on their potential, especially on "second tier" PPVs like this one, but I'm liking what I'm seeing thus far.

La Resistance vs. Rhyno & Tajiri
World Tag Team Titles

This has been a really successful, almost transparent, build to a title match on PPV. Rhyno's been working his ass off in anticipation of this chance since early spring, and alongside Tajiri has created a team that's become something more than a temporary pairing of two inactive singles stars. Conway and Rhyno are the guys to keep an eye on in this match, as both were outstanding in this past Monday's eight-man tag, and I think they're both the obvious leaders of their respective coalitions. Tajiri's been off and on since coming to RAW, initially lagging in a feud with the Coach, then soaring in a brief series with Triple H, then simply vanishing from the program after an ill-timed injury. Meanwhile, Sylvan Grenier is still biding his time... he's a multiple time tag team champion, but he still doesn't feel like he's ready for prime time.

I think this match will deliver, although it won't be good enough to really put RAW's tag division on the map as an outstanding, competitive division known the world over. It's a good start for an area of the show that's needed attention badly over the last series of months, and La Resistance is retaining. Rhyno and Tajiri have made some good strides recently, but they haven't gelled together nearly as well as Conway and Grenier.
Winners: La Resistance

Trish Stratus vs. Victoria
Women's Title

The women's division has been tough to track since WrestleMania, occasionally shining and regularly fading. It's been de-emphasized to the point that the title wasn't defended for a set of months (coinciding with Trish's injury) and it's occasionally shined so brightly it's retaken its old slot as the most entertaining division on RAW. I really enjoyed the Victoria / Gail Kim match a few weeks ago, for instance, and the divide between the heel competitors and face competitors has been outstanding with Trish leading the charge. I still don't like Victoria's dull face character, especially when contrasted with her well-rounded heel character, but she's one of the division's most consistent performers in the ring and I think she and Trish will put on a pretty decent match in this slot Sunday night. If they're ever going to move forward with this strange storyline involving Stevie Richards in drag, they'll do it this Sunday... and regardless of the success (or lack thereof) of his inevitable interference, I like Trish here.
Winner: Trish Stratus

William Regal & Chris Benoit vs. Ric Flair & Batista

Should be outstanding, and if that ladder match weren't hiding a couple matches further up the card, I'd say this has a good chance of stealing the show. It's no secret that Benoit's been simply untouchable since coming to RAW, delivering in the ring on almost every occasion and taking great strides on the mic and in his body language as well. Likewise, it's been no great secret that his opponents have been well-selected, holding up their end of the match and keeping up with the former champ when he starts to roll. Evolution, especially this representation of their talent, has been an excellent foil for the Crippler all year, participating in more outstanding TV main events than I'd ever have anticipated when 2004 began. Flair is excellent in small doses in the ring and large doses on the apron, while Batista is great as both a hot tag / physically dominating force and a big time morale booster on the occasion that he's physically bested with the match on the line.

Likewise, William Regal's been a great addition to the roster since his long-awaited return, not so much in the ring as out of it. His character's been consistently one of the best on the air, whether it's as the hard-nosed, soft-hearted mentor of Eugene or the tough-as-nails, furious bastard who verbally raped Triple H to open the show about a month back. He's been kept out of the ring on the large, and has only recently been making a slow return to competition. I haven't seen anything all that impressive out of him in the ring, which is probably as much the fault of the short matches he's worked as it is his own athleticism, so this should prove to be an excellent measuring stick for him on the mat. If he holds his own here, he's ready to be thrown into the mix full time as a major player. If he lags behind while Benoit, Flair and Batista once again work their magic, maybe he's better off as an outside presence. I'm going with Benoit and Regal here, although it could very easily swing the other way, considering the history between Benoit and Evolution.
Winners: Chris Benoit and William Regal

Christian vs. Chris Jericho
Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title

I've been really surprised with how well they've managed to cover for Edge's unluckily-timed injury here, rebuilding an excellent feud from the near-past in his stead and adding a stipulation that simultaneously freshens the old grudge and adds to the potential of the match. As I mentioned in this week's RAW Review, I'm surprised they didn't mention Christian's expertise in ladder matches, as he's been through just as many as the former "master of the ladder" himself, Jeff Hardy, with a higher success rate to boot...but it makes sense that his character would be too flustered to think of it on the fly during that segment at the opening of this past Monday's RAW.

Truth be told, the story of this feud has already been told. It's gone through the introduction, the climax and the conclusion. They won't be treading any new ground here this Sunday night, but that doesn't mean I'm any less excited about the potential of it. It was a lucky break that Christian was all set to make his return to active competition right around the same time that Edge suffered that ill-fated injury, as they don't have nearly as much backstory to wade through in building another fight between Y2J and the CLB. Should be a great match, with both guys busting their asses to deliver and further the legend of this already-noteworthy gimmick. It seems to me that Jericho has momentum on his side, and even if this match were a three-way with a healthy Edge thrown into the mix, I'd choose him as the next IC champion without much hesitation.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Kane vs. Shawn Michaels

The build for this has been hanging in the background for upwards of three months, although you wouldn't know it by watching the programming itself. I don't know how or why the story between Kane and Lita has taken center stage to the build to a story that could've been tied all the way back to the first ever Hell in a Cell match, eight years in the past, but... well, that's RAW, I suppose. Instead of producing a compelling story that results in a big money match between two major names, they focus on a silly, meaningless marriage / pregnancy storyline that's going to result in... what, a WrestleMania "prenup" match between Kane and his estranged wife? An unforgettable set of segments where Lita's water breaks miraculously during the live broadcast of RAW, leading her to suffer through labor for an entire week, only to birth the child in the main event slot of the next week's show? Sometimes they hit a homerun and sometimes they hit a foul, I guess. The match should be interesting Sunday night, if nothing else, although I'm not altogether confident it'll be good.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

Randy Orton vs. Triple H
World Title

It's both far too soon to have this match and the perfect time to book it. In terms of each character's personality, it makes sense that they'd want to get to this big face-off as soon as possible. Hunter's both gold-motivated and offended by the actions of this young defector, while Orton feels the need to prove he's no fluke, that defeating Chris Benoit for the title was an inevitability, and that he's a better athlete than "The Game." Additionally, Eric Bischoff would have dollar signs in his eyes at the prospect of this one, and would recognize the value of striking while the iron's hot in his continuing quest to make RAW an outstanding show, well above the level of Teddy Long's Smackdown. It all makes sense in context, but when taking a step back and looking in from the outside, this match shouldn't be happening so quickly. Orton is clearly not ready for his role as the big league face. With the fans turning on him more and more frequently, and anything less than the most careful booking here will solidify him as a paper champion, only keeping the belt warm until Hunter feels it's time to regain it. Randy needs to look strong here, but if they go all the way and let him take charge of the match, winning it cleanly with an RKO, it'll still feel hollow somehow. Truth be told, I don't know how to confront the problems presented by this one, and I have no idea how they plan to book their way out of this corner.

Physically, the match could be excellent. Orton's been a hot and cold performer almost since the beginning of his run with Evolution, and Hunter, despite some outstanding work just after WrestleMania, is very similar in that regard. If both of these guys go out there wearing their working boots and with luck on their side, this could be amazing. On the other hand, if both have off nights it could be abysmal, plodding and humdrum. I'm eager to see them establish themselves out there, but I fear they'll collapse under the pressure. And it's too soon to take the belt off Orton.
Winner: Randy Orton

In Closing...

A great undercard backing an unpredictable main event that could either send the show into the stratosphere or an early grave. I like this show's chances, especially with that upper card tag team match and the IC Ladder match, and I'm optimistic about the World Title match's chances. This feels like a big turning point, and if it delivers RAW's success will continue.
until next time, i remain

Monday, September 6, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 09/06/04

Man, every time there's a PPV around the corner, I waste this opening paragraph sharing the shock and awe I felt when I realized that there's a PPV coming up in just five short days. And every time I write that same old opening paragraph, there's a little voice in the back of my head screaming "Enough with the 'oh, shit, there's a pay per view around the corner.' Talk about something else!" Once again, however, I've chosen to ignore that little voice. I'll drown him completely one of these days. Anyway, yeah, Unforgiven is this Sunday, and despite the large number of names involved with the card, the number of matches that have actually been announced is quite small. With no additional firepower seemingly on its way, this was RAW's last opportunity to drive the point home that we NEEDED to order this show. There wasn't as much riding on this broadcast as, say, the episode prior to Summerslam, or the RAW before WrestleMania, for that matter... but with Randy Orton's first PPV slot as World Champion just days away, you've gotta figure the crowd interest in this event is of a little more concern than it would be otherwise.

As the show faded in from darkness, my mind was almost immediately overcome with questions; why was there a steel cage in the ring, what did Eric Bischoff have to say, what was under the gold cloth, and who was going to be driving an enormous vehicle down to ringside, since the regular entryway had been flattened from a ramp to a simple runway? I love shows that open with mystique and invite the viewer to ask questions, and this was successful on all fronts. Bischoff was rockin' the pimp daddy cane, selling the effects of Orton's sledgehammer-drop, and came across as less of a heel and more of an impartial GM, interested in making money above all else, as he mediated the face-off between Y2J and Christian a few minutes into the show. If you're looking for RAW's MVP since the brand extension, I've gotta say Bischoff is in the running... he's been constantly entertaining, not to mention believable, and never seems to run out of things to say.

Likewise, Christian and Jericho were bouncing off of one another in all the right way out there last night. Both were shameless in their hunt for the easy gold, now that Edge is out of the picture, and Jericho wound up with the upper hand in the end thanks to some clever work on the mic. You'd figure Christian would be more than happy to work a ladder match for the title, since he's got more experience in ladder matches than anybody else on RAW at the moment, but he was too busy playing stunned after the audience didn't go wild for his proposed "no countouts" stipulation to make that connection. Just great, great stuff... Jericho as the arrogant bastard who always knows what to say, Christian as the nerdy, wanna-be main eventer who always says the worst thing at the worst time, and Bischoff as... well, as Bischoff. This was, simply put, three of RAW's best-developed personalities having a field day with one another, and was a stupendous way to kick off the program, not to mention an outstanding jump-start to the sudden Christian / Jericho match this Sunday on PPV. I loved this.

Action in the ring kicked off with an interestingly-intertwined eight man tag, as the team of Benoit, Regal, Rhyno and Tajiri face off against the combined powers of Evolution and La Resistance. Benoit had beef with just about everybody on the other side of the mat here, and acted accordingly by volunteering to take the ring first for his team and eventually single-handedly mopping the floor with the opposition at the match's conclusion. I would've loved to have seen this go longer, since these guys were just starting to warm up, but I was happy with what I got nonetheless. Benoit, Rhyno and Conway, in particular, came out of this smelling like roses. Conway and Rhyno finally fired up and showed off some personality in the ring while the former champion continued his path of destruction, basically wrenching control of the match away from Batista and violently dominating the heels on his own. I'm worried Rhyno took a bad bump on his neck in the form of a Batista spinebuster, since he just wasn't the same after that and was clutching the base of his neck, crumpled on the mat while his teammates were celebrating. Scary stuff when you consider he came back from the same surgery that Benoit and Austin had. This was a lot of fun, which is par for the course where big tag team face-offs between Benoit and Evolution are concerned this year. God, just keep putting those guys in the ring together and you won't go wrong.

Randy Orton's face run is on life support, and I'm not saying that just to be the traditional, pessimistic, "smart" internet writer. The guy's losing conviction during his promos, the live crowds have already begun to turn on him, and not even a clever escape from the top four heels on the show could get him a sizeable ovation from an otherwise-hot audience. If the new champ couldn't get that crowd to love him, (and he honestly almost turned Kane face when it looked as though the main event was going to end because of his flagrant low blow) something's wrong. He stumbled during his backstage promo on more than one occasion, leaving me without any idea of what he was trying to say, and that's an area in which he's been infallible in the past. Imagine how long Chris Benoit's title reign would've lasted, had won the World Title and all of a sudden forgotten how to have a good match. Extremely disconcerting stuff from the Heavyweight Champ.

Trish and Nidia put on a better match than I'd expected, but that's not to say it came off without a hitch. Nidia's not the worst wrestler on the active roster, but she's still got her share of rough spots. I was surprised, pleasantly so, to see Trish playing the role of the seasoned veteran, walking her opponent through some uncertain moments in last night's face-off. It's great to see the champ continuing to step up her game, even when she's at the top of the division, as she's basically the Rock of the Women's Title now. Established, confident, marketable, certainly not the best worker in her division but level-headed enough to see an inexperienced opponent in need and doing her best to mask the slip-ups. I didn't care for the finish, but it works within the confines of Trish's character.

As an aside, when did Nidia start speaking exclusively in Spanish? And when did she lose her Southern white trash accent? And why is it such a cliche that, when characters whose first language isn't English are given speaking roles in situations like these, they always revert back to their native tongue on the most basic words? OK, she can put together a full monologue in perfect English, but when somebody asks her a yes / no question, she slips and answers "si"?

Whatever. The cage match followed that one up, and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night by slowing things down beyond the point of normal reason and spelling things out for the viewing audience as plainly as an early printing of "See Spot Run." Eugene probably put on his best all around performance since coming to RAW here, selling Triple H's constant offense extremely well and bouncing all around the ring as any face-in-peril should, but I couldn't get into it. This was so overwhelmingly dominated by Triple H that it lacked any sort of spark, any possibility we'd see a miraculous comeback before the match was over. It's like they were attempting to dangle a carrot in front of our faces, but forgot to buy a carrot. The initial injury angle came off as well as could be expected, although I was expecting a middle-rope pedigree when Hunter first sat on the turnbuckle and reached for Eugene's arm, and Hunter came out of this not just as an asshole, but as a dangerous asshole who knows exactly what to do when it's time to bend the rules and do some serious damage. The only really successful moment of that match was when Hunter calmly, expertly positioned Eugene's shoulder directly under his knee and put the whole of his weight on it... and even that was almost spoiled when he went so far as to slam the cage door on it after the match. Overkill much?

Jericho and Tomko didn't impress me last night, but I'll admit Tyson's slowly showing signs of improvement. I still think he needs a solid six months in the developmental territories before he'd be even close to something I'd like to see on RAW, but progress is progress. Of course, he DID basically kip up from the climbing enzuigiri with seemingly no adverse effects whatsoever... baby steps. Baby steps.

Orton / Kane was, in a word, uninspiring. Randy's just not the same guy without that cocky smirk to fall back on, and I'm noticing a pretty substantial decrease in his in-ring intensity since the big win at Summerslam. Maybe that's got more to do with the the sudden increase in the size of his opponents than anything, but it's worrying all the same. The cage didn't add anything to this match, and Kane's character wasn't making any sense when he refused to pin Orton a couple of minutes after the re-start. What, does he have something to prove against Orton? Some sort of personal vendetta? Wouldn't he want to get the match over with, so he can be fresh for his match with Shawn Michaels this Sunday? I liked the way they tied the two halves of this one together by involving the chair in the finish of the match, but that's... that's about it.

This was a strange build to the PPV, kicking off in high gear and really doing a bang-up job of building the midcard of the show, but tail sliding its way through the build for the World Title match and secondary main event. Just a nipple better than last week, based entirely off of the rocketship the show seemed strapped to in the first half hour. I'm worried about the direction of the World Title, and it's looking more and more like I'm not the only one.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.4