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
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
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
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