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.
Overall Score: 4.4