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.
Overall Score: 5.9