Monday, October 25, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 10/25/04

Funny they'd use a term like 'Inmates Running the Asylum' at this point, isn't it? I mean, amidst a growing number of comparisons to the latter days of WCW... attempted quick fixes, strangely-chosen imports from the minor leagues, poor PPV performances... you think they'd want to steer away from something as blatant as Eric Bischoff standing in the middle of the ring, declaring that 'the inmates are running the asylum,' a phrase which is almost synonymous with the death of McMahon's old rivals in Atlanta.

But that was indeed the phrase they used at the opening of this week's show, just after killing five or ten minutes with a complete re-airing of last week's Bischoff / Eugene match. And you know what? It actually worked. Eric Bischoff was in great form last night, actually saying very little but telling an intriguing tale with his body language. This wasn't the same Uncle E who's been bowing under pressure to basically every heel on the roster for the last eighteen months. This Bischoff was fed up, concise and meaningful. He'd had enough, he was ready to quit playing around and start doing business, and.. well... he was acting like a great GM. Not the whole "giving myself the night off" thing, although that did eventually create a great cohesive storyline for the rest of the show, but the fact that you knew he meant what he was saying. It's like he finally realized the kind of power his title could wield and was ready to quit buckling under pressure. I want to see more of this guy.

So, in retrospect the Taboo Tuesday replay served as an excellent opener for the program, since the entire premise of the episode was dependent upon its viewers understanding the backstory. In that role it still went a little long, and it was a bit unsettling to drop right into the match without an introduction like that, but it served an important purpose as one of the bookends of the episode.

Of course, Triple H and Evolution wasted little time in snatching the reigns away from the rest of the locker room, all but running into Bischoff on his way back behind the curtain as they hit the entryway to claim the temporarily-vacated GM role for themselves. Hunter was kept relatively short here, and Flair brought the body language in spades, basically frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of Randy Orton. The roles felt backwards in this segment, though, with the heel challenging the face to a match on free TV and the face only accepting once certain stipulations were met. Also, it was disappointing to see them ignore the sign of respect they'd shared after their match at Taboo Tuesday. Orton was still stumbling on the mic here, but Flair's reactions and enthusiasm more than made up for it. Better than your average Evolution promo, and somebody needs to double the dosage on whatever Flair's been on this month because he's been outstanding.

I had trouble getting into the Jericho / Benjamin Intercontinental Title match, which is odd because I'm usually really big on both guys. They just seemed to have problems getting the ball rolling together last night, like they were trying out some new spots and they weren't always working out how they'd been envisioned. I didn't see their Taboo Tuesday match, so I can't make any kind of comparison to that, but I've definitely seen better from both. They had enough time to do something with, but it wasn't the unforgettable classic you'd imagine it to be.

I loved the bits and segments with Bischoff and Coach backstage sharing the Grey Goose. Didn't help or hinder the show in any way, it just reminded us that they were there and that neither Evolution's attempted dominance nor the faces' coalition affected them in the slightest.

Likewise, I really enjoyed the ongoing backstage segment between Evolution and, basically, the entire locker room. It started out on a believable note; Hunter, Batista and Flair looking for trouble where there is none, and ended in a really inspiring face-off between this small cluster of heels and a large grouping of faces. There was the strong scent of change in the air during this segment, like the locker room finally realized it was time to stand up, which is something I haven't seen done quite this well since the days of the nWo. Here's hoping they learn from WCW's mistakes and follow through on it this time, rather than just constantly delaying the payoff.

Man, recapping the amount of backstage segments and interviews that went down on this show is really opening my eyes to how lacking this week really was in matches and actual physical segments. What's surprising about that is the fact that I didn't notice at the time of the initial airing. Most of the segments were good enough to distract me from the fact that they were taking time away from the matches themselves, and I'm usually the first to take notice of something like that.

So yeah, another set of promos followed that set of backstage segments up. Edge kicked it straight through the uprights with his first true full-heel promo in years, giving a piece of his mind to anybody willing to listen. I'm glad to see them keeping away from the comical character Edge portrayed the last time he was a heel, as no matter how great he was in that role it wouldn't have worked this far up the card. Take Triple H for instance; as the leader of DX he was on the upper crust of the midcard at best. Once he dropped the stable and became "The Game," he almost immediately cracked the main event. Now he's established enough to go back to the comedy from time to time, because we all know he's just an inch away from turning back into the deadly-serious man that dominated the main event for so long. Rocky did the same thing. So did Mick Foley. So, to a lesser extent, did Austin. Don't get me wrong now, I'm not implying that Edge could be the next Rock, Hunter or Stone Cold... I'm just saying he's taking all the right actions to follow in their footsteps. Anyway, long story short, great promo. One of his best to date.

Pity Shawn Michaels couldn't follow it up with more of the same. The amount of cheese and sugar-coating in that speech was enough to turn even the most steadfast of stomachs. Granted, it was necessary to give him the opportunity to explain his absence, but man... could they have maybe given him somewhere to go with it? No "I'll be back and when I am, Edge better watch his ass," nothing like "I respect Hunter for defeating me at Taboo Tuesday, but when I return I'll be gunning for him again." Instead we got a pandering, lame, stilted speech about how the fans are so motivational, inspiring, wonderful, whatever. Shawn's been pure gold since coming back a couple years ago, but this was not his finest hour and it makes me yearn for a heel turn, pronto. I want to smell the venom on his words, not the sticky sweetness.

I didn't care for the Batista / Maven bit, surprise surprise. The buildup was decent enough, although these impromptu matches are starting to get a little old, but the match itself was totally counterproductive and unnecessary. Crushing Maven in the ring isn't going to do anything to improve Batista's image, since he's dominated much bigger names in the past, and it's only going to reinforce the initial Tough Enough champion's perception as a perennial loser. The ongoing coalition of the faces was nice to see continuing throughout the program, though, and I guess that was the real reason for this matchup. Basically, Maven looked like a complete moron here for bitch slapping Evolution's monster, getting his ass handed to him in a series of small paper cups in the ring, stealing a win unconvincingly, then relying on the entire locker room to bail him out when said monster came looking for revenge.

Oh man, then they followed it up with that horrible Gene Snitsky / William Regal match. Once again, Regal's thrown into a situation where he doesn't look completely inept, since he never recovered from the rookie's blindside assault, but I'm getting really tired of seeing the Brit on his back at the end of a match. They had such a great opportunity with him earlier this year, it's just beyond my understanding how it could have been botched this badly.

Snitsky then proceeded to cut the latest in a series of unapologetically bad promos, right there in the middle of the ring. I'm seriously missing the joke with this guy. I realize that a lot of his supposed attraction is in just how bad his speeches really are, and that there's a certain camp appeal to that, but... damn, I mean he's not even doing this on purpose. He was glaringly bad on this show, following all that unbelievably good backstage action and that outstanding Edge promo, and I can't enjoy something so absurdly putrid. Additionally, the guy's just scary to look at, what with that enormous goatee, the thinning, near-bald spot near the back of his head, the body that's so big you're just waiting for a muscle to graphically pop out of his arm and land on the mat during a match, and those teeth. Oh man, those teeth. Go back and look at his top row of chompers during this segment... it looks like he's wearing a pair of dentures over top of his real teeth. I kept waiting for him to accidentally spit them out.

Finally, we wrapped things up with the much-ballyhooed main event rematch between Ric Flair and Randy Orton, with Orton's World Title future at stake. Flair was bouncing all over the place in an attempt to further get Orton over as the real deal, and for a decent part of the fight the younger star kept up. Bits and pieces of this reminded me of Flair's matches with a young Barry Windham or a younger Sting, where he put them over as hungrier than he could ever be, but just as I would start to get swept away by the memories, something would happen to snap me back to the present. Orton would lose his wind and they'd need to bide their time until he was ready to go again. Flair would get caught blatantly feeding his cheek to the younger challenger for a tide-turning punch when Orton didn't quite get there in time. Orton would forget to sell a leg, think about it and then realize he should be in pain. There were half a dozen moments I noted where Randy didn't have an offensive plan of attack and had to fall back on throwing Flair over his head in a backdrop. They set out to tell a really nice story in this one, but the various missteps made it difficult to completely enjoy. Orton's made major progress since debuting, no doubt about it, but I still don't think he's ready for the role they've opened up for him just yet. He's able to hold his own in a spot match, but he still struggles when it comes to merging that skill with the ability to tell stories on the mat.

Post match, the faces finally say enough's enough, corner Triple H and give him the on-screen beating he's had coming for YEARS. It's a great feeling to see the nice guys emerging triumphant once in a while, especially when they've been the whipping boys of RAW for such a long time. It's not something I'd want to see week-in and week-out, but it was tremendously successful as a surprise closing for this week.

It was great to see the bookers concentrating on a single-episode storyline this episode, rather than just another chapter in an epic, six-month-long saga. It was really enjoyable to have an opening, a climax and a conclusion all within the confines of a single two-hour program for a change, and the happy ending left me with a great, upbeat feeling. The writing of the big picture was fantastic this week, and though a few segments struggled the whole story was much more solid than I'm used to seeing. I'll give this a thumbs up, although it could've been a whole lot more if Flair / Orton and Jericho / Benjamin had come through a little stronger.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

Monday, October 18, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 10/18/04

It was now or never for the hard sell to Taboo Tuesday, the event which is more than likely already history by the time you're reading this. After finally getting serious with the build last week, overseas in the UK, they still had a long way to go before the event itself, which was a mere twenty four hours from the opening pyros of this week's RAW. It's been quite a while since a big league program's been up that close to a PPV event, and I was curious to see if they'd succeed under the looming deadline or explode unceremoniously under the pressure. Only one way to find out...

Things didn't exactly start off well, with Eugene and his Uncle Eric squaring off together in the ring. Hey, remember when this was supposed to be "injured man vs. injured man," Eugene with his "severely separated shoulder" and Bischoff with his broken foot or whatever? I wonder what happened to all that? I guess there's a repressed mutagenic healing factor floating around in this family's gene pool somewhere. Anyway. Eugene's passed the point of no return now, and I'm not just saying that to be trendy and jump on the Eugene hatewagon. I honestly can't see how they'll be able to pull this one out of the toilet, even with the potential "I'm not really retarded" heel turn somewhere in the near future. The amount of beatings he's taken without giving up the facade, the amount of time he and Regal have supposedly spent together, the number of guys in the back he'd have needed to pull one over on... it's beyond the point of even the most remote believability to turn him, and his face act is belly-up in the midcard. Even Bischoff himself, who's usually one of the brightest characters of a segment, didn't have much of note to say here.

I can see the storyline purpose of Bischoff booking Eugene to face Snitsky, I guess, but why throw the new guy with such blatant wrinkles in his ringwork into a spot like that when there are dozens of heels in the back who could've accomplished the same task without leaving such a stinking dump in the ring? This was every bit as bad as you'd imagine, considering both guys' track records, and while I guess the point of it all was to put Snitsky over as even more of a credible threat to Kane, he didn't do any convincing in the ring. If anything, Snitsky didn't budge and is still the longshot at TT, and Eugene's looking like an incredibly lucky bastard to have kept up with the main eventers for such a long stretch in the early summer. This was bad.

Oh yeah, and Bischoff cleaned up with an after-bell kick to the side of the head that looked really, really weak. For all of his credentials, I don't think I've ever seen anything out of ol' EB in the ring that would lead me to believe his claims of being a legitimate martial artist are any more real than Nick Dinsmore's mental disabilities.

The debate between World Title hopefuls wasn't quite as bad as I'd hoped it would be. For the most part, everybody stuck to their guns and delivered a surprisingly good promo considering the circumstances. Benoit did much better for himself than I'd predicted, (truth be told, I winced just before he spoke) Edge really drove the point home with his heel turn and Shawn Michaels was... well, he was Shawn Michaels. That's exactly the kind of atmosphere in which he's thrived in the past. I liked how they kept mentioning the lack of physicalities, like this could end in any other way, and when the three men finally did come to blows it was done in a way that gave each guy a little more momentum heading into the Triple Threat. My one real complaint with this segment was the not-so-subtle jabs and attempted satire that kept trying to surface towards the upcoming Presidential Election. I hate when Vince & Co. attempt to make a political commentary, since it always feels really cheesy and heavy-handed, and sure enough that's exactly how I felt about those occasional sentiments in this segment.

They really need to get Stacy the hell out of the women's division, because she sticks out like a sore thumb in there. Her lack of any sort of offense was really distracting in this one, even though she spent most of the match on her chest, making bizarre grunts while the various heels worked over her leg. When she did get a rare moment to turn the tables on her tormentors, she... she... waited around awkwardly for a moment, then tried to hit a schoolboy. OK, so she can roll up her opponents and perform the Kevin Nash 'boot choke' in the corner, which shouldn't really count because it's an illegal chokehold in the ropes anyway. I'm crusading. Point of the matter is, Stacy needs to be traded to Smackdown. This match didn't do a thing for me, apart from a few moments of brilliance from Victoria. Her affinity for putting a new twist on old maneuvers reminds me a lot of Chris Kanyon, back when he first ditched the Mortis mask in WCW and was really motivated. Too bad she seems to be headed down the same path of stupid angles, abrupt character changes and constant misuse in the midcard.

That little minute-long backstage faceoff between Snitsky and Lita did more to sell me on his match at Taboo Tuesday than his entire curtain-jerking match with Eugene earlier in the show. He showed me some character here, as did Lita, and the whole thing felt twice as realistic as most of the backstage segments we're treated to on this show.

I enjoyed the tag match we got at the top of the second hour between Evolution and the team of Chris Jericho and Randy Orton. It wasn't a memory I'll take with me to my grave or anything, but it was without question a solid little match, especially for free TV. The opening moments were a bit chaotic and underwhelming, but once Flair got back into the groove and started to really churn, it was a thing of beauty. He was obviously three steps ahead of Orton here, visibly restraining himself on more than one occasion so that Randy could make a short-lived comeback. I've gotta question their motivations, demanding that all the fans go to their computers right away before the end of the match, but I can't discount the workers themselves for that. I liked the finish of this one, as Jericho pulled himself out of unconsciousness just in time to avoid the pinfall, but was then immediately overwhelmed by the pain of the figure four leglock and subsequently tapped out. I've been saying it for a couple weeks running now, but Batista's still steadily improving in the ring. Pity I can't still say the same for Orton.

I really loved the lengthy series of speeches and interruptions that made up Vince McMahon's interaction with 90% of the midcard roster. It's a real rarity to see McMahon himself spreading the love outside of the main event level, let alone doing so in a segment as long and genuinely entertaining as this one, so I'll enjoy it for now and acknowledge that we'll probably never see anything like it again. I don't think there was a moment in this whole segment that didn't maintain my attention, and for the most part I loved the interspersed moments of comedy. Tajiri and Christian were great together, bringing back memories of the hug-fests between Vince, Kurt Angle and Steve Austin, and the constant parade of potential challengers for the IC Title was nice to see. I don't know what else to say, this accomplished everything it needed to accomplish and did so without getting overly wordy or catchphrase-heavy.

The match that followed was equally entertaining, albeit a bit rushed just after the commercial break that divided it. There wasn't an active competitor involved in this one that I wouldn't like to see more of in the near future (note the qualifier "active competitor," effectively eliminating Coach from the equation) and I hope this is a sign of things to come. Just a really nice, if slightly short, elimination style match between RAW's rapidly expanding midcard scene. I dig the slight modification Shelton's made to his exploder suplex, transitioning it completely into a pinning combination at the very end.

Likewise, it was a nice touch to give Shelton the last word after the match, basically throwing McMahon's endorsement back in his face as politely as one can do such a thing, and kissing some serious ass for the crowd. This isn't going to lead to a storyline somewhere down the road where McMahon seeks revenge, it's not going to end with Benjamin surprising us all, turning heel and reforming the Corporation... hell, it probably won't even be mentioned next week... but it's a tiny bit of character definition from a guy who's been sorely needing it. Any good writer can tell you that the best characters are constructed in the details, and that's what they were doing with this. It only took a minute, but it gave Benjamin a superb boost going into the PPV.

Oh man, that Diva Search segment was painful to watch. No, I'm not talking about the emotionless, nigh-psychotic kiss that was shared between Christy and Lillian... I'm talking about the horrid, HORRID promos the former contestants cut on one another in the moments immediately preceding said kiss. If you're looking for a good example of two emotionless, cardboard-cut-out, cookie-cutter-cliched promos... uh, look no further. Think about it, these two are getting PAID for this. Paid HANDILY.

Finally, we wrapped things up with a fresh three-way in the main event, pitting Shawn Michaels against Chris Benoit against Edge. They did a great job of pushing this match as the proving grounds for all three men, like some sort of physical final debate to capture the attention and ballots of all the undecided voters out in WWE land. I thought the match did a great job of balancing the offense between all three guys, so no single athlete took any real decided advantage, and if not for HBK's injury somewhere in the middle of the commercial break this was on pace to really kick some ass on the home stretch. Even with that unfortunate turn of events included, however, it all fell into place and Shawn's obvious problems staying on his feet factored into his absence during the final pinfall. It was a bit sad watching him attempt a kip up, only to crumple back down to the mat halfway through... I guess the mind was willing, but the body wasn't. A well booked face-off between two of the all-time greats and one up-and-comer who's never had a high profile match with either. I'm really interested in seeing where they go with Edge from here.

All things considered, this was a very nice hard sell for the upcoming PPV, and exactly what they needed to showcase the various feuds, angles and storylines. They explored new dimensions with Kane / Snitsky, Jericho / The Entire Midcard, HHH / Benoit, Edge and HBK, and (to an extent) Eugene / Bischoff and Carmella / Christy. I'm far from sold on Taboo Tuesday, but I'm much more optimistic about it after this episode. Thumbs up, but not WAY up.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.3

Monday, October 11, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 10/11/04

I've long wondered why they don't do more out-of-country TV tapings. Generally the crowds are larger and more excited, since the superstars don't come their way as often as they do, say, New York City or San Francisco. The superstars seem to feed off of this bottled energy and up the ante almost across the board, putting on better matches and getting more into their characters along the way. On the few occasions that I've been able to take in an out-of-country show, I've been struck by how instantly they're imbued with a big show feel that never seems to go away. It's a bunch of positives, really, with only a few imaginable setbacks. Certainly, the cost is something to think about since it's most definitely more expensive to tape a show, clip it up and then shoot it over the ocean for broadcast. You lose revenue from the off days required to actually get to the spot of the show. Even after that, the workers themselves are likely in need of some extra recuperation time after such a large bit of traveling. Still, I can't imagine why they haven't run with the idea until just now. Why haven't we ever seen a RAW or Smackdown in Japan or Australia? I don't know, it just seems strange to me. Plus, I'd love to see the way the Japanese fans would respond to the current roster.

Anyhow, I got off on a tangent. We most certainly WERE out of country this week for RAW, as the dozens of varied Union Jacks in and around the ring quickly informed us. And, sure enough, right out of the gates this felt like a huge show. Everything from the initial frenzy of the fans to the dozens of individually-maneuvering spotlights on the entryway helped to give off that impression. Not even five minutes in, and already I was twice as excited about this RAW than I'd been in the entire week leading up to it.

We opened up with a match, for a change, pitting the inexplicably-pushed Stacy Keibler against reigning champion Trish Stratus. God's honest truth, I had no problem with this match. This kind of a beating is the only possible reasoning I could've imagined for Stacy's sudden series of wins (as I mentioned in my RAW Review for 09/20/04, when her push became more than just a single fluke victory) and Trish pulled it off beautifully. This wasn't the finest match on the card, nor was it the best women's match I've ever seen, but it was believable at the very least and accomplished its purpose. The women's champ emphasized the fact that it takes more than a pretty face to be competitive in this division, and quickly turned Keibler's light-hearted run for the title into a serious, one-sided squash. I wish Molly could've been the one to teach this lesson, but I've harped on that subject long enough.

I really enjoyed the first few info-mercials aired for "The Simon System" at the end of September, but now that they've been running for nearly a month and we've seen the exact same spot run three or four times in a row, it's pretty much passed the expiration date. I don't know how they plan to make the transition from cleverly-produced vignette to active competitor in the ring, but if they don't try something soon it won't make a difference.

The heat for the first half of that tag team championship match was unbelievable, even considering Regal's homecoming. That's about as involved in the match as I've ever seen a live audience, shouting with every punch, gearing up for every suplex and dictating who they wanted to see in the ring and when they wanted to see them. If they'd ended it the first time the bell sounded, the audience participation would've done a great job of covering up just how cheesy and unsubstantial the match itself really was. Not that I'm upset they didn't put the gold on Regal and Eugene, (actually, quite the opposite) but the booking and execution completely drained the noise from the building and derailed the live broadcast with a disjointed set of cuts from new champions to commercials to match-in-progress. After the break, things slowed down but the quality didn't really go up. And, though I realize the finish was supposed to reinforce Bischoff as a hypocritical slimeball with only the heels' interests in mind, that message was quickly muddled when he confronted La Resistance backstage and came down on them like the wrath of god, all but assuring them an extremely difficult defense at Taboo Tuesday. So he doesn't like La Rez all that much, but he agreed to restart the match so they could further work over Eugene? OK, so why didn't he restart the match again when given the opportunity to do so after the second fall? None of the excuses they used for this switch-and-bait, then bait-and-switch made sense. It was basically just Eric being evil for the sake of being evil, then contradicting himself by being evil to the evil guys, which basically made him good. You got all that?

These Snitsky promos are such a chore. I'm sure scholars could devote an entire volume of the wrestling encyclopedia on why this guy is so tremendously bad at what he's doing. He's poor at best in the ring, his speeches aren't without confidence but certainly without emotion, and he's been involved with the longest-running, most painfully-booked angle of the year, right out of the gates. I guess part of their strategy is working... I want to see Kane squash this guy, so they can send him back to OVW and pretend he never existed for a little while, like they did with John Heidenreich.

And now Kane's mad. Shit, those imitated baby screams Snitsky was incessantly spewing made ME mad, but for an altogether different set of reasons. JR said something along the lines of "My god, have you ever seen Kane this violent," which got a chuckle out of me. Seems like every six months he stomps out to crush a few lower-level singles stars who aren't doing anything important. So yeah, I guess, to answer his question. I have seen Kane this violent in the past. Several times. Too bad, too, because judging from the talent in the ring this could've been a really nice little tag team matchup.

Ric Flair and Randy Orton were next out of the gates, with microphones in tow. Nothing really got accomplished here, but it was refreshing to see two of the sport's better vocalists speaking their minds without a distinct point to get across or a special stipulation to introduce. This felt like a promo right out of early '80s NWA TV, with Flair boasting about his sexual prowess and personal fortune, giving Orton a little bit of credit but giving him no chance against the Nature Boy later in the month. Orton isn't exactly the stereotypical face from that era, but he fit into the formula very nicely all the same, despite some lingering flaws in his face character. I wish I could say it still meant something to beat Ric Flair, but after all the guys he's jobbed to since coming to the federation it just doesn't carry the same weight that it once did. Still, he can talk with the best of them and this was an entertaining little spot argument between the former allies.

After a nice bit of build during last week's lumberjack match, I was surprised to see them moving forward with Chris Jericho vs. Rhyno all of a sudden, especially considering Rhyno's on the ticket as a potential opponent for Y2J at the upcoming Pay Per View. This really wasn't a great showing from either guy, which is disappointing considering both had enjoyed a nice run of matches beforehand. I'm sure the strange finish didn't help matters, but it felt like they were treading water out there in the opening moments. They need to do something with Rhyno to connect him with the fans, because right now he's "one of the guys who uses the spear" and not much more. Give him some direction, show him focusing on Jericho and Jericho alone as the big event draws near, send him out to spear anything and everything that gets in his way, renew his friendship with Christian and / or Edge, anything.

After the singles match between Y2J and the Man-Beast shifted into a tag match opposite Christian and Tyson Tomko, the action picked up a bit. Tomko's steadily making progress in there, testing out the Batista method of "team with a solid worker and only wrestle against other solid workers," but he's still got trouble thinking on his feet and it looked like he aggravated his knee injury midway through the match.

I'm getting really sick of these long-winded, "slowly read through every match on the upcoming PPV" segments they keep shoveling out before big shows. Seriously, Taboo Tuesday isn't for another eight days, and already we're sitting through this? Save it for "WWE Experience," thanks.

Finally, we close out the show with a six-man main event featuring most of the show's usual suspects. I liked the tension they built between the faces with just a few moments of backstage dialogue before the bell, and the obvious lack of trust between them throughout the match was nice to see. Edge's character is roughly thirteen times more interesting to me right now than it was when he returned during the draft lottery and speared Eric Bischoff for no true reason, and they did it without betraying the last six months' worth of character development that they'd invested in him. This self-centered, egotistical prick Edge is the same guy that won the Tag Titles alongside Chris Benoit and then snidely gave the Crippler shit after losing them to La Resistance. It's all about the shades of grey. I loves me the shades of grey.

Something about this match didn't click. Maybe it was the audience, which never recovered from the double swerve during Regal's match and subsequently paid more attention to the rail-hopper who invaded the ring (and his eventual punishment) than the main event. Maybe it was an off night for everyone involved. I can't put my finger on it, but in comparison to the dozens and dozens of matches these participants have had together in various combinations through the year, this one ranks near the bottom. I did like the finish, though, no matter how obvious it was, and I like the potential of next week's triple threat if we can get through it without Trips poking his head into the mix. I can't say how desperately I wanted to see Benoit spin with Edge's spear and reel him into the Crossface, which is a good sign that the heel turn is working.

Despite a great setting, a genuine "something out of the ordinary" mood and an initially super-hot crowd, RAW's steady decline wasn't halted by this broadcast. There were a lot of moments where they could've chosen to do something unexpected, and they instead opted to go with the path of least resistance. I'm almost entirely "blah" to the idea of a pay per view in just eight days, and they aren't doing anything to change my mind. This show was a disappointment.

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

Monday, October 4, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 10/04/04

Last week's show didn't exactly leave me with the sense that they'd established any momentum beyond the short, episode-long storyline involving Ric Flair and Randy Orton. I didn't feel like there was a change to the status quo, that even though Orton had lost his opportunity to join Benoit, Michaels and Edge on the ballot for Taboo Tuesday, he'd find a way to squeeze into that match anyway. I felt like the Intercontinental Title scene had stagnated almost overnight, that the months-old Benjamin / Triple H feud took a nice step forward that won't really amount to anything, and that even though fans were voting on the stipulations and participants of this month's Taboo Tuesday pay per view, the choices themselves left a lot to be desired. This week's episode promised answers, perhaps a little more direction (I mean, this IS Madison Square Garden we're talking about) and, maybe, a few things worth voting on in relation to that pay per view I keep talking about.

The show kicked off with what's becoming the regular for each week's episode of RAW; the long winded, meandering Evolution promo. I really have no idea what Flair was on about at the beginning of this one, somehow connecting Randy Orton's moniker of "Legend Killer" to his own practice of deflowering ladies all throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Really. As I mentioned last week, I'm a huge fan of Flair's promos, because he never fails to get completely into it and put the speech over the top on emotion alone... but I was scratching my head after this one. If you've heard any of Flair's speeches from the early years of the Horsemen, this was similar in theme but quite a bit more lewd. And, before I forget, it was simultaneously hilarious and sad to hear Flair pull out that old "...and I'll tell the same thing to your mother OR your girlfriend, back in my hotel later tonight" line, this time adding "your grandmother" to the list of potential triumphs. This guy doesn't know how to turn it off.

When Flair was through, Triple H pretty much proved the point I established last week, that by comparison his promos aren't even in the same league as the Nature Boy's. Despite the fact that this wasn't Ric's fanciest speech, (nor his most understandable) it was head and shoulders above the broken record, repeat-the-same-phrase-and-look-slightly-disgruntled speech Hunter wheeled out yet again. Flair sells me on his segments because he's too emotionally charged not to believe every word he's spewing. Hunter's on the other end of the spectrum. He makes sense more often than not, but can't hold my attention for longer than a couple of minutes because he's so detached, so obviously playing a character.

I liked seeing Chris Jericho out there to oppose these guys, though their relationship has never really made sense. Y2J broke into the main event scene and made an instant enemy out of Triple H. They went back and forth for years, until the Hunter went down with his quad injury and Jericho went to Smackdown at the brand extension. Eventually Trips returned and Jericho came to RAW, but they were both heels so... strangely enough... they were good buddies. Jericho had Evolution on the Highlight Reel once or twice, and even donned an Evo shirt on occasion. They were all but tag partners in Chris's quest to oust Steve Austin from his role as co-GM a few years back. So, now that Chris has turned face and won the Intercontinental Title, suddenly he's at odds with Hunter again. I'd love to see that backstory explained with some detail in the near future, and thought maybe we'd be getting our chance when he came out to cut off the opening promo, but it just doesn't seem like it's meant to be.

While we're on the subject, I don't understand why they didn't take the opportunity to immediately proceed with Edge's series of misunderstandings with Chris Jericho when he made the save for him alongside Chris Benoit at the end of this segment. All it would've taken is an inadvertent spear or a wild swing with a steel chair, but instead we got a strange show of unity from the Canadian faces here and an eventual near-turn from Edge backstage later in the night. Something doesn't seem right.

I've gotta question the placement on the card, but the Michaels / Christian match that followed this segment succeeded all the same. I was worried about the way they'd book this going in, but my fears were all for naught. Sure, Christian didn't win the match, but he did keep up with, land his finisher on, and basically all but pin one of the living legends of pro wrestling. They pulled this one off in a way that didn't hurt HBK in the slightest, but pulled Christian up several notches along the way. Shawn came across as the obvious veteran here, taking advantage of a few of the risks Christian took throughout the course of the match, but Christian came across as a level-headed tactician, always ready with "Plan B" in case his original plans didn't pan out as well as he'd hoped they would. There were a few rough spots here and there, (like the awkward double knockout spot, when Christian had held firm control of the match for several minutes midway through) but all things considered I'm very pleased with the way it panned out. Excellent match, especially for TV, and I didn't have a problem with the clean Michaels victory because I was left with the sense that it could've easily gone the other way. I love competitive matches, where neither guy comes across as higher up in the pecking order and they just let it all hang out and lay into each other.

Lita's interview segment really wasn't all that bad, but I just couldn't take my attention away from the noises emanating from her microphone the whole time. Seriously, they either strapped it directly to her larynx or had an alternate mic on her stomach and she hadn't eaten all day, because this was like a symphony of gurgles, rumbles and bubbles. There was one spot, in particular, that I must have rewound and rewatched half a dozen times, laughing hysterically all the way. If you've got a VHS or TiVo copy of the show, concentrate on the moment she looks up to the sky, thinks and swallows hard. You'd think she was about to choke to death on her own fluids or something, Hendrix-style.

We then followed this up with, naturally, Gene Snitsky's big appearance and Kane's subsequent pursuit into the ring, where the "Baby Killer"... beat the Big Red Machine into submission using a lead pipe? At this point, I've just gotta throw my hands up into the air on this angle. I have no idea what to believe anymore, and that's the big problem with characters like Kane and the Undertaker. We've sat there and watched this guy sit up after tombstones, after chairshots, after sledgehammer blasts, after falls onto mounds of thumbtacks, after van terminators THROUGH a trash can, after UNPROTECTED FALLS INTO BURNING DUMPSTERS, AND AFTER FREAKING THIRTY MPH HEAD-ON COLLISIONS WITH STATIONARY TRACTOR TRAILERS. How in god's name are we supposed to react when a thirty second-long assault with a lead pipe splits him open, scrambles his brains and leaves him limping his way toward the backstage area? What, is poontang like kryptonite to this guy? Now that he's developed genuine feelings for a member of the opposite sex, is he also developing genuine feeling in his long-dead nerve endings and experiencing pain for the first time in his life?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a major proponent of realism in the storytelling of professional wrestling. I've loved the trend of moving away from cheesy gimmicks, silly ring wardrobe and a circus-like atmosphere in favor of real life-based feuds, personalities in favor of gimmicks and a more pro sports-based culture. I totally agree with and applaud a number of aspects of this feud; the importance of Kane blading, for instance. This is a man who's prominently bled probably four or five times in his entire career, and the fact that he did so last night could've spoken volumes for the ferocity of Snitsy's attack and his credibility as a serious threat to Kane in the ring. Since he's shrugged off such ridiculously powerful attacks in the past, however, it just looked silly. Unless Snitsky had an atomic splitter in that pipe or something, there's no way those strikes could've been more powerful than anything Shane McMahon did to him. By detaching themselves from reality so regularly in Kane's history, they've crippled what could've been a meaningful, memorable turning point for this feud. Intead of leaving me with a sense of fear and awe, it's left me with a question mark above my head and an apathy for where things can go from here.

Whoah, where was I...? That wonderful bit of work was followed by a brief, strangely-paced match between Chris Benoit and Batista. I've gotta hand it to the guy, Batista's really starting to step forward as more than just another prime time slouch in the ring. All those tag matches alongside the best in the business must've done wonders for him, because he was truthfully holding his own in there last night. He's getting his timing down better each week, he's learning how to lay out a solid story in the ring, and his cardio is constantly improving. This was one of Benoit's more forgettable RAW matches, but one of Batista's better showings. That ending just kind of jumped up from out of nowhere, and as a result the match didn't do anything for me.

I think I've depleted my entire pool of comments about the Eugene / Bischoff feud and the Diva Search by this point. I think it's safe to say that I don't like them and they don't like me. It's interesting, though, that Carmella and Christy are getting a match on PPV, when it's obvious that neither one has the first clue about wrestling. Just another match I can not watch when I don't order Taboo Tuesday, I guess.

Likewise, the tag title match didn't get enough time to do much of anything here. I guess it was just too important to wheel out the stupid, Bugs Bunny kissing Elmer Fudd comedy bit with Eugene and the Divas. The Hurricane's trying his damndest to make this thing work, but with less than five minutes to do something with, I don't like his chances. Do I sound bitter?

The shitstorm was relentless at this point in the show, as we followed that gem up with another Stacy Keibler victory over Molly Holly. I feel like I've been beating this dead horse to the point that it isn't even recognizable as an equine any longer, and they've only been running with the story for a month. Let's play speak and spell; It's not a good idea to push your eye candy as legitimate competition. Especially when they have absolutely no clue what to do with themselves in the ring. ESPECIALLY at the expense of a longtime former champion, who also happens to be one of the division's most impressive competitors. Jeez, is this really that hard? Stacy doesn't receive that wild applause for her efforts in the ring.

Mercifully, the show reached its conclusion with a lumberjack match pitting Intercontinental Champ Chris Jericho up against World Champion Triple H. I was curious to see how well these two would work together, as it's been about two and a half years since we've seen them together in singles action. Unfortunately, this was so cluttered, hurried and focused on the lumberjacks themselves that there wasn't any time really devoted to the match. Every time things seemed to be warming up, somebody would wind up on the floor or we'd take a commercial break or one of the lumberjacks would make a funny face and we'd cut to that. I really liked the underlying theme of "Jericho vs. The World" that they had in this one, especially the little bits between he and Rhyno that ultimately led to the match's conclusion, but they wanted to tell ten minutes' worth of story in five minutes' worth of time and that didn't work out too well. I think the dynamic here would've been better if Chris Benoit, Edge and Shawn Michaels had invited themselves to ringside as impromptu lumberjacks, since nobody at ringside had as much of a bone to pick with Hunter as they did with Y2J and the main eventers' involvement would've made for a nice tie between the upper card and the midcard. And besides, I thought the idea was to highlight the World Title, first and foremost.

I can't say this was a better episode than last week's show, despite the fact they made more storyline progress here. We got a great match between Christian and Shawn Michaels, which is something that was missing from the show seven days in the past, but we also got a head scratching segment between Kane and Gene Snitsky that asked more questions than it answered, an emphasis on the Eugene / Bischoff match, the announcement of the Diva Search faceoff, a meaningless squabble between Chris Benoit and Batista, and a main event bogged down with too much story and not enough air time. It's really too bad they won't put Chris Jericho in the running for the World Title this month, because he's been delivering to the best of his ability in the high pressure situations with scary regularity. Pity I can't say the same for the show as a whole.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

Saturday, October 2, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE No Mercy 2004 Preview

Once again, a WWE pay per view has snuck up on me. I'll spare you the usual harping about the number of $50 shows in the regular rotation these days, since I'm sure you've heard that more than enough times from me, but rest assured those same thoughts, worries and complaints are filling my head at this very moment. The point I'm trying to make is this; despite the fact that Smackdown has markedly improved since the early summer, when it seemed they could do nothing right, I'm not all that overly enthused about this show. Thursday nights have been on a constant upswing, with Spike Dudley's heel turn, Booker T's slow elevation, the rise and fall of the Kidman / London tag team, Kurt Angle's return and the Big Show's return all doing their part to aid that improvement. There's no denying that, and even the eye-rolling returns of Viscera and Gangrel (what, no Mideon?) didn't do too much damage to that momentum. Still, this isn't the kind of show I'd want to throw money at.

I'm not sure what to think about this show, overall. It's a show filled with beginnings and endings, but nothing in-between. Booker and Cena are wrapping up their best-of-five series, while Eddy Guerrero and Luther Reigns meet in the ring for the very first time. JBL and the Undertaker seem to be on the home stretch of their feud over the World Title, while Paul London and Billy Kidman are set to clash, again, for the very first time. All of the big names are represented, (with a notable lack of Heidenreich) but none of the upper-tier matches look like potential blockbusters. It feels like they're reserving the major feuds for later in the year, as the gears start churning toward the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, which makes this a second-tier show at a first-tier price.

Paul London vs. Billy Kidman

I've really enjoyed the story that backed this one up, both because of its classic roots (it's a classic formula, and pretty damn close to the Strike Force breakup at WrestleMania V, to boot) as well as its deeper, more current tendencies (Kidman's mental impasse with the shooting star press, his indecision and fear of injuring other workers leading to his eventual full heel turn). I feel like they pushed this forward a little sooner than they should've, but when the opportunity presented itself with Chavo's untimely injury, they picked up the pieces and ran with the situation as well as they could, blurring the line between storyline and reality. As a result of the hurried execution, however, neither London nor Kidman have developed as much of a personality as they need at the moment. If they'd held the belts a little longer, successfully defending them against Noble and Guerrero as potentially planned, and started to define themselves as more than two carbon copied cruiserweights, the eventual breakup would've been all the more interesting. With that said, I don't think anybody's to blame for that. What happened happened, and they covered for it much better than I would've imagined.

Should be a tight match, considering their familiarity with one another, but I think this is just the top of the iceberg. This is the opening chapter, and I'm betting it'll concentrate more on Kidman's reluctance to try anything high flying than the big picture, which will handicap the match's potential. I'd wager each match between these two gets progressively better and better until it finally blows off. As for this one, I like Kidman with some sort of cheap rollup or something.
Winner: Kidman

Spike Dudley (c) vs. Nunzio
WWE Cruiserweight Title

This is the match that forced me to use the "upper-tier matches" qualifier in my "none of the upper-tier matches look like potential blockbusters" statement earlier on. If they don't mire this with too much outside interference from the Dudleys and / or Johnny The Bull, it should be exceptional. I can't say how happy I am to see Nunzio finally getting a legitimate chance to do something in the cruiserweight division, as I've been a big fan of his since he tore up ECW's rings alongside Tajiri and Super Crazy, and I'm really enjoying Spike's evolution from the innocent, incapable face into the domineering, Steve Corino-esque commander-in-general heel. These are two guys who reside at the top of Smackdown's big list of previously-untapped potential, and though I'm a bit skeptical about Nunzio as a face, I can't help but get excited about the match itself. This should be a blast, but Spike needs that belt to maintain his current momentum, not to mention his credibility in front of his brothers. He takes the win in this definition of a hot opener.
Winner: Spike Dudley

Kenzo Suzuki & Rene Dupree (c) vs. Rey Mysterio & Rob Van Dam
WWE Tag Team Titles

I can't honestly say I'm all too thrilled about this one. RVD and Rey Mysterio have both been great performers and solid additions to the roster at various times, but I don't see the connection between them that defines a good, championship-caliber tag team. Then again, I don't see that connection between Suzuki and Dupree, either. It's a battle of the makeshift, "right place at the right time" tag teams, basically. On one hand, I'm applauding the slow re-emphasis of the tag team division (you mean there are more teams than just the Dudley Boyz now?) but on the other I'm giving a thumbs down to this regular rotation of strangely-paired singles athletes, pasted together under the guise of a tag team. Once or twice, it's a good thing to see. I mean, you never know who's going to have chemistry together as regular tag partners unless you try some oddball combinations. But now that, during the last few months, both the champions and the challengers have regularly been mismatched singles stars biding their time in the tag division, the trend is starting to get a little old. Especially when they don't take the time to establish any real heat between the participants, as is the case here. If Van Dam and Dupree feel like doing more than mailing in their efforts, this will be decent. I'm not expecting anything out of the ordinary, though. Kenzo and Renee aren't great champs, but they're better than RVD and Mysterio would be.
Winners: Kenzo Suzuki and Renee Dupree

Booker T. (c) vs. John Cena
WWE United States Title

I know what they were trying to do with this best of five series, but it just didn't work. Rather than delivering a nice tie to Booker's past and serving the same function for Cena it did for Book all those years ago in WCW, it just drug on and seemed to expose the weaknesses of each star. A couple big parts of what was so cool about Booker's "best of seven" series with Chris Benoit, which is what this series was destined to be compared to, whether they wanted it that way or not, were the frequency of the matches, the determination of the athletes therein and the thrill of seeing two guys on the cusp of breaking out as singles stars, busting their asses to get over the hump together. This series has had none of that. For the most part, both Booker and Cena have already arrived as big names in the world of WWE. Both have challenged for the World Heavyweight Title in the past, something neither Booker nor Benoit had done at the time of their series in WCW. They've both been featured prominently in past WrestleManias. The thrill of seeing two young athletes, searching for a foothold in a slippery landscape and eventually succeeding... that wasn't there in this series for the US Title. That "best of seven" series was conceived and executed, basically, two weeks before a major pay per view. Every other day we were getting the next match in the series. They fought Monday Nights, Thursday Nights and Saturday Nights. It gave fans a reason to respect their efforts, because not only were they fighting for attention, they were physically draining themselves. Booker's series with Cena has been so drawn out and so strangely played (one match wasn't even fully televised) that it's hurt the pace of the entire feud. Instead of injecting new life into a previously established rivalry, it's slowly sapped the enthusiasm away from it.

With all that said, I'm glad they booked these two into this gimmick. It hasn't succeeded, but the potential to do so was absolutely there. I love that the bookers are looking to the past for ideas about angles and storylines, and so long as they don't do it to often, I'd love to see it continue. Booker and Cena have played their roles as well as can be expected, and even though the feud hasn't turned out as well as I'm sure they would've hoped, they can still deliver a good match here to close it out on a good note.
Winner: John Cena

Eddie Guerrero vs. Luther Reigns

I feel bad for Eddy, who seems to be struggling as much with his personal life as he is as a character on Smackdown. He's had trouble catching a break on-screen since embarking on his ultimately-unsuccessful feud with JBL, dropping the title, failing on several occasions to finish off Kurt Angle and now moving on to the monstrous Luther Reigns. Just as he's picking himself up off the ground from one defeat, he's slammed back down by the next. On one hand, that's making him a great sympathetic face, but on the other it'll eventually hurt his credibility unless he gets a win or two back along the way. To tell the truth, Eddy's credibility is starting to become a serious concern, as he never really won or retained the World Title 100% cleanly. The closest he got was at WrestleMania, when he caught Kurt Angle off-guard by removing his boot and snuck in a schoolboy when the challenger was distracted.

Regardless, I think this is the series where Eddy starts to get his wins back and regain his momentum. Reigns is FAR from the worst big man on the scene today, and I think Latino Heat can pick him up and carry him to the best matches of his young career if he shows up in usual form. I'm expecting the match to be a bit above average, better than you'd suspect, and I'm expecting Eddy to walk away victorious.
Winner: Eddy Guerrero

Kurt Angle vs. Big Show

I haven't been all that impressed by the build to this one. Sure, it started out on an up note; the Show arriving unexpectedly early, trashing the ring and everyone in it, forced to decide which recent World Champ he'd like to take out his initial aggressions on. Then somebody came up with the idea of using a tranq gun, and the whole thing soured almost immediately. I was enjoying the potential of a storyline with some history to it between these two. They've fought numerous times over the World Title, both in singles matches and in just about every other combination in the book. Not only that, they've constantly surpassed the previous expectations by really bringing out the best in one another, delivering a set of good to great matches together. Not to mention the on-screen credibility these matches must have built in the eyes of each man. These are two guys who should love working together, if just because of their similarly competitive natures. They shouldn't be firing darts at each other and shaving one another's heads. But I guess there's no changing all that at this point. Needless to say, I haven't been thrilled by the build to this one.

Once they actually get into the ring together Sunday night, I won't be expecting perfection. The Show's been away from the ring for quite a while, and I'm not entirely sure Angle's back up to full speed yet after his recent time away from the ring. This won't be their best match by a long stretch, but it won't be the worst on the card either. Like I said, these two bring out the best in each other. Angle's a different athlete in the ring with the Show than he is with Chris Benoit, although to claim he's had poor matches with either guy would be a mistake. This'll be solid at worst, barring the inclusion of some dumbass gimmicked ending. I think they're just getting started, too, so Kurt takes the win here.
Winner: Kurt Angle

John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. The Undertaker
WWE Title - Last Ride Match

Oh, boy. After droning on and on about all the previous matches, I've found myself with little or nothing to say about this match. It's been said in the past that I've been biased towards the Undertaker, always pissing and moaning about his matches and complaining when he's booked in the main event. My response is that I am indeed biased. I'm biased against bland, homogonized wrestling, against dated, inapplicable characters who stick out like a sore thumb in the current scene and against main event feuds that will not die. It just so happens that the Undertaker currently embodies each of those traits. I've really enjoyed the Taker's work in the past, with Mick Foley (and I'm not just talking HIAC here), with Steve Austin, with Bret Hart, with Shawn Michaels, with Vader... he's been solid in the past, but that time is gone. He sure as hell doesn't deserve a rematch after the putrid example he put up alongside JBL at Summerslam. I have no drive to see this match opening a card, let alone main eventing for the WWE Championship. It's like they're trying to fill this feud with as much crap as humanly possible, just to see what kind of car wreck buyrates it'll pop. I'll toss a coin here, because I can see them going either way with the title and they're both bad decisions.
Winner: The Undertaker

In Closing...

Actually, this isn't that bad of a card if you can ignore the main event. Several matches could surprisingly deliver, and the vast majority will be decent at the very worst. What's frightful is how many similarities there are to WCW in this show... nice undercard, great cruiserweight match, regular odd-couple tag teams, horrible main event between two names who shouldn't be anywhere near the World Title. I think Eric Bischoff is on the wrong program.
until next time, i remain