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.
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
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