Monday, November 1, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 11/01/04

RAW's been tough to figure out this year. It's floated from unarguably superb to unfathomably bad, despite the presence of a series of main events that have been consistently among the best free TV matches in the history of the program. Seriously, if you were to watch every main event of RAW from 2004, one right after the other, you'd be amazed at the kind of goodness we've been blessed with. On the other hand, if you were to watch every non-wrestling segment involving Kane, Eugene, Lita or even Eric Bischoff, you'd think this has been one of the single worst seasons since the show's inception. Naturally, both sides of the coin have been padded by either some very good backstage segments or some craptastic matches, but the rift between the quality of the writing and the quality of the performing is something that's really caught my eye this year.

Anyway, this week's program had some big footsteps to follow, at least as far as I was concerned. I loved last week's program, and the single-episode story it aimed to tell. Change was in the air, and I'm talking about a little more than the group of faces who finally decided to stand up to Evolution's stranglehold on the program. Eric Bischoff was a changed man last week, speaking with conviction and passion before abruptly taking the night off. Shelton Benjamin was working to establish himself in the midcard last week, successful in his defense of the Intercontinental Title opposite Chris Jericho. Edge was coming into his own as a heel, shaking up the status quo of RAW that's remained stagnant for quite some time now. Both Taboo Tuesday and last week's RAW gave us a small handful of new beginnings and promising fresh starts, and this week would be our first chance to see which ones they were serious about and which were just a passing fancy.

Well, I think I could've imagined a couple dozen better ways to start the show off than with a sequel to the chaotic Eugene / Gene Snitsky "rookie of the year" match from a couple weeks back. And, naturally, just as I thought maybe they'd get a chance to really surprise me and put on a halfway decent match together, the stipulations are revealed: a hardcore match. Well, actually, they may as well have renamed the gimmick "junk brawl," because that's all this was. Looking for a quick synopsis of the match? Here you go... Guy A hits Guy B with a chair. Guy B rolls around on the mat, then stands up and strikes Guy A with a Kendo Stick, completely ignoring the chairshot that caused him to be incapacitated in the first place. Guy B acquires chair and assumes the role previously occupied by Guy A. Cycle continues until match is complete.

I see nothing redeeming whatsoever about Gene Snitsky and I see no potential future storyline potential in Eugene, whether they finally get off of their asses and turn him or not. Just a horrid, horrid decision to open the show that started things off on the wrong foot for me.

Maria, RAW's newest backstage announcer, is unbelievably bad. Just unbelievably bad. Do they even MAKE people that stupid any more...?

Finally, the show started a slow turnaround with Batista and Flair's violent interruption of Tajiri's backstage antics and the eventual face-off with Eric Bischoff in the center of the ring. Batista was BORN to wear that suit, and I loved the slight nod to Flair's history with the brown-tinted sunglasses. Seriously, the man needs to dress up more often because he looked twice as imposing with the string goatee, shades and full suit than he ever has with the topless, pantsless ring attire outfit.

Incidentally, I loved the entirety of that showdown between Evolution and the upper management of RAW. I knew there was something to Eric Bischoff's tone during his promo last week that indicated a big change in his mentality, and it's added some very interesting new dynamics to the program. Rather than acting like the puppet he's been for almost two years running now, he's finally grown a set, accepted the fact that he's more than likely going to wind up on his ass no matter what and started making intelligent decisions. I'm eager to see how he faces off with Triple H upon his return next week, and I worry that the stipulations he added to the Survivor Series main event mean he's going to slowly fade away from the program now that he's finally developed into the commanding individual who deserves to be running the show. Even if he does wind up stepping away from RAW indefinitely, I'm looking forward to these next couple of weeks all the same. Eric was priceless here, particularly opposite Ric Flair, and the two didn't hesitate to allow their legendary personal hatred for one another enhance what was already a tense verbal round of fisticuffs. Just a glance at each set of eyes as Bischoff blatantly excluded Flair from the big Survivor Series match was enough to speak volumes. This was exactly what Bischoff needed to fully transition from heel to tweener and precisely how to continue the air of disintegration that's been surrounding Evolution all month. Very entertaining stuff, with a mix of both fictional and non-fictional hatred working to make the whole package that much stronger. With all of the issues he's had with his former employees in the past, I can't think there's any better role for Eazy E right now than as RAW's instigator.

I like Edge's new attitude, as the prima donna centerpiece of RAW, oblivious to everything around him and focused on little more than his own personal gain. I thought interrupting the Christian / Hurricane face-off was a decent way to go about introducing that new facet of his personality, but the execution itself felt a little awkward. Why didn't Helms or Christian say anything when the tag team champ disrupted their match? Were they both too worried about making a mistake? Why Edge just saunter off behind the curtain again when he was finished, instead of taking his sales pitch to the ringside area? I'm always one for a shakeup of the status quo, so I didn't mind all that much when his appearance didn't factor into the finish of the match, but it seemed like the live audience didn't know what to do when he left. Rather than getting into what could've been a really good match, their attention was diverted to Edge's promo and then, left flat by his disappearance, never made its way back to the ring.

I loved the story they told in the Tag Team Title match, with Benoit doing all his work in the ring with his body language, Edge handling the character acting and La Rez more than holding their own as former champions. This is exactly the way a handicap match should be booked, especially so if the single worker taking on the tough odds is a former or current World Champ. Conway and Grenier held an obvious advantage throughout most of the match, with Benoit exploding from out of nowhere from time to time, catching the tandem by surprise with his determination. The work here was top notch, honestly one of the better matches these guys have had together, and I'll go ahead and point out that Grenier's finally starting to show some signs of improvement. Oh yeah, and before I forget about it completely, that snap suplex, propelling Conway's back onto Grenier's prone body, was the sweetness. I love inventive spots like that. Again, Edge was solid here as the oblivious, conceded prick, strolling out to the ring a couple minutes after the match had started, complete with entrance music, pyro and that fruity pleather trench coat and then leaving Benoit to fend for himself while he further promoted himself at the broadcast position. The thing I like the most about Edge's recent turn is the sheer realism of it. This isn't a guy who did a complete about-face and became a totally different human being overnight. They've been planting the seeds of dissention between he and Benoit for months, and Edge was obviously bitter toward his partner during the last few weeks of their previous reign as tag team champions. Looking back, maybe he was even jealous, considering Benoit was World Champion at the time, and Edge is justifying his actions to himself by agonizing over the fact that Benoit never gave him a shot at the title.

Simply enough, Edge's obvious lack of interest in sharing the tag titles with Benoit, followed by his frenzied attacks after the bell, went a long ways toward cementing him as a serious heel at the top of the card. The live crowd bought it, and I can't say I'm not the tiniest bit excited about their singles match next week at the top of the second hour. At the very least, their continuing rivalry will add some additional spark to the Survivor Series main event, in which they're both invovled.

Bischoff turned the corner into full-fledged face in my book after that segment, finally addressing the situation of main eventers taking the night off at their own leisure by booking a main event of Jericho, Maven and Orton vs. Flair, Batista and Triple H, whether Hunter actually showed up or not. That's EXACTLY the kind of move I'd expect from a General Manager looking to regain control of his program, and further worked into the subtle angry vibes that were shooting between he and Flair all night long.

It's too early to weigh in completely on Muhammad Hassan's Arabic gimmick, but there were bits and pieces I liked and bits and pieces I didn't. I really liked the minor alterations they made to classic wrestling gimmicks and angles, especially their resurrection of the old "translator as mouthpiece" angle, only reversing it so that the worker speaks perfect English and the translator speaks in foreign tongues. Hassan himself has a good look, and seems to be charismatic enough to pull in some heat on his own, but just about anybody can look good if they're in front of a blue screen, rather than a live audience. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't getting some of the same worries I had when we first saw Eugene on RAW, however, and the potential of things blowing up in the federation's face has me concerned.

Benjamin vs. Viscera was, really, all I figured it would be going in. There's no excuse for WWE's rehiring of Big Vis at this point, with the wealth of amazing talent out on the independent scene, and I'm still totally floored that they decided to bring him back for a third run with the federation. Benjamin's the kind of guy who's had great matches with opponents of different shapes, sizes and styles, and the way Vis was written into this match was absolutely flawless... yet the whole segment just stunk. The guy is like a heat sponge. He soaks it all up and carries it with him back behind the curtain, never to be seen again.

So this makes two Women's Title matches Trish has booked herself into by commenting on her opponent's weight. Remember when she was giving Molly shit for the same thing over a year ago? Yeah, I'm getting really tired of Stratus as a heel.

Finally, the main event, which was a refreshing change-up from the usual practice. If you'd sat down in the middle of this match, having seen none of the last few months' worth of RAW, you'd swear on your life that Evolution had turned face after Randy Orton left them. These guys were pulling out all the stops, hitting every signature heel rule-bender while the ref's back was turned, and Batista was doing a great job of playing right into their hands, growing more visibly furious by the moment. Flair was really busting his ass in there last night, and I worry he may have aggravated the pulled groin he's been working with for several months now, but the segments truly wouldn't have worked with anyone else taking the falls, save perhaps Triple H himself. Orton and Jericho did a good job of directing traffic from their side of the ring, with Y2J even taking over without a tag when Maven lost his bearings in the middle of a series. All things considered, Maven's looking completely out of place alongside these guys, and though they've done a relatively good job of hiding that fact by keeping him out of the ring for 95% of the action, I don't know how they plan to account for it this Sunday, when he's going to have to get involved in some decisions. In short, this was a really fun match that felt a bit hurried but accomplished everything it was meant to. The faces running through the heel playbook was cute, but I can see mysel fit getting old relatively quickly if it were to become a recurring theme.

I didn't dig this week's show as much as last week's in the end, which is a shame because they made some great headway with Edge and Eric Bischoff this week, not to mention the whole of Evolution and most of the uppercard faces. Storyline progression is only half the story, and while the show also featured some nice action between the main event and the tag team title match, it's tough to look past the heaping piles of shit that were the Snitsky / Eugene opener and the Benjamin / Viscera match that kicked off the second hour. Still quite a ways above average, but it could've been so much more.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.9

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