Monday, November 15, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 11/15/04

The dust of Sunday night's Survivor Series was still settling around our feet, and already it was time to proceed with the stipulations of the RAW main event. For all of November and even a little bit of September, the primary focus of this show had been on the eight men involved with that "classic elimination tag," plus Ric Flair, and I was curious to see how the show would fare now that the big match was in the past and everyone involved would more than likely float back into their previous singles feuds. Would RAW feel empty without that central storyline to thread everything together? Would the winning coalition of Benoit, Jericho, Maven and Orton throw down over who got the first shot at Hunter's gold? Would we get a new face or two on the scene, now that the gang warfare has subsided? I didn't have any answers, but I had a stack full of questions, so I was anxious to get into this show. That's a sign that the outcome of the Survivor Series main event did its job.

This week's GM, Maven, started things off for us by completely running through the show's itinerary within the first few seconds of air time. I liked this. It's strange that I'm refreshed by a complete lack of impromptu matches and wild, unprovoked swerves in booking strategy, but that's how I felt after this little bit. Some of the matchmaking was a little suspect, (like the lingerie pillow fight and the proposed JR / Coach face-off) but only worked to the benefit of Maven's character, as the slight changes in the status quo made it feel like he really was booking the matches on his own, not answering to an invisible higher power back behind the curtain.

In-ring action started off with a three team elimination match for the Tag Team Championship. This turned out much better than I'd expected it to, and while I think the time's passed for Eugene as a credible part of the active roster, the titles weren't exactly setting the world ablaze on La Rez. At the very least, this'll give the division a new team or two with some momentum behind them. I enjoyed Tajiri and Rhyno's run at Conway and Grenier's gold this summer, but they kept stumbling on the launch pad because the casual fan had no confidence in the ECW alumni as a steady tag team. Now that Eugene and Regal have won the belts, all bets are off. I was really surprised with how well Eugene and Tajiri worked together here, matching each other move-for-move, spot-for-spot and putting together a nice, fluid series of nearfalls along the way. Maybe all Nick Dinsmore needed to get over the hump in the ring was somebody who could help him build some confidence. Rob Conway looked great, as always, although he seemed to connect with a hard right hand on Rhyno a couple minutes in that brought the match to an awkward pause for a few moments. All things considered, this was probably the ideal environment for each of these guys to shine, and the end result was a match all six can be happy with. Good booking, good wrestling, good outcome.

Probably the one thing I'd enjoyed the most over this past month was the way each episode of RAW had an underlying theme to it, a conflict that hung in the background of every scene, no matter who was actually on-camera at the time. For most of this month it's been the locker room's stand against Evolution, along with Eric Bischoff's rebirth as a competent, believable master-in-chief of RAW. While we've seen women's matches and undercard matches and backstage vignettes that had nothing to do with either of those storylines, there's always been some sort of reminder as to what's going on with that storyline and the show has always dangled tiny threads in front of our faces, keeping that main plotline in the back of our minds, even as we're watching the development of a secondary story. I was really worried that the show would lose that aspect this week, in the wake of a feud so big they couldn't help but feature it, front and center. Fortunately enough, with Triple H's offer to Maven and the constant reminders about his big decision throughout the night, they proved that my worries were without merit. Make no mistake about it, that decision was the backbone to this show. Hunter's calm, collected offer and Maven's uncertain responses throughout the night gave this episode a great touch of dramatic tension. Instead of taking away from the other segments by stealing the audience's attention away, this story actually served to enhance the rest of the show. Edge's turn on Christian seemed to mean a little more after the little backstage face-off between Maven and Orton set the mood for it. This was a great example of one sound, show-spanning story working toward the greater good, and they used it with startling accuracy. Paired with the early announcement of this week's complete card, this was a great way to put the show on the fast track to success.

Triple H was outstanding with his delivery of the "invite heard 'round the world," but couldn't leave well enough alone and keep a concise little conversation... um... concise. So instead of hitting the nail on the head with a brief, effective display of mind games and subtle intimidation, he hit all his points, glanced at his watch, realized he had a couple of extra minutes to play with, then went back and rehashed all the same points over and over again. Watching this was like witnessing a student in speech class who didn't prepare enough material to cover the correct amount of time. For his part, Maven did a good job here. He seemed to expect it initially as a sort of threat, which is why he immediately fired back with "no thanks, I'll take the title shot," but slowly grew more and more unsure of himself as Hunter revealed it wasn't a ploy, and that the offer was real.

Not long after, Lita quickly and effortlessly disposed of Molly Holly. I'm getting tired of complaining about Molly's spot on the card, her treatment as a formerly dominant women's champion, etc. Still, it's tough to watch her being dismantled by Lita, still doing her best to scrape together a match that's worth watching and tapping out without putting up much of a fight. This match was just there. Molly was bouncing all over the place in search of a good match, Lita didn't botch anything, and I can think of half a dozen worse roles she's occupied in her career than this current "bully with a heart of gold" persona. I guess somebody's gotta be the dominant female, now that Jazz is gone. Post-match, Trish recaptured my interest by showing up with what's gotta be the most hideous nose brace (or would that be a face brace?) I've ever seen and blaming it all on Lita. Even though I'm not all that interested in seeing it result in a match, I've gotta admit I smiled when Lita responded by shoving the champ, nose first, down to the mat because that's exactly how somebody would respond in real life. Incessantly bitching about how I broke your nose last night? How about I break it again for you. Who flipped the switch backstage that let all the wrestlers start acting like human beings and not robots with pre-programmed actions?

I'm still scratching my head over Maven's logic with the whole "silent J in RKO" thing. Even if the letter's silent in everyday pronunciation, when you're spelling it out, you include the J. That whole segment didn't do anything for me, but it didn't seem to be designed for much more than getting Randy Orton out to the ring so the fans had something to cheer about. So I guess it succeeded, and it wasn't a twenty minute epic or anything so I won't complain.

I loved the one-night-only reunion between Edge and Christian, as they took on Shelton Benjamin and Chris Benoit. Even from the opening promo, you could tell that these two characters weren't gonna be able to coexist together any more. For once, the bookers forgot about happy feelings, emotional reunions and mark-out moments, and let the characters themselves dictate the proceedings. These guys have changed so much since they last teamed together, it's difficult to even recognize them as the same people. Christian's transformed from an underling, Edge's "yes man," into a domineering, cocky, self-centered prick. Edge, on the other hand, has grown more self-absorbed and resentful. He's lost the comedic edge (for lack of a better word) that's still present in bits and pieces of Christian's personality, and takes things way too seriously all the time. To throw these two together again in the ring, complete with kazoos, five second poses and goofy sunglasses would've killed all the progress they've both made over the last three years. Instead, by establishing them as two guys with enough familiarity together to still function as a tag team, but also with personal issues serious enough to prevent them from actually getting along, they've completely severed their ties to the past. Sometimes tag teams break up for a reason, and the sparring that went on between these two, both before the match and after, was a good example of why they went their separate ways.

The match turned out to be outstanding, with E&C focusing on Benjamin's shoulder the whole way through and Benoit eventually getting the hot tag and cleaning house. Benoit and Benjamin worked really nicely together, although the Wolverine seemed to be going out of his way to avoid his partner after the match. In short, this was every bit as good as you'd expect from these four, and while the fan in me was sad to see E&C break up again before they could really get together again, the critic in me was pumping his fist in the air and shouting "YES!"

Stacy and Christy had their lingerie pillow fight. Insert my usual line about "if i want porn, I'll go rent some porn."

I'm loving the continuing progression of Batista's character, and it really is starting to look like it's just a matter of time before he snaps and tears loose on Triple H. The subtle undertones of Hunter's relationship with Evolution's big man are working wonders here, getting the message across that Trips is taking him for granted while he runs off to search for Orton's eventual replacement, that Batista doesn't like this one bit, and that Helmsley is self-centered enough to not even realize it. The way he casually mocked and demeaned Batista last night when the big man came to him with legitimate concerns about his offer to Maven earlier in the night was a great way to hint at a future turn. I mean, think about it... when was the last time we saw Batista and Maven together? Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago? Wasn't Maven bitchslapping him, running like a wuss to the ring and stealing a fluke victory from him? That Hunter would offer a membership in the stable without at least mentioning it to Batista and Flair is one thing. That he'd offer that membership to somebody who had personally offended Batista not even a month ago is something entirely different. Keep an eye on this relationship, because it's about to get really interesting.

Finally, the main event. Maven's decision. Hunter's title defense. More interference than a 2" handheld TV set with a rusty set of rabbit ears in a forest. The crowd was surprisingly dead for the first half of this one, in sharp contrast to the Hunter / TAKA title match from a handful of years ago that I'm sure was in the back of everyone's mind as the events played out. The big difference between those two matches? The live crowd actually bought that Michinoku had a legitimate shot at winning the thing, especially with Hunter's cronies barred from ringside and the APA to watch the Kaientai member's back. Last night, even with Flair and Batista thrown out of the ringside area and Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho to watch his back, it was still tough to imagine a world where Maven is Heavyweight Champion. Adding to that, the fact that the match itself would've been close to three minutes long if it weren't for the constant, repeated, blatant interference from the floor... well, yeah, that didn't exactly lend him a world of credibility as challenger, either. This was a good start for Maven, and I'm interested in seeing how he responds to his buddies' interference next week, but it certainly wasn't a good match. Too much hypocrisy from the faces, doing everything in their power to lean the match in Maven's favor, and not enough focus on the match itself. Part of me thought there was an outside chance they'd hotshot the title just to fuck with the faces over the next couple of weeks, only to give it back to Hunter after they'd traded turns as GM and the imminent threat had passed, but... it's MAVEN.

I really enjoyed this week's show, that's all there is to it. Despite the mind-boggling amount of outside involvement in the Title match, a forgettable match between Lita and Molly, a meaningless brawl between Randy Orton and the Coach, and a Simon Dean segment so bad I don't even really want to comment, this was a good showing. While there were plenty of bad segments, they were kept to an abnormally short period of time, while the good moments were stretched out over about three quarters of the show's air time. The story with Maven and Evolution was exactly what this episode needed to grease the wheels a little bit, and the two separate tag team matches were both very, very good. Here's hoping the improvement carries over to the Thanksgiving RAW.

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

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