Monday, December 13, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 12/13/04

This week opened up, naturally enough, with Eric Bischoff strolling to the ring with the World Heavyweight Championship slung over his shoulder and a scowl on his face. I was glad to see Bischoff hadn't lost any of the edge that had made him so interesting in the weeks leading up to the Survivor Series, hadn't attempted to grow his hair back or re-dye it black, and had actually further accentuated his character's evolution by growing a thin, weary beard. The guy looked good, and it was nice to have a pillar of strength back at the helm of the show after a few weeks of temporaries. While Jericho, Benoit, Orton and even Maven had done well in charge of the show, none of them seemed to demand respect, to perspire authority in the same way that Bischoff does right now. Eric could've done this entire promo through body language... his scowl betrayed his opinions that the show hadn't gone as well as he'd hoped in his absence, his disdain for the title on his arm proved that he didn't enjoy the way he was thrown right back into the fire with a huge decision waiting for him, and the uncertainty in his eyes told us he hadn't yet made a decision about the title situation. Edge, Benoit and Hunter were all there via closed-circuit TV, and chimed in with a word or two before assaulting one another backstage, further infuriating the acting GM. This was a very nice opener to the show, just long enough to establish its points without belaboring them, and effective in setting the tone for the rest of the night.

Edge flew right into action after his opening skirmish, stamping down to the ring for a match with Randy Orton in the opener. I remember enjoying the series of matches these two had together on RAW in the spring of this year, and while the matches themselves were good, I never really felt they capitalized on all the potential they had together. They'd go from a really nice, hot, inventive segment to a long, dull, poorly-timed rest segment and then back again... like they'd let off the gas just as the car reached an exciting speed. With both guys switching allegiances since then, Orton to mild success at best and Edge to a run at the top of the card, and last week's outstanding promo, I thought maybe they'd finally deliver the match I was waiting for right here. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. This was about as good as any of their previous matches together in 2004, which isn't an insult nor is it a big compliment, really. Just like before, they'd get my attention with a great little segment and then lose it again by strapping on the chinlock. It'd been quite a while since the last time I saw Randy Orton latching onto one of his now-famously intense chinlocks, and I while was glad to see him introducing more of his heelish maneuvers to his face repertoire, after the third or fourth minute I was wishing for something new. Like each of their previous matches, this lagged early before gearing up for a very nice finish. I guess that's one way to shape the way your matches are remembered; get all the boring stuff out of the way in the first half, then finish hot so the dull stuff is less vivid in the crowd's memory. This was a little long for the opener, but I liked the theme it furthered and the finish was one of the best they've had together. Given a little more time to refamiliarize themselves with each other, I'm still confident these two will have that breakthrough match together.

Batista's build to the top continued this week, with another outstanding backstage segment and a great role in the Evolution vs. Benoit and Jericho match further up the card. I love that they've finally found a guy who can speak convincingly, intimidate anybody on the roster with his physique and wrestle the appropriately explosive big-man style. It didn't happen overnight, but he's become one of their best prospects as the year's grown older. These little motivational one-liners he's feeding Hunter are perfect for the situation; Batista's more the leader of Evolution than Flair or HHH right now.

In stark contrast to Batista's progression into one of the better big men in the federation today is Gene Snitsky, and his almost laughably-bad work on the outer edge of the main event scene. This guy looks like a doofus, talks like a doofus, acts like a doofus, and is being pushed... as a violent hard-ass with a temper problem and no respect for anyone around him. OK, which one of these does not belong? They had a moment of pure comedy gold on their hands when he was attempting a timid, cautious little dance while the Diva Search music played, and then they barreled right on into an attempted beating of the entire Women's division. Personally, I couldn't give a damn what they do with the guy because as far as I'm concerned he's completely worthless and backed into a successful angle with Kane, but if they're going to keep wasting TV time on him, they may as well cater toward his strengths.

Benoit and Jericho vs. Batista and Hunter was up next, and was just a hair below the level of their match together last week. Matches like this one are the reason Batista's transforming into a sound athlete between the ropes and Gene Snitsky, Tyson Tomko and John Heidenreich aren't. Batista's been put into the best possible position to learn from his elders, tagging with Hunter and / or Flair throughout the year against Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin and a rotating roster of other guys who know what it takes to make a match great. As the weeks went by, the big man started to pick up tips and tricks, began to implement them into his own moveset, and gradually progressed into the man you see in the ring today. Batista did more than make a few blind saves, hit a spinebuster or two, growl and scoop up the victory for his team... he told a story. That speech he gave Hunter earlier in the night about how the "Real World's Champion will be standing over Chris Benoit with his arms in the air" later in the evening? It was more than just an accident that he wound up in that situation at the match's conclusion, rather than Hunter. Both of Evolution's alpha males told volumes with their movements, facial expressions and body language at the end of this one. Hunter didn't know what had hit him, and Batista was both elated and almost morbidly serious as his glare burnt a hole in Hunter's forehead after the bell. Basically, the big story of this match was Benoit and Jericho completely obliterating Trips right from the opening bell, with Batista keeping his team in the running while Hunter nearly cost them the match on more than one occasion.

Mick Foley followed that up with a trip to the ring, where he then proceeded to tread water until Muhammad Hassan interrupted with another scathing anti-American promo. I really enjoyed this segment, although the live crowd tried their best to spoil the moment by resuscitating the long-deceased "What" chant. How long's it been since RAW was live in Alabama? Anyway. Lame, sing-along chants aside, this was a solid, emotional promo that left me with some genuine emotions for a change, though not exactly the kind they were aiming for. Foley was interesting here, unapologetically professing his love for John Kerry in Bush country and then almost saving himself by falling back on a generic "I support the troops" statement, but when Hassan showed up, the sparks really started to fly. Foley was like the quiet kid in the corner of the room who perks up and makes a stand when a particularly emotional issue comes up. He pounced on the opportunity to talk politics on-air, and when Muhammad kept up for him word-for-word, he was a little rattled. Mick tried to lead the whole thing into a confrontation in the ring, but Hassan took the high road, refusing to fight a man he doesn't respect. That one line had me bristling on the edge of my seat, waiting for Foley to go the traditional route and say something witty that forces the heel to come into the ring anyway and take some abuse, but Mick didn't have a comeback. Instead, the heel took a rare moral victory, Foley lost an argument and the crowd was deflated. It's something new, I'll give them that, and I'm intrigued to see what other taboos they shatter with this gimmick in the coming weeks. I don't have to like the "Arab as a heel" slant of the gimmick to enjoy it for being non-traditional.

Maven, Christian and Tyson Tomko vs. Eugene, Regal and Benjamin was a strange mix, not to mention a weird choice for a main event, and really didn't deliver. This was a confusing blend, as the faces and heels effectively switched dance partners midway through (with Maven moving on to a feud with Benjamin and Christian / Tomko setting their sights on the tag titles) and nobody seemed willing to take charge of either team. At a glance, you'd think Christian and Benjamin would be the captains, so to speak, but Christian wasn't exactly barking orders and Benjamin didn't even get warmed up until a couple seconds before Maven stole the win. Shelton's starting to do a better job of integrating his flashier moves into his regular moveset, but that wasn't enough to save the match for me.

Near his wits' end, Hunter made a last-gasp attempt at regaining his title, pulling out the emotion in a tearful plea to Eric Bischoff backstage. I thought this made great sense considering the turns Hunter's character has taken over the last few weeks. His world's falling down around him; he no longer has psychological control over the general manager, he lost the World Title, his most cherished possession, he's dealing with a challenge to his authority in Evolution, he doesn't know who he can rely on any more, and his motion picture debut is being panned almost universally by the critics. He knows physical intimidation won't work, so he's trying his hand at bending Bischoff's will with a more sensitive approach. Of course it didn't work very well, as Bischoff had already made his decision, but this segment was more about Hunter's downward spiral than EB's decision about the World Title.

Finally, we wrapped up with the Title announcement everybody seems to have known was coming, the ensuing brawl that was roughly twice as predictable as the announcement, and another victorious moment for Randy Orton. I don't see why that decision needed to wait for two full weeks, because in retrospect the end result was a huge let-down. Think about it, they built two episodes of RAW around the World Title situation, two episodes subtitled "Who is the World Champion??" and the only resolution we're granted is "Wait until January." It's not like it took me by surprise, but I still feel kind of jerked around by the handling of this situation.

An outstanding opening hour that cruised to a finish without hitting too many bumps in the road. They're really captivating me with this ongoing psychological war between Batista and Hunter and Triple H's complete loss of composure along the way. Eric Bischoff's return was a welcome shift back to normalcy, the matches were relatively solid (albeit not unforgettable) and even the show's worst segment (the Snitsky mess) was kept short. I can safely call that a small improvement over last week.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.9

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Armageddon 2004 Preview

Aside from the main event, this doesn't really feel like a PPV-caliber show. It's in that strange middle-ground between your everyday Smackdown television broadcast (which it's certainly a step above) and your monthly PPV event (which it's undeniably a step below). It feels like the kind of show they'd use to counter a RAW brand-exclusive pay per view on a Thursday night. A little more match-heavy than usual, but without as much of a chance for titles to change hands as you'd expect. A couple of these matches could really deliver, and each of the title bouts should be pretty solid, but as a package this card just doesn't do it for me. There's no underlying theme, no predominantly interesting storyline to glue the whole mess together... just a bunch of blandness.

Spike Dudley (c) vs. Funaki
Cruiserweight Title

I'm probably anticipating this match more than any other on the card. Funaki can be quite good if he's allowed to be himself, and Spike's been doing a great job as the mantle-bearer for the division thus far into his reign. I like that they've begun to shake things up a bit here, opting to focus more on the athleticism of the cruisers than the dramatic storylines that are the central focus of the heavyweight feuds. The only real reason these two are in the ring together is because Spike holds the title and Funaki wants to legitimize himself in front of his peers. There's no need for long, drawn-out, twisting, turning storylines that involve Spike pinning Funaki in Japan before stabbing him in the chest at an after-hours nightclub and costing him several months of in-ring time. It's just a wrestling match that's focused on solid competition. Take a look back, and you'll see that nearly every cruiserweight match in WCW's history was the same way. Unless Chris Jericho was involved, there was no story beyond that eternal hunt for the official three count. This should be a very nice opener, and while I'm rooting for Funaki, (who I can't believe snuck by another round of roster cuts unscathed) I've gotta believe Spike's going to retain.
Winner: Spike Dudley

Daniel Puder vs. Mike Mizanin
Tough Enough Dixie Dog Fight

It's funny to look back at the way this competition progressed and to see the abrupt changes of direction it's undergone. At first it was a heartwarming story about eight men chasing their dream, (and one who, despite all the guts in the world, couldn't overcome a freshly torn bicep) then it was an up-close study of the physical and mental toughness of each guy, (the face-off with the Big Show, the squat-thrusts with Angle) and then it quickly turned into an opportunity to embarrass each of the contestants. Likewise, as the competition progressed and changed, so did WWE's opinion on the value of the now-infamous Puder-Angle incident. Initially they were horrified... they thought this was an incredible embarrassment and attempted to ignore all arguments to the contrary. Then they started to realize that maybe there's some money to be made off of this, and began to come around to the idea of Puder as the frontrunner. Now they've all but thrown the victory into his lap by making the final challenge a legitimate sparring match between the last men standing. A lot of people are making references to Bart Gunn's unexpected annihilation of Dr. Death, Steve Williams, during the Attitude-era "Brawl for All" competition... and not undeservedly so. The fed is setting themselves up for another potential plan-changer here, by apparently relying entirely on Puder's capabilities while completely overlooking the fact that Mizanin has a chance, as well. Not that I think it's going to make a huge difference anyway, but there's always that chance out there. Puder takes this, but something tells me it won't be as easy as everybody's thinking it will be.
Winner: Daniel Puder

Big Show vs. Kurt Angle, Mark Jindrak & Luther Reigns

I'm conflicted on this one. On one hand, I'm really enjoying Kurt Angle as the mastermind of a big-time heel stable. I loved the idea when Paul Heyman presented him Team Angle a couple of years ago, and I love it now even if I'm not totally crazy about the guys he's got surrounding him. Kurt's almost completely divorced himself from the goofy, humorously-pompous character he portrayed for the first few years of his debut, and while that change led indirectly to his participation in the now-infamous "let's go shoot the Big Show with a dart gun" angle, on the whole it's been a refreshing change for his character.

Anyway. The Big Show and Angle have always worked quite well together, and I'm willing to wager they'll be the two guys who see the most ring-time together here. Jindrak will more than likely play whipping boy for the heels, while Reigns looks for the "big man staring down with another big man" moment they've been setting up all month, but Angle's the go-to guy without any question. Team Angle 2.0 takes the win here, giving us a lead-in to Angle vs. Show at the Royal Rumble.
Winner(s): Kurt Angle, Luther Reigns and Mark Jindrak

Dawn Marie vs. Miss Jackie
Charlie Haas is Special Referee

Goddamn, RAW may have Diva Lingerie pillow fights, limbo contests and beer bashes, but at least they don't feature a horrible, horrible, totally inconceivably bad women's "wrestling" match every time it's their turn to run a PPV. Even Lita, generally regarded as the division's weakest length (and by a good margin) could wrestle circles around Dawn and Jackie. There's a reason the women's division is on RAW and these two are on Smackdown: they shouldn't be in the ring. As for the outcome... well, Chuck's gotta turn one way or the other, because giving him the Tommy Dreamer line ("I'll take em both") just isn't gonna fly. They've been pushing his real-life engagement to Jackie a bit too strongly on-air lately. I smell a betrayal.
Winner: Dawn Marie

John Cena (c) vs. Jesus
United States Title

This match has all the ingredients to make something absolutely horrible. A new face, thrown into the mix near the top of the card before he's really established himself as a viable threat in the ring. An upper-mid-card star, popular enough to justify a run at the top but still a little shaky on the mat. A silly, gimmicky, ongoing storyline involving a stabbing at a nightclub. A title belt that's never really meant as much as it probably should. A high profile collision on PPV. Either John Cena's going to earn our respect with a great showing here or it's all going to fall apart in the ring, and I'm not thrilled with his chances at the former. The only thing casting any kind of question into my mind about the outcome of this one is the "street fight" stipulation, which leads me to believe Carlito won't be entirely uninvolved. Cena's star is on the rise right now, and while a win over the US Champ on PPV would prove to be a big-time initial boost for Jesus, I just don't see it going down like that. Cena in a blowout.
Winner: John Cena

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

This could be better than it has a right to be. Dupree's been steadily improving since jumping to Smackdown, and paired up with Kenzo he's developed this awkward sort of chemistry that I can't really define. Likewise, Van Dam's been showing signs of improvement after basically bottoming out and losing his passion on RAW, while Rey Rey's been in high gear almost the entire time he's been in the fed. I don't think I'll ever be fully sold on Suzuki, though... you can give him all the character quirks and funny lines in the world, and I still won't be able to totally look past his ineptitude in the ring.

Anyway. This little rivalry's been brewing for a short while now, and I was surprised to see the titles change hands at Smackdown this week, rather than during the PPV on Sunday night. It's nice to have a little honest variety and surprise thrown into title matches now and then, such as when Edge won his first Intercontinental Championship at a house show the night before he was due to challenge for it on PPV, and so long as it doesn't become a monthly or weekly thing, I can't see that decision doing anything but good.

Shoot, I'm rambling off on a semi-related tangent. In short; should be a surprisingly good match, should lead to further problems between Suzuki and Dupree, should be a clean first defense by the faces.
Winners: Mysterio & RVD

John Bradshaw Layfield vs. The Undertaker vs. Booker T. vs. Eddie Guerrero
WWE Heavyweight Title

Basically everybody who could credibly hold the title right now (sans Angle, naturally) is involved in this match. Because, yeah, when you've got a shortage of drawing, top-level talent that needs to be stretched as far as possible until you land another main eventer, the best idea is to cram them all into one match. I'm worried about the way this will play out. On one hand, you've got one guy who's among the best in the game today (Guerrero), two guys, formerly very strong in the ring, on a downward slope near the end of their careers (Taker and Booker) and a champion who's surprised us all by putting forward a handful of entertaining defenses in the face of adversity. On the other, well... none of their styles are that complimentary to one another. The Taker's slow and methodical to a fault, JBL likes to brawl, Eddie's big on speed and high flying, and nowadays Booker likes to work basically the same match every time he's out there. This looks like little more than a clusterfuck waiting to happen from where I stand.

Then again, every one of these guys has performed beyond my own expectations on more than one occasion. If they all climb into the ring together on one of those "on" nights, this could be magical... but the planets would need to align in a really, really special way for that to happen. I don't know who to take here. Every one of these guys has dropped an opportunity to capture the title in singles action in the past, and there's a good chance the plan is to send JBL all the way to WrestleMania or at least the Rumble with the belt around his waist. I'm going with the Taker, just because I've seen who they've been emphasizing this month, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Booker or JBL exit the ring as champion. About the only result I'd call a surprise is a second Guerrero title reign.
Winner: The Undertaker

In Closing...

There's a lot of possibility here. There's a possibility that this will be among the worst cards promoted in the twenty first century, if the show-stealer is Jackie / Dawn Marie, and there's a possibility that this will be the greatest surprise of the century, if everything that has the slightest bit of potential to succeed delivers. There's a possibility that stars will be made here, if Funaki and Spike tear the place down, and a possibility that names will be broken here, if John Cena lays a turd with Jesus. Hah, that sentence just looks funny if you forget about the Spanish pronunciation. Anyway. I'm interested in the outcome of this PPV, but I'm not hopeful. If it succeeds, I'll be pleasantly surprised beyond all bounds. If it fails, my heart won't exactly break.
until then, i remain

Monday, December 6, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 12/06/04

Sorry to have missed last week, gang. I did catch the show, but just ran out of time to put together anything even slightly resembling a competent review, so I decided to bow out for an episode. Basically, I enjoyed last week's show a bit more than the rest of the crew seemed to, thought the battle royal was solid, loved the continuation of Batista's independence from Evolution, and really, REALLY liked the triple threat in the main event slot. I was disappointed to see a second "tie" finish, especially after an immediate unbiased TiVo replay showed Edge's hand hitting the mat first, but it made sense to both the characters, the title's direction and the build toward the Rumble. I wouldn't have ranked it much above a six, but there's no question in my mind that it was above average.

So now that we're caught up, it's the last week of the face Survivor Series team's month-long control of RAW and Chris Jericho is here to save the day as our final guest General Manager. I liked the unique little personal touches they threw into the production this week, with different opening pyro, a much more lighthearted feel to the opening segment, those badass rock-show star-shaped lights next to the Titan Tron and, of course, Fozzy on the entryway. I wish they would've done something subtle, yet unique, like that for each of the GMs this month, just to help differentiate their week in charge from those of their buddies, but it's too little too late at this point. Right from the opening pan of the arena, this felt much more like an episode of "RAW is Jericho" than last week did "RAW is Orton" or previous weeks were "RAW is Benoit" or "RAW is Maven." Y2J was styling, decked out in a new suit and visibly confident in control, which instantly set him apart from Maven, Orton and Benoit. Unfortunately, those visual hints didn't play into any really bold, clever booking decisions, so it wound up being just another missed opportunity. From the way he was reveling in his General Manager's duties during the opening moments, you'd think he was about to book himself into a match for the vacant World Title against Ralphus or something.

Y2J's opening promo was fun, and kept short enough to avoid grating on my nerves (as most cutesy comedy segments seem to do after a certain amount of time) so I don't have anything to complain about there. I'm not sure why Chris was so quick to exit the ring once Vince McMahon climbed in to make his announcement, nor do I really understand why he wasn't more outraged over the loss of a guaranteed title shot later in the program, when Chris Benoit caught up with him. Regardless, Jericho's casual introduction served as a nice lead-in to the weighty discussion between Vince and Hunter later in the segment. Vince constantly congratulating Trips, only to shoot a "fooled you!" sneer and give him props on something entirely unrelated was cheesy as hell, but the constant teasing seemed to throw Trips just over the edge, kick-starting the main story of the evening.

Batista was a pleasure to watch this week, as they continue to book him incredibly in realistic situations. While it is a little bit strange to hear him preaching the merits of level-headedness under pressure, just a month after losing his mind and attempting a single-handed backstage assault on Benoit, Jericho, Orton and Maven, it didn't come off as totally contradictory and his slight hypocrisy is actually kind of refreshing. I like seeing characters who have flaws, and right now every member of Evolution is tainted by a slight misalignment between what they say and what they do. I can't believe they've recovered Batista's slow turn, only a few weeks after I was certain they'd thrown it all away for a cheap, predictable swerve.

I liked the heel Maven more than I've ever liked the face Maven, but then again I've never even remotely liked the face Maven, so that's not exactly a sparkling endorsement of his current position. He and Eugene had a better match than I'd given them credit for, and I liked the way Euge "borrowed" the rolling, seated body scissors Tajiri hit him with a few weeks ago here. That's one direction they could go with the character from here, that he's slowly picking up bits and pieces of every repertoire on RAW and beginning to implement them into his own matches. But I'm probably reading too much into it, and it was merely a coincidence that they both used the same move within a couple weeks of each other. Maven calling Regal on the phantom trip and then immediately cutting loose with the in-ring dickery was generic, but well-done, and overall the segment was successful. I'm interested in seeing where things progress from there.

Even the limbo contest wasn't really horrendous. They kept it short, they kept it legit, (or at least as legit as possible in WWE) they kept the girls off the mic and it didn't result in an in-ring beatdown. Thank god for small miracles, right? Of course, there's no real reason for this to be on RAW in the first place, but... baby steps, I suppose.

Simon Dean vs. the Hurricane wasn't really the kind of match I'd call unforgettable, but it wasn't a complete waste of my time, either. I liked a few of the things they were doing with Dean in there, as he started out almost strictly amateur before wildly swinging to the opposite side of the spectrum when he realized that wasn't gonna cut it. Hurricane took a decided advantage while his opponent was trying to stick to the rules, and lost control when Simon started throwing closed fists and dropping wild elbows. I can't say I saw enough to lean one way or the other on the new guy's abilities, but I still think the gimmick's on its last legs.

I really, REALLY loved the verbal showdown between Edge and Randy Orton late in the show. This didn't feel like two guys going over their lines, reading their catchphrases off of a phonetically-spelled teleprompter and striking their overplayed poses in each of the four corners upon their arrival... it felt like two hungry young athletes, doing their best to get a psychological edge (no pun intended) on the competition. I've often wondered to myself why WWE promos don't occasionally pattern themselves a little more after UFC promos or pre-game interviews from the NFL or NBA, and while I wouldn't quite say this one was up that same alley, it was still a welcome departure from the standard fare. Edge and Orton, especially, are two young guys who rarely feel like they're really putting their hearts into it and saying what they mean (Orton's face run has thus far been a poster boy for emotionless, cheap pop-reliant speaking, while Edge has only recently started to explore some fertile territory on the stick) and this was a great, believable performance from both. These are the kind of promos that launch great feuds; deep inside, you know it's all still a work, but for all intents and purposes this was undeniably real. They both had points and weren't afraid to make them at the other's expense, and despite the fact both guys have switched allegiances since the last time they met, it felt like the same two harsh personalities were clashing in the ring this week as six months ago.

The Intercontinental Title match was gimmicky, but fun, and the lead-in was just another excuse to let Jericho and Christian work some magic in front of the camera. As far as I'm concerned, they can keep coming up with excuses for that particular rivalry, because even when they aren't feuding with one another or pairing up as a tag team, these two always manage to find something entertaining to say to each other. I half expected Christian to win the title here and embark on a long series of defenses as "Captain Charisma," complete with uniform, as a subtle prod at the superstitions that fuel most sports athletes. If a football player can believe that his career's been successful only because he's worn the same pair of boxers underneath that uniform each and every Sunday, why can't a wrestler believe that his reign as Intercontinental Champion is thanks to a goofy mask and a silly wardrobe?

Actually, despite all of Shelton Benjamin's laughs, Chris Jericho's snide remarks, Jerry Lawler's giggles and JR's mockery, I was almost immediately reminded of Rey Mysterio's "Flash" outfit from WrestleMania XIX. T. Snyder made the same comment in the forums, too, so I wasn't the only one. The match itself never got much of a chance to get off the ground, but even then wasn't all that bad. These two match up well together, Christian's willing to go the extra mile when he's in there with Shelton and Benjamin's offense looks like solid gold when Captain Charisma's there to keep it from looking too gimmicky or overdone.

Jericho and Benoit teamed up against Triple H and Batista in what I thought was the main event right up until they cut away to the commercial after the match and hyped Lita / Trish as "still to come." Seriously, I was seconds away from switching over to ABC to catch the last third of the Cowboys / Seahawks game. Anyway. Despite the lack of a real conclusion, this was a really entertaining match that served as a solid, temporary conclusion to the episode-long story about Triple H's loss of composure. It was great to see him flip out on Lillian for referring to him as the "former World Heavyweight Champion," and his frustration was naturally pushed over the edge after he was absolutely owned by Benoit and Jericho from bell to bell during their match. Batista's the only Evolution member that I can remember ever managing to control the match, and he was only in there for a few minutes at most. Benoit, in particular, was there to put on a show last night, much like he was in the main event last week. He's been insanely sharp thus far in December, keeping up a blistering pace in each of his matches, hitting his chops and his german suplexes with a little more snap than usual, and basically just kicking six different kinds of ass. Jericho was no slouch, either, and while he visibly lagged behind at times, Hunter also had a good showing. I loved the return of the Crippler-taming Lionface near the end of the match, and while I would've loved to have seen Hunter tap out, seeing him cost his team the win with a wild series of chairshots was an acceptable substitution. He really swung for the fences last night (perhaps a bit moreso than was necessary, as he legitimately took out Benoit and the ref) and delivered the message that the segment was meant to drive home. When he's holding the title, everything is under control. He maintains his composure, his confidence is often his greatest asset in the ring, and he's an undeniably intimidating opponent. When it's out of his grasp, it all evaporates, he becomes his own worst enemy with erratic behavior in the ring, and he's more desperate than confident. This rivalry he's building with Batista could lead to really great things if they're careful with it.

Finally, we wrapped up with what looks to have been the blowoff to the lengthy, months-old Lita / Trish feud. I went into this match with every intention of despising it, of giving the decision-makers hell for firing the whole division... but, goddamn, Lita an Trish actually delivered. The opening moments were humdrum at best, right up until that sickening headfirst dive out to the floor. I think just about everybody had the same sick feeling in the pit of their stomach after watching that, regardless of their feelings about Lita and her continued employment with the federation, but it seemed to perform more good than bad as far as the action in the ring was concerned. Trish handled the situation beautifully, grabbing the attention of the crowd and the cameras while the ref checked on Lita and attempted to reattach her head, and then giving the challenger plenty of time to regain her wits with a series of rest holds. Once they were both back on the same plane of consciousness, the match itself took off. It's like that headfirst fall shook something loose that reminded Lita she's allowed to put on a good match from time to time, because things picked up almost immediately afterward. The nearfalls were hot, the reversals were outstanding and the outcome was exactly as it needed to be. I won't go so far as to call it the best Women's match in the history of RAW, because the ladies were ROLLING around this time last year, but it's more than likely the best Women's match of 2004. Great stuff, and Lita deserves big props for continuing the match after that horrific fall.

This was a very good show, no doubt about it. The storylines they seem to be pursuing are almost unanimously fresh and interesting, the characters are growing more realistic and the match quality isn't taking a dip. I like the potential they're tapping right now, and despite the goofy situation surrounding the World Title, things are looking up. Better than last week without a second thought, and one of the better episodes they've had since the summer.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.6