Spike Dudley (c) vs. Funaki
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
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