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

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