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

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