Monday, January 31, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 01/31/05

Well, the Rumble is dust and Batista did it. He survived the alleged assault of "twenty nine other men," even though he only really went through a dozen at most, since he came in at number twenty eight and more than half the pack had been tossed by then. The fact of the matter is, so long as somebody doesn't get all sneaky and sign the World Title contract in his stead, (which is legally binding, you know) he's challenging for the World Title at WrestleMania. You'd imagine they'd jump right in with that gravy train and ride it for as long as possible this week, and judging from the opening segment that's entirely what they've set out to do.

I personally enjoyed most of the segment, although it didn't really feel like a continuation of the momentum they've been building up all winter, so much as it did an unexpected change of direction. This is still a good storyline, they're still taking their time with the payoff, and it's still got a lot of potential, but a lot of the subtleties are missing. It's got a lot of potential and I'm still interested in seeing which direction it runs from here, but the storyline took a few missteps last night, dumbing itself down with a tacky "whodunnit" that doesn't seem to have fooled a soul. There's no questioning who was responsible for the placement of that JBL promo, just as Batista appeared ready to say something he may have regretted later, but there's at least a little ambiguity in the air about the big man's opinion on the matter. When he left that ring after the opening segment with some hesitation in his steps and later in the night, when an accomplished smile crept up on his face after he was ordered to the back during the big tag team match, Batista basically announced that he had a pretty good idea Triple H was behind the airing of that video. As a member of Evolution, he's seen Hunter's mind games before, and he's seen how they've crippled his opponents emotionally in the weeks leading up to their big match. Likewise, he's been built (albeit infrequently) as a man of deceptive intelligence for his size, and it's refreshing to see that coming into play here. I don't think I can name more than a handful of instances where a face has seen through his rival's manipulations so immediately, and it's nice to see that such long-standing traditions as the ineptitude of the challenging face can still be questioned from time to time.

With that said, the execution of the opening promo and the delivery on its potential were two completely different things. I was expecting fireworks out of this promo, the time seemed right to capitalize on all of the tensions that had been carefully laid between these two throughout the last four months, but when the group had left the ring and the show had gone to commercial, it didn't really feel like anything special had really happened. There was that one moment of truth, when Batista took the mic and seemed ready to cut loose on his former mentor, that sent a sort of electricity through the audience, both in person and at home. You could hear an excited murmur, but more importantly, you could feel yourself holding your breath. And then the JBL video played, Hunter tried to pawn it off and Batista all but shrugged his shoulders. I can understand the allure of waiting even longer for the big reveal, but there's also a risk of missing that window of opportunity and souring audiences on the idea as a whole. Randy Orton's a great example of that mistake in full bloom. I don't mind the continued delay in Batista's official turn, but I was looking for fireballs and explosions last night, not a quiet, psychological thriller.

There isn't really all that much I can say about the Intercontinental Title defense, since it was less than a minute long from bell to bell and ended on one of the goofiest transitionary moves in Shelton Benjamin's moveset. It was really cool to see him hit that whip kick for the first dozen times or so, but after that it's just started to seem silly. Why wouldn't you scout a guy for a move like that before your match, especially with the IC gold on the line? I like Benjamin as a routinely-defending IC champ, and I loved the little tidbit they threw in at the end where Dean tried to slip in an extra promotional spot for his Simon System, but that was hardly enough to save this.

The Edge / Christy segment seemed to be sailing in choppy waters from the very get-go, as well. After months of really hammering the point home about how he gets no respect and upper management basically proving him right by constantly shitting on him from great height, Edge came out just one night after defeating Shawn Michaels in a match he requested and was granted, and made some bizarre, uncharacteristic claims about how Christy was dissing him by firing off WrestleMania T-Shirts into the crowd. Yeah, I know the point of the bit was to reinforce the idea that Edge is a whiner who never appreciates the opportunities he's been given, but this was so illogical and stupid that it completely clashed with everything they'd established about the character originally. He whined about being overlooked and cheated, but for the most part he was arguably right. Or maybe I've just got my rose-colored glasses on and I'm remembering things as being more intelligent than they really were. Either way, this was a needless interaction that I could've done without. It got a bit more interesting once HBK came out to the ring, though not for the reasons I'm sure they intended. If the entire confrontation between Edge and Christy could've been overlooked, HBK would've likely come across as the heel here. He lost the match last night, then came out tonight and bitched, moaned and made excuses, and finally took a cheap knockout shot when Edge refused to give him an immediate rematch. It was exactly that kind of line-toeing between the status of face and heel with both characters that had sold me on the series in the first place, and it's a shame it was virtually ignored here. Michaels really needs to go heel, because the pompous-ass-as-face act is getting a little tired.

Maven took on the Hurricane not long after, and to my great surprise it was Maven who worked a more technically sound match and Helms who forgot what body part he was meant to be selling halfway through. I like that somebody told Maven you're supposed to soften up a specific body part in preparation for your finisher, and I like that he's, uh... that he's got a finisher now. Ugly match, but in all honesty the Hurricane's more to blame for that than Maven.

Are they just flinging shit at the wall with Snitsky and hoping some of it's gonna stick some day? "Nice shoes?" What the fuck?!?

Words can't describe how disappointing the Benoit / Jericho vs. La Resistance match was to me. There's great history here between Benoit and La Rez on RAW, dating all the way back to their dropping the titles to he and Edge only weeks after WrestleMania XX, and there's an equally interesting tale to be told about Benoit and Jericho, considering all of their past friendships, rivalries, parallels and differences, but that's not the route we took here. Truthfully, the first half of the match was exceptional. The champs were in charge, with Conway carrying most of the load for his team, and they were building a great story with Benoit constantly fighting to his corner only to discover that Jericho had been either knocked from the apron or drawn over to the opposite corner, but once all hell broke loose... damn. There was a point where I just sat back and muttered "what the hell is going ON?" and seriously had no idea. It's like somebody accidentally flipped the "clusterfuck" button backstage and everybody in the ring became a clone of Sylvain Grenier. Horrible, horrible conclusion to what should've wound up being an excellent title match and I can't say Benoit and Jericho are entirely without blame. Bad booking, bad timing, bad execution.

I wish they would've held onto the Sergeant Slaughter / Muhammad Hassan match until next week, if just so I could laugh at Tokyo's reaction. Why can't pro wrestling be like other sports, where you can never again compete on a professional level once you're inducted into the hall of fame?

I had trouble really paying attention to the big tag team match near the main event, and kept thinking I heard JR call the pairing of Orton and Michaels "The Green Team," amusing me to no end. Well, he's half right. This wasn't a bad match by any means, but it seemed to be missing a hook or something. Nothing was tying me emotionally to the match, and though HBK was playing a great face-in-peril, it was kind of cheapened by the fact that he was doing the exact same thing seven days ago. When I rationalized it to myself, it made sense; Michaels wrestled two matches last night and ate some steel ring steps, before superkicking Edge earlier in the show. There's no question he'd be physically and emotionally drained, easy pickins for Evolution, but I just found myself having trouble getting into it. I liked the supposedly unintentional Edge spear that ended the match, particularly his reaction upon realizing he'd leveled the wrong man, and this was the usual solid affair between three legends and a superstar-in-training.

Finally, the match nobody seemed to be anticipating more than JR and the King, Kane and Gene Snitsky stepped into the cage to (supposedly) settle their differences once and for all. This was exactly what you'd expect from a cage match between these two, and when I say that I mean this was painful in all the wrong ways. Kane baffled me by attempting to scale the cage within the first two minutes of the match, which is surprising because he's the one who's supposed to be seeking vengeance and should value the opportunity to dish out punishment more than he does victory. Snitsky amazed me by opting against taking the three-inch plunge to the arena floor from the bottom step, instead almost nonchalantly pulling the cage door from the frame and re-entering the cage to dole out more punishment. Like that would've been completely impossible if he'd won the match beforehand. Both men abused me by employing the "I've been fightin', so I can't walk so good" method of delaying their approach to the cage door. Just a putrid display between two guys who have proven time and time again that they have no business in the ring together. God help us and end this feud.

All in all, this was a terribly underachieving show, especially coming out of what should've been a tremendously momentum-lending Royal Rumble outcome. Instead of a big welcoming party for Batista in the main event, we got an unnecessary delay along with more slow-burning. Instead of a solid, clean tag title match between three of the promotion's better athletes and Sylvain Grenier, we got a confusing, overbooked shitfest. Instead of continuing the trend of outstanding main events that was established around this time last year, we got... yeah. I can't call this a four without hating myself in the morning.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.9

Friday, January 28, 2005

The World's Greatest WWE Royal Rumble 2005 Preview

With two less-than-stellar PPVs now recent history, things are looking up for a change for this month's Royal Rumble card. It's nice to have a show with just a few big-time matches to promote, as it gives the bookers time to really concentrate and make those matches count, not to mention prepare for the build to the biggest show of the year. Unfortunately, despite the smaller number of matches to build towards and the Rumble match usually almost writing itself, this year's RR isn't exactly what I'd call a stacked card, with a stinky Undertaker / Heidenreich casket match in the works and a couple World Title matches that could go either way. The weekly programs haven't been on complete cruise control over the last month, which is usually the scenario that precedes this event. Instead, RAW has maintained some forward motion with the slow turn of Batista and the ongoing Edge / Michaels rivalry, while Smackdown's kept up to speed with twists and turns in the relationship between JBL & Kurt Angle and a fun little competitive series between Eddy Guerrero & Rey Mysterio, both in tag matches and in singles action. Not a horrible card, especially when compared to the last couple PPVs, but it feels like something's missing.

The Undertaker vs. Heidenreich
Casket Match

Wow. I can't believe it's taken them this long to get the message that pairing John Heidenreich with the Undertaker in an extended feud early in his career was not a good idea. Separate, these are two big men who could more than likely float through a match with a halfway decent opponent based entirely upon their size, their physical appearance and a healthy dose of no-selling. Power wrestling is what big guys do best, and it's what generates their biggest crowd reactions. However, when you pair two of them up against one another, as is the case here, that simple formula backfires. Without a smaller body to bounce around the ring for them, their power moves don't look quite as convincing anymore. With a man of comparable build standing right next to them, they don't look quite as intimidating. And, paired up right next to a zombie with his eyes rolled back into his head or a screaming, spitting, pseudo ultimate fighter-turned-poet, as the case may be, their personality doesn't seem quite so brash and intriguing. They nullify one another and expose each other's weaknesses, and that's something an audience can't endure for long. Strapping them into a gimmick match in an attempt to cover for those deficiencies is an even worse idea than pairing them up in the first place.

Casket matches have never really entertained me all that much. The idea that throwing your opponent into a casket and shutting the lid is a comparable alternative to forcing a submission or pinning him in the middle of the ring has always forced me to roll my eyes. In fact, I think the Undertaker's casket matches with Kamala and Yokozuna, and the constant eye-rolling they inspired, are single handedly responsible for my own terrible vision at this point in my life. But I'm rolling on to subjects you probably aren't all that interested in hearing about. The point is, these matches have almost always been accompanied by the same freaking unbearable storyline thread. The Taker and his opponent trade wins, the Taker reveals a casket during a promo and challenges his opponent to a casket match, and his opponent reveals that he's desperately afraid of caskets. It's just cheesy as hell, overdone, boring and inappropriate for wrestling's current, less circusy environment. Of course, the same description could be applied to the Undertaker gimmick, as well. If you want to know whether this match will be worth watching, you should probably watch some of those old Taker / Kamala and Taker / Yokozuna matches and make up your own mind. Blahg. I'm going with the Taker, because he seems to have a hyperactive no-sell gland and that's something that can prove to be a great asset in a casket match.
Winner: The Undertaker

Shawn Michaels vs. Edge

Wow, I went on a lot longer about that casket match than I really should have. I've enjoyed this feud thus far, especially so considering it came about as an indirect result of the fans' voting way back at Taboo Tuesday. Edge's jealousy of HBK's win in the voting was the catalyst for his heel turn, and it makes great sense to still harbor that bitter resentment today, even after Michaels had sat out several months with a knee injury. Edge's run as a heel has been great thus far if just because he hasn't done anything to contest his character's mindset. He hasn't made any goofy alliances just for the sake of being heel, and has actually come to blows with fellow despicables on more than one occasion. His turn on former partners Chris Benoit and Christian had more to do with their problems as past tag team partners and unresolved issues between them than their status as a heel, face or tweener. His promos have been inspired, and it he's really given the impression that he IS this character, and isn't just being a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy. Michaels has played the part of the opposition fairly well, although his run as a face is growing tired, and has actually confirmed a lot of Edge's points in previous promos through sheer, unconscious cockiness. It's been a colorful debate, that much is for sure, with neither side completely in the right or the wrong, and that's why it's been so well recepted thus far.

I doubt that this match will serve as the proper blowoff to their feud, especially since it seems to have only recently found its wheels and taken off, but there's no denying the fact a bad match here would really hurt Edge's chances at the top of the card later in his career. For that reason alone, I'm thinking Edge will be putting in 110% here, although I'm sure that facing off with one of the all-time greats won't dampen his motivation too much, either. This could be one of the best matches in Edge's career, and potentially one of the standouts from HBK's storied body of work as well. It would be a shame to see it all end here, wouldn't it? I like Edge in the upset.
Winner: Edge

John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. Big Show vs. Kurt Angle
WWE Title

I don't have all that much to say about this match, honestly. Kurt Angle and the Big Show have always worked to highlight one another's strengths and overshadow their weaknesses in the ring, while Bradshaw's brought a fresh perspective on their relationship in the build to this one. I'd be kidding you if I said I thought Angle had it in him to carry two men to an above-average match all by his lonesome, especially at this point in his career, so JBL and / or the Big Show are going to have to put in a better-than-usual effort here to keep the level of quality in the ring worthwhile. I wish I could say I had complete faith in the champion to deliver in a situation like that, but despite his mild improvements, I'm not convinced that JBL's the real deal.

I've enjoyed the little collisions, peace accords and betrayals that Team Angle and JBL's Cabinet have undergone over the last few weeks, as the focus of the feud has remained primarily in the ring with constant matches between Bradshaw and Angle, as well as limited physicalities with the Big Show. Sure, there was that weak little plot line about Joy, Amy, Kurt Angle and the shower, but aside from that, um... yeah. It's been better than I would've expected. With that said, the only reason Angle and the Show are involved in this match is to cancel each other out and give JBL an excuse to retain his title yet again. Wish I could say otherwise, but after six months of missed predictions and disappointing defenses, I'm ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat. JBL will still be the champion Monday morning.
Winner: Bradshaw

Triple H (c) vs. Randy Orton
World Heavyweight Title

My interest in this one is fading fast, and it's slowly becoming obvious that WWE's plan to put this feud on the slow burner, barring Orton from World Title matches against Triple H in the hope that it would incite even more fan interest, has failed undeniably. Well, maybe failed is the wrong word... it's been more like a complete backfire, as crowds have slowly cooled to Orton's face schtick, rather than warmed to it, and it's becoming clear that they missed the window of opportunity with him back when they took him out of the title hunt for the foreseeable future. When he took the World Title from Chris Benoit back at Summerslam, Orton was just coming into his own as a comfortable, cocky heel who knew how to work that particular style of match. He had a good gimmick with this "legend killer" claims, credibility as a long-standing Intercontinental champion and founding member of Evolution, and plenty of potential opponents as an upper-tier midcard heel. When they turned him face, he had to relearn everything he'd been taught. All of the heel mannerisms he'd finally started to grasp were tossed away. His heelish ringwork needed a makeover. His ties to both Evolution and the legend killer persona were cut, and the huge momentum established by his exile from the group withered away as months went by without a title shot. Wrestling fans have a notoriously short memory span, and I'd be surprised if half the people watching this show would even remember that RAW-closing segment without some sort of video package or verbal recap.

All that's not to say this match will be poor, because chances are it'll be pretty decent. Both guys have been susceptible to an off night here or there, Orton especially, but usually step it up a bit for PPV. The big question here will be how well Hunter can cover for Orton's heel tendencies with his own actions, and how they'll manage to gracefully keep the belt around his waist without completely crippling young Randy. Yeah, it's not really an issue of whether Hunter retains or not, but how he does so.
Winner: Triple H

Thirty Man Royal Rumble
WrestleMania Title Shot On The Line

Well, what can really be said about a battle royal? The Rumble match itself is tough to predict from start to finish, as the event has really prided itself on a few surprise eliminations in the past. In many instances, those same surprise eliminations have proven to be the sparks that ignite big-money feuds for the spring's huge WrestleMania card, so keep your eyes peeled for potential rivalries and personality conflicts as the match progresses. Another thing that's become an interesting aside to the Rumble itself in recent years is the cohabitation of members from both the RAW and Smackdown brands, which lends the air of a major cross-promotional war to the event. It's not quite something I'd put on par with, say, a Goldberg and Steve Austin face off in 1998 or a Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair stare down in 1987, since nobody's fooling themselves into thinking RAW and SD are two completely different corporations, but it's still become a nice little touch that really helps the event to stand out from the pack.

One of the problems with the Rumble match, however, along with the stipulations that the victor automatically gains a main event title shot at WrestleMania, is that the actual outcome of the match comes down to two or three guys. And while there will most certainly be some surprise eliminations to keep things interesting, (as I discussed above) at least two of the final four are always on the short list of favorites to win the whole thing. And, until the time comes when the bookers grow a set and give an underdog the surprise win of a lifetime, I'm gonna bet that ain't changing. This year's obvious favorite is Batista, fresh off an impressive showing at the RAW mini-rumble earlier in the month, (remember the night Randy Orton was GM?) and a potentially explosive feud with Triple H, while John Cena, Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Edge and Shawn Michaels are all outside shots, of which Cena's the most likely. To tell the truth, I'd be amazed if Batista didn't win the whole thing in convincing fashion. Cena doesn't seem ready for the main event yet, (which isn't to say that's gonna stop them from trying, even if he doesn't win the Rumble) Benoit's been shuffling down the card pretty steadily since his title loss at Summerslam, Guerrero's been sliding for even longer, and Edge / Michaels should cancel each other out. It'll be interesting to see some continued interaction between Ric Flair and the monster he helped to create, but I don't think there's even a bump in the road for Batista this Sunday.
Winner: Batista

In Closing...

The Rumble's usually a fun event to take in, and this year's doesn't look like it'll be breaking that trend. The names and faces involved with the actual battle royal are talented and varied enough to buoy the rest of the show, provided all of the preceding matches don't completely suck ass, and I'm thinking there's the potential for a real barn burner in Edge / Michaels. There's a good chance of something special happening in that one, and it should be fun to see RAW on Monday after Batista is successful in throwing out twenty nine other guys.
until then, i remain

Monday, January 24, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 01/24/05

It's the last week before one of the Big Four PPVs, and with Smackdown taking their half of the card and the Rumble match itself taking up a big part of the night, the amount of storytelling required of RAW this week is significantly smaller than usual. With that said, it's just about time to get the big ball rolling towards Los Angeles and WrestleMania therein, and there's no better situation to light the fuse on a few potential feuds than in the famed Royal Rumble match. So, uh, I guess what I'm saying is... even though the pressure wasn't on for a hard-sell episode this week, they'd have been nuts to waste the opportunity to lay down a few subplots... grease the wheels a little bit.

This week opened up with an outstanding six-man tag match pitting Benoit / Jericho / Michaels against Christian / Tomko / Edge. I know there's big-time history between Jericho and Christian, as well as an obvious current conflict between Edge and HBK, and I guess Benoit and Tomko weren't really doing anything, so they got thrown in to pad the numbers a little bit. Though it took a little while to get moving, this turned out to be a much better match than we usually get to see on TV. The heels were working together tremendously, reminding me of the old Minnesota Wrecking Crew by isolating Shawn Michaels early and always managing to clamp on a desperation ankle lock on the occasion that HBK gained a little momentum, keeping him away from his own corner and further exhausting him with each successive failed attempt. That kind of fluidity as a team makes sense, both for Edge and Christian (who worked together for years, achieving anything and everything they set their minds to) and for Christian and Tomko (who have been teaming together off and on for nearly nine months now, and should have a pretty firm grasp on each other's strengths and weaknesses). Unfortunately, whenever your team isolates a single member for that lengthy a period of time, there's always the potential for a backfire and I'm glad to see that when that inevitably happened, the end wasn't too far off. It makes sense for a guy who's rested since the opening bell to make short work of two or three guys who've been active the entire match. Great opener, with some really nice subtle storytelling when Edge and Shawn were in the ring together, and Tomko continues to slowly improve. I'm hoping this means they learned their lesson with Batista / Orton and understand the benefits of sticking a struggling rookie into a series of tag matches opposite any mix of Benoit, Jericho, Michaels, Flair, Edge, Christian and Hunter.

I wasn't a big fan of the JR Day ceremony when it went down, but in retrospect I can see what they accomplished with Evolution's involvement. What I still can't understand is why the wild, wacky, community-themed congratulatory segments that preceded Hunter's interruption went on for as long as they did. The fact that Oklahoma declared an honest-to-godness Jim Ross Day is nice and all, and I'll agree that some sort of acknowledgment was totally appropriate, but to go on and on about it for nearly ten minutes is almost inexcusable. I like JR, sure, but I'm not from Oklahoma City and the "hometown boy done good" aspect of this was lost on me, especially considering they run a segment exactly like this one every time the show's anywhere near the state. They've done so many of these, I think every possible end result has been covered three times over. JR's suffered a gruesome beating, he's made a defied all odds by holding his own and forcing the villains out of the ring, he's been embarrassed in front of his friends and family, and he's triumphantly returned to spite his enemies. About the only thing that would've surprised me about this segment was the possibility of hearing RAW's top PBP guy call the rest of the show in a high falsetto, selling the effects of Ric Flair's cowardly nut shot.

Like I mentioned above, Evolution's involvement here didn't bother me a bit, after I saw how it played out only moments later. Triple H and Flair were every bit the cocky high school quarterbacks here, and Batista all but called them out on it when they filled him in on what they'd done. This segment makes me wonder what the heels' conversations are like in the locker room after the show, when they're bragging about their actions and in the process of explaining to those who didn't see it, realize that what they did was actually pretty lame. "Yeah, and then I videotaped myself in a Kane mask having sex with a corpse! LOL! Wait..." One of those little things you always wonder about, I guess. The timing on this final dissolution of Evolution (I'm a poet, don't you know) has been outstanding thus far, and I can't applaud the bookers enough for not giving in to the potential of an immediate cheap pop and maintaining the slow pace of Batista's split from the group. The potential for his face turn has nearly ripened, and I can't wait to see the turns this story will take at the Royal Rumble.

I'd rather they didn't waste my time at all with the Tajiri / Viscera match. Seriously, there are ways to get a big man over as a legitimately monstrous opponent without allowing him to no-sell his opposition's big spots. I can understand the need to feed guys to Viscera, so it means something when he taps out to the crossface or nearly goes through the mat with a spinebuster, but this didn't really do that for me. I would honestly rather see Mark Henry in the ring than Viscera.

I had no problem with the way La Resistance was initially fed to Batista, as he caught both off-guard and pressed his advantage to the point that neither could've had much of an idea of where they were or what was going on. It actually said a lot about Batista's strategic mind in the ring and his ability to keep his opponents off-balance with a variety of dizzying power moves. Once his shoulder collided with that ringpost and the tag champs took over on offense, however, it was a completely different story. With both guys regaining their bearings and zeroing in on the big man's arm, Batista's struggle to regain control of the match, let alone to win the thing, should've been outrageous. Instead, he crouched on the mat for a couple seconds, forgot about the shoulder and showed off some more power moves. I guess the match accomplished what it set out to, but Conway and Grenier, along with everyone they've ever managed to defeat in the past, looked completely inept. Post-match, Batista "shoved the flag up his ass," which I guess could've been a lot more graphic than it was. The problem with a crazy patriotic spot like that is... people LIVE in Quebec, and they're going to remember this when Batista's a face and RAW rolls into town sometime later in the year. And JR will again write it off as just those crazy Canadians and their "bizarro world."

Muhammad Hassan finally participated in a halfway worthwhile match this week, working against poor Val Venis in a Royal Rumble qualifying match while Daivari (hah, I just typo'd and called him "Daria") screamed into the house mic. OK, on one hand that idea worked wonderfully, because the crowd grew more and more angry with the heels as the match progressed. It really got some heat into a match that probably would've struggled otherwise, and made Val's short-lived comeback into a rallying point for the home crowd. On the other, somebody's going to get the idea that this should become an ongoing part of the gimmick and it's gonna get old really quickly. Val looked decent, if extremely bland, in his annual televised RAW match and Hassan seems to have loosened some of the butterflies from his stomach in the ring. Not a bad segment at all, as the crowd was venomously opposed to Hassan and Daivari.

Man, they really must have little to no faith in Maven's abilities in the ring anymore, because they keep booking him into situations where he talks for an unusual amount of time, gets as little offense as possible and jobs as quickly as imaginable. Of course, one wouldn't expect him to have a chance in hell of claiming a Royal Rumble slot last night opposite Kane and Snitsky, and who tunes in on Monday nights to see surprises, anyway? This could've been an unexpectedly interesting segment that saw Snitsky or Kane screwing his arch-rival out of a spot in the Rumble and Maven picking up what scraps were thrown his way. Neither man was in danger of losing any of his precious credibility with the obvious injuries, and things could've become even more interesting if things escalated and Maven eventually wound up with both entries in the Rumble match, while Snitsky and Kane were left in the cold. No, but instead this time was better spent jobbing a new heel (which, in case you haven't noticed, is something RAW's kind of lacking at the moment) to a couple of monsters with no ties to him whatsoever. I'm far from Maven's biggest supporter, and doubt I ever will be, but is there even a reason to keep him employed if they're just going to toss him into slop like this?

Finally, the evening wrapped up with a singles match between former running buddies Randy Orton and Ric Flair, which felt like like two stock cars racing side by side with the cruise control set at forty. Neither guy looked particularly motivated to make this a special evening, especially with Orton's head such a mess coming in, and the match wound up being two guys hitting their usual maneuvers with half as much passion as usual. I liked the illusion of reality Orton's wound lent, as it opened up and started oozing blood almost immediately after Flair started throwing punches, but that's about the most remarkable thing I saw about this match. I loved where they were going with it, with Hunter setting his crosshairs directly on the back of Orton's leg and Flair, drooling at the prospect, immediately going to work in preparation for the figure four, but that didn't mean anything two minutes later, when Orton sprung to life and hit the RKO for the win. Not a bad match, really, but not up to snuff when compared to the last twelve months or so of show-closers.

Despite the hot opener, I liked last week's episode a bit better. A lot of this felt like filler, especially the JR Day celebration and the lengthy Austin press conference highlights, and that's precisely what I was afraid of going in. The stage is set for the big Batista turn, and it's do-or-die for Edge / Michaels, but I'm not all that thrilled about Orton / Hunter, and tonight didn't try to light much of a fire on that front. Most of tonight's matches were needless squashes and that, coupled with a few mediocre backstage segments, really drug down what was easily an above-average program.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.2

Monday, January 17, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 01/17/05

This week opened up abruptly, with Chris Jericho already in the ring, his Highlight Reel scenery already set up (speaking of which, how long's it been since Y2J actually referred to himself as "The Highlight of the Night," anyway? The segment's proven to have much more longevity than the nickname ever did) and his opening-entrance pop from the crowd already out of the way. Previously-announced guest Muhammad Hassan interrupted, jumping right into a scathing anti-Canadian rant. I really, really enjoyed this segment. Hassan's really starting to make a believer out of me, both in terms of the character and the man portraying him. He's right up there with the show's top promos at the moment, because he speaks with conviction and seems to grow genuinely emotional about the subjects he's covering. It's been so long since I've seen anything but the "calm, cool face/heel introduction - slow lean toward unhappiness/seriousness - angry firing of threats/ultimatums/fisticuffs" formula, that Hassan's straight-to-the-point methods really seem fresh and exciting. Jericho proved to be a great foil to the fresh heel here, doing everything under his power to pander to the home crowd and overlooking the meat of what Muhammad was saying. Former RRC contributor Jay Bower had a great point in the RAW thread this week (which you can see further down the column in the "what did the forums think" section) about how Chris Jericho's slowly become the new Kevin Nash of RAW, constantly undercutting his opponents by taking the emphasis off of what they're saying in favor of a joke, self-promotion or other unrelated subject, but I have to disagree with him... at least on this occasion. By refusing to react to the bold accusations Hassan threw at both he and his countrymen, Y2J all but admitted defeat, giving the fans a reason to fear the man in addition to their desire to hate him. For a guy like Hassan, who really needs the rub at this critical moment in his career, that could prove to be a godsend. Likewise for his post-match destruction of the host. All in all, this was a great segment that cast a shadow of doubt over the match between Benoit and Jericho later in the night (would Hassan interfere? Better still, did Benoit intentionally hang back for a few minutes, so Jericho would be appropriately softened up for their match?) and helped to elevate the new talent without completely overlooking the old.

The official in-ring action kicked off with a six-man tag pitting Shelton Benjamin, Rosey and the Hurricane against La Resistance and Maven. If this is the midcard of RAW, things suddenly aren't looking all that great. I love the direction they've taken the Benjamin / Maven story, with Shelton going out of his way to make Maven look like an idiot, since it's a welcome change of pace from the same old rehashed "challenger shocks champion in non-title match / champion seeks redemption" storyline it seemed like they were leaning towards a couple months ago, but there's only so long you can see that before it either gets old or the heel starts to get sympathy heat. Benjamin and Maven haven't exactly matched up well together in the ring, and despite the great strides he's taken as a personality since the heel turn, he's just not ready for an extended program in the Intercontinental Title picture. The same can be said for Sylvain Grenier, except without the whole "great strides he's taken as a personality" bit, because he's equally as green out of the ring as he is inside it. And, unfortunately, I can't comment on anything about Rosey and the Hurricane except how stale and repetitive they've become over the years. It's been a YEAR AND A HALF since Rosey first became a "super hero in training," folks. It's coming up on FOUR since Shane Helms became the Hurricane. And the most character progression either of them have taken since donning cape and cowl is a new wardrobe for Rosey and dyed hair for Helms. I was once a big fan of these guys, but enough's enough. They're going the way of the Dudleys.

Truthfully, the only two I had interest in during this match were Rob Conway and Benjamin, who seemed to work well together in the brief glimpses I caught during the match. Conway's really carrying La Resistance on his back right now, which is amazing considering the lack of mic time he's been granted. I'd love to see him given a shot or two at Benjamin and his IC Title in the near future.

I was cleaning up and archiving some of my older contributions to the RRC this weekend, and stumbled across an idea I'd rambled on at the time about Randy Orton (then heel) stealing Stacy Keibler from Scott Steiner, (then face) simultaneously screwing Steiner out of his "freak" and reaffirming himself as the playboy that was portrayed in his entrance video. So I thought it was funny that the writers seemed to finally move forward with a potential hook-up between Stacy and Randy last night. Don't believe me? Let's take a trip back to 2003. Incidentally, I found it hilarious that the slow death of Orton's face run has come to this point. If he fails to get over with Stacy by his side, he's in serious trouble.

On his own, Orton actually had a pretty decent showing last night alongside Triple H. He looked lost for the speech's opening moments, when the crowd gave him a pretty heavy verbal thumbs down and he didn't know how to save the segment by his lonesome, but once Hunter hit the ramp and gave him someone to bounce off of, things recovered quickly. Randy's starting to find a niche for himself with these promos where he can do away with the catchphrases and start seriously hurling some rapid-fire insults at his opponents. He kicked ass in that role a few weeks ago opposite Edge, and it was more of the same here, interrupting Hunter to inform him of the repetitive nature of his speeches. I liked the mind games Hunter pulled out, hiding behind the entryway in wait of the furious, emotional Orton, but couldn't really get behind the eventual RKO comeback.

I liked the premise of turning Shawn Michaels heel for one night only, especially since they were north of the border and he would be all but assuredly receiving the gift of a loud chorus of boos, but the whole thing felt recycled. Shawn's "spur of the moment" comments and barbs felt like they were merely reprises of witty comebacks and one-liners he'd thought of after the fact, the last time they were up north. Nothing felt spontaneous, and some of his comments about how "only you Canadians can't move on" sounded a little funny just one week after he soaked up a noteworthy "You screwed Bret" chant in southeast Florida just seven days before. I miss heel HBK quite a bit, actually, and think such a turn could go a long way toward freshening up his lagging character, but the guy they sent out there last night wasn't him. It was a good impersonation at best.

His match with Christian wasn't a bad thing at all, despite the goofy "go to commercial during the opening five minutes" production decision and Christian's blowing up and dragging ass for a few minutes at the midway point of the match. I didn't even mind the finish all that much, even though Michaels effectively went over three men all by his lonesome, because the ending came so quickly it didn't seem like any of Christian's cohorts had the chance to even think twice about breaking up the pinfall. I was hoping for a bit of a longer match, but I guess I'll take what I can get since both guys looked strong and the closing sequence was quality work.

Batista vs. Viscera didn't exactly float my boat, and though I know what they were trying to do here, it really only served as a poster boy for why big man vs. big man matches typically fail, despite the wild initial fan interest. A lot of what's getting Batista his big reactions right now is the deception of his power, tossing around smaller, more able-bodied guys like Benoit, Orton and Jericho in impressive fashion. Now, paired off against Viscera, he looks a lot less impressive. For one, he doesn't look nearly as intimidating when he gives up a couple inches and at least a hundred pounds to his opponent. His moveset's also hampered by his actual strength, and since he ain't gonna be picking Viscera up for any demon bombs or samoan drops over the course of a match, he loses a lot of credibility in the fans' eyes. Finally, he isn't getting any help. A big part of why he's looked so impressive lately is because his opponents have sold his offense as though he were dropping barbells on their backs. Viscera took a total of three maneuvers during the course of this match; forearms, (both by land and by air) shoulders in the corner and the spinebuster. And he managed to make the spinebuster look like shit. Big Vis is such a handicap, he can run through his entire moveset in less than a minute and still have time to kill the match's finish.

There's not much I can say about the Benoit / Jericho match except that I enjoyed it. I was really surprised to see Jericho hanging tough throughout the chain wrestling segments they worked their way through in the opening moments, and I loved the constant struggle of both guys looking for their submission finishers at the same time. This didn't feel like a brawl, and that's because it wasn't a brawl. If it were a brawl, it likely would've failed. What it felt like was a legitimate sporting competition between two fiercely competitive friends. Imagine two college roommates, both starters on the University basketball team, playing a serious game of one-on-one. That's exactly how this felt, and Benoit emphasized it through his body language after the surprise finish by aggressively going after Y2J, thinking it over, and grudgingly accepting his defeat. Even the finish didn't bother me, as it was one guy simply out-strategizing the other at just the right moment. Benoit had been looking for submissions all night long, as had Jericho, so it was just a matter of who figured out an appropriate reversal first. It was a welcome change to see a clean match, from start to finish, between two faces. Here's hoping they try it again some day. Nobody lost any respect, and if anything they both gained quite a bit just for being involved.

Shades of grey with the Kane character followed, as the big man interrupted a Trish Stratus promo to defend his wife's honor in the only way that made sense to him: by kicking some ass. I like where this looks to be headed, with Kane breaking out the freaky grin that accompanied most of his acts of violence in the past and doing what he wants to do, rather than what a fan-favorite is supposed to do.

Finally, we wrapped the night up with... ugh... Kane vs. Snitsky, which itself concluded with a bizarre non-finish, as both men fell off of the stage into a mound of wood, wire, metal and assorted household items. I had about as much interest in this match as the live audience seemed to, breaking into an uninterested wave just a minute or two after the opening bell. Snitsky is not good, and Kane, even in prime form, is precisely the wrong guy to throw him in there with, in the hopes that something will miraculously come together. Nevermind that the big red machine is still shaking loose some ring rust following his return to the active roster. This was absolutely brutal to watch, and the abrupt conclusion just made me snort in disbelief. An ugly, ugly, ugly way to wrap up what wasn't really all that bad of an episode.

Despite two undeniably crappy singles matches and a six-man tag that couldn't disinterest me much more if it tried, this episode didn't feel all that bad to me. It helped that Christian / HBK and Jericho / Benoit both went to clean finishes and, for the most part, delivered. It also helped that the backstage vignettes and in-ring promos were uncharacteristically superb, with Hassan and Triple H standing out as prime-time performers. The build to the Rumble should be in full swing right now and they're still treading water somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but strangely enough I'm not worried. Several steps above average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.2

Monday, January 10, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 01/10/05

This week's episode opened with, surprisingly enough, a lengthy monologue from the "new" champ, Triple H that eventually led to a retort from Randy Orton and more tension between the surviving members of Evolution. I can definitely say I've heard worse speeches from Hunter the night after winning the title, and while it felt like he was treading water out there for most of it, I'm so conditioned to hearing him open the show that most of it streaked right through one ear and out the other. I was glad to see my initial suspicions about the outcome of the Elimination Chamber match were false, (I was expecting the stable to come to the ring together, laughing that phony "gotcha" laugh, and tell us all that the last month and a half was all setup) as the few short clips they displayed from the New Year's Revolution main event and aftermath did everything they needed to do to fill in the viewers who didn't cough up the forty bucks for that particular PPV. They didn't give away the match itself, just the storytelling that affected tonight's chapter. Batista was reluctant to lift the champ up on his shoulders at first, and only did so after Trips wouldn't let it go and kept demanding a ride. Hunter didn't help out when he could have. Flair inadvertently threw that symbolic thumbs up as the three celebrated after the match. Randy Orton played his role excellently, pointing all of those things out and believably furthering the tensions between his current adversaries. Of all the athletes on RAW at the moment, Orton's the only one who could've logically introduced that footage, and he simultaneously managed to keep a close tie to his heel heel roots by selfishly requesting an immediate World Title match for himself before the steam had even finished coming out of Batista's ears.

Bischoff closed things up by marching out to the top of the ramp, signing a number one contender's match for later in the evening and marching back, which was surprisingly his only appearance of the night. That's all right, though, since I'm still digging the hell out of Eric's role as a tweener GM whose only interest is in producing the better brand. Besides, it makes sense that he wouldn't always be visible at every point in the show. I wish he'd keep the hair short, since the buzzcut gave him a tougher, more hardened appearance and he's already starting to fuzz out upstairs, but I can overlook something like that.

Maven and Shelton Benjamin followed up that prolonged verbal exchange with the evening's first match, a two minute-long mini-brawl that wound up putting Benjamin over as a threat and a legitimate Title holder. I don't know why they're so worried about letting these two work through their supposed clash of styles in the ring when we're stamping our way into month three of the atrocious Kane / Snitsky series, but some questions just don't have easy answers. Maven could still turn the corner and become a great heel if he doesn't lose confidence on the stick, but a long series (or at least a match longer than three minutes) with Benjamin would've given him a great opportunity to improve in the ring as well. I guess that's the end of this feud.

Muhammad Hassan was next in line, emerging victorious over the Hurricane in a match that couldn't have been more than a minute longer than the opener between Shelton and Maven. What, are they having another "fastest victory gets the prize" stipulation tonight that nobody knew about? I don't see how a match like this one is of any consolation to Hassan's stature in the ring after nearly losing his big-league debut against Jerry freaking Lawler of all people. Hurricane Helms used to be an outstanding young cruiserweight who would bounce all around the ring at the drop of a hat if it meant helping his opponent get over, but he just isn't the same guy any more. This felt like a six minute story crammed into a two minute match.

Back from a well-deserved commercial break and again we're treated to a rushed singles match, this time between Edge and Rhyno. I was about ready to throw my hands up and surrender by this point. Edge and Rhyno are two guys who've had some history together. When Rhyno first came to WWE, who did he align himself with? Yeah, he rushed the ring to help out Edge and Christian. They met in the King of the Ring tournament later in the year, a tourney Edge would go on to win. They met in tag action and in singles action on Smackdown after the brand extension, often producing a solid match. So now, rather than giving the match a few minutes to get cooking or at least some sort of backstage acknowledgment between the two, we just get another needlessly hurried match on RAW. This doesn't do anything for me.

Post-match, Edge complains his way through a commercial break in a segment that reminded me of the WCW heel Chris Jericho character I loved so much, pretty much throwing a hissy fit until Shawn Michaels comes out to the ring to face-off with him. HBK tried his best to be the motivational, grizzled old veteran here, but I just couldn't buy it, since I'd seen this exact same setup with Michaels and Jeff Hardy a of couple years ago. The live crowd lost interest quickly too, breaking into a loud, unprovoked "You Screwed Bret" chant that got a laugh out of me and actually served to break the tension that was holding the promo back. After breaking character to give the crowd a sugar-coated piece of his mind, he dove back into the promo and the entertainment value of the segment benefitted from the "hard reset" of sorts. I thought Edge missed a golden opportunity here, as he could've really made the segment soar by skipping over the promo's closing lines and just slapping Michaels directly when he stopped paying attention to what Edge had to say and started acting all cute in response to the fans. Edge's whole gimmick right now is about respect, or the lack thereof he feels in the main event, and by abruptly changing the subject just as he'd got to the meat of his message, HBK showed him the ultimate disrespect. So, naturally, Edge should've reacted in kind. It's that kind of spontaneity that's been missing from the broadcast lately, and would've really served to give the crowd the impression that they were a part of the segment. The segment turned out to be pretty solid all the same, (even if I can't say I'm all that excited about the upcoming feud between the two yet) and they got the crowd involved in another way; by brawling all the way out to the front door of the arena and into the merch stand.

Simon Dean, Kane and Gene Snitsky were next in the ring, in that exact order, and I wasn't all that impressed. Dean's already almost belly-up, with audiences showing indifference to him despite his best efforts to rally them against him, and Kane is tough to buy as both a psychopathic hard-ass and a face. Snitsky's worthless, and I know you've heard me say that about fifteen hundred times since his debut, but it doesn't look like they're going to stop giving me excuses to repeat myself. The only remotely redeeming factor about this segment was the laugh I got when I realized that the Dean Diet Pills were actually blood capsules, and that Kane had accidentally rolled his cheek up against one while he was writhing about on the mat. So now he was not only bleeding from "internal injuries," but had also seemingly bitten a hole in his cheek as a knee-jerk reaction. I'm going to erupt into laughter if he shows up with a tiny band-aid on that exact spot next week, just to retain continuity.

In probably the only match last night without a discernible storyline, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho rolled over Christian and Tyson Tomko in the night's first decent face-off, both in terms of quality and in terms of length. JR filled us in that Christian had asked for this match earlier in the night to "take advantage" of Benoit and Jericho's wear and tear from the Elimination Chamber, which probably would've served as a halfway interesting promo backstage if they'd booked it. But no, we needed to get the ball rolling on the next chapter in this epic Kane / Snitsky feud. We needed a lingerie pillow fight. I'm constantly finding myself impressed by the progress Tyson Tomko's making as a punching bag / big man as the weeks go on. He's still far from the same league as Benoit and Jericho or even Maven, but he's showing steady improvement and isn't being shoved down our throats any more, so I'm starting to enjoy these regular check-ins. I loved the dual-submission conclusion to this one, but it didn't really mean anything. Benoit and Jericho are teaming together semi-regularly again, and will be facing off in singles action next week, but for all we know this could just be GM Eric Bischoff's way of insuring the show has at least one decent match every week. RAW's been overrun with stories lately, yet they can't produce anything for two guys with as much history together as Benoit and Jericho. Ugh.

Oh yeah, there was a lingerie pillow fight. What's my catchphrase for instances like this one? I think it goes something like; "If I want porn, I'll go rent some porn."

Finally, with the audience sufficiently primed for action, Batista and Randy Orton clash for a shot at the World Title in an undisclosed time and place. Plainly enough, I loved this all the way up to the conclusion, and if it weren't so postured and freaking OBVIOUS, I'd have loved that too. They told the story they needed to tell in there, Orton playing the outmatched and overpowered young upstart who just won't give up, and Batista playing the behemoth, playing around with his prey and testing the limits of physical endurance to see just how much violence his toy can absorb before it breaks. This was downright brutal at times, especially as time ticked away and Batista amused himself by coming up with new and inventive ways to torture his prey, (particularly memorable was the spot where Orton's head was being literally crushed between the canvas and the big man's boot) and that's exactly how it should've been. Randy finally found a happy medium between underselling and overselling (the way he took the spinebuster near the end of the match was insanely cool) and the match was all the better because of it. Sometimes it's nice to watch a close fight, and sometimes it's nice to watch a massacre... and even though Orton technically won the match, there's no questioning the fact that Batista gave him the beating of his life here. Remove about ten seconds of Hunter standing on the apron with a chair and replace it with one wild, inaccurate swing with the steel seating apparatus instead, and this is an outstanding bit of work. As is, it closed the show up nicely and gave us some much-needed momentum going into next week.

I have trouble calling this show above average, despite the excellent character advances and remarkable showing of patience they displayed with the Batista / Orton / Hunter storyline. The pace of the episode was really bizarre, as it zipped from an unimportant squash to a great promo, then back to an unimportant squash and on to the continuation of a lingering story from last week. Almost every time we'd take in a good segment, it would be negated by three or four instances of something bad. On that same hand, the aforementioned storytelling with Batista, the face-off between HBK and Edge and the eventual main event weren't bad television by any means. I guess what I'm getting at is; this was really, really middle of the road. It felt like the episode was trying to accomplish too many goals in preparation for the Royal Rumble, but when the screen faded to black, nothing had really happened. Let's try half the matches but three times the match length next time.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.2

Saturday, January 8, 2005

The World's Greatest WWE New Year's Revolution 2005 Preview

Like last month's Armageddon card, the lineup that's been pieced together for New Year's Revolution really doesn't feel important enough to justify its own special PPV event. The storylines that do exist are honestly quite good, with a main event scene more lively than anything in recent memory, a fresh new character making an in-ring debut, an Intercontinental Title match pitting two up-and-coming potential stars against one another (which is a welcome change of pace after years of main eventers clogging up the IC title picture) and a sequel to the surprisingly good free-TV title match between Trish and Lita, but on the large this feels like it's only half a card. The undercard's been so underdeveloped, for lack of a better word, that the Tag Title Match, Muhammad Hassan's big debut and even Kane's supposedly-huge return to active competition all feel like they were hurried onto stage about an hour before they were ready, just to fill time. Which, I guess, is a pretty good summarization of their purpose this Sunday night. Almost every moment of the last month's worth of RAWs has focused on the World Title picture, and while it's great to hold that title in such a high regard, you're doing yourself no good if the rest of the roster is left behind in the dust. With the Royal Rumble taking place only three weeks after this show, I've gotta keep wondering why they're stretching the PPVs this thin.

William Regal & Eugene (c) vs. Christian & Tyson Tomko
World Tag Team Championship

I honestly have no idea how this match came to be. Was it that backstage segment where Mick Foley showed up from out of nowhere and befriended Eugene? Are Tomko and Christian merely continuing Maven's crusade for him, now that he's occupied elsewhere with Shelton Benjamin? It doesn't really make sense, either way, but you take what you can get and you live with it. I'm a little worried about how well this one will pan out, since Tomko's still working on cutting his baby teeth in the ring, Regal's been hot and cold lately, and Eugene & Christian didn't seem to work very well together in singles action on RAW this week. This promises to be your usual lackluster, meaningless tag title match between two makeshift tag tandems, with the faces going over.
Winners: Eugene and William Regal

Jerry Lawler w/Jim Ross vs. Muhammad Hassan w/Daivari

Probably the most important match Lawler's had in years, since a poor showing here would swiftly take the wind out of Hassan's sails, while a good match and a convincing victory will legitimize him as more than just a good promo man. Aside from the main event, this is the only match that's received a fair amount of promotion thanks to the continuous pre-taped vignettes, the in-ring promos and this past Monday's verbal showdown, and the reaction the angle's generated is very interesting. Basically, you love it or you hate it, with little or no in-between, and that's about as close to the perfect audience reaction as I think they'll ever get. Hassan really is playing an old school heel, from both his mannerisms and patterns of speech to his willingness to maintain a straight face and fight the urge to give in and start playing a "cool heel." You're about to be disappointed if you think this will be a great match, so long as Lawler's still involved in the physicalities, but I think the character's strong enough to maintain a full head of steam if they don't do something stupid and have the King completely dominate the match's offense. Even a competitive, back and forth battle would somewhat legitimize Hassan as a force to be reckoned with, but I'm thinking they'll go the whole nine yards here and put him over strong with a near-squash.
Winner: Muhammad Hassan

Shelton Benjamin (c) vs. Maven
Intercontinental Championship

Maven's really surprised me with his heel turn thus far, not just embracing the role but growing a fully functional personality, a large dose of overconfidence and the ability to say more than a few words on the stick to boot. He was solid out there as a guest commentator during the horrific Benjamin / Grenier match this week on RAW, and if he can expand his moveset beyond just dropkicks, armdrags and punches, perhaps developing (*gasp*) a style of his very own, then he could be going somewhere. Even though I'm glad to see two younger, lesser-publicized guys getting a chance to fight over the second most prestigious title on the program, as I'd mentioned in my introduction, it feels like it's too soon for Maven to be getting the opportunity. The storyline that kicked off when he stole a surprise pinfall from Shelton during a six-man tag match a few weeks ago was never expanded upon, and the feud feels kind of hollow as a result. I'm glad the big names are concentrating on RAW's top prize, but the midcard competition HAS to be a little bit tougher than this. The match should deliver, at least, since Shelton's been very good opposite almost everyone since switching to the show after WrestleMania. So long as Sylvain Grenier doesn't dart out to the ring to screw it up, the action between the ropes should be good stuff, and I'm not all that concerned about Benjamin losing the title.
Winner: Shelton Benjamin

Kane vs. Gene Snitsky

What was it I said about the Benjamin / Maven match? It feels "hollow"? Yeah, let's just go ahead and apply that same adjective to this one, as well. Despite its white-hot start, (which is something that, to this day, I still can't understand) the Kane / Snitsky feud has gone belly-up in the months since Taboo Tuesday. I don't care about Kane. Snitsky's done nothing to change my opinion of him since he first popped up on the show. Lita's reaction to big Gene seems to change by the hour. One minute she's bold and in his face, nearly intimidating him, the next she's cowering in a corner and trying to convince us she's seriously worried about his threats. You should know better than to expect good things from this match, so the one thing everyone should be looking forward to here is the potential for a mercy-killing and an early return to OVW for Mr. Snitsky. Kane makes the squash, the audience responds with a collective "meh," and the dysfunctional love affair between the Big Red Machine and his Big Red-Headed Bride takes some other kind of bizarre, unnecessary twist.
Winner: Kane

Lita (c) vs. Trish Stratus
Women's Championship

I must've previewed or reviewed this match a couple dozen times by now, but since the Women's division is so strapped for talent, (until, as I've mentioned before, that fateful day when a lightbulb goes off above Vince's head and he decides to start teaching the Diva Search contestants to roll around the ring) here we go again. These two actually put on a really nice show on RAW about a month ago, when that sickening botched suicide dive seemed to shake loose some ring awareness, but even so I can't say I'm all that thrilled about the rematch. After almost a full year of build, these two have said and done just about everything imaginable to one another, and I'm thinking it's time to turn the corner with the whole feud. This needs to blow off right here or, at the very most, next month at the Rumble. And, given RAW's reluctance to rush to any sort of conclusion recently, I'm thinking Trish wins the title back here and the battles continue.
Winner: Trish Stratus

Triple H vs. Randy Orton vs. Chris Jericho vs. Edge vs. Chris Benoit vs. Batista
Elimination Chamber World Heavyweight Championship Match with Special Referee Shawn Michaels

Finally, the real driving force behind this show. It's really nice to see the various names and faces working the main events of RAW these days, as they've each been really producing over the last year or two, and deserve the spot almost without question. These guys have been exchanging dance partners and swapping allegiances all year, and the main events have never been better. It's only natural to throw them all in the ring together, with the World Title up for grabs, now that we're nearing the impending bookend of WrestleMania XXI. This match is like a summary of the last year for RAW, with Hunter heading up the show's dominant heel faction, Batista providing the muscle and the potential for big things in 2005, Orton bringing the face reactions and a past one-month Title reign, Jericho providing the consistency, as he's once again been the Monday Night MVP for RAW, and Benoit carrying with him his incredible ringwork and the longest face Title reign since Steve Austin's first run. For all of the black weddings, mentally handicapped wrestlers near the main event, and weight loss gimmicks, 2004 really wasn't that bad a year for RAW, and you've got the six guys listed above (plus Shawn Michaels, who's also involved) to thank. I'm really eager to see how this one turns out, not just because I'm anxious to see who will be grabbing the gold, but because the match itself should be outstanding. There are so many different storyline and personality conflicts here, they could battle it out all night and still have a handful of interesting new directions to test out before the bell rings. Batista, Orton and Hunter all have history together, with Batista's hints of insubordination making that mix twice as volatile as it might have been otherwise. Benoit and Edge have an ongoing hatred for one another, and neither one seems to think too favorably of Triple H. Edge seems to despise Orton, and I'd be interested in seeing if Benoit has completely forgiven the carrier of the RKO for ending his run as champion at Summerslam. Jericho's worked opposite every single one of these guys at one point or another in 2004 aside from Benoit, and if their history together should teach us anything, it's that their friendship is never more than a few harsh words away from bursting at the seams.

So yeah, basically, I'm extremely interested in this one match. I was leaning towards a surprise reign for Benoit or Jericho for quite some time, but all the signs pointing toward another Triple H run are almost too glaring to ignore. I've read handfuls of potential outcomes for this match, and with things as wide open as they are right now, every single one of them could work out spectacularly. Probably the closest thing to certainty in my mind is another run for the Game, and as much as it pains me to do so, I'm gonna have to go with him here.
Winner: Triple H

In Closing...

I can't do more than repeat my opening sentiments here. This is a one-match show, but at the very least that one match is one helluva doozy. I remain vehemently opposed to the slow increase in the number of yearly WWE PPVs, mainly because of cards like this one and Armageddon, and as such I'm only left to imagine what a great show they could've put on if this main event were paired up with a really nice undercard.
until then, i remain

Monday, January 3, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 01/03/05

Last show before the big Pay Per View this Sunday, and while the main event scene's tighter than it's ever been, I can't say the same about the midcard and undercard. If the writers had planned to get serious about making "New Year's Revolution" a well-rounded PPV card and not just a two hour Elimination Chamber match along with some fluff to round things out, the time was going to be now.

And right out of the gates, Bischoff made certain that the majority of tonight's emphasis was going to be on the workers involved with the Elimination Chamber match. I guess on second thought it's not really that big of a deal, since six guys are tied up in this one match and by the time RAW's next solo PPV comes around, only two of them are likely to still be involved. Regardless, they're still charging admission at NYR, both in person and over the airwaves, and to ignore the rest of the card while the main event's already set in stone leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are more than a dozen guys backstage who aren't doing anything and could really use both the exposure and the opportunity to exceed the expectations with a brief feud and a longer-than-usual PPV blowoff, and it's a shame to see them remaining there despite this golden opportunity.

Enough. I'll bitch about that when John, Dave and I get together for the "World's Greatest" preview later in the week. While the midcard has been almost completely forgotten, the main event scene really has never been better. I've yet to complain about the slow rotation of Benoit, Jericho, Batista, Hunter, Orton and Edge in singles feuds with one another over the last year, and a big throwdown between the whole lot of them seems like a great way to wrap up last year's season and allow for a clean break into the new year. In addition, the stars' familiarity with one another and individual progression both as characters and as athletes is resulting in some damn fine television. Last week's race for the quickest pin not only enhanced the importance of the Elimination Chamber match, but also gave that episode of RAW a great competitive thread that's been missing for quite some time... and this week's episode followed in kind. Pairing off the six main eventers into singles matches not only produces some potentially excellent matchups, but also once again gives a subtle nod to the Elimination Chamber match this Sunday night. Everyone would naturally look for a decisive victory here, not just to incapacitate a potential opponent for the big match, but also to send a stern message to the others that they are not to be fucked with. By booking those three matches so early in the evening, Bischoff set a tone and pace for the evening that would've been almost perfect if the midcard hadn't already been so neglected over the last few weeks.

Right out of the gates, Benoit and Batista rushed out to face off with one another, in what turned into a sort of coming out party for Batista. Just in time for Sunday's big match, Evolution's enforcer turned in an excellent performance, not just in terms of technical proficiency, but also as a character. He's slightly shifted his in-ring persona from a traditional slow, stupid, powerful big man into a ferocious, easily-upset monster with more strength and volatility than he knows what to do with. For instance, once he'd done everything in his power to force Benoit to submit to a single-leg crab and the Crippler still refused to submit, Batista grew frustrated, grabbing his opponent's arm and slamming it repeatedly to the mat in a sort of simulated tap-out. When Benoit went to the top a bit prematurely and the big man caught him, he hit a crazy delayed fisherman's suplex that took the wind out of the Crippler's sails. When he's calm and collected, as he was for most of the match, Batista uses his strength wisely with impressive maneuvers that dish out the punishment without totally wearing him out in the process. When he's frustrated and angry, he makes mistakes, wastes energy and occasionally connects with something horrifyingly brutal. It's like a Jekyll and Hyde personality, only his body never shrinks and grows in proportion to his mind. This was an excellent way to further push Batista's personal agenda this Sunday night, and Benoit went out of his way to make sure it succeeded. Easily the best singles match I've ever seen out of Batista, great pacing, an intriguing story from both guys and an excellent finishing sequence that didn't kill the Wolverine's credibility just before the big match.

Backstage, Batista just couldn't stop kicking ass, as he basically wrested verbal control of Evolution from both Flair and Hunter, dangled it in front of their eyes and then gave it back with a snicker. This slow turn has been a dream to watch, as they just keep putting Batista with precisely the workers he needs to be around to make his segment(s) work. Though I hated them together when their association was first cemented, Flair and Hunter have really formed a great chemistry together, with Hunter easing into the role of the natural leader and Flair constantly on top of his game with the emotion, the body language, the facial expressions and the snide comments. This segment wouldn't have been nearly as important, nor as impressive, if Batista had unflinchingly stood up to any other tandem in the entire federation. Well done.

Oh, man, and then it's all followed up with another shitty Gene Snitsky interview. Worse still, he's being questioned by Maria, one of the half dozen Diva Search rejects that seem to be popping up all over the program these days. I've never understood what they see in Snitsky... the only thing he's done well consistently is waste my time.

Jericho and Edge followed that beauty up with the second match of the evening, which happened to be the second of the three major singles matches of the evening. I didn't really understand why they rushed this one out there so soon, instead of waiting until the top of the second hour and spacing the three matches out evenly. Scheduled as it was, the show wound up being really heavy during the opening hour and quite light throughout the second. As far as the match goes, I've seen better from both of them in the past, but that isn't to say it was a bad match by any stretch of the imagination. It seemed to drag out a teensy bit longer than was necessary, the commercial was badly timed and the finish was missing something. Like I said, not bad, but this wasn't the best match they've ever had together.

Not long after, Shelton Benjamin and Sylvain Grenier hit the ring, with Maven providing some surprise commentary alongside the King and JR. Maven's really starting to impress me by nailing this new heel character and losing all of the hesitation and bashful nature that made him so bland as a face. He's speaking his mind now, and while I'm not sure Shelton is the right foil for him at the moment, it's great to see a little bit of personality peeking through all the same. The match that happened to be going on while Maven was chatting away in the booth was pretty bad, honestly, likely the worst I've seen from Benjamin since he came to RAW, although I don't think he deserves the criticisms himself. Grenier stood out like a sore thumb here, miscommunicating on a set of spots near the end, falling on his ass while attempting a kip up and then forgetting to kick out of a false finish. When it rains it pours, I guess.

When the show returned from commercial, JR and the King were waiting for us in the squared circle, which meant... yep... it was time for the much-maligned "debate" between the RAW Broadcast Team and Muhammad Hassan. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, since the great majority of it actually did seem to resemble a serious debate, and neither side came across as overwhelmingly right or wrong. I know JR and the King were meant to be the voice of reason here, but when Hassan verbally tore them apart and Ross's only comeback was the old "Love it or leave it" line, I started to lean more toward Muhammad's point of view, if just because of the inherent stupidity of that crusty old line. There's a little American liberty that makes that statement completely null and void... it's called freedom of speech. You don't HAVE to love America to understand its potential, and you don't automatically loathe it just because you feel it could stand to be improved. I could seriously go on for hours about this, though, so I'll steer us back on course.

I'm enjoying Hassan's character, for many of the same reasons I enjoyed Teddy Long and D'Lo Brown's short run together near the end of D'Lo's WWE career. That pairing stood up to racism in America, which is still a legitimate, serious issue that I can honestly picture two grown men disagreeing over so fiercely that they feel there is no alternative but violence towards one another. I can say the same thing about Muhammad and Khosrow today; it's an issue that's being confronted all around the country, with individuals arguing passionately for each viewpoint. Unfortunately, the whole gimmick is being overshadowed by WWE's track record with previous gimmicks and storylines that had similar potential and ultimately failed because the bookers got cold feet. The only way this gimmick is going to work is if they stick to their guns and ride out the storm it's bound to generate, and I have no confidence in their ability to do that. But we'll see, I suppose. If it's handled correctly, this could be a big momentum-shifting storyline. If it isn't, well, c'est la vie. For right now, I'm really enjoying this character, his abilities on the mic and the audience's rabid reaction to the subject matter.

Oh yeah, and if you're vehemently opposed to the character as a whole, I'm curious; were you equally as outraged about Nikolai Volkoff, the Iron Shiek, Nikita Koloff and Boris Zukhov, back in the 80s? It's a very similar gimmick, but it stands out today because its surroundings are much less cartoony and it's being treated with a little more respect. Sure, at the end of the day Muhammad and Khosrow are heels and their primary goal is to make the audience scream for their blood. So what happens when one or both of them turn face without conceding their stances on this issue?

I'm beyond the point of concern for the women's division now, and have pretty much accepted the fact that things will never again be the way they were at this point in 2004, but that doesn't mean I've resigned myself to applauding matches like this week's Trish vs. Victoria workout. Not only have both lost the edgy characters that made them a big part of the division's heyday, but they seem to have lost some of their desire in the ring, as well. So let me get this straight... there are now four active competitors in the division, and it's been MONTHS since I've seen Molly or Victoria get a clean win. So, basically, until they start introducing failed Diva Search contestants to the mix, (and believe me, it's only a matter of time) the most competitive match we're probably going to get is this Sunday's title match between Trish and Lita. Ugh. This was uninspired at best, and didn't really mean anything when all was said and done.

Maintaining that theme, Christian and Eugene followed up with a match of their own that didn't quite meet my expectations. I know this is supposed to be getting me all antsy for their match this Sunday, when the tag titles are on the line, but it didn't. If anything, it showed be that Christian and Eugene don't mesh all that well together, and that neither guy is exactly thrilled about their spot on the card. The Steamboat fan in me liked seeing the double chickenwing submission Eugene pulled out, but that's about all I care to remember about this one.

Finally, the evening trudged across the finish line on the backs of Triple H and Randy Orton, who worked a surprisingly unspectacular main event, especially considering all the time and money they've invested in promoting these two as a big money-drawing rivalry. Nothing about this match thrilled me; I wasn't biting on the nearfalls, I didn't feel much tension in the air, and neither guy went out of his way to make me cheer or boo him. I was surprised to see Orton pick up the clean win, especially after all of the outside interference, but the bigwigs backstage couldn't have been happy with the way this one turned out. It felt like they were treading water at times, floating out in the open sea without much of an idea about where they wanted to go with it.

Basically, your opinion on the whole show really boils down to whether you liked the direction they took with Hassan's character or not, because I don't know how you can be opposed to Batista's work in the opening hour or in favor of Sylvain Grenier's horrific showing not long afterwards. For my money, this show started out extremely well, but sagged big time in the second hour and was missing a major league main event to bat cleanup after the outstanding debate segment had worked the crowd up into a frenzy. I can't wait to see the main event of Sunday's PPV, and I'm mildly interested in seeing how they handle Hassan's in-ring debut, but the rest of the card's looking extremely weak. The quality was there in several segments this week, ensuring an above-average grade from yours truly, but this could've been so much more than a low seven...

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.1