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.
Overall Score: 4.2