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.
Overall Score: 6.2