Monday, February 28, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 02/28/05

Surprise! It's time to open the show up with a Triple H promo! Honestly, I hate on the guy a lot and I've seen more opening promos out of him than I'd ever care to see from anybody anywhere, but he's generally the most reliable promo man on RAW, (with guys like Jericho, Christian and Michaels running hot and cold at times) and he really does make a pretty decent default opener. He knows when and where to throw in the emotion, he covers all the points that need to be covered logically, he can kill time when necessary, (and, occasionally, when unnecessary) and he does it all with incredible consistency. Last night's promo didn't get me wobbly at the knees and totally, single-handedly, sell me on his upcoming match with Batista, but it hit all the points in a reasonable amount of time and was, overall, pretty solid. It's getting to be near the end of the road for this generic storyline, however, where he's faced by a challenger who "finally breaks through Hunter's intimidation and exposes him for the coward he really is," because they've done that with almost every PPV challenger since Scott Steiner at the 2003 Royal Rumble. Each of Hunter's last three WrestleMania opponents (Benoit, Michaels and Booker) rode that very same wave, and now Batista's already on his way out to sea on it as well.

Should I comment on Trips' title defense against Hurricane Helms? Nah, I don't think I could say anything that I haven't already said before.

I can't let the wild Benoit fanboyism blind me to the fact that his match with Muhammad Hassan was extremely, extremely sloppy... and while a lot of that blame should lie at the feet of his young opponent, it's really Benoit's job as the seasoned veteran to cover up for those mistakes and turn them into afterthoughts at best. Last night he didn't do it with Hassan, and four or five weeks ago he didn't do it (alongside Chris Jericho) with La Resistance. Two matches that really could've been quite good, but hit a bump somewhere and exploded spectacularly. It's a shame, too, because like that match against La Resistance, this one started off better than I'd expected. Benoit played the grizzled veteran, absorbing offense and grabbing a significant early advantage before losing his focus and falling for the ageless "manager on the ring apron" trick. Both guys were doing some great selling when they were on defense, but once Hassan semi-blew a backbreaker midway through the match it went downhill in a hurry.

Somebody check me into the crazy house, because I really enjoyed the way the Benjamin / Snitsky mini-feud wrapped up last night. Don't get me wrong, the match itself was nothing worth remembering... actually, it's probably something I'd rather forget as soon as humanly possible... but the story made sense and actually seemed to build both guys simultaneously. Shelton's title reign gained a lot of credibility thanks to the clean victory and his ability to work around his own frustrations and the strange rules of the match, while Snitsky's reputation goes up a couple notches, thanks to the frequently competitive challenges for Benjamin's belt and the continued establishment of his image as a crazed monster. I'm surprised the match was wrapped up so quickly, considering the simultaneous pushes they seem to be orchestrating for both guys, but I guess it was more important to devote a little more time to the Batista / Triple H story that's dominated RAW over the last two months than to a puny midcard blowoff. Snitsky was just terrible in the ring here, there's no two ways about it, and Shelton needs to quit landing the stinger splash on guys twice his size. It isn't convincing, and it makes both he and his opponent look like dipshits for trying it and then selling it. It worked against Hunter because it caught him by surprise and they're of a comparable size. Tell me it wouldn't look totally stupid against the Big Show or Kane, however, and you're kidding yourself.

I've been getting into MMA lately, chatting with a buddy at work about the pros and cons of each promotion whenever the boss isn't cracking the whip, and he made an interesting point the other day. We were discussing the differences between PRIDE and UFC, and he put it simply, saying "on a PRIDE PPV, it seems like every match is a great fight. The guys are well matched, the big names are fighting each other up and down the card, and the action feels like it means more. In UFC, there's usually one or two big fights and a lot of filler." It sounded familiar, because one of the things that really impressed me about the wrestling scene back in the mid 90s, when I started watching again after a hiatus of a few years, was how the regular broadcasts had become so competitive and never seemed to feature jobber matches or blatant squashes like the old episodes of WWF Superstars and Saturday Night's Main Event I'd grown up on. It was that strong, ongoing competition that really hooked me again on pro wrestling, and it's something I'm starting to see fade away in the current scene. Instead of stacked cards from top to bottom, we're occasionally getting Kurt Angle vs. Local Jobber #5 or last night's match between Chris Masters and some random guy off the indy circuit. It's not really a big enough issue to completely annoy me yet, but it's something I'm keeping an eye on from week to week. I don't want to see Chris Masters flatten a no-name in sixty five seconds, I want to see if he's got what it takes to compete with the big names on RAW. I don't have a lot of confidence in his abilities in the ring right now, so give him an opportunity to either prove me wrong or write his own ticket home. Bullshit like that match last night is only confirming his total lack of coordination on the mat as far as I'm concerned.

(Since I posted this edition, I've had a couple responses in the forums pointing out that my friend's point-of-view is just about entirely wrong. RRC Member and resident MMA guru Scott Newman had an interesting response to the idea; "That's incredibly far from the truth, Q. Obviously your friend said it, not you....but he's wrong. Pride generally has two or three *huge* marquee matches at the top of the card, and then a host of mismatches and freak shows designed to entertain the Japanese down the card. The mismatches are cool to watch sometimes, though, I'll admit. UFC RARELY has 'filler'. The names might be lesser, but they put together fights that are a lot, lot closer on paper than most of Pride's." The comparison still works if you switch Pride for UFC and vice versa, though, so the point I was trying to make is still valid. Just for completion's sake. Anyway. Back to the column.)

The Batista / JR / Evolution promo was pretty decent, although I didn't get all that excited about it for the reasons I explained in my opening paragraph. I've seen this "Holy shit Trips is sceered" storyline several times in the past and it's not doing anything for me this pass. Part of the reason I loved this feud so much when it first kicked off was the non-traditional approach they seemed to be taking with it. Batista was the antithesis of your typical WWE big man; he had the power moves in the ring and the usual short temper, but in the back he was tremendously well-spoken and well-dressed. He said things you'd imagine a normal guy would say, and took offense to being portrayed as a small-minded idiot just because of his build. And that's exactly what Hunter was doing over and over and over again, whether he meant to do so or not. Every word that came out was a cocky jab at the guy that was supposed to be his teammate, and it was great to see the big man's patience tried time and time again. Once Batista emerged from the Royal Rumble, though, things took a swift turn back toward the traditional. Hunter started manipulating, Batista started playing the part of the easily-led, and now we're right back at this same old confrontation between the hungry young challenger and the paranoid, egotistical champion.

Sorry, I guess I got off on a bit of a rant. The interview segment was pretty good, really, and Batista's facials were just brilliant (he sincerely appeared as though he were having a great time embarrassing his former teammates out there) while Hunter and Flair played their roles to perfection. Big Dave's still got some room for improvement on the stick, but he doesn't seem to be afraid of the mic and he doesn't trip over his own words. He needs to learn how to work an audience on the stick, as he stampeded past several moments where the crowd was just begging him for an excuse to pop, and I felt like I was watching a Presidential Debate with the way he totally ignored the fact that JR had asked him the questions in the first place, but all in all he's in much better shape than most of his peers. I don't see how two punches could put Flair down long enough to make him easy pickins for a spinebuster and a demon bomb, nor do I see how that complete demolition makes next week's match between the two seem appealing in the slightest, but that's neither here nor now and I guess I'll have to wait another seven days before I can complain about that logic. A well-performed segment, but I'm not a fan of the direction.

The Maven vs. Chris Jericho match wasn't accomplishing anything, so i suppose it's just as well that it didn't last very long. I thought they missed a nice opportunity to capitalize off of some lingering storyline threads from the Survivor Series here, as Jericho and Maven haven't had any sort of face-to-face since they were teammates fighting for control of RAW on that PPV, but there I go using that silly logical brain of mine again. You'd think I would've learned by now. Instead of facing off like two former buddies who have since soured on one another, they fought like two guys who just met. Jericho's matches are becoming more and more formulaic when he isn't motivated by the prospect of a killer match with Chris Benoit.

And what was up with that post-match, promo, anyway? As if it wasn't weird enough for him to spontaneously propose a WrestleMania gimmick match, seemingly off the top of his head after a victory, he can't even finish his thought before the music kicks on and sends him back up the entryway. You'd have thought he was in the middle of a long-winded acceptance speech at the Oscars, and the program director had instructed the orchestra to start warming up. Strange...

Oh, hooray! Christy's here to unveil the cover to her upcoming issue of Playboy! Isn't that why we have Shotgun Saturday Night or something? What? We don't have SSN anymore? What about WWE eXperience? Have they canned that show yet? There has to be a better time and place to promote this thing, and I still don't have any interest whatsoever in a match between Trish and Ms. Diva Search. Moving on!

The backstage run-in between Randy Orton and Superstar Billy Graham was a good idea, but Graham really felt like he was forced to memorize his lines at gunpoint, and he was so concerned about missing a word here or there that he forgot to include any kind of emotion or intonation. It's like he was one of those dry, emotionless studio actors they always manage to dig up when it's time to produce a new office training video or something... really sad, when you think about it. If the guy's worthy of an entry in your Hall of Fame, he's worthy of the opportunity to add his own flair to a short backstage promo. Looks like they're moving on the Orton / Undertaker "phenom / legend killer" match.

Hey, speaking of the Hall of Fame, they actually called Hulk Hogan... "Hulk" Hogan, not "Hollywood." Did they get that whole mess with Marvel Comics sorted out and I just missed it? Or are they just using the name anyway and hoping it'll all go away, like they did with the World Wildlife Fund?

Finally, Shawn Michaels and Edge sent in their second outstanding efforts in as many weeks, simply owning the show with their heated main event street fight. This is a great example of what a good street fight should be; they didn't rush into booking it, the characters had been at each other's throats (both backstage and in the ring) for months, and there needed to be a definitive winner so they turned to the gimmick match as a last resort. Once there, they didn't mindlessly fall into a traditional wrestling match, throwing each other around the ring and bouncing off of the ropes like a usual match with slightly different attire. Instead, they turned it into a violent, emotional brawl that was further emphasized by HBK's sickeningly effective blade job right around the halfway mark. This wasn't the same match we've seen two or three times before, even though it involved the same two workers, and the closing sequence was long, exciting and ultimately very rewarding. It was great to see the involvement of a ladder in a match with two guys who pretty much revolutionized its use (and I can't BELIEVE I didn't recognize that association before) and I really enjoyed the back-and-forth crotch shots that kept the momentum of the match swirling. Seriously, if they were legal, (as JR reminded us it was in this match) just about anybody would want to employ more crotch shots than straight punches to the face. There'll be plenty of time to brutalize your opponent's face when he's doubled over and clutching his family jewels.

Seriously, just a great main event that did everything in its power to erase the so-so episode that had preceded it and finally delivered the killer singles match everybody was waiting for between HBK and Edge. Plus, you've gotta love the way Edge sold that sweet chin music, collapsing awkwardly onto his own left leg and staying that way even after Michaels had collected the pinfall. It says a lot that I almost immediately forgot about the comedic brilliance of the front row fan and his "Fuck the FCC" sign (which was almost immediately confiscated) that happened in the opening moments of the fight, because I'm notorious for overlooking a match when shit like that goes down.

And, not a half second after the ref had counted the pinfall, Kurt Angle hit the ring and completely obliterated what was left of Shawn Michaels. Angle was so quick and so frenzied in his actions that I initially thought a fan had jumped the barricade and caught everyone by surprise. When I said last week that the way they booked Batista's turn was flawless, I meant it. And I mean it again this week, when I say the same thing of Kurt Angle. While he didn't necessarily change allegiances, he did take a big new step as a character and left an immediate impression on the RAW fans. That's the way it's done... I'd trade all of the unforgettable promos in the world for a short, vicious, all-but-voiceless bit of interaction like that. The image of Angle, his face and chest smeared with blood, looking down at the puddle of blood and chunks that was once Shawn Michaels, is about as close to an iconic picture as you're ever going to see in a WWE ring. Great way to kick off a feud that I honestly wasn't all that stoked about going in.

The last half hour saved this show from the depths. Plain and simple. I can't think of a better way to describe my feelings than that (except maybe IEEEEEEEEEEEEE!) Between the dumbing-down of the Batista / Hunter feud, the failure of the Benoit / Hassan match, the terror that was Gene Snitsky in the ring, another Chris Masters squash, a meaningless match between Chris Jericho and Maven and a confrontation between Trish and Christy that got way too much time, this show didn't have a prayer until HBK, Edge and Angle got together. And even after all that, I can't say this package was above average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.8

Monday, February 21, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 02/21/05

Wow, right out of the gates we were off and running with a rare Women's Title defense on RAW. And, wouldn't you know, it's a triple threat match! I'll let you make the snide little comments about this one match featuring the entire women's division yourself, because I think I've gone over the point about a dozen times in the last few months. Wait, no I won't. Trish, Victoria and Molly are the ENTIRE FREAKING DIVISION. I'm still having trouble coming to terms with that particular reality. It gets even worse when I realize Lita will be back some day to boost the division's numbers up to four. Anyway, this was a strange little match that felt more like an athletic exhibition than an actual competition. Once again, Molly seemed to be involved only to absorb some offense and kill time while Victoria and Trish were out of the ring, although there was a bit of interesting conversation between the heels around the halfway mark. Put bluntly, Trish's heel character has lapsed into repetition and isn't doing anything for me, Molly's been a de-facto heel without a convincing win since this time last year, and Victoria's quietly dancing in an empty room somewhere right this moment. Remember when this division was consistently putting the men to shame, when the ladies' characters were original yet believable, when any single woman could conceivably win the title on any given night? Yeah, I've abandoned any hope about a resurrection of all that.

Good lord, are they SERIOUS about throwing Christy Hemme into this division? I really don't care if she calls Trish a slut, if Trish slaps her for it, or if the crazy wacky GoDaddy makeup lady thinks her overused comebacks are hilarious. Seriously. They'd better not be thinking about selling me a WrestleMania card that features a Christy Hemme Title match.

That Basic Instinct WrestleMania promo is pure gold, right up until Mae Young and Moolah trot on for the cheap pop, continuing their hunt for that elusive hundred thousandth "old lady sex joke." Christian and Chris Benoit are particularly great in it... Benoit's lack of personality is twice as funny in this situation, and Christian's one-liners are fantastic. Wish I could say I was nearly as impressed by the other two ads I've seen, but hey. One winner out of three attempts is better odds than I'm used to seeing as far as WWE comedy segments are concerned.

See? I told you last week's squash at the hands of Kane wasn't the end of Simon Dean's suffering. RAW will always have a need for designated jobbers, which is why I'm convinced Steven Richards and Val Venis will always have a job in WWE. Unfortunately, Chris Jericho seems to be moving dangerously close to that designation himself, a fact which was further emphasized by the difficulty he seemed to be having with Dean here. I'm still absolutely floored that they didn't have anything else planned for Simon Dean's RAW career, especially considering the amount of time and effort they devoted to hyping his arrival initially. Seriously, those months upon months of mock infomercials and vignettes were just there to introduce a personal fitness parody with a magic, weighted gym bag? Did I somehow wake up in 1986, or is Vince just angry that he never capitalized on that great "jazzercise satire" character he thought up back in the day?

Oh yeah, but Simon was wrestling this week. Not a particularly good showing from either guy, with Jericho seemingly content to paint by the numbers (which is something I'm beginning to notice a little more frequently from Y2J) and Dean flopping his way through a couple of mildly botched spots. It's sad to see two guys who don't care about their match on RAW, especially when there are thousands of guys on the indy scene right now who would kill for that four minutes of national exposure.

Wow, Tyson Tomko was given a mic and managed to form a coherent sentence or two. Watch now as I do a little dance here in my cubicle. Nah, actually, in all fairness the "problem solver" has been one of the more steadily-improving members on RAW over the last few months, learning from his tag team experience alongside Christian and slowly showing bits and pieces of an interesting "straight man" personality. Of course, considering how bad he was when he first came onto the scene, that's not quite as much of a compliment as you'd expect, but any progress is better than no progress at all. Or negative progress, if we're talking about Gene Snitsky. Regardless of his slow-but-steady progress, however, Tyson Tomko wasn't quite ready to carry his own weight in a singles match just yet, especially against another big man like Kane. Fortunately this was kept short, considering Double-T seemed to have already exhausted his moveset, allthough I'm not sure what the match did for either guy.

The audience's reactions to Muhammad Hassan have me constantly scratching my head, and the booking / writing teams may want to take a closer look at them for future reference. See how people want to boo this guy for being different and speaking his mind? See how confused and, ultimately, quiet they get when he calls them hypocrites for engaging in pro-USA chants, when it's been stated over and over again that he was born and raised in the United States? See how my head wants to spontaneously explode when a Canadian rushes to the ring to defend America's honor against one of its own citizens? Sure, the Hassan experiment has been incredibly interesting to watch, and it seems to be generating heat like crazy right now, but I don't think that constantly confusing the audience is really something the writers should be contemplating right now. It's not something I'd imagine would be all that likely to draw.

I really liked the way the Orton / HBK vs. Edge & Christian match turned out, although I think it's kind of strange that Christian doesn't have any reservations about tagging up with his older brother, considering what happened to him after the first time they reunited a few months ago. Aha, but I'm thinking logically... I always forget to flip my mind into the "off" position during an episode of RAW. Christian and Orton were working well together again this week, with Orton almost immediately sliding into the role of the cocky asshole after his victory in their singles match last week. Likewise, Christian was great alongside Edge again, as the two finally rediscovered the cohesiveness they had together as a team all those years ago. They were bending rules, cutting corners and making quick tags like second nature last night, and their experience together was obvious when contrasted by the team of Orton and Michaels. This wasn't an exceptionally hot match, nor was it out-of-this-world important, but it was really tight, nicely worked and very competitive, all around. I just can't fathom how Christian is still the fall guy in these kind of situations, considering how good he's been over the last year. I guess some things aren't meant to be understood.

Oh, hey! In the aftermath of this week's super-great TV match, (which is becoming like a tradition on RAW after a full year now... even on the shittiest of episodes, you can count on there being at least one outstanding match) Chris Masters made his big debut as "The Masterpiece," which must be urban slang for "another veiny monster with a face that's identical to every other young guy on the roster." I can't keep up with all the terminology you kids use these days. Not the best debut I've ever seen, and I'm simply amazed they're trying to get the full nelson over as a legitimate finisher again. Basically, this was a short, ugly, uninspiring debut for the most recent in the series of OVW trainees who aren't quite ready for the big time. It's OK Chris, a lot of Van Gogh's masterpieces didn't sell right away, either.

I liked the story they were trying to tell with the Benjamin / Snitsky match, and Shelton did a great job of carrying the plot with his body language and facial expressions, but I can't get past Snitsky's complete ineptitude in the ring. That's really all I've got for this one. Benjamin had a very good showing and did what he could with the lump of flesh and bones that was waiting for him in the ring, and Snitsky did a great job of, uh... letting Benjamin bust his chin open with that chair. It was a cool visual when that first trickle of blood slid its way down to his neck after the match. As with the Trish / Christy rivalry, I've got my fingers crossed they don't try to stretch this thing to WrestleMania.

Hunter then totally reinforced the idea that no wrestler in the world could possibly be watching their television set when he's speaking, revealing his big master plan to convince Batista to jump to Smackdown and basically turning Teddy Long heel just by association. I thought that maybe, given the slightly unconventional capacity for intelligence they've given Batista thus far, they'd use this opportunity to finally kill that debate by showing Batista elsewhere in the building, planted in front of a TV set and shaking his head. Or maybe, I hoped, they'd go the subtle route; Flair never hit the "end" button on his cel phone at the beginning of the segment, as Hunter cut him off in the middle of leaving a voice mail for big Dave. The whole conversation could've been saved out in cyberspace somewhere. But nah, why go nontraditional with this one? Batista was merely hanging around outside of the door. As a result of these backstage revelations, (not to mention the means by which they were revealed) the segment felt flat and the live audience was robbed of the chance to deliver a staggeringly huge pop. Weird decision.

And, finally, all of WWE's shit was seemingly flung into all of WWE's fans in time for the main event, which featured Eric Bischoff and Teddy Long's last-second recruitment speeches, Triple H and Ric Flair's attempts at subtlety and Batista's ultimate decision to stay on RAW and obliterate his former running buddies. I like that they seem to be making a tradition out of last year's "loophole leaping," giving the Rumble winner his choice of champions to face at WrestleMania, and I liked that both Eric and Teddy had a few strong points in their favor during their brief promos. I loved Bischoff's over-the-top reaction when Batista threw the RAW clipboard to the mat and seemed to have made the decision to jump ship, but was surprised to see no similar emotion from Teddy Long when the big man flip-flopped and stuck with Monday Nights. The guy's job was basically on the line, right? So why did he just calmly file out of the ring and stroll to the back after he'd failed?

Regardless of the GMs' reactions and Evolution's cheesy, James Bond-esque revelation of their entire evil plans in complete detail, this closing segment really delivered. Batista was no doubt riding on huge emotions, yet kept himself under control and made a serious impact with just a few quick actions. The slow transition from a thumbs up to a thumbs down served as a nice bookend to Evolution's story, considering it's past uses in association with the stable, and gave the audience a catalyst to begin their explosion. The quick elimination of Ric Flair from the ring kept any backlash from the thousands of die-hard Nature Boy fans who always seem to be in attendance to a minimum, and the final powerbomb through the table was almost disgustingly effective. That's the way you turn somebody face. That's... yeah, that's the way it's done.

Lots of quickie segments and matches this week made the first hour main event tag and the Batista contract signing even more critical to the program's overall success. Fortunately enough, both delivered, but I can't say the same for the rest of the episode. Nothing really seemed like it was flowing together this week, with what must've been half a dozen meaningless three minute matches and a wide array of uninspired, uninteresting promos and backstage segments. This isn't exactly how I'd hoped the road to WrestleMania would begin, although the RAW main event is still solid. Above average based off of the strength and length of those two big segments, but below a six due to the weakness of the rest of the program.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.8

Monday, February 14, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 02/14/05

RAW was coming off of a crazy-hot show in crazy-hot Japan this week, and combining that fact with the knowledge that it was indeed Valentine's Day and a relatively large portion of the show's regular audience was more than likely out on the town, I didn't exactly have high hopes. Sure, WrestleMania's looming larger and larger on the horizon and it's really getting to be time for those big wheels of promotion to turn a little bit faster, but with a predictably smaller-than-usual home audience to entertain, I just couldn't shake the feeling they were going to half-ass it this week.

Well, it didn't take long before those concerns were laid to rest, as Chris Jericho opened the show with his Highlight Reel and promptly ignited the live crowd with a few choice words and the appearance of the GoDaddy Girl. I didn't even realize who she was during the Bowl, and really don't give all that much of a fuck now that I do. And even though I proudly support GoDaddy, (I renewed by domain there until 2010 about two weeks before the game) I wasn't amused when she and Jericho spent a few minutes going over the success of the commercial, not to mention PLAYING THE DAMN THING ON THE TITAN TRON. As if RAW doesn't take enough commercial breaks as it is.

Fortunately, Muhammad Hassan interrupted before they could pull out the T-Shirt gun and begin firing GoDaddy shirts, hats, sweaters and scarves into the crowd, and proceeded to have a pretty decent exchange in the ring with Chris Jericho. He's caught some flack for it in the forums lately, but I don't have a problem with Jericho's character at the moment, constantly wise-cracking at his opponent's expense and avoiding the points of the heels' arguments almost effortlessly. He acts like the egotistical, yet popular, snide prankster that everybody seems to have known in high school, and that's not too far of a reach from the things he'll say and do as a heel character. He knows how to push people's buttons, he knows he's usually pretty funny (almost to a fault) and he's got the vocal wherewithal to deflect the bad guy's valid points, replacing them with meaningless chitter chatter without most of the audience catching on. If this promo were meant to be launching an epic storyline, maybe I'd have been a little bit put off by his flippant approach, but since all it was meant to do was set up the match that followed, I think it did the job nicely. Hassan quickly grew fed-up with the verbal disrespect and hastily agreed to a match on the spot, which is exactly what Jericho seemed to be after all along.

A really strangely-timed commercial broke up the flow from that segment into the Hassan / Jericho match, (plus we've been conditioned to accept that a face's spontaneous challenge will always go unanswered, especially when it occurs in the opening segment) so it took me a few minutes to get into the action. After I'd gained my bearings, I can't say I was overly impressed nor unimpressed... the match was there, it wasn't awful, but it didn't really light my world on fire, either. It's nice to see Jericho's starting to shake things up a bit in the ring, trading in his tried-and-true springboard dropkick to the apron into a springboard shoulderblock all the way out to the floor, and Hassan kept up relatively well. I'm still not sold on Muhammad's capabilities in the ring, as he hasn't broken out anything that's really caught my attention of yet and a lot of his offense seems tame and outdated. Sunset flips, atomic drops, elbowdrops, meh... it's good to see he knows the basics, but the window of opportunity is closing on his chance to really impress the fans in the ring without being judged beforehand. He can keep up with Chris Jericho, but he can't turn it up when given the chance. Even his finisher's boring and uninspired. Hassan's a great character with worlds of potential and a very strong interview, but c'mon man... give the crowd something to fear in the ring.

The threat of a JBL appearance on RAW delivered a nice underlying thread to the entire episode, although I don't think the implications of Smackdown's champ showing up on RAW are quite as monumental as the writers were hoping. With all due credit, they've done a very good job of keeping the rosters separate and constantly emphasizing the two shows as distinctly different brands, but good ol' JR was promoting the idea of JBL on RAW as though it were a rival promotion's headliner appearing without warning on their airwaves. Even if Bradshaw had appeared on-camera, it's not quite something I'd put on the level of Ric Flair showing up with the NWA World Title around his waist or Scott Hall strolling down the aisle on Nitro. Not yet, anyway. Maybe given a few more years and a little less interaction between the rosters.

I don't know how anybody could've looked at the Snitsky / Benjamin match and said "Eh, it wasn't so bad." Just because it didn't approach the levels of suck established by that unending string of Kane / Gene-o matches doesn't mean this wasn't a terrible fight all the same. This had the potential of turning into a decent David vs. Goliath story, but David never managed to get up off of the mat long enough to establish himself and Goliath grew bored, opting to put an end to the whole thing with a reckless chair shot somewhere near what should've been the midway mark. Not that I'm pissed because we were short-changed on Gene Snitsky TV-time, God no, but if this segment had any hope of redemption it was all blown away when the baby stomper grabbed hold of that chair and swung. How did Snitsky go from a joke of a one-night-only opponent for Kane, somebody completely helpless to the point that Lita had to interfere to save his life, to a murderous, spittin', rugged, unstoppable monster tearing his way through the upper midcard? What light switch was flipped, and where can I locate it, so that I might switch it back off again. Watching him stammer and play mad / frustrated after this match, I realized what a potential liability Snitsky really is to RAW; he's a reinforcement of every stupid, outdated, insultingly simple stereotype that's ever plagued pro wrestling in the modern age. He's a ridiculously big man, to the point that steroids aren't even a possibility, they're a certainty. He's got the goofy, pseudo-angry-guy face down pat, from the cartoony eyeballs to the puckered lips to the inflated cheeks to the slow transition of his skin color from fleshy to bright red. He picks people up and throws them around without a shred of strategy in mind, and oversells beyond the point of believability if he's ever on the receiving end. He's just... I don't know. The kind of example we shouldn't be producing for potential casual viewers?

The tag title was better, although I wouldn't go so far as to say it was especially good. Grenier and Conway are finally starting to function together as a cohesive team, which is nice to see after the two or three years they must have been working together by now, and both seem to have put on some bulk recently (Conway noticeably so). Tajiri and Regal bring a strange dynamic with them to the ring, and I'm not really sure if it's working or not at this point, but kudos (I guess) to WWE for trying out new pairings from time to time. This finished kind of abruptly, which is something I'll generally welcome... I love seeing a match end after a strong flurry by one guy and a well-timed cover. Par for the course for these two teams, although their matches have been growing steadily better so I'll mourn the end of their series if that's what this was.

Randy Orton and Christian followed that up, and basically tore the house down. Both of these guys are generally pretty hit-or-miss, so I didn't know what to expect going in, but they exceeded every single expectation I could've had. Something about this really felt like a big, important singles match, as if a major title were on the line or they were in a prime spot on an important card, and the match they worked within that environment was just about flawless. They hinted at recent history, with Christian seemingly always on the hunt for a cheap shot to Orton's head that might result in another concussion and Orton doing his best to turn the tide in his own favor. Once Tyson Tomko was sent to the back, these two went into a dead sprint and never looked back, running neck and neck all the way to the finish and undoubtedly turning a few heads along the way. I hope against hope this wasn't the last time we see these two in the ring together, and that it'll serve as a precursor to a potentially bigger face-off at WrestleMania. Neither guy has anything else on his plate at the moment, and a little competition between upper-crust midcarders could really inject some excitement into the 'Mania lineup. I can't give this match enough praise, excellent work from both guys.

Have we learned our lesson yet about putting all our eggs into one basket with Lita, Trish and the women's division? Do we REALLY need to suffer through a match between Trish and Christy before the powers that be figure out where they went wrong?

I didn't see the Simon Dean match as so much of a closing chapter to the weight-loss maestro's story as the rest of the forums seemed to. What, was his match against Shelton Benjamin two weeks ago any more competitive than this? I don't think anybody expected Dean to come out and just wipe the floor with Kane, and he's certainly not the first to job in no time at all to the Big Red Machine. This was a nothing match, really, I don't even know why I'm still talking about it. Next month I'll have completely forgotten about it.

I know I'm crazy for admitting it, but this slow burn build to the Angle / Michaels WrestleMania face-off isn't doing anything for me. It was crazy as hell to see Kurt losing his mind outside of the ring during the Rumble and tearing HBK to pieces, but it's kind of fallen by the wayside with all the talk and subtle hinting that's followed. I guess you don't want to have Kurt already building to an obvious match with Michaels at 'Mania when he's still supposed to be in contention for the Smackdown Title shot at that same event.

Finally, the main event of Batista vs. Edge... was really, really disappointing. This felt rushed, despite getting plenty of time, and both guys looked awkward and uncomfortable with one another, which was something I noticed during their brief interaction in the main event last week, too. When Batista hit the spinebuster that cost Edge his chances at the World Title, it was mistimed and only came together after a weird shuffling of feet. At the time, I wanted to write it off as just a nearly-missed spot but after this full match, I've got my doubts. Batista's power offense doesn't look as convincing against Edge's lankier, taller frame and Edge's signature spots aren't as effective when they're shrugged off by Evolution's big monster. These guys just never clicked... nothing that can't be corrected by a string of matches on the road together, but not the ideal thing to have in the main event of an episode of RAW.

Oh yeah, and "JBL" tried to run down Batista backstage, which was something so important that the Rumble winner couldn't take three seconds of his attention away from so he could cover Edge and grab the pinfall victory. I agreed with Scott up until recently, Batista's build as an unusually intelligent big man would suggest he can see right through this obvious Triple H manipulation, but this week I grew a bit doubtful. He was lacking that grim, knowing face when he looked down at Hunter and proclaimed "I guess I'm going to Smackdown this week."

Why do have four of the last five WrestleMania main attractions had something to do with attempted vehicular homicide of one kind or another? WMX7 was Austin's return to the World Title scene after an attempted rundown, X8 was kick-started when the nWo drove a semi into the Rock's ambulance, XIX had the Jericho / Hunter "dog-squashing" story and now XXI has used the fury of JBL's iron bull. WMXX was only excused from the trend because they'd just wrapped up with Shane McMahon's limousine rampage with Kane.

Well, thank god for TiVo, because I was among the masses out at a restaurant with my lady when the show first took to the airwaves. And, despite my loud proclamations otherwise, I really didn't think this was that bad of a broadcast. It couldn't hold a torch to last week's Japanese debut, neither in terms of storytelling nor match quality, but it did move some gears, expand some stories and deliver on an outstanding Orton / Christian singles match. The main event wasn't everything it could've been, and the Benjamin / Snitsky match was just retarded, but I could live with a show like this every week.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.5

Monday, February 7, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 02/07/05

I didn't know what to think going into this week's episode, the first WWE event ever to be taped in Japan and immediately aired in the states, but I had a hunch it was going to be awkward. From the stunning differences between Japanese wrestling and American to the vast cultural differences in the countries' populations, something just seemed like it wasn't going to fit here. Fortunately enough, my worries were unfounded as the fans not only responded like your average WWE audience, they put them to shame. Truthfully, the fans and their appreciation for ringwork over promos (along with the obvious language barrier) actually seem to have forced the program into somewhat uncharted waters... the backstage segments were minimal to say the least, the actual wrestling was head and shoulders above what we'd been seeing recently, and even the promos and non-physical segments in the ring were short and to-the-point. It's almost like RAW was forced to improvise, and it brought out a whole new side of things that isn't half bad.

There was one memorable cultural difference I couldn't keep myself from laughing over last night, come to think of it. Every time they'd cut to a wide shot of the crowd, some sort of music was playing and the audience was almost exclusively clapping along with it. So instead of the usual mulling audience we see during these shots on the typical episode, the Japanese fans looked like automatons, all clapping at exactly the same time, all showing exactly the same amount of emotion. It's like the effect the Hypno-Toad had on the audience in an old episode of Futurama.

They stomped through the door this week, with Benoit and Jericho facing off in the opening bout after a hilarious bit of interaction between Bischoff, his Japanese interpreter and the audience. The interpreter's translation of "HBK" to "HKB," along with the crowd's amusingly ravenous hatred of him, made me wonder if he wasn't turning heel and cutting a promo on the local sports team, rather than simply repeating Bischoff's speech in his native tongue. Somebody has to have understood what he was saying, right? Was that just a trick to get the audience hot right off the bat?

Benoit and Jericho delivered exactly what you'd expect, and even though the match was shorter than I'd expected, I loved it to pieces. The moderately quick finish actually spoke volumes about the legitimacy of submission wrestling rather than the weakness of Jericho for losing the match. Benoit was the first to actually lock in a definitive submission for any memorable period of time, with his crossface near the end, and though Jericho managed to escape it by reaching the ropes, his shoulder was weakened enough that he had no choice but to tap out when Benoit went back to work on it moments later. The shoulder actually factored into the spot before the Crippler's match-winning "modified crossface," as Jericho attempted the Walls and his injured joint couldn't keep Benoit's foot from wriggling free. This wasn't what I was expecting, but the more I've thought about it and the more I've theorized it, the more I've really begun to appreciate it. Sometimes great things come in small packages.

Triple H's work promoting the eventual Batista turn have really taken a nosedive over the last couple of weeks. He's changed from a snide, self-centered, egotistical prick that audiences couldn't wait to see get what was coming to him, into a predictably bad liar, sucking up to Batista whenever possible and trying his damndest to make this "who played the Smackdown promo" storyline as obvious as humanly imaginable. The interest is starting to wane, and these clever allusions to a distant conflict somewhere down the line are starting to wear thin.

Batista's really starting to look like Goldberg part two, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, Goldberg became a household name based off of his impressive string of dominating victories, his undeniable charisma in the ring and his imposing physique... but he slowly became one-dimensional and ran out of fresh opponents to squash. And WCW had about twice the underutilized talent WWE has at the moment. Maven's taken some big steps forward, both in the ring and on the mic, and while I'd have to be a permanent resident in the crazy house to say he deserves a big role in the midcard, he certainly deserves more of a chance than this.

The Tag Title match was mostly fluff, and if it weren't for the violently hot crowd I don't think this would've been anything worth remembering. I like Regal and Tajiri, have for years now, but they weren't on the top of their games this week, despite the added incentive of winning the tag titles. The best thing about this match is it means we won't have to see quite as much of Sylvain Grenier over the next couple of weeks. I really don't think I've seen anyone more consistently inept and flavorless in the ring.

Flair and Michaels, on the other hand, put on one of their better singles matches that used the audience's interest in the participants to heighten the drama, rather than relying on it (coupled with a hometown title change) to carry a below-average match as the tag teams had. Michaels is really starting to make a habit of playing the desperate face in peril, as he seems to have been absorbing offense all month long, although I can't complain about that this week because it tied perfectly into the story Flair was trying to tell. These two obviously have a great feel for one another after a dozen meetings in the past, and have reached the point where they could just hop out there on auto-pilot and deliver a great match. I loved Flair's furious disassembly of HBK's leg, the audience's anticipation of the Nature Boy's signature spots (they erupted when Flair just GLANCED at the top rope) and Michaels' selling. My only qualm with the match itself was the finish, as Shawn completely forgot about the knee Flair had been obliterating all match, landed on it while delivering his top-rope elbow, pounded it into the mat for his kip-up and stood on it while hitting his sweet chin music. This could've easily gone another ten minutes at the steady, impressive pace it had maintained, and the leg should've folded on Shawn once or twice in high-impact situations like those.

What? They had a Diva "Fashion Show" last night? Yeah, I wasn't paying attention during that part of the airing. I guess I thought it was an extended "Axe" ad.

Edge busted out a very nice promo that did everything it needed to; focused the audience's attention on the upcoming World Title match, maintained consistency with his character's past and earned himself a little bit of validity as challenger. I've always wondered why they bother defending the belt on TV when the PPV ads are already running for that week's big WWE PPV event. I'm amazed it's taken this long for someone to mention that convincingly in a backstage interview. Good stuff from the Edgester, it's nice to see last week's stupid, contradictory interaction with Christy was a one-time deal.

Tyson Tomko's still showing signs of improvement, but he's not nearly to the point where I'd throw him into singles action against somebody like Randy Orton. Orton's decent, but not up to the task of carrying somebody like Tomko, and this match gave us a pretty good indication of that. It wasn't good, it wasn't bad, it just... was. I really like the groundwork they seem to be laying for a potential Christian / Orton faceoff at WrestleMania, however. That's a match I don't think we've ever seen before, between two guys on the cusp of becoming something excellent, and the build could be tremendous. Both are much better talkers than they are workers, although I wouldn't call either a slouch in the ring, and I think they could actually learn a thing or two about themselves in there under the brightest lights of 2005. The "Randy's Knocked Out" storyline isn't really bothering me yet, although I'm starting to wonder if getting a concussion is his equivalent to Hulking Up. Nobody should be winning consecutive matches with a supposed serious head injury, let alone performing a wild flipping pinning combination in the corner like Orton used at the end of this one.

I really liked most of the action in the Triple H / Edge match, and both guys seemed to be going out of their way to deliver something they've never done before. It's amazing how fresh a match can be, when you see two guys who have run through almost the exact same move sets for three straight years finally branch out and try something new. It was refreshing to see a match with no clear-cut crowd favorite, something that actually seemed to further emphasize each man's effort in the ring, and if it weren't for the goofy series of events that surrounded the finish I'd have called this a better match than Benoit / Jericho. This was such a nice, uncharacteristically free-flowing match, that the gimmicked interference at the end just stuck out like a sore thumb. Rather than worrying about his opponent, Edge's glance kept darting to the corner of the ring in anticipation of Batista's interference, and when the big man didn't get there precisely on time his spinebuster came off as awkwards and a lot less impressive than usual. The eventual outcome of this one was about the only really predictable spot of the night, and it sucked to end the show on that kind of note.

This felt like a much looser, less rigidly structured program than what I've become accustomed to over the last few years. The interview segments felt a lot more fluid and believable. The wrestling, aside from a few noteworthy exceptions, wasn't overbooked and felt unsupervised... as if, god forbid, they actually let these guys go out there and WORK, rather than paint by the numbers. This felt more like a sporting event and less like a TV drama, which was a welcome change of pace, and even though I didn't think as highly of it as the entirety of the forums seem to have, I still wholeheartedly enjoyed a lot of it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.7