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.
Overall Score: 6.5