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

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