Great opening promo from Kurt Angle that's given me more motivation to watch Smackdown this week than I've had since the build to last year's Royal Rumble, when Chris Benoit and John Cena were having their way with then-GM Paul Heyman. I'm intrigued with the prospect of Kurt Angle working (and winning) two full Royal Rumbles, an Iron Man Match, a Ladder Match, two Hell in a Cell matches and two Elimination Chamber matches within that four week span... or whatever it is he really does have in mind. Michaels' end of the promo was lagging a bit, but Angle's mere vocal presence on RAW was exciting enough to make the whole segment successful. And to think I wasn't all that excited about this match when I first caught wind of it...
I was immediately afraid that the opening Triple H squash was a sign of things to come, and that we had another week of meaningless three minute filler matches to look forward to, but fortunately enough that wasn't the case. Regardless, his match with Rosey did about as much for me as his match with the Hurricane last week. Which is to say his match with Rosey did absolutely nothing for me. I fear they're reintroducing Hunter's affinity for sledgehammers, not as a clever nod to history and a means to reintroducing some solid continuity to the program, but because his new T-Shirt features the famed foreign object prominently and that they're hoping its reintroduction on-air will move a few more units.
I like the idea of the WrestleMania ladder match leading to a future World Title shot at any point in the future, and I really like the five participants that were in the room at the time of that announcement. Any one of those guys could win and give me something worth looking forward to as 2005 barrels on, and honestly even a main event featuring Kane wouldn't be such a bad idea. Honestly, a shot at the belt might give him the motivation he's been lacking and give him an excuse to return to form in the ring, since he's been on quite a downward slope over the last few years. Assuming, uh... yeah, assuming Batista doesn't win the World Title. Shit.
Unfortunately, even if the promise of a title shot WOULD give Kane that kind of an excuse, he hasn't won the match yet and his rumble with Christian last night stunk to high heaven. Remember when this guy was one of the more exciting legitimate heavyweights on the roster, when he'd shock and amaze by climbing to the top rope and flying through the air like a man half his size? Yeah, I don't know what happened to that guy... the Kane they've got on the air right now seems to be perfectly happy working the exact same match, night in and night out.
Fortunately, Edge and Chris Jericho got more than three minutes to tell their story, and the result was one of Jericho's best efforts of the year thus far and one of Edge's most psychologically-sound fights. I loved that, rather than merely going into autopilot and working a plain free TV match, these two went out there and worked a style that was significantly different to what they've been doing recently. Edge's work has been pretty solid over the last few months, but Y2J's stuff has been quickly sinking into monotony, so it was nice to see him rattle things up by abandoning his current interpretation of Bret Hart's "five moves of doom" (climbing enzuigiri / high knee in the ropes / springboard dropkick / running bulldog / walls of jericho) and working an entire fight focused on his opponent's arm. I'm not sure why he went for the walls near the end of the match, because if there's one area of the body that's NOT affected by that particular finisher it's the arm, but I guess I should be happy with what I got. I like that Edge is constantly working with three or four credible finishers at the moment, and the finish worked for me, ref bump or no. A nice, solid match to wake the crowd up and build some interest in the WrestleMania six-way.
I've gotta say, though, that regardless of whether this business with Lita is legit or a clever work, Edge is one of the smartest guys on RAW to have involved himself in it, especially at this point in his career. His heel run's at its climax, he JUST blew off his huge feud with Shawn Michaels, he doesn't seem to have anyone in particular lined up over the next couple of months and he's in danger of losing some of the momentum he'd built with the audience. Now that word's "leaked out" about his relationship with Lita, the crowd doesn't want to stop giving him shit about it. I wouldn't be surprised if he rode this notereity right into a permanent main event slot.
Randy Orton followed that welcome change of pace up by marching out to the ring, refusing to beat around the bush even a little bit, and straight-up challenging the Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania. This really wasn't the best environment for the young Orton, with the audience hot from both a great match and a loud bit of razzing at the expense of Edge, and when they tore into his hackneyed face act his expression showed immediate panic. He still managed to stumble through the rest of his challenge and the interaction with Eric Bischoff that followed, but I don't see what the RKO of the GM was supposed to accomplish. Bischoff's been slowly turning into a well-rounded general manager over the last six months, maintaining a tough attitude whether he's threatening faces or heels, and I wouldn't really say he's a heel on this show any more. He's been earning the audience's respect since the winter through hard work and tough on-air decisions. So, naturally, Orton hit him with his finisher for no particular reason. He took the warm congratulations of a guy probably twice his age, manipulated his words, threatened him, and then attacked him from behind when he grew sick of the games and had turned to leave the ring. So, uh... who's confused about why people aren't biting on his "big time face turn"?
Fortunately, Chris Benoit and Shelton Benjamin came in to sweep up that mess and turn the whole show around with an explosively entertaining match. It was just thrilling to see these guys out there with somebody who can keep up with that kind of a pace from bell to bell, and I can't wait to see how that interaction plays out in the WrestleMania ladder match. This is about as good an example of two guys at the top of their field letting it all hang out in a match with little or no storyline aside from their motivation to look strong going into the year's biggest show. I can't gush enough about it. Just a great match-up that I'd love to see expanded in future singles matches somewhere down the line.
Before I could get too excited about the prospects of a future series between Benoit and Benjamin, however, Christy Hemme and Trish Stratus came out to ruin my night. I think my feelings about Christy's active involvement in the women's division are pretty well known (here's a hint; I feel the same way about Stacey or Torrie... keep them out of the fucking RING) and this whole feud is just killing Trish, as well. While her character was beginning to show its limitations before Christy came onto the scene, it's gone beyond the point of no return since. I don't care for her "valley girl" heel act at all any more, and imagine how her credibility will look if and when she actually drops the belt at 'Mania. They might as well have a buried alive match April 3rd, because this division is dead meat.
Finally, Batista met Ric Flair in one of the tamer main events we've seen in the last year. Somebody must've put a big sign in the back that said "REMEMBER TO USE PSYCHOLOGY" this week, because both Flair and Jericho were working twice as hard to isolate and destroy their chosen body part. Jericho was lucky to have Edge on the other side of the ring, who knew how to sell the injury and work it into the story of the match itself, but Flair wasn't quite as fortunate. He hit Batista with some offense that looked absolutely devastating, especially the spot where he fell into the big man's knee in the ropes and kept the brunt of his weight on it for nearly half a minute, but "the Animal" shook it off in almost Goldbergian fashion. I'm not sure if that was the limits of his ability in the ring shining through or upper management's unwillingness to make him look weak, but all it did was make Flair look like an ineffective retard (no, even moreso than before) and Batista look like a third grader's superhero.
And I'm with John, the "thumbs down" expression is getting old really fast. Batista looks like the kid who made a really funny joke once that made everybody laugh, and now he won't quit telling it because he thinks it made him popular. It was witty and impressive one time, and now it's redundant and silly. Find something else to latch onto, please.
I liked this week's show. The matches were vastly improved over last week's episode, a couple of interesting strides were made toward WrestleMania (it's about time) and Kurt Angle delivered a killer opening promo to get the show off on the right foot. On the other hand, I don't like the way they're restricting Batista's growth, (considering the audience basically dictated his slot in the 'Mania main event, why are they trying to force feed him to us now?) they're still digging a hole for Randy Orton, and this thing between Trish and Christy is absurdly stupid. I'm giving this a better mark than last week, but these grades should be much, much higher going into what's usually the most anticipated event of the year.
Overall Score: 6.3