I was glad to see HBK facing off with Rob Conway, rather than the other, far more useless, half of La Resistance. Like John, I'm a big fan of Conway's work, and I've seen him do little more than improve since showing up on Monday nights a few years back. His ringwork has been solid at worst since the first time we caught a glimpse of him, and his character's grown remarkably for somebody with little or no mic time to establish himself. So, ah, yeah. I like Rob Conway and I was excited at the potential of seeing him in there with Shawn Michaels. And, for what it was, it wasn't bad at all. Both guys really busted their humps and set the crowd ablaze right from the get-go. Unfortunately, "what it was" was a pretty lopsided victory for HBK. This match reminded me a lot of a match I saw in person a handful of years ago, a few months after Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko and Saturn had jumped to the WWF, when Eddie Guerrero met Steve Austin in an impromptu singles match that nearly sent me into cardiac arrest when I saw it on the card upon my entrance to the arena. I knew it could've been a real career-making moment for Eddie, and couldn't wait to see how he'd match up with the Rattlesnake, but when the match actually came to pass it was the very definition of a one-sided battle. Austin just crushed him. Obviously, everything turned out for the best... Guerrero wasn't even close to being on the same level as Stone Cold at that time, Austin would go on to solidify Chris Benoit in the main event a year or two later, and Guerrero would be a future World Champion, but at the time I was a little miffed about what I saw as a huge missed opportunity. Like Eddie Guerrero at the time, Rob Conway could've really benefitted from a small rub from the aging superstar on the other side of the ring last night, but it didn't happen because Michaels needs to look strong going into WrestleMania. It wouldn't have made sense to go down any other way, which is unfortunate for the former Tag Team Champion.
It's getting close to WrestleMania time, obviously, which means it's the time of year when the post production guys start really REALLY kicking some ass. Those vignettes hyping the careers of Kurt Angle and Randy Orton were jaw-droppingly effective. Seriously great stuff. I'm sure I'll get tired of seeing them once they've aired half a dozen times each during the event itself, but as of this writing I'm totally loving them.
But then, just as I'm starting to get psyched up for the big event, they had to go and remind me of one of the multiple reasons I'm kind of dreading this year's event as much as I'm anticipating it. Christy Hemme. In the ring. Competing for the women's title. And flattening Molly Holly along the way. Joy. Anybody who had any sort of doubt as to who would be winning that match after the heel team was introduced as Molly, Maven and Simon needs to pay a little more attention to the record books. These guys must be a combined 1-398 since last year's WrestleMania. I seriously can't remember a match any of them have been on the winning side of, aside from Maven's by-association victory at the 2004 Survivor Series. Maybe one of them won a dark match somewhere or something, I dunno. Regardless, this was a below-average match at best and I really could've lived without it, all things considered. If this was supposed to convince me of Christy's surprising ability in the ring and cause an about-face in my opinion of her upcoming title match at WrestleMania, that mission can be considered a complete and total failure.
Triple H then hit the ring to cut his next-to-last pre-WrestleMania promo, which should've been totally intense, venemous, show-selling goodness. Instead? He drags a chair into the ring, delivers one of the most monotonous, boring, uninspired speeches of his main event career and tries to get clever by bringing the Terry Schiavo case into his rant against Batista. Yeah, like I'm not already entirely sick and tired of hearing about that fucking case every moment of the day. Hey, BREAKING NEWS UPDATE! She's still staring off into the distance blankly, the judge is still thinking about what he'd like to have for lunch, and there's still nothing new to report! We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, but stay tuned for more thrilling updates like the one you've just heard. Remember what I said about the mixed tag a few words ago? I could've lived without it? Apply the same emotion to this segment. If Hunter doesn't have anything important to say, PLEASE don't send him out there to struggle to find a way to integrate the C-SPAN update he just watched into a wrestling promo.
Fortunately, some combination of the names Jericho, Benjamin, Benoit, Edge, Christian and Orton were in the ring together not long after, to end the string of ugliness before it got too totally out of hand. The RAW upper-midcard / main event cusp scene is just unreal right now, comparable to both the "Smackdown Six" era John mentioned earlier and the heyday of the WCW midcard. Which is both funny and kind of sad, because Jericho and Benoit were members of that scene a full eight years ago. These guys are carrying RAW on their shoulders at the moment, with a bit of occasional help from the supporting cast, Triple H and Ric Flair, and this match was all the proof you'll ever need of that. I can't think of any combination of these guys that wouldn't work well together, either in singles or tag team action, yet I'm continually amazed by that very same compatibility as they're matched up together week after week. This entire match made sense, every single guy was busting his ass to make it a good one, and the right team went over. I can't ask for much more than that, especially this close to the big event.
Ric Flar was then shown backstage, motivating the troops for the upcoming lumberjack match. What amazed me was that Chris Masters was in attendance, all but taking notes on what Flair had to say. It couldn't have been more than three or four weeks ago that he debuted, running into Flair outside of his limo and telling the Nature Boy to "pay attention, you might learn something." What changed between then and now?
I liked the Orton promo, actually, obvious as it was, although I'm a little befuddled about their reasoning for the shirt; why list Booker T and Rob Van Dam, and not Chris Benoit, the man he beat to capture his first World Title and a name I'd wager many would place ahead of Book and RVD in the list of all-time legends? Not really something that bothered me, it just caught my attention is all. The segment started slow, with Orton searching in vain for the right words, but took off once he planted one on Stacey and went right back into full heel mode. Even though he only spoke for another minute at the most before hitting the RKO and leaving the ring, the difference in his mannerisms was like night and day. It's like that kiss flipped a switch in his mind and he suddenly realized how to speak with conviction again. Great segment that needed to be done to clear up any misconceptions that may have been lingering after his face-off with Jake Roberts last week.
Nice to see Benoit on the giving side of a squash for a change, and to see him returning to the straightforward crossface after a few months of tweaks and variations on the maneuver. Like Matt said, this match needed to happen to help him rebound from the loss to Triple H last week, although I don't think he'd lost all that much steam anyway, and it delivered just the kind of message Benoit should be associated with. He don't fuck around in that ring, and if you piss him off you're just giving him an excuse to hang onto that crossface for an extra couple of seconds.
I had a lot of trouble getting into the main event, pitting Batista against Kane in a 'hoss vs. hoss lumberhoss match,' and while it wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared it might be going in, it wasn't good either. Both guys looked a little lost out there on their own, and while the action outside of the ring covered for them for the most part, there were still a few awkward moments that stuck out. They told the story that needed to be told, of Batista overcoming all odds and powerbombing the seven foot monster, which spoke to his strength and credibility more than any odd backstage promo ever could. So, storyline-wise, this was a solid main event. Pity I can't say the same about the actual wrestling.
Pretty much a hot-and-cold mix, with every good segment being cancelled out by a bad one. Overall, I thought the direction of the program was a good one, so I'm calling this above-average, but not by much. A real disappointment coming off last week's show.
Overall Score: 5.6