Monday, April 25, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 04/25/05

We're live from the UK this week, which seems a little odd, since it hasn't really been all that long since WWE made their last swing across western Europe. I guess ticket sales are still down in the US, so they're taking the opportunity to visit (and, in this case, revisit) certain parts of the world that didn't get all that much TLC when the product was hot. What is this, two European trips, an Australian trip and a Japanese trip all within about six months of each other? Regardless... live from England this week, as the dual Union Jacks can surely attest, in front of a nearly riotous crowd. That's a good initial sign.

Batista opened things up for us on the microphone this week, and seemed to be a completely different person than I'd ever seen before. It's not that his speech was noticeably better than usual, (or worse, for that matter) but his mannerisms, expressions and straight-up attitude were like those of another person entirely. He seemed to have misplaced his dry, intelligent sense of humor and personality this week, coming off instead as this weird, aloof, slightly uncomfortable individual in search of a cheap pop. Very odd to see this guy, who only recently stood up to the biggest name in the fed without flinching, all of a sudden going out of his way to come across as likeable and cool.

It wasn't long before good ol' JR was out there with him, followed shortly by Triple H, who was still fuming over his loss to the Oklahoman announcer on last week's program. The storyline they were trying to run here wasn't all that bad, although I have trouble believing anybody would get as theatrically angry about a fluke pinfall as Trips was last night, but Batista just wouldn't drop that bizarre new character direction. It's tough to take this segment seriously, to say nothing of the individuals participating, when the World Champ isn't taking it seriously himself. Batista got over as the big guy who carefully chooses his words, who actually says something when he speaks, and now he's moving away from all of that at full speed.

Trish and Viscera then treated us to the first of many "live updates" from their dinner date at an undisclosed location, and good lord did they bring the ugly. These two have absolutely zero chemistry together, which caused the comedic moments to come off as painfully unfunny, and the dramatic moments to slowly steamroll their way to their point without bothering the audience with any of that "emotional involvement" nonsense. Any segment involving food and an outside location is like the kiss of death to your average WWE storyline. Remember two years ago, when Shane and Kane casually discussed their plans to dismember one another over a formal-attire meal at a fancy restaurant? How about Mark Henry's date with Chyna? What about Booker T and Steve Austin's little run-in at a Supermarket, or Book's meeting of the minds with Goldust at the local Seven-Eleven? I guess Trish and Viscera are keeping good company after all.

To summarize each of last night's dinner segments in one fell swoop; ten accumulative minutes of my life I'll never get back again. Just horrible, which (I guess) means it's everything I expected of them.

Chris Jericho and Sylvain Grenier kicked things off in the ring for us this week, in a match that I don't think either will be putting at the top of their "best of" lists any time soon. Grenier had a little more snap in his work this week, but the good things I've got to say about him just about end right there. Y2J wasn't much better off this week, as he appeared to be suffering from one of his infamous bouts with "mailitinesis" (wow... that actually looks like a real medical term. And here I was trying to be all inventive in my accusations that he mailed it in this week.) and visibly slowed things down on more than one occasion. Really short, almost surprisingly so as Grenier tapped to the Walls almost before Jericho had them applied, and I can't say I'm unhappy about that. Post-match, Shelton Benjamin saved his upcoming opponent from certain doom at the hands of the evil Canadians and the two exchanged harsh words / physicalities. The British crowd was enthusiastically pro-Jericho, to the point that they turned on Benjamin almost immediately for fighting back when the former Undisputed Champ went after him. These two have been extremely hit-and-miss throughout this short feud, and last night they hit. Jericho's beginning to show some frustrations in the ring and on the stick.

Backstage, Christian makes his first appearance of the night and just knocks the ball out of the park, tearing Ric Flair and Triple H (conspicuously absent) a new verbal asshole and standing on his own two legs for probably the first time in his career. This was exactly the kind of promo Christian needed to cut to avoid looking like he was totally out of his league opposite Batista, and seemed to have caught everyone (Flair included) totally off-guard. The Nature Boy didn't even need to lift a finger to help this one along, it did wonderfully on its own. You knew those comments about Hunter were gonna come back to haunt him later in the night, (as, I'm sure, did he... which is why he was relying on Tomko, his "problem solver," as his backup) but that didn't make it any less entertaining at the time.

I would've thought they'd drag out Tomko's assassination and Christian's subsequent about-face a little longer into the night, but that's me nitpicking again. Using Kane to obliterate the problem solver and to send Christian scurrying to the back, straight up to Evolution's door, was a great little device that suited the one-night-only main eventer's character perfectly. Hunter and Flair played their roles here, but there's no denying Christian and Batista were the focus.

Moments later, Chris Masters was strolling down to the ring and slaughtering the momentum the previous backstage segments had built. Should I really put together an original paragraph about this guy's gimmick every time he comes down to the ring, selects a "muscular wrestler fan" from the crowd and shakes him around for a few seconds? I think not... there was nothing to distinguish this week's "masterlock challenge" from last week's, aside from the accent of the plant.

Shawn Michaels and "the immortal" Hulk Hogan were in the building... or, rather, backstage after last week's RAW... to cut a promo hyping their upcoming battle with Muhammad Hassan and Daivari. I actually enjoyed their interactions with Coach and Mean Gene (and Gene honestly put Coachman in his place, filling the role of the backstage interviewer as only he can) but one thing really bugged me about both this week's segment and last week's, storyline-wise. What I don't understand is why Michaels has no qualms about trusting the Hulkster in this tag match. Take a look at his track record as it pertains to huge tag teams and their eventual dissolution. He teamed with Paul Orndorff, and "Mr. Wonderful" turned on him, leading to a series of legendary singles matches in the mid 80s. OK, that wasn't Hogan's fault, right? No harm, no foul. Then he teamed with and eventually befriended Andre the Giant. Something inside of Andre snapped, as he aligned himself with Bobby Heenan and made a move on Hogan's title. They fought for over a year. Again, not Hogan's fault, right? A couple of years later, Hogan's teaming with then-champion / "good friend" Randy Savage. The Hulkster abandons his partner in the middle of a match to carry an injured Miss Elizabeth to the back, and never returns. Savage is understandably pissed, and Hogan inflames the situation by making kissy faces at the Macho Man's wife. They embark on a heated rivalry, which culminates in Hogan recapturing the belt from Savage. He's a little bit at fault there. Not one year later, Hogan's teaming with the Ultimate Warrior when again disaster strikes. Hogan and the Warrior come to blows and collide. Noticing a trend? Years later, Hogan had jumped to WCW, befriended Sting and Lex Luger, and mended fences with Randy Savage. He blatantly turns on them in their hour of need, aligning with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the original nWo. Yeah, who was at fault in that situation? And what wound up happening to the nWo? Hall and Nash broke away from Hogan to form their own unit. Years later, they reunited in WWE and didn't last two months before Hall and Nash had parted ways with the Hulkster.

My point is this; considering Hogan's insanely poor track record with tag team partners, why would Michaels have the first reason in the world to trust him this Sunday night? Sure, there's the thrill of rubbing elbows with a living legend, but is it worth the consequences?

Regal and Tajiri joined us, accompanied by the RAW Slut Brigade and their UK chapter, the Star Slut Corps, in an effort to push sales of Regal's autobiography. I found it humorous that he's credited as "William" Regal on the cover, since he spent the better part of his career as "Steven," but here I'm nitpicking again. Then again, looking back, it's truly amazing how much of a European icon Regal seems to have become since hitting it big in WWE, compared to the relative nobody he was in WCW. Maybe embracing the recent first name is the way to go after all. The tag champs converse for a few minutes, and invite us to watch them dance with a dozen beautiful women in the middle of the ring. The live crowd's dead silence told the story. "So... what do you want us to do again...?"

Fortunately, Hassan and Daivari were here to save the day for us, challenging the champs to a non-title match and evacuating the lumpy, gyrating ladies from the ring. Nobody looked all that impressive in this tag, although Hassan is slowly becoming more comfortable in the ring with a broad range of opponents. The finish was extremely telling, as the American Muslims tore into the hometown hero and Hogan was nowhere to be found. They're really doing their best to smother Regal's popularity on that side of the pond by jobbing him in two straight high-profile TV matches like this.

Edge and Val Venis were up next, and if you ever had any questions about Val's chances as a single in this federation, they were pretty much answered here. The crowd basically ignored him, never bit on his nearfalls, and didn't even bother to make a noise when he climbed the ropes for his splash and the false finish. The actual work was about as good as you can get for three minutes of airtime, but taking the characters' current situations into consideration, you can't blame the audience for refusing to give a shit. Post-match, Chris Benoit saves the porn legend from a crossface, hits the Germans and removes "Mr. Money in the Bank" from the ring. I'm thrilled about their match this Sunday night, but I truthfully forgot it was "Last Man Standing" rules until JR mentioned it. Think they might have wanted to do something to reinforce the necessity of that gimmick here? Nahh....

Finally, main event time as Christian's intro takes second stage to those of Triple H (did his introduction come before Coach's, even?) and the current World Champion, Batista. The match was almost exactly what Christian didn't need, basically treating him as a non-threat and killing his better chances at using this opportunity to break through, either on RAW or on Smackdown, and had a lot more to do with Hunter being at ringside than Christian using his mind to overcome Batista's strength. It's what I was expecting going in, so I'm not all that bent out of shape about it, but considering the killer promo he'd cut earlier in the broadcast I'd hoped Christian might get a chance to build some traction for himself here. As it were, Hunter wrapped the show up for him, hitting the Pedigree from out of nowhere and putting Batista down for the count. The big man did a great job of selling it, too, straining to lift his head before collapsing in a bruised heap, and I'd say this short angle promoting the strength of the maneuver was very successful.

So that makes two substandard episodes in a row, boys and girls. Despite a superb backstage promo from Christian and a solid closing minute or two, this was below average in almost every aspect. Hogan and Trish were obviously not on the continent, the Divas got a nice juicy segment to kill, Chris Masters continued his pathetic "I'm stronger than the modern fan" gimmick and Christian's efforts were for nothing in the end. I miss the RAWs of a year ago already. I really do.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.1

Monday, April 18, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 04/18/05

I just finished a somewhat heated discussion with the alpha female upstairs, who seems to have taken offense to the note Autumn and I stuck on their door asking them to quit throwing their shit off the balcony and onto our porch. She started off all apologetic, and when I mentioned it wasn't the first time we'd had this problem with them, just the first time we'd brought it up, she went immediately into the defensive and then lashed out. No, surely, I don't know how I could have made the assumption that those were YOUR empty beer cans in our bushes, when the rest of the twelve pack is empty, rolling around on your balcony, a strong breeze away from joining their brothers and sisters in the brush. So, uh, yeah. I'm in a perfect mood to review the shitfest that was last night's airing of RAW, live from the pro wrestling mecca of Madison Square Garden! I'm as pissed about the ignorance of my neighbors as I am at the ignorance of the WWE bookers! Hooray! Exclamation mark!

Chris Benoit and Edge got the ball rolling this week, immediately boosting my anticipation and casually reminding me of the great set of matches Benoit had put on with Edge and Christian over the last couple of weeks. The crowd felt a little blown out from the preceding Smackdown taping, but it didn't take long for Edge and the Wolverine to grab their attention and start them buzzing once again here. Unfortunately, once they did reawaken the slumbering NYC audience, it was just about time to roll out of the ring and brawl backstage to a no-decision. I guess I can understand the idea that this match shouldn't be going to a definitive conclusion with their showdown at Backlash just around the corner, but surely there were better options than this. It was particularly confusing that the ref decided to throw his arms up in the air and call for help, rather than just letting them settle their differences backstage, since we've seen dozens upon dozens of similar predicaments end that way in the past, both on RAW and on PPV without help arriving to pull the combatants apart. Benoit's arm was noticeably less of an issue here, which is disappointing, because it had become such a great centerpiece during his last two matches, but I guess they don't need the additional drama for a match that's already shaping up to be pretty dramatic, based off of the gimmick alone. A hot start and a quick let-down.

The Lita / Trish segment would've bombed entirely if not for the insane smarktitude of the New York audience and their brutal anti-Lita chants that constantly had me craning my neck (a totally effective subliminal technique) to try to figure out what exactly they were saying. The Natural Born Killers vibe I thought I was picking up with Lita and Kane last week was completely missing here, with Lita shifting back over into her trite "smug, badass chick" face act and Kane filling the role of the big, dumb big monster who gives chase to every fleeing female within eyeshot. Neither one of these girls knew what to do when the crowd took control of the segment, much like Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX, and were understandably nervous about the situation. They handled it as best they could, trudging forward with the original plan and looking really stupid in the process, as Trish tried to insinuate they were booing her and Lita's big statements were met with dead silence or boos.

And then Kane came out, prompting Lita to take Trish down (but not out) with her crutch and the women's champ to lead what has to have been the slowest high-speed pursuit since OJ and his white bronco. And! And! As if the segment hadn't already shot straight to hell, Viscera then arrived to kick off what looks to be a fresh feud for Kane. I guess the big red machine's fourth annual "WHY THE FUCK AM I WATCHING THIS" feud is upon us already. I mean... Kane vs. Viscera?! Are you serious? Is the promotion's ultimate goal still to entertain the fans?

But the glory wasn't finished just yet! We, the lucky home viewers, were then whisked away backstage to witness Viscera putting the moves on an obviously uninterested Trish. Wow. Just... wow. This went on for what felt like an eternity, nearly turned Trish face just from the sympathy of it all, and was really, really awkward. In a bad way. As if there's a good kind of awkward.

The tag title match was on next, in a futile attempt to rescue a show that was already several minutes into a full tailspin, and didn't manage to accomplish much. Tajiri and Regal didn't look comfortable with the fresh recruits, the storyline that led to their introduction was tacked on at the last possible moment and the new team's gimmick's been done to death. Nothing totally off-putting here, really, but nothing worth getting worked up over and certainly not anything that was going to single-handedly turn the show around. The Heartthrobs have a little more personality than we'll usually get out of somebody right out of the minors, but they've got nothing to set them apart in the ring. They're like a weird mesh of Too Much, (Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor's homophobic pre-gangsta gimmick) II Cool and Three Count (I swear, I didn't pick three teams with numbers in the first half of their names on purpose), without the same capabilities in the ring. Even Three Count's much-maligned original leader, Evan Karagias, had a better in-ring game than these two.

Hassan vs. Michaels was a paint-by-the-numbers affair and that isn't enough to get me excited about their upcoming tag team match for America. Muhammad's moveset is slowly expanding, which is nice to see, but this is something that should've been there before his big debut, not something that should be just now arriving, several months in. Of course, this one couldn't possibly have ended cleanly, so Daivari causes the DQ for little or no reason and the beatdown commences as the entire crowd simultaneously stands and looks at the entryway, expecting Hogan's imminent arrival. Sure enough, after what must've been deemed as appropriate dramatic tension, "Real American" finally blared across the speakers and the red and yellow goblin was there in living color. Funny, you'd think a guy who's concerned about his future tag team partner's health might be in a little bit of a hurry to get to the ring and stop his lynching, but not Hogan. Not only did he move at a Nash-esque pace on his way to the ring, but he actually took the time to pose and cup his ear, soaking up every last bit of adulation before turning his attention to the ring.

I'm sorry, I just couldn't get into this whole schpeel again. About two years ago, in the build to Hogan's match with Vince at WrestleMania XIX, (I believe) Hogan showed up on Smackdown and got a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. Despite my own opinion about Hogan as a man, I thought it was a legitimately cool, memorable moment seeing as how it was the big man's last run with the company. I bought into the retro appeal of it, the genuine adoration the audience had for him, the tears that were welling up in his eyes. I loved the moment. Guess what... it's twenty six months later, and he's back for his latest farewell tour. Remember the build to his match at WrestleMania VIII? I do. I was there in person, and I distinctly remember the promos building up to it, where Hogan flat out said "this may very well be my last match." Vince even thanked the Hulkster on behalf of himself, his family and the fans as a whole. That was thirteen years ago, and they must've realized what a big appeal "one more match" had, even then. I've bought that old line time after time after time, and this time I'm just not feeling anything any more. I don't care if it really is Hogan's last run, I've said so many goodbyes to the man over the years that I'm pretty much deadened to the idea of a world without Hulkamania. Sure, it was cool seeing HBK completely flip out in the ring, to see these two company-supporting legends in the ring together for the first time, but it wasn't anything I'd deem to be worthy of the five solid minutes of posing and celebrating that followed. Did these two just win individual World Titles? Did they cure cancer? Did they save the world? So why were we treated to such an elaborate celebration?

Straight up, I'm through buying into this shit. Hogan can come and go as he pleases for all I care, he's killed the importance of his own farewell tour by hanging on well beyond the point of no return. Why would I be interested in watching a match that features a man who needs a weightlifting belt to keep his gut in check, a bionic knee to keep from completely collapsing in the entryway and a bandana to mask his leathery, wrinkled, bald scalp?

Chris Masters jumped the shark in his opening vignette. I think that's some kind of record. He hadn't even debuted yet and already his best days were behind him. I got nothing out of the clicheed "Masterlock Challenge" last night, and I still think the character sucks, the finisher sucks and the angle sucks. Why should I be pulling any punches?

Not even Chris Jericho and Shelton Benjamin could get it together last night, as Jericho belted out a super-corny rendition of "Shelton Benjamin is a Little Bitch" that initially drew a smile but eventually overstayed its welcome and made the whole segment feel like a bad joke. Even Benjamin was grinning like a gimp while Y2J was trying to insult him, which speaks volumes about how silly the idea was to begin with. The first half of their interaction in the Highlight Reel last week was very forced and uncomfortable, while the second half did a complete about-face and came across as really interesting and compelling. This week's segment was entirely forced and uncomfortable. It feels like they're letting two friends work together and they're both too timid to really cut loose on each other.

I was surprised to see Vince out there, strutting to the ring no less, although I did notice the long cut-away the cameras pulled when he got to the ring steps. It was almost long enough to make me think something had gone wrong again and he'd be cutting his promo from the floor. Christian and Tomko fared remarkably well opposite McMahon, who's seemed to make a habit out of imposing himself on rising midcarders over the last few years, and Tyson even pulled out some great comedic timing, frantically covering up Christian's mouth after Vince threatened to make him "Captain Unemployed." This was harmless fun, and probably the only wholly entertaining segment of the evening.

And, to cap things off, here comes that anticipated singles match between JR and Triple H. Hey, remember how I harped on a few paragraphs back about hating the Hogan return because we've seen it half a dozen times before? I'd make that same comparison to JR in the ring, except seeing the Oklahoman in the squared circle has NEVER been entertaining. The prospect of JR in action has always been a groan-inducing proposition, but up until this point we'd always been given some sort of last-minute reprieve or the beating has been kept short. This week, for whatever reason, we were 'treated' to an elongated beating, a blade job that I vocally predicted a full minute before it actually happened, the in-ring heroics of Jerry Lawler and a Batista run-in that could serve as a beautiful illustration of the term "anticlimactic" in any number of dictionaries. I don't even know where to begin.

Jim Ross should never be an active competitor in the ring. That much should be obvious. You'd think that, after a career comprised entirely of one-sided beatings, he'd manage to figure out how to fall down, bleed and grimace convincingly. Nope. Likewise, in the last three years, Jerry Lawler has gone over Al Snow, Raven and Val Venis, just to name a few, but when he went out to the ring to defend his buddy, Triple H tossed him out as an afterthought. I'm not bent out of shape about the King being treated as an over-the-hill old fart so much as I am pissed that Hunter's the only one on the show who's been able to handle him as such.

I'm going to quit before I get much more long winded... just rest assured that I'm about as disappointed in this week's RAW as I've ever been. At least the Katie Vick episode had a few matches worth watching before the infamous corpse-screwing. This episode didn't have even that mild luxury. Easily one of the most lackluster programs I've ever witnessed, which is made twice as sick when you realize they wasted one of the hottest crowds in the country in the holy land of Madison Square Garden. This should've been special, and it was a self-indulgent, mindless pile of steaming bullshit.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 1.4

Monday, April 11, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 04/11/05

I didn't know Molly was released until I read John's writeup, checked WWE to make sure he wasn't making a joke (oh, cruel JC$, how you mock me) and then posted an intelligent response of "fuck me directly in my ass" on the thread that had already sprung up about it on the forums. So if I'm a little more bitter than usual this week, forgive me. Chances are, I won't be... but you never know what's gonna happen at this point of a writeup.

Of course, I can't make any promises about the opening match, seeing as how it involved Molly directly and served to end her four and a half year run with WWE flat on her back, jobbing to Christy Hemme of all people. Boy, am I thrilled about the prospect of another one of her running wild on the women's division by the time we reach 2006. I guess the dream was already over for the women's division when Jazz and Gail Kim hit the bricks last year, but the nails are pretty well completely buried into the casket now. Rushed match, with Molly and Trish covering for Christy's limitations whenever she was in there and Victoria continuing her year-long cold streak.

I liked the ongoing segments with Kane chasing Trish throughout the building as the night went on, and although I could've gone without the "cackling villains in love" segment between he and Lita that spelled it all out for us, I really don't mind the direction they're going with the angle from here. Lita and Kane really do seem to make a good faux Natural Born Killers kind of on-screen couple, and while that might be kind of strange to see at the moment, it could be something noteworthy if and when they're turned heel. Both characters have been painfully stale over the last few years, and any kind of mutual development like this is good to see.

Hunter's promo almost put me to sleep this week, (no, really... I faded in and out a couple times while he spoke) and marked a return to the same old "cocky (former) champ holding the keys to the kingdom" style I was hoping to god he'd abandoned with last week's unusually-fiery speech. God damn was this a boring promo... he really didn't make a single point to differentiate this message from those he'd been delivering for the last three months. If there's nothing new to say, why are you wasting my time?

That, of course, led to the on-the-spot handicap match, pitting Triple H against Rosey and the Hurricane, which was precisely what you'd expect upon reading the names of the participants. Hurricane looked a bit more motivated than usual tonight, and was bouncing around the ring like mad for Trips' offense, but I was having trouble buying their chances from the very get-go and nothing really happened to sway me from that way of thinking as the match progressed. I can't believe Helms worked "It's clobberin' time" into a serious wrestling promo. It sounded as hokey and retarded on-air as it looks on the page.

Cool to see the brief coverage of Benoit congratulating Batista backstage while the announcers hyped the rest of the night's action. These are the kind of shots I'd like to see more of, little interactions and conversations that you could believe two guys would have backstage at a wrestling show, that you could imagine a cameraman might be interested in filming. Give me something like this to set up every random backstage beat-down or storyline advancement, or to fill the screen while Lawler and JR are rambling on about something, and I'll be a much happier camper. Keeps the talent from seeming totally isolated from one another backstage.

Chris Masters still hasn't impressed me. Actually, between he and the jobber he was obliterating last night, I was twice as impressed with the jobber and his willingness to kill himself to make Masters' work look good. The jabroni put in twice the effort of the WWE-backed "star of the future" with the million dollar body and the fourteen cent moveset. If I had any confidence in the writers' abilities to take advantage of the one positive possibility inherent with an angle like this proposed Masterlock Challenge, I might find myself getting a little bit excited. As is, I remember their mishandling of the white boy challenge a little bit too clearly. How long until Goldberg makes a guest spot and blows a couple months' worth of build for a quick pop? Or Batista, maybe.

Besides, Kurt Angle's doing something very similar over on Smackdown with his gold medal challenge. Let's try to limit the rehashed gimmicks from the past to one at a time, please.

Michaels vs. Daivari was a nice little swerve that caught me off-guard, not to mention most of the live crowd considering the complete stunned silence that filled the place after the ref counted three. This was pretty much exactly the kind of match they needed to work, with Daivari catching HBK off guard with his speed and some high flying, then allowing his mild success to go to his head. When he tried to take advantage of his momentum by throwing some punches, Michaels (the visibly bigger man) absorbed them and quickly recaptured the driver's seat. I don't think this could've gone much longer without getting monotonous, and it revived my interest in the issue between Michaels and Hassan, so mission accomplished.

The Highlight Reel was in trouble early, with both guys coming off as extremely lame and forced on the stick, but once the gears finally started turning and they began hurling insults, it caught fire. Jericho's misdirected anger over the direction of his career and Benjamin's overabundance of confidence and willingness to defend his title on a regular basis could prove to be an interesting dynamic, and I loved the pull-apart that ended this first little run-in. This is the kind of thing Jericho should be using the Highlight Reel for more regularly. When Bischoff won't book him in a match he wants, just call the guy out in the ring, throw a few barbs and wait for him to request the match personally.

I'm glad the premise of a Hogan / Michaels tag team is a one night only kind of affair, because I can see that schtick getting old REALLY fast. Personally, I thought Michaels was going to pick Sergeant Slaughter when he started in on all the hyperbole about being a super-patriotic patriot of patriotic patriotism, but quickly wised up when it got to be obvious. It'll be interesting, I guess, to say the least... part of me wishes this was 1997 pre-born-again Shawn Michaels and not the one that's out there every week in 2005, though, just so I could see the fireworks.

Christian and Benoit surpassed even my expectations out there in what was effectively the night's true main event, which is saying something because I'm really high on both of these guys right now. It truly says something about the quality of the guys in the midcard right now that Benoit was able to work two different matches with with two different guys that told roughly the same story, but in the end were almost completely different. It would've been super easy to recycle a few spots from last week's match between Benoit and Edge, slip in a couple of transitions and replace the finish, but neither Benoit nor Christian opted for that route. Another exceptional show-saving match from the workhorses of the roster.

Batista fell flat on the stick again to close the show, and although he regained most of the lost heat by foiling Hunter's attempted pedigree and removing him from the ring, the whole experience was subsequently tripped up by Hunter's oddball request for a match with Jim Ross. I was just waiting for Maven to pop up on the Titan Tron to announce "Yeah... JRKO!!!" or Benoit to translate it as "Just Rhyno," so the bizarro-world experience could be complete, but it never happened. Seriously, why wouldn't Ross just burst out laughing after a proclamation like that, considering his contract presumably doesn't read "professional wrestler" and Hunter isn't the man in charge of such decisions? This can only end in tears.

Not a good showing this week at all, despite a concentrated effort from Benoit and Christian, with Edge providing some rare entertaining celebrity commentary. I liked where the HBK / Hassan thing was going until they mentioned the name "Hogan," and Jericho / Benjamin looks like it could be interesting, but that's pretty much it for the positives this week. Two quick squash matches, a poor women's tag, a few bad promos and an uninspiring bookend mean this was several marks below average.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.6

Monday, April 4, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 04/04/05

The RAW immediately following WrestleMania has almost grown a legacy all its own over the years. Usually there's a leftover surprise from 'Mania that they'll save for the next night, such as last year's announcement of the draft lottery. Goldberg and Sean Waltman both made a tremendous impact by debuting the night after WrestleMania. The episode is also used as a sort of indicator of which feuds really blew off the previous night and which were only getting warmed up. So it was interesting to see Hunter out there in the opening segment, telling us all about how he'd be challenging for the title at the next available opportunity.

Trips has had better promos, but he's had plenty worse. It was nice to see some genuine emotion coming out of his mouth for a change, rather than the usual mock anger or quasi-fright I'd been accustomed to. This week his attitude was so refreshingly different that I actually had to blink a couple times to make sure Hunter was the one speaking and they hadn't accidentally spliced in a promo from backstage. Of course, the dialogue was nothing new, but I'll take what I can get. This didn't feel like it went any longer than it needed to, but I'm a little confused about why they'd opt for this instead of a Batista celebration or something. Even an appearance here to rebut Hunter's comments and chase him off to the back would've sufficed. Weird logic to let Hunter go unchecked like that.

Fortunately, the RAW midcard was ready, willing and able to get the show back on the right track almost immediately in an unbelievable three-way dance for the Intercontinental Title. This was pretty much the definition of a hot opener, as Benjamin, Jericho and Christian came with something to prove and pulled out all the inventive spots they didn't have time for the previous night and then some. About halfway through this one, I caught myself staring with my mouth agape, shut it, and then caught myself doing it again a few minutes later. These guys just clicked together, worked in unique ways to punish the limbs they'd each injured in the ladder match at 'Mania and never seemed to slow down for a breath. I like that Benjamin went over in the end, too, on a spot that was both original and convincing. Even the replays couldn't kill the impact of that move, Jericho seemed to go nose-first right into the mat. One of the best three-ways I've seen since last year's Backlash main event. Just outstanding stuff, between three guys who only needed something to do with themselves.

The post-Undertaker promo from Randy Orton wasn't all that convincing, and felt really awkward and strangely apologetic. Orton had no passion or desire behind his words out there, unlike his promos the previous two weeks, and seemed like he was moping more than anything else. His transition from "I lost to the Undertaker last night" to "I want to fight Batista" was far from seamless, although it would make sense for him to try to overcompensate for his failure by immediately challenging the next best thing. It shouldn't have been a difficult thing to say, but Orton had trouble with it all the same. What may have been a tough thing to get across was why he's suddenly opposed to Batista's break from Evolution now that it's actually come to pass. Remember his passionate speech just after the Survivor Series, where he was basically begging and pleading with "The Animal" to drop the zeroes and get with the heroes.

The women's title segment was actually pretty well done, for a change. I haven't been all that crazy about Trish's heel run for the last six months or so, as she's basically regressed into a prissy valley girl heel that I don't find even remotely interesting, but she was ON last night. Challenging Christy to a rematch just so she could land a couple extra cheap shots and rub her nose in the WrestleMania match was a beautiful bit of storytelling, and taking advantage of Lita's natural reaction was the icing on the cake.

I thought the Hassan / Michaels segment ran a little long, especially considering we saw these guys together in singles action just last week. HBK wasn't in any kind of a groove on the stick and Hassan just covered the same ground he always does, so despite the beating and Shawn's nice "dead body" selling after the fact, this wasn't anything memorable.

Keeping the show's pace at hot-n-cold, Chris Benoit and Edge went out there to get things moving again with their simply outstanding singles match. Just a simple story, Edge working over Benoit's injured arm ruthlessly from start to finish, that these two pros managed to stretch over a fifteen minute match without repeating themselves or dragging their feet. This was exactly the kind of match that the Wolverine excels at playing the face in, the kind of fights that would get him instant appreciation and wholehearted support back in WCW, when he had less than no mic time to establish a bond with the audience. If you get the chance to check this one out again, take a listen to the support he got from the crowd upon his introduction and then compare it to the noise that same audience produced when he finally got the pinfall. He may not be the best at establishing himself vocally, but he's the best in the world at shaping a crowd's reaction with his body language and Edge was no slouch in this one, either. I loved the little hints Benoit kept throwing in that his arm was far less than 100%, like the variety of single-armed offense he introduced and the way Edge broke the formerly unbreakable crossface, because it relied heavily on that same previously-injured arm. Both of these guys came out of this one smelling like roses, Benoit for fighting through tremendous adversity and emerging victorious and Edge for getting the last laugh. Great, great upper midcard match between a former champion and a future one.

The Simon Dean / Maven / Austin segment wasn't anything I hadn't already seen before. Dean's done this exact same cheap heat setup each of the four or five times they've gone to the trouble of setting his little booth up in the ring, and every bit of his interaction with Austin was lifted straight out of the "must be physically provoked" chapter from Austin's co-GM story. I don't think Dean and Maven were really threatening to crack the main event any time soon, but with Stone Cold little more than a utility player at this point, I don't know what this was supposed to accomplish. I mean, one night earlier you've got Hogan out there no-selling chairshots and group beatings from Hassan and Daivari (which was so special it needed to be REPLAYED the next night) and now Austin's out there flattening both Maven and Simon Dean with absolutely no retaliation. Take a look around... they're drawing a pretty significant line between the stars of yesterday and the potential stars of tomorrow. It's like they aren't even in the same league. The waters get even muddier when you think about how Hassan and Daivari managed to oblierate Shawn Michaels earlier in the episode WITHOUT the aid of a chair. Sure, Michaels was selling the injuries he sustained during his match with Kurt Angle at the time, but Hogan's close to sixty years old and wearing a knee brace the size of a Mini Cooper.

Finally, in the last segment of the show, the new World Champ made his appearance, to surprisingly little fanfare. The poor guy didn't even get any pyro to celebrate his arrival before jumping right into a sincerely underwhelming singles match with former Evolution stable-mate Randy Orton. Just like in his promo earlier in the night, Orton looked severely unenthusiastic and uninspired in the ring. He laid down for the new champ within minutes, which caught me by surprise, injury or no, because this guy's a former champion himself. Not even David Arquette lost a match in that short an amount of time. Weird match that neither guy looked comfortable working, and didn't exactly get the big man's run at the top off on the best foot.

All in all, a strange night with a definite up and down rhythm permeating each segment. You'd get a great match or promo like the three way dance or the Benoit / Edge warzone, then it would be immediately followed up by something similarly deflating like the Orton promo or a senseless Austin beatdown. Fortunately, the matches got a lot more time than the promos and were almost universally outstanding. Good show, but not great.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.2

Saturday, April 2, 2005

The World's Greatest WWE Wrestlemania 21 Preview

Awwwww yeah, it's WrestleMania time again. Pro wrestling's last true holy grail in North America, now that NWA / WCW institutions like Starrcade and the Great American Bash are dead and gone (or, in the latter's case, nothing more than a name slapped onto a run-of-the-mill WWE PPV). In a sport that has always seemed to place more of an emphasis on the current flavor of the month than on its own history, it's remarkable to see a show like 'Mania still hanging around, twenty one years after its premiere. More than that, it's amazing to see it handled with such care and reverence every single year. It's a clicé to call this the Super Bowl of pro wrestling, but that's really the only thing even remotely comparable. And really, if you think about it, even the Super Bowl isn't an entirely appropriate comparison. It's like a weird blend of the regular season with the championship game. Or maybe it's more like three Super Bowl games and half a dozen playoff games all rolled into one. NFL Championship games have, in the past, been less than exhilarating experiences, and the same can be said for WWE Championship matches. What sets WrestleMania apart is the number of fail-safes in its arsenal. Even if the main event sucks balls, (like, say, Sid vs the Undertaker at WrestleMania XIII) it's got a whole roster of tremendously motivated athletes backing it up in the undercard (like Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin at that same event). All the Super Bowl's got is a bunch of commercials, a trendy halftime show and the possibility for a streaker or a wardrobe malfunction or something.

Unfortunately, this year's event just hasn't captured my attention as well as in years past. Most of that is due to this year's 'Mania serving as a sort of transitional event, with names challenging for the federation's dual titles that haven't quite established themselves as well as the challengers in years past. Batista and John Cena, hot properties as they may be, just don't feel like the same caliber of athletes as Michaels, Benoit, Angle, Lesnar, Booker, Hunter, Rocky, Foley, the Big Show and Austin were. They don't feel as established, as ready... they just seem to be guys who were in the right place at the right time, Batista much moreso than Cena. Likewise, excepting the top non-title matches, the undercard seems underdeveloped and thrown together. Matches like the Guerrero / Mysterio face-off and the Ladder match will certainly deliver the goods in the ring, but lack the emotional tie I'm used to sharing with the card of a WrestleMania. I'm not saying this year's event is going to be on the same level as WM IX, but I'm also not expecting anything like a WM X7, and I'm taking it for granted that no main event, WrestleMania or not, will be able to match the way they ended the show last year.

Eddy Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio

A nice nod to the shared history between these two, the similar paths their careers have taken (Mexico and Japan, then ECW, then WCW and finally WWE) and the historic matches they put on back in WCW. Unfortunately, that's not being pushed as the real motivation behind the match in front of the cameras, so much as it is behind them... but I can honestly live with what they're giving us over the air, too. Chavo's been great as the devil on Eddie's shoulder recently, whispering into his ear and trying to convince him to return to his old ways while Mysterio, who will forever be a sympathetic face due to his size, remains oblivious. This story's actually been building for some time, if you'll remember the string of losses Eddie suffered, both in singles and in tag action, to Rey for the better part of two months before they teamed up and won the tag team titles
as a tandem.

Any excuse for Guerrero and Mysterio to cut loose together is a good one, and with the added motivation of the year's biggest card hanging over their heads, along with the potential for a prolonged feud not long after, I can't even begin to imagine what these two are capable of this Sunday. These are two undisputed legends of the ring, who have proven on several occasions in the past that their styles work magnificently together, as well as two of the more prominent faces on all of Smackdown. With Chavo thrown in to play the heel alongside Eddie's tweener and Rey's face, this could be something to really look forward to as the spring develops. I'm thinking a high profile loss is just what Guerrero needs to throw his world (and his ego) into turmoil right now.
Winner: Rey Mysterio

The Big Show vs. Akebono
Sumo Wrestling Match

I'm not too crazy about this one. Typically, if you take a worked sport and a legitimate sport and try to amalgamate them into some sort of new beast, the results are extremely ugly. Ali / Inoki should have taught promoters that. Brawl For All should've taught Vince McMahon that personally. But yet he's trying again this year, pitting the Big Show up against sumo wrestling legend Akebono in a sumo match on the big stage. This can end in one of three ways; a) Both guys shock the world and put on a genuinely entertaining, if worked, sumo match that shockingly doesn't involve the illegal use of Japanese salts. b) They work a legit sumo match, Big Show is completely outclassed, his knee blows out and he misses a year of action. c) They perform a worked shoot, Big Show loses the match, turns heel and goes on the warpath. Whichever path they take, Akebono's the winner. File this in the same category as the Mr. T / Roddy Piper boxing match and the Butterbean / Bart Gunn toughman fight.
Winner: Akebono

Trish Stratus vs. Christy Hemme
Women's Title Match

Hey, do you guys read the RRC? You do? Oh, that's right, what am I thinking? The RAW Review is the Oratory Award Winner for "Best TV Review," of course you read it every week. You read it religiously. So in your dedication to the RRC, you've probably already read my opinion of this match. Buuut... in fairness to the sad sacks that steer away from the green pastures of our television review team, I'll just go ahead and recap really quickly. Surprise, I'm not interested in the least. It was one thing when WWE was sending the active champion into the Playboy mansion and then elongating her reign to bump the issue's sales. It's something else entirely when they're picking and choosing the challengers for the year's biggest show based entirely on their willingness to disrobe for the infamous mag. Granted, there isn't much of a women's division left after the roster cuts pretty much obliterated it this past year, but I've gotta imagine they can do better than Christy in the challenger's slot. Or is there some unwritten rule I'm not aware of that says no two women can appear in consecutive WrestleMania Women's Title matches? With luck, this will be short and the bookers will resist the urge to hotshot the belt onto Christy's waist. But I'm not expecting any miracles.
Winner: Trish Stratus

Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Edge vs. Christian vs. Kane
First Annual Money in the Bank Ladder Match

Probably the toughest match on the card to predict, not to mention the one with the most potential. With the exception of Kane, who regressed in 2004 (both in the ring and in character) more than at any other point in his career, every one of these guys are coming off a phenomenal 52 weeks with no signs of slowing down if the stipulation is to be believed. Likewise, any one of these athletes could conceivably win the match without killing the credibility of the others. RAW's upper midcard has been that rock solid and competitive of late, with a balance of talent so well-managed that I'd even say it's on par with the women's division of late 2003. In that long-ago day and age, any one competitor could potentially win the World Title on any given night without shaking up the status quo one bit. The matches were that competitive, the athletes that well matched. Of course, we all know what became of that great division in the end, as overbooking and a swift de-emphasis took the wind out of the ladies' sales going into last year's WrestleMania and roster cuts all but smothered all hopes of resuscitation. But I'm not here to be pessimistic. At least not in this match writeup.

Edge and Christian are the obvious favorites, due to their experience and unparalleled success in similar situations, while Kane must also be considered a probability thanks to his huge size advantage and his perception as one of the two unstoppable monsters of RAW. Shelton Benjamin has the credibility of the Intercontinental Title on his side, while Chris Benoit just went toe-to-toe with the World Champion on RAW. Chris Jericho's the longshot, as he's been basically shut out of the main event since dropping the World Title to Triple H at WrestleMania X8, but the match was his idea and he's had some success in gimmick matches in the past as well. These guys have proven their ability to work together, both in one-on-one and various tag team / free-for-all situations, and there's no doubt in my mind this has the potential and the probability to steal the show from the more heavily promoted matches further up the card. I sincerely can't wait to see what kind of a ride they'll take us on. I'm going with Jericho, if just due to the amount of time he's been kept away from the main event, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Edge or Benoit walking away on top either.
Winner: Chris Jericho

Stone Cold Steve Austin & Roddy Piper
Piper's Pit

It'll be cool to see these guys out there together for the first time, but the novelty is beginning to wear off on each guy's big return(s) to WWE, Austin especially. There's only so many times you can push the same button before the fans start to get sick of it and while it's not quite to that point yet with Austin and Piper, I fear that it's getting close. The best thing they could possibly do here is just let these two legendary mouths verbally spar with one another for a good chunk of time before going into whatever SURPRISE INTERRUPTION they've planned and working from there. Part of me wants to think that it would be too obvious to involve Muhammad Hassan, that he couldn't possibly gain anything by cutting off an interview segment headed by two guys who haven't worked a match in years... but another part of me knows these bookers and their tendency to ignore future ramifications. So long as Piper and Austin haven't miraculously forgotten how to speak english, this should be entertaining at worst.

Randy Orton vs. The Undertaker

There've been bits and pieces of this build that I've really enjoyed and bits and pieces that I've absolutely loathed. I love the dynamic of the aging legend, defending his legacy against the young upstart who's made a name for himself by succeeding in nearly identical situations. I love Orton's "testicular fortitude" in calling out the Undertaker and vocally refusing to be intimidated by his bag of circus-like tricks. And I love the way they've used this match to softly, effectively turn Orton heel again, where his character is much more at home and effective. On the other hand, despite the big talk, Orton's fallen into the same cliched trap that caught each of the Taker's previous "deadman era" WrestleMania opponents. He's dove out of the ring and stared, jaw agape, as the ringposts caught fire and the arena lights went out... immediately going back on his promise to cut through the phenom's mystique and confront the man himself. It hasn't enhanced my anticipation of the match so much as it's killed Orton's momentum going in. If he'd stood tall and laughed off the phony lightning storms and pyrotechnics displays, he would've had the unique ability to claim he's never been intimidated by the old man's song and dance. He would have the mental higher ground to counter the Taker's undeniably impressive 12-0 record. Instead, all he's got is an empty promise, a weak hearted slap and a desperation RKO in his favor.

I'm not all that optimistic about this match's chances. Randy's been steadily improving in the ring for literally years now, but he's had a lot of great opponents to help him since he arrived on RAW. The Undertaker isn't going to be doing his ringwork any favors this Sunday, and I'd be really surprised to see him selling the effects of one of Orton's infamously aggressive chinlocks. Make no mistake about it, this is a huge test for the Legend Killer... if the match succeeds and he gives the crowd the impression that he hung with the bigger man from the beginning, it might just be the spark he needs to begin another climb to the top of the card. If it fails, however, if he looks completely out of place in there against the much larger opponent, I'd be surprised if we see him anywhere near the title picture again before WrestleMania 23.

This whole situation is ideal for young Randy. It's precisely the kind of win, the kind of notoriety, he needs to get up off his ass and start picking up the pieces of his failed face run. I've picked against the Undertaker at WrestleMania many times in the past, but I've never been quite as certain about doing so as I am this year. Orton needs the kind of rub this match can deliver.
Winner: Randy Orton

Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels

Easily the best build of the show, which shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone who's seen the work these two have done individually in the past. They've both really brought their "A" game this month, and in so doing have crafted a feud that honestly feels like the epic it's being advertised as. Although I was a bit let down by the methods Kurt Angle employed in his quest to replicate HBK's entire career in four weeks, (I'd have to argue that much more of Michaels' impact came in the ring than the Olympian portrayed) the segments were far from weak and Angle more than made up for the lack of actual matches with some unthinkably good promos. Michaels has been stagnant as a face for well over a year now, but this feud has managed to force out a great deal of the fire that had been missing from his performances recently and I don't think he's about to let go of that quite yet when he gets to the ring this Sunday.

Simply put, this is the match I'm most excited about on this year's card, and with good reason. While I mentioned earlier that the six-man ladder match has the potential to surpass this one in terms of ringwork if a few things go right, there's no question involved with this one. It's going to deliver. The only question, really, is how long it'll go and just how good it'll get. With the possibility that this will be Kurt Angle's final match, (although recent rumors have claimed otherwise) I just can't imagine it being anything less than legendary. Both Angle and Michaels are well known for going out of their way to put over their opponents' offense, and I think that, combined with their combined drive to put on an excellent match every time their feet touch the canvas, will be more than enough to launch this one into the stratosphere. I'm going with Angle, if just because his character's spoken with that much more conviction over the preceding five weeks. Michaels has relied on his tried-and-true cocky, legendary, big show performer attitude while Angle has really amped it up over the last month. It's like he's got something to prove, and I'd like to think that's going to give him the advantage here.
Winner: Kurt Angle

John Cena vs. JBL
WWE Championship Match

There isn't a doubt in my mind that Cena's leaving this show as WWE Champion. Which, really, has been one of JBL's biggest strengths as champion from the very beginning. He's excelled at convincing the viewer that his reign as champion is on its last legs, and then miraculously overcoming all the odds to retain by the skin of his teeth. It's chapter one in the New York Times best seller "How to be a Heel Champion in Three Easy Steps," titled "always convince the audience of your fallibility." He's been a successful champ because he's constantly allowed his challengers to wield the advantage over him, giving fans the impression that, if they bought the upcoming PPV, they'd finally get to see him lose the gold. And it didn't hurt that he plays a great conceded prick that could get on your nerves with just a glance. The fact remains, however, that Cena's been put into a position where a loss at this point would be paralyzing.

I don't expect much out of the match, since neither guy is near the top of the roster in terms of ringwork, but I'll give credit where it's due; both have been working their asses off to improve on that weakness. The issue isn't a lack of effort so much as it is the lack of an well-versed ring technician to improvise should something go awry. I don't have a lot of faith in either of these guys were the ring ropes to snap or an errant blow were to knock the wind out of the other guy, and considering the fact that they're competing for the most prestigious belt on the program, that's quite a problem. In the rush to get this next generation up to speed and into the main event, I feel like an important step was missed in allowing the talent time to fully develop in the ring. It's a fact that sometimes great adversity breeds great ingenuity, and there's certainly the possibility that Cena will flower in the main event and silence the critics, but that's quite a gamble for a program that's struggling to compete as it is.
Winner: John Cena

Triple H vs. Batista
World Heavyweight Championship Match

As much as I enjoyed the tease of this feud just before and after the Royal Rumble, I can't honestly say I haven't been a little let down by its execution. Part of what made Batista so interesting in those weeks before the meltdown of Evolution was the way he defied the traditional big man role's negative stereotypes and embodied the positives. He was explosively powerful in the ring, but surprisingly well spoken backstage. He didn't fall into the same simple-minded traps that others of similar stature encountered in the past. He maintained an opinion of his own, even beside two overbearing personalities like Triple H and Ric Flair, and seemed to say what he felt, rather than what was expected of him. After the outstanding full turn that went down during the main event contract signing, a lot of that was lost. His comments didn't seem as off-the-cuff and witty as they once did, and instead came off a little forced. He was paired in the ring with guys like Gene Snitsky and Kane, who couldn't sell his offense as the spectacular, crippling, life-threatening variety it needed to be. And, while he never backed down from the remaining members of Evolution, he wasn't exactly taking the fight to them at all times, either. His character changed ever so slightly when he powerbombed Triple H through that table, and he lost a lot of traction as a result.

I'm a bit more confident in how these two will fare together in the ring than I am with the Smackdown Championship Match, if just because Triple H has had a very strong year in the ring and can fill the void that I'd mentioned in the Cena / JBL match. Hunter knows how to work, whether he's on offense or defense, and aside from Chris Benoit or Shawn Michaels, there isn't another man on the RAW roster that I'd rather have in the ring for a match of this importance. He knows how to pace a match, so Batista doesn't blow all of his high impact offense in the early goings but the fight doesn't drag, and he knows the right places to do the right things. This'll be good... not on the level of last year's main event, but good all the same. As for who's leaving with the belt... well, Batista just doesn't have a lot of options as champion, while Hunter's got a whole crop of hungry midcard talent that matches up with his style exceptionally well. They've done a fine job of building Batista as a believable challenger, but I just can't see Hunter losing this one cleanly.
Winner: Triple H


I'm afraid my intro may have been a little harsh on this year's card. It's not a bad lineup by any means, and in the scheme of things I'd rank its potential going in right around the middle of the pack, historically. It's most certainly a better card than WM2, WMIX and WM13, but it can't hold a candle to the potential (and eventual delivery) of WMIII, WMX7 or WMXX. It's right above WMXV and right below WMXIX, going in. A lot of guys are getting the chance of their lifetime at this year's event, and it'll be interesting to see who thrives off of the risk and who falters.
until next time, i remain