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.
Overall Score: 3.1