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

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