The Undertaker vs. Heidenreich
Wow. I can't believe it's taken them this long to get the message that pairing John Heidenreich with the Undertaker in an extended feud early in his career was not a good idea. Separate, these are two big men who could more than likely float through a match with a halfway decent opponent based entirely upon their size, their physical appearance and a healthy dose of no-selling. Power wrestling is what big guys do best, and it's what generates their biggest crowd reactions. However, when you pair two of them up against one another, as is the case here, that simple formula backfires. Without a smaller body to bounce around the ring for them, their power moves don't look quite as convincing anymore. With a man of comparable build standing right next to them, they don't look quite as intimidating. And, paired up right next to a zombie with his eyes rolled back into his head or a screaming, spitting, pseudo ultimate fighter-turned-poet, as the case may be, their personality doesn't seem quite so brash and intriguing. They nullify one another and expose each other's weaknesses, and that's something an audience can't endure for long. Strapping them into a gimmick match in an attempt to cover for those deficiencies is an even worse idea than pairing them up in the first place.
Casket matches have never really entertained me all that much. The idea that throwing your opponent into a casket and shutting the lid is a comparable alternative to forcing a submission or pinning him in the middle of the ring has always forced me to roll my eyes. In fact, I think the Undertaker's casket matches with Kamala and Yokozuna, and the constant eye-rolling they inspired, are single handedly responsible for my own terrible vision at this point in my life. But I'm rolling on to subjects you probably aren't all that interested in hearing about. The point is, these matches have almost always been accompanied by the same freaking unbearable storyline thread. The Taker and his opponent trade wins, the Taker reveals a casket during a promo and challenges his opponent to a casket match, and his opponent reveals that he's desperately afraid of caskets. It's just cheesy as hell, overdone, boring and inappropriate for wrestling's current, less circusy environment. Of course, the same description could be applied to the Undertaker gimmick, as well. If you want to know whether this match will be worth watching, you should probably watch some of those old Taker / Kamala and Taker / Yokozuna matches and make up your own mind. Blahg. I'm going with the Taker, because he seems to have a hyperactive no-sell gland and that's something that can prove to be a great asset in a casket match.
Winner: The Undertaker
Shawn Michaels vs. Edge
Wow, I went on a lot longer about that casket match than I really should have. I've enjoyed this feud thus far, especially so considering it came about as an indirect result of the fans' voting way back at Taboo Tuesday. Edge's jealousy of HBK's win in the voting was the catalyst for his heel turn, and it makes great sense to still harbor that bitter resentment today, even after Michaels had sat out several months with a knee injury. Edge's run as a heel has been great thus far if just because he hasn't done anything to contest his character's mindset. He hasn't made any goofy alliances just for the sake of being heel, and has actually come to blows with fellow despicables on more than one occasion. His turn on former partners Chris Benoit and Christian had more to do with their problems as past tag team partners and unresolved issues between them than their status as a heel, face or tweener. His promos have been inspired, and it he's really given the impression that he IS this character, and isn't just being a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy. Michaels has played the part of the opposition fairly well, although his run as a face is growing tired, and has actually confirmed a lot of Edge's points in previous promos through sheer, unconscious cockiness. It's been a colorful debate, that much is for sure, with neither side completely in the right or the wrong, and that's why it's been so well recepted thus far.
I doubt that this match will serve as the proper blowoff to their feud, especially since it seems to have only recently found its wheels and taken off, but there's no denying the fact a bad match here would really hurt Edge's chances at the top of the card later in his career. For that reason alone, I'm thinking Edge will be putting in 110% here, although I'm sure that facing off with one of the all-time greats won't dampen his motivation too much, either. This could be one of the best matches in Edge's career, and potentially one of the standouts from HBK's storied body of work as well. It would be a shame to see it all end here, wouldn't it? I like Edge in the upset.
John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. Big Show vs. Kurt Angle
I don't have all that much to say about this match, honestly. Kurt Angle and the Big Show have always worked to highlight one another's strengths and overshadow their weaknesses in the ring, while Bradshaw's brought a fresh perspective on their relationship in the build to this one. I'd be kidding you if I said I thought Angle had it in him to carry two men to an above-average match all by his lonesome, especially at this point in his career, so JBL and / or the Big Show are going to have to put in a better-than-usual effort here to keep the level of quality in the ring worthwhile. I wish I could say I had complete faith in the champion to deliver in a situation like that, but despite his mild improvements, I'm not convinced that JBL's the real deal.
I've enjoyed the little collisions, peace accords and betrayals that Team Angle and JBL's Cabinet have undergone over the last few weeks, as the focus of the feud has remained primarily in the ring with constant matches between Bradshaw and Angle, as well as limited physicalities with the Big Show. Sure, there was that weak little plot line about Joy, Amy, Kurt Angle and the shower, but aside from that, um... yeah. It's been better than I would've expected. With that said, the only reason Angle and the Show are involved in this match is to cancel each other out and give JBL an excuse to retain his title yet again. Wish I could say otherwise, but after six months of missed predictions and disappointing defenses, I'm ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat. JBL will still be the champion Monday morning.
Triple H (c) vs. Randy Orton
World Heavyweight Title
My interest in this one is fading fast, and it's slowly becoming obvious that WWE's plan to put this feud on the slow burner, barring Orton from World Title matches against Triple H in the hope that it would incite even more fan interest, has failed undeniably. Well, maybe failed is the wrong word... it's been more like a complete backfire, as crowds have slowly cooled to Orton's face schtick, rather than warmed to it, and it's becoming clear that they missed the window of opportunity with him back when they took him out of the title hunt for the foreseeable future. When he took the World Title from Chris Benoit back at Summerslam, Orton was just coming into his own as a comfortable, cocky heel who knew how to work that particular style of match. He had a good gimmick with this "legend killer" claims, credibility as a long-standing Intercontinental champion and founding member of Evolution, and plenty of potential opponents as an upper-tier midcard heel. When they turned him face, he had to relearn everything he'd been taught. All of the heel mannerisms he'd finally started to grasp were tossed away. His heelish ringwork needed a makeover. His ties to both Evolution and the legend killer persona were cut, and the huge momentum established by his exile from the group withered away as months went by without a title shot. Wrestling fans have a notoriously short memory span, and I'd be surprised if half the people watching this show would even remember that RAW-closing segment without some sort of video package or verbal recap.
All that's not to say this match will be poor, because chances are it'll be pretty decent. Both guys have been susceptible to an off night here or there, Orton especially, but usually step it up a bit for PPV. The big question here will be how well Hunter can cover for Orton's heel tendencies with his own actions, and how they'll manage to gracefully keep the belt around his waist without completely crippling young Randy. Yeah, it's not really an issue of whether Hunter retains or not, but how he does so.
Winner: Triple H
Thirty Man Royal Rumble
WrestleMania Title Shot On The Line
Well, what can really be said about a battle royal? The Rumble match itself is tough to predict from start to finish, as the event has really prided itself on a few surprise eliminations in the past. In many instances, those same surprise eliminations have proven to be the sparks that ignite big-money feuds for the spring's huge WrestleMania card, so keep your eyes peeled for potential rivalries and personality conflicts as the match progresses. Another thing that's become an interesting aside to the Rumble itself in recent years is the cohabitation of members from both the RAW and Smackdown brands, which lends the air of a major cross-promotional war to the event. It's not quite something I'd put on par with, say, a Goldberg and Steve Austin face off in 1998 or a Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair stare down in 1987, since nobody's fooling themselves into thinking RAW and SD are two completely different corporations, but it's still become a nice little touch that really helps the event to stand out from the pack.
One of the problems with the Rumble match, however, along with the stipulations that the victor automatically gains a main event title shot at WrestleMania, is that the actual outcome of the match comes down to two or three guys. And while there will most certainly be some surprise eliminations to keep things interesting, (as I discussed above) at least two of the final four are always on the short list of favorites to win the whole thing. And, until the time comes when the bookers grow a set and give an underdog the surprise win of a lifetime, I'm gonna bet that ain't changing. This year's obvious favorite is Batista, fresh off an impressive showing at the RAW mini-rumble earlier in the month, (remember the night Randy Orton was GM?) and a potentially explosive feud with Triple H, while John Cena, Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Edge and Shawn Michaels are all outside shots, of which Cena's the most likely. To tell the truth, I'd be amazed if Batista didn't win the whole thing in convincing fashion. Cena doesn't seem ready for the main event yet, (which isn't to say that's gonna stop them from trying, even if he doesn't win the Rumble) Benoit's been shuffling down the card pretty steadily since his title loss at Summerslam, Guerrero's been sliding for even longer, and Edge / Michaels should cancel each other out. It'll be interesting to see some continued interaction between Ric Flair and the monster he helped to create, but I don't think there's even a bump in the road for Batista this Sunday.
The Rumble's usually a fun event to take in, and this year's doesn't look like it'll be breaking that trend. The names and faces involved with the actual battle royal are talented and varied enough to buoy the rest of the show, provided all of the preceding matches don't completely suck ass, and I'm thinking there's the potential for a real barn burner in Edge / Michaels. There's a good chance of something special happening in that one, and it should be fun to see RAW on Monday after Batista is successful in throwing out twenty nine other guys.
until then, i remain