"The Animal" really is a completely different creature than he was a month ago. While still a member of Evolution he was subtle, well-spoken, nicely dressed and explosively powerful. Now he's like a rock star. He's blatantly cracking jokes, pandering to the audience, standing up for himself without hesitation and wearing... stuff like that white suit. I'm not saying that I dislike his current character, because it's nice to see a confident, dominating face at the top of the heap for a change, but it's a pretty wild shift in direction all the same. Hunter's decision to walk off of RAW at the end of this segment made sense, given the amount of taunting he's taken in the last month alone and his legendary on-screen ego. It fits nicely into the conclusion of the Gold Rush tournament, too, as it's tough to buy a fresh face in the World Title scene with Hunter busy elsewhere on the card. His face has been that completely ingrained into the RAW title scene since the brand split.
Jericho and Daivari didn't fare too poorly together, and I'd bet they could've pushed out something worthwhile if given a little bit more time. Problem is, Y2J's been on such a bad streak of losses lately, he needed the convincing win here just to regain some of this last year's worth of lost momentum. Putting on a competitive match with somebody as far down the ladder as Daivari at this point would do more damage to Jericho than good to Khosrow. Daivari has the tools to become a solid worker in the ring, but still seems hesitant and uneasy in big situations. Then again, I can't say I wouldn't be equally nervous if my first matches in a WWE ring came against Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, respectively. Nice to see Jericho worked in the legendary finish from his match with Juventud Guerrera way back in his WCW heyday, sitting down on an attempted top rope hurricanrana and cinching in the Liontamer, although it didn't look nearly as fluid and impressive this time around.
I like the idea of a La Resistance split, since Conway could use a singles push and a break from Grenier, while Sylvain himself could do with some dark matches against the Benoits, HBKs and Flairs of RAW while he tries to gain his bearings in the ring. If it worked for Randy Orton and Batista, it could work just as easily for him. It's a tough call at this point, though, since the bookers seem to have suddenly remembered the tag division and no other team on the active roster has their kind of credentials. Personally, I'd have rather seen Conway sent to the high profile singles slot on Smackdown during last year's draft, and Dupree left to tag with Dupree, his original partner. Conway was primed to explode at this point last year, and I can only imagine where he'd be right now if he'd been sent to feud with John Cena on Thursday nights instead of Rene.
I don't think I can find a better example of why Grenier needs some tutelage between the ropes than that match with Viscera. Grenier knows how to take a bump or two, but when it comes to keeping the audience interested and staying competitive without reverting to restholds, he's lost. To his credit, I don't think I've ever seen anyone put on a good match with Viscera, Benoit included, but I'd also never seen Viscera buttfuck anybody in the middle of a match, either, so I guess nothing's impossible. This match was nearly as long as Jericho's crushing of Daivari earlier in the card, and a little more than half as long as Conway's match with Shelton Benjamin later on the card, if that tells you anything about how serious they are about La Rez as singles. Post-match, Vis showed a little personality and (gasp) charisma(!), stealing a plant's nachos and hitting on Lilian Garcia. It's mildly entertaining, sure, but my conscience just keeps screaming about how I'm just gonna have to watch him wrestle again in the end.
What, exactly, is his gimmick supposed to be right now, anyway? Where does the vinyl trashbag suit, bleached mohawk, albino contacts and black lipstick meet up with the gyrations, midring "activities" and pickup lines?
Benoit vs. Kane was disappointing, and not just because of the finish. Kane's been unmotivated in the ring for months now, with no sign of letting up, and his performance here reeked of it. There was no pace or reasoning to this match, nobody felt comfortable taking control for any extended amount of time until the Crippler hit the rolling germans near the end of the match. It was just a lengthy string of punches, transitional moves, reversals, punches and big moves, like watching two boxers take turns throwing jabs, one after the other, for four minutes. Benoit was mildly selling the after effects of the storyline concussion he portrayed beautifully last week, but it was overly subtle and didn't factor into the finish of the match, and the final series didn't make any sense to me. Even if Benoit did feel responsible for knocking Lita off of her feet on the floor there, (which he shouldn't have, since he never made contact with her and Kane's lack of coordination is what made her hit the ground) what good it would have done to yank her arm until she was vertical again? When he broke Sabu's neck, did he roll out to the floor and start tugging at his opponent's wrist in a senseless effort to pull him back to his feet? A big let-down, both in terms of booking and performance, and nowhere near their Title match on PPV about a year ago.
Flair vs. Tomko was shorter than the Viscera match a few segments before, and utterly useless. Maybe if Christian had done something of consequence before being banned from ringside, I'd have seen this as a good momentum-builder for the fun little Flair / Christian feud they've had simmering for a couple of weeks. This was like joining a twenty minute match in progress, as Flair locked in the figure four at something like fifteen seconds and Tomko seemed ready to tap at just under half a minute. It's sad that they had to protect both guys by keeping the overall length so short here.
The whole segment with Stacey Keibler, "Droolin' Todd" Grisham, Simon Dean, Maven and the tag champs was straight out of the heyday of the Circus Era WWF. I almost expected Doink the Clown (post Matt Boone) to come out to the ring and spray people down with his lapel flower. This was seriously some of the worst cheap heat generation I've seen in years, with clean-cut, cookie cutter faces and heels going through the motions without remorse. Good thing all of the match times were cut in half so we could have time to squeeze this in, right alongside the John Cena music video!
Unlike Benoit and Kane, Conway and Benjamin were really starting to get into a groove out there last night, right up until the finish landed like a boulder from an airplane, killing the match at under three minutes. Honestly, what the fuck is the deal tonight? Was there some sort of ruling that came down without my knowledge, limiting accumulative match time for a two hour wrestling program to under half an hour? I'd love to see a rematch between these two, and I've got a feeling I will, sooner or later, but I can't compliment anybody on a match this short.
Finally, Shawn Michaels and Edge hit the ring for the second semifinal "Gold Rush" match, and I was almost sure HBK had blown out his knee on the entryway when trying to rise from his knees. In retrospect, it's evident that his wardrobe was caught in the ramp, which is why he threw his vest off so quickly, but I was sure he was favoring his left leg right up until the moment he hit the kip up without incident. Continuing the trend established by the preceding matches, this was rushed and unstructured, trying to tell a thirty minute story with a ten minute match, but the finish was outstanding and effective, so in a few weeks that's all you'll remember anyway. They were both trying, but it just wasn't happenin' here.
I don't know how I didn't realize it last week, but when this week's show started and they displayed the brackets, followed by that bizarre Kane / Lita segment backstage, I knew they were going with Kane vs. Edge in the finals and that Lita would be jumping sides. Kind of an underwhelming conclusion to a story they've been developing for nearly a year and a half now, but what can I say? It isn't often they get a hot gimmick dropped into their laps like this, so they may as well run with it if they want Edge to get the kind of heat he'll need to be a main eventer.
An almost universally poor episode of RAW. Matches were brutally short, almost to the point that I'd rather not have had them at all, they're burying Grenier and Conway before the body of La Resistance is even cold, the tournament matches didn't deliver, and there was an excess of filler throughout the broadcast. I can't endorse this.
Overall Score: 3
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