Well, the worst kept secret since Chyna and Waltman’s love tackle was revealed Monday night on Raw and the road to Wrestlemania is now officially laid out before us. The Raw and Smackdown main events for the March supercard are set in stone thanks to the actions of one man, a man who at the moment can do very little wrong in the eyes of both Vince and the WWE fans. Raw was also the beginning of something better for several superstars and, given continued consideration, could be the platform for an upturn in both product and business. Plus it was a pretty damn good show.
I can remember watching the original Batista vignettes before he debuted on WWE television and I was hoping beyond hope that we would not be introduced to a clone of Scott Steiner, someone who’d been stinking up our screens in both WCW and WWE for quite some time. Steiner was so muscular that it restricted his upper body movement to the point of dyspraxia and his basic positioning for performing wrestling moves, albeit blighted by the ravages of injury, was so bad as to be potentially dangerous. Upon his initial appearances it became apparent that Batista was more than just another body builder. His recovery speed after moves was stunning for a man of his size, he was performing power moves with accuracy and timing and his physical charisma was undeniable. But he barely broke into a run during his bouts, he looked ill at ease trying to sell convincingly and, after a few squashes, he was prematurely prodded into a doomed feud with Kane which did nothing for either of them. My biggest gripe at the time was that there seemed to be another side to him, a side that the WWE was ignoring and I couldn’t figure out why. Rather than another meathead perpetually in his ring attire, always shouting and sweating, what the fans wanted to see was a cool Dave, suited and reserved displaying an untapped resource of anger that could explode at any second but frequently didn’t. Ring any bells? It is either a positive for the WWE for getting it right eventually or a negative that it took them so long, either way he’s here now and it looks like he’s here to stay.
The way in which the Batista/HHH storyline unfolded last night was very enjoyable. It was a wise move by the writers to tip the hat before the final segment and reveal it with subtlety so the question we were asking was when rather than if Dave would give Hunter what he deserved and take the title shot for the World Heavyweight Championship. Flair was especially good playing ‘the glass half full’ to Hunter’s pessimism and made it seem almost reasonable that Evolution would stay together no matter what and bring both titles into the group come Wrestlemania. The necessary bait for the pay off was well done by both Bischoff and Teddy and HHH chipped in with the final appeal which was emotive, if a little repetitive, but the honours of the piece have to go to the big man who delivered an awesome powerbomb through the signing table which was so visual it seemed to be out of control. For once, the table didn’t disappoint either. The explosion of wood and cloth at the point of impact and the fact that, in the aftermath, you couldn’t tell which bits were Hunter and which were the table, made the whole story and angle extremely rewarding.
The main wrestling attraction of the night went to the tag team match between Orton/HBK v Edge/Christian and they didn’t let us down. Carrying on from the singles encounter last week between Orton and Christian, there were so many good points that to list the minutia would reduce the overall effect that the match had on the live audience and those of us watching at home. However, a few things of note struck me. The pacing of the match was terrific. HBK and Christian were trading headlock takedown variations as long as six minutes in, a series of moves normally reserved for the opening exchanges in Raw matches, and it didn’t seem prolonged or overplayed as a result. Kudos must also go to Jim Ross who called the match with passion and precision. Now I have no problem putting my ‘mark’ hat on for this when I say that it was great to see Edge and Christian back as a tag team. I was a massive fan of theirs during their ‘photo opportunity’ days and seeing them together again reminded me of just how good they were. I am a little concerned though that this reunion might not be completely temporary. Despite having a street fight next week with Shawn, HBK will soon be turning his full attention to Kurt and Orton will be moving away from Christian and focussing on the Undertaker (if reports are to be believed) so our favourite five-second posers will be left without properly built-up Wrestlemania opponents. Alternatives aren’t difficult to create. As a team they could challenge for the tag titles currently around the waists of Regal and Tajiri or fight against whichever two of several possible former WWE faces return for a one-off appearance (Hogan, Foley, Rock, Austin) but this is a short-term solution that has been brought about by the single-minded pushing of Batista and the shuffling of the pack underneath him.
For those of you who still can’t work out why the women’s division (such as it was) was stripped back to the bare bones several months ago then the triple-threat match between Trish, Molly and Victoria will give you some clues. These three (and Lita before her injury) have moved on a step from the previous WWE wrestling divas and the likes of Jazz and Nidia would have looked out of place in comparison (the only exception being Gail Kim but she never would have made a marketable women’s champion anyway). The match was well booked and the ladies executed the complex pattern of moves with fluidity and style, something that would have been unthinkable four years ago. Trish Stratus is still the standout performer of the group and seems to grow with confidence and understanding of the business by the minute. This is the reason why I believe the spring clean of this division will ultimately be productive. Any new female wrestler coming through will have to be on top of her game almost immediately, rather than wrestling OVW quality matches in the first half hour of Heat, and this will hopefully bring out the best in them from the start. As for the Trish/Christy confrontation backstage, I will say the same as I said last week about their possible feud; keep it short, keep it dirty and please keep it away from the women’s title.
This week’s Raw will also be remembered for a few superstars who, after playing out of position for a while, found the right spot and out-shined their previous efforts. Simon Dean was placed in a match against someone who can benefit his career rather than burying him faster than the Dead Man would and put in his best wrestling effort to date. With Y2J calling the spots and dictating the pace, the match between two men of equal size and speed flowed nicely and Dean’s heel character got a good rub from Jericho’s popularity. Tyson Tomko threw off a few shackles and wrestled an acceptable match against the notoriously plodding Kane. He sold a few moves at the bell with his usual loose-arm flailing and it didn’t look promising but he upped a gear and looked sharp and powerful for all of three minutes. He resorted to type to the end helping Kane partially botch a few basic moves but the signs were there that he might have something other than just the third worst beard on Raw.
Mohammed Hassan needed something different this week and he got it courtesy of a beat-down on Chris Benoit. His character has been controversially outspoken since his debut and a collection of matches, of varying quality, against Lawler, Slaughter and Jericho have been good business but there has been a lack of physical threat from him. Especially when you consider that matches where he stays within the basic rules of wrestling only flouting them to get the occasional cheap victory is not the actions of a man who respects no authority. I also like that his character is going more ‘old school’ than before. The stereotyping of his attire and his overall dislike of anything, as opposed to before when he tried to make some sense, is a very 80’s approach to being a heel and despite being a little retro seems to suit him, Daivari and the gimmick.
Shelton was once again handed the turd this week but at least it meant something, thanks mostly to last week’s disqualification finish. The reciprocal chair shot angle worked and added a little decoration to Shelton’s tree but I hope that a ‘rubber’ match is soon and he can find a new opponent in time for Wrestlemania. Edge and Christian are probably looking on and hoping that a slot around the IC belt opens up sooner than later.
The Stamboli look-alike Chris Masters made his semi-eagerly awaited debut to a lot less fanfare than expected and the segment was all the more watchable for it. No overly long posing in front of mirrors and the self-admiring histrionics were kept down to a minimum. As for his talent it’s a little too early to say but he moves okay in the ring and his footwork and style were good for a first time performance. I’ll stick my neck out and be optimistic about the future of Mr Masters but he’ll need to be a bit more careful, last thing a new boy needs is a reputation for busting up your opponents, eh RVD?
Injury report: Snitsky’s beard was taken to a nearby medical facility and is said to be stable but stupid. Members of the audience who saw his match were pronounced dead at the scene.
I can only guess from Daivari’s new jacket that he’s just won the US Masters golf championship or received his real estate licence.
I wonder if Candace has stopped selling that slap from Trish yet?
Match of the night – Orton/HBK v Christian/Edge.
Worst match – Snitsky v Benjamin.
Star(s) of the show – Batista.
Moment of the show – Powerbomb through the table.
Best sign – “JACK DOAN TOO SHORT TO GRAB THIS SIGN”.
Best quote – “If he stayed down, he wouldn’t have so far to fall” (Lawler about Simon Dean).
Outfit most like a tablecloth: Hassan.
Official slut of the week: Randy Orton.
Fourth worst beard: Mae Young.
Recount and new winner in the ‘Outfit most like a tablecloth’ award: Teddy Long.