With many of the matches already made for Wrestlemania and a few more added last night at Raw it was a chance for the WWE to slowly start the process of building up the storylines and setting the expectation levels as high as possible but, in a number of different ways, I thought they blew their opportunities. Not to say that they damaged them irrevocably but they certainly made it harder to feel as though the road to Wrestlemania will be a smooth ride.
The main bulk of the wrestling action was taken up with the six participants in the ‘Money in the bank’ ladder match at Wrestlemania with varying degrees of success. Christian was always going to struggle to reproduce his recent form in his match against Kane but he still managed to drag a decent effort from the lumbering klutz. At a time when Kane should be doing everything he can to get away from the melodramatic storylines and concentrate on delivering solid matches with some progression to them, he seems intent on continuing with the sit-up/chokeslam/big boot routine that has kept him the victim of his own joke since holding the World Championship for twenty-four hours back in June 1998. Christian was once again chosen to be the platform for someone else’s three-count but it is a testament to his charisma and ability that the loss in no way diminishes his standing as one of the best performers on Raw. Thankfully it looks as though Tomko’s attempts to use the ladder like a toothbrush on Kane will possibly keep him busy for a week or two and prevent everyone involved in the six-way match from having to lie down for the big red machine.
If you’d have said to me before the show that Shelton Benjamin was wrestling Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho was wrestling Edge but one match was going to last sixteen minutes and the other only four and a half, I wouldn’t have done it the same way round as the WWE did.
I get the feeling that creative thought that Y2J/Edge would be the better match, probably the reason why it was placed in the time slot that had recently been occupied by fantastic tv encounters from Orton/Christian and the tag match adding HBK/Edge to those two but this match didn’t really get started until near the end. I wonder if Jericho and Edge were instructed by management to concentrate on the wrestling and not react to the crowd’s obvious attempts to rattle Edge after his recent issues with Lita and home-town boy Matt Hardy because the first ten minutes of the match seemed to lack any sort of connection with the audience. It was almost as if they were trying to wear the fans down with basic manoeuvres and rest holds (I won’t flatter by calling them ‘submission’ holds) and in many respects it worked. But if the WWE is so stubborn as to fall on its own sword rather than roll with the punches then apathy is what they’ll get. The match finished well, so some semblance of achievement was salvaged from the contest, but for a bout that was given so much air time it had to be seen as something of a disappointment.
Conversely, for a match slightly under five minutes Benjamin and Benoit showed all the fire and life that was missing from the previous encounter. During the match, JR said that these guys are two of the best athletes on Raw. This statement, coupled with the tantalising glimpses of what could have been a great match given the time, makes we wonder why these two are in something as clumsy and superficial as a ladder match and why they don’t have a one-on-one bout together at Wrestlemania for the IC title. In a gimmick match, the gimmick is the draw no matter who is taking part and it would not suffer if you took Benjamin/Benoit out and put in mid-carders or unused talent from Smackdown. I’d even go so far as to extend the time allocated at Wrestlemania for their potential singles contest making it a ‘best two-out-of-three falls’ or a thirty-minute Iron Man match. I dare say that Benjamin’s amazing balance and Benoit’s daredevil spirit will make the ladder match an exciting spectacle, I just think the WWE is missing a trick to appeal to a wider audience that wants to see a pure wrestling match on April 3rd.
So the fallout from the disintegration of Evolution continues as Flair takes on the beast, Batista. But not before HHH sends another member of the comic book fraternity to the superhero wing of a local medical-facility. I was expecting to see the return of the sledgehammer in the run up to Hunter’s Wrestlemania match and I enjoyed the way in which it was personified into the fourth member of the angle throughout the show (although no one seemed that concerned that the sledgehammer appeared to suffer a nasty looking break at the end of the show. Maybe they can get Sid to play the part next week; you know? Wooden, snaps easily). Anyone who was anticipating a wrestling masterclass from Batista and Flair needs to tune in more often, but the psychology and experience that Flair brings to the table just about managed to keep the action flowing and entertaining so I’ve no complaints. I’m a little concerned about this duplicity that Batista has of being cool and calm backstage but an animal in the ring. I know, ‘unleash the beast’ and all that but for me the two don’t sit well with eachother and I would much rather see the calculating version of Dave than the lunatic. I guess we’ll have to see which one of the two becomes the dominant personality trait after Wrestlemania. I just hope they get it right because I feel it’s important. Getting it wrong could mean Batista going the same way as Orton did.
Speaking of Randall. So he made his challenge public this week and promised a televised ass-kicking for the Undertaker despite him being unbeaten at both Wrestlemania and controlling your own win/loss record. Six months ago, you’d have been certain that this was the ultimate rub by an outgoing veteran performer to the next WWE champion and franchise but since Orton’s meteoric fall from favour it’s a harder one to predict. As much as I try to convince myself that Taker is seeing this as a chance to payback the favours that were done for him in his character’s formative years, I just don’t see it. And just to put an exclamation point on the announcement, he RKO’d Bischoff for no reason (well, no good reason). Oh well, I never liked that mustard suit of his anyway.
I was surprised at how rambling and repetitive HBK’s opening monologue was but it was rescued by a terse diatribe from Kurt based on obviously real emotions. Kurt is the perfect size and strength for wrestling HBK and it’s a shame that they never met when they were at their prime. I have a feeling that, come Wrestlemania 21, that won’t be an issue.
Trish against Christy at Wrestlemania. I try my best to give people a chance and not condemn before the fact so I’m going to give Christy the benefit of the doubt, for now. Trish is as good a female performer as you can get to carry a non-worker and I’m sure the match will be booked to breaking point but I still have my concerns. I understand why Victoria and Molly aren’t involved and I can see why having a Playboy covergirl wrestling on your supercard would be an attractive publicity stunt for Vince and the WWE, I just hope they’ve weighed up the advantages against the very likely pitfalls. Of course, if Christy WAS being trained by Hugh Hefner, she’d at least be good at using the palm of the hand and jerking people off the top rope.
After the last two efforts, I knew the Dirty Harry/Undertaker promo was going to be the film script verbatim and not comedy like the early ones and it made it all the more enjoyable. That still doesn’t explain why the original idea for the spots, making us laugh, somehow got lost in translation.
I heard Lita getting the ‘YOU SCREWED MATT’ chant. If she’d done more of that then maybe she wouldn’t be in this mess. To resolve the situation they could put Matt and Edge in their own ‘ladder’ match – Lita’s got a ladder in both tights and the first one to reach the top gets the prize.
Match of the night – Benoit v Benjamin.
Worst match – HHH v Rosey.
Star(s) of the show – Sledgehammer.
Moment of the show – Benoit’s dive onto the ladder.
Best sign – “BEWARE THE POLISH PICKLE”.
Best quote – “I hate to hit my head on anything other than a headboard” (Lawler).