On an edition of Raw where, judging by the amount of promotional montages that were shown, the intention was to hard sell Wrestlemania and peak the interest of the casual fan to the point where the PPV becomes unmissable, the WWE forgot to put all their efforts into the tv show and it came across as directionless. Despite some decent segments and the funniest thing I have seen on WWE programming since Brock Lesnar tried a shooting star press, Raw never really got out of the blocks and lacked a genuinely impactful piece of writing. It is for this reason that I will break with tradition and review Raw in chronology, primarily because there was nothing in the two hours that screamed out to be addressed first.
The night opened with a good match between HBK and Robert Conway. The singles success that Michaels has enjoyed over the years must be a heartening sign for wrestlers like Conway who at this point in his career can only look to a lengthy list of squashes and a token tag title run. Go back in time sixteen years and any WWF fan would have thought you were as mad as the One Man Gang for suggesting that the blonde one from the Rockers would be a multi-time World Champion and a certainty for the Hall of Fame one day. The use, this week and last week, of La Resistance in a mini-feud with HBK to tide him over until his Wrestlemania contest with Kurt Angle is a wise move. Sub-feuds within the context of the main storyline are a modern idea and it maintains the momentum without blowing all of the novelty of a ‘dream’ match. It is also a necessary tool considering that the WWE no longer has any under contract ‘jobbers’ (in its proper sense of the word) and they would kill too many possible mid-card pushes in the process. Shawn Michaels looks to be in great condition, the best since his return from the lengthy lay off, and the Wrestlemania match with Kurt should be a cracker. The promo telling Kurt’s story was emotive and well presented and, on a side note, is possibly a sign that Sahadi might be to TNA what Russo was to WCW.
Okay, I’ll avoid the derogatory comments about how Christy’s wrestling outfit looked like three people had spit bubble-gum at her and I’ll do her the service of offering a genuine technical appraisal of her first televised in-ring performance. First, the good points. Her psychology was fine and the storyline mask didn’t slip at any point. She made no major mistakes and only briefly stuttered on two occasions. The whip she took into the corner was firm and showed that she’s not afraid of impact and her footwork was acceptable throughout. The fact that she performed a better ‘Twist of Fate’ than last time shows that she’s working hard and listening to her trainers. Now the bad points. She was slow in reacting to the charge from behind and the forearm smash to the back and she adopted the dead body position when being slammed which looked awkward. She never got into position for the ‘Molly-go-round’ which made Molly look clumsy and she stood up and paused between finishing move and cover which a veteran like Molly would find a little disrespectful from a rookie. Generally, Christy showed signs of ability and she could be a decent wrestler one day. But not in twelve days. A singles match on the biggest card of the year is no place for a learner and she should be better protected than this. Even if she pulls it off and the match is okay, it’s a no win situation because the contest will only ever be mediocre at best and Wrestlemania is not a place for mediocrity. Well, it’s not supposed to be.
Next, HHH sexually assaulted a chair in the middle of the ring while delivering one of his weakest WWE promos for quite some time. Too long and too repetitive it was obviously intended to prevent any fans from garnering anti-hero face heat for HHH and ensure that Batista gets full support come Wrestlemania. Don’t believe me? What about HBK v Sid, Rock v Lesnar, Orton v HHH, Bret v Austin? A heel needs to be as attractive a proposition as his face counterpart but make him too cool or funny or appealing and the fans want that instead. A pointless promo will kill that no problem and HHH proved he can do that with ease.
The one-hour mark wrestling spot was this week taken up with a nice match between Jericho/Benjamin against Edge/Christian. As in recent weeks, this was the wrestling high point of the night and there were good performances from everyone, especially Shelton Benjamin. His footwork is 100% flawless and the sight of Benjamin sailing over the top rope like a salmon up a waterfall was awesome. It’s a shame that Vince is unwilling to put his faith in wrestlers like Shelton but if he keeps turning out efforts like that then a major push must be somewhere in his future. Jericho had one of his ‘on’ nights and Edge and Christian played more of a foundation role on which the other two could showcase their talents, a team effort which Vince often rewards and should do if there’s any justice in the world of WWE.
Flair did his best to motivate the lumberjacks backstage including Snitsky who seemed to be reaching an almost orgasmic state which only took on a sinister tone when you realised that it looked like he wasn’t wearing anything from the waist down.
Next up was the ‘I love Stacey’ show with Randy Orton as a demented Desi Arnez (well, nearly as creepy). Orton shovelled the threats to the Undertaker with all the class of the man who walks behind the elephants in a circus only pausing briefly to feed Stacey a tongue sandwich and then give her an unsurprising RKO. At least he ended it with her in person. a lot of women only get a text message from slimeballs like Randy. I guess this way of finishing a relationship may seem harsh but it’s totally in character for a man who probably takes a crap in your luggage on the first date. At least Orton showed some character depth with his look of perverted sympathy at the close of the segment.
Tomko then suffered a glorified tv squash at the hands of Benoit which did little for either man. In some ways, Tomko is in the same position as La Resistance. He’s lucky to still be on a show for which he seems holistically unprepared but if he sticks around and bides his time then something could happen through either clever booking or good fortune. This was surely a one-night storyline for Benoit just to give him something to do will the others participants in the ‘Money in the bank’ ladder match got the juicy bones handed to them.
Hassan and HBK then went nose to nose (which in Hassan’s case could be lethal) and set up a match for next week’s Raw. I suppose if any talks with Hogan for a match against Hassan at Wrestlemania bite the dust then this will be the storyline ending for Hassan’s rants of late.
The WWE hit comedy gold again last night with the ‘Taxi driver’ promo for Wrestlemania. It’s a shame to pick out individual performances when everyone did a good job but I must mention Snitsky, Batista, Big Show, Carlito and Candace for doing nice work and not being afraid to parody themselves.
The main event Lumberjack match between Kane and Batista was at best a deliberate and predictably slow encounter. The gimmick was obviously employed to distract the audience from the poor levels of speed and talent on display. It did more for the storyline than the match quality and it just about passed as an end of show match but things should be so much better than this. Batista is a marketable guy and he’s got some good points (like power and recovery speed) but he flat-foots it round the ring and finds it difficult to throw even a decent looking punch after the three minute mark. Kane is nowhere near talented enough to carry Batista and it was left up to everyone at ringside to make it look like a marquee match, which it didn’t.
Match of the night – Benjamin/Jericho v Edge/Christian.
Worst match – Tomko v Benoit.
Star(s) of the show – Benjamin/Batista.
Moment of the show – ‘Taxi driver’ Wrestlemania promo.
Best sign – “MOVE YOUR NOSE HHH, IT’S BLOCKING MY VIEW”.
Best quote – “Christy and I should go into a dark room and see what develops” (Lawler).
It’s my birthday today (Tuesday 22 March) so happy birthday to me. I’m thirty-four (although I don’t feel a day over eighty-seven). I’d like to thank you for all the wonderful cards and presents you would have sent if you knew me or knew where I live, I can really feel the love in this room.
Oh, and if you know the person who held up the “BRING BACK BUFF” sign on Raw, start slapping them now and don’t ever stop. Thanks.