Alternative title: “Home isn’t where the Hart is”.
I know this will be a surprise to many of you, seeing as the WWE has barely mentioned it on tv or on wwe.com (if I have to write the word ‘sarcasm’ it just doesn’t work), but this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw will be a three-hour ‘WWE Homecoming’ special to commemorate the show’s switch to the USA Network. Billed as potentially the greatest Raw in history (although this does stand a better chance of actually being so than all the other episodes they’ve described as such), the sheer weight of promotional saturation that Vince has thrown behind this broadcast shows how much importance he is placing on this one night and the implications for its entire run in its new and familiar home. Anyway, you get the gist of it now; Homecoming, previewing the show, blah blah blah. I’ll start with the five returning superstars who will grace our screens on Monday.
Ever since he retired from active duty, my sense of ambivalence towards Steve Austin has increased. Seeing as I started watching WWE in 1992, at the time when Hogan’s long run as top face was coming to an end, my first experience of someone carrying the full weight of a wrestling company on their shoulders was Stone Cold and he did a damn good job of it. Week in and week out, Austin, along with Mr McMahon, made ‘Raw is war’ unmissable television and he seemed almost indestructible at times. But then us humans are fragile things and through a mixture of age, injury and inactivity Austin became a figure of pity and his eventual boot-hanging gesture came a year too late to preserve him in our memories as untouchable. Thanks mainly to MTV’s ‘Punk’d’ we can now be sure that ‘The Rattlesnake’ is not a constructed gimmick and is more an amplification of his real personality, but the character doesn’t lend itself to affording rubs to up and coming talent and Austin’s recent MO has been one-night deals where he returns solely to get the pop for the ‘Stunner’ and four-corner beer drinking. And I don’t expect much less from him at Homecoming. Granted, I can’t think of any rookies or mid-carders in the WWE who should really expect a put-over of that magnitude yet, but I would be surprised if that was in Austin’s mind for the foreseeable future. Still, there’s every chance that whatever he does will be entertaining and well received. And that’s what counts.
To truly understand why the WWE and Mick Foley can’t seem to shake their long-standing working relationship, you have to look at the man and not the performer. In my humble (yet routinely correct) opinion, Foley represents everything that is good about pro-wrestling and a few more like him would go some way to redressing the imbalance of prima donnas and politicians that litter most major wrestling organisations. I’d love to believe that Mick is returning to do some business in the WWE, and not just to promote a new book, because his presence is exactly what’s needed right now and adds that star power that rookies will only attain with time and experience. I don’t think anyone has left behind a successful gimmick (let alone three of them) like Foley has and it’s a credit to him that people still want to see him as he is, even without the mask. And the animal-print boots. And the tie-dye tee-shirt. It’ll be good to have you back Mick.
Okay, HHH next. There’s a twice-yearly friend of mine, and fellow columnist, who would be most upset with me if I wasn’t more than a little happy about Hunter’s return. Luckily, his return couldn’t be better timed and I for one will be glad to see him back, especially as he’s the only one of these five who is still a full-time worker. I’ll even go so far as to retract one of my previous statements (claiming that his return shouldn’t bring about more title shots for him) and I hope that HHH does get pushed towards the title once again. But (and it’s a big butt) I don’t want the WWE to get locked into this cycle of putting the belt on him only to feud him with, and ultimately lose to, the next potential franchise player. Plus, why are Hunter’s feuds always so focussed? If he was included in a group of three or four wrestlers all vying for the gold and having interchangeable mini-battles with eachother before the war gets settled in a final showdown, then he would be such a valuable asset to the main event scene and wouldn’t wear out his welcome so quickly. HHH is one of only a few active big-game players left in the WWE and Raw needs him.
Now I’ve been a good boy in recent columns and I’ve only said negative things about Heidenreich and Snitsky. And Hogan. And Cena. And Animal. And Hogan. And Vince, Jarrett, Hogan again, JBL, Eugene, Bischoff, Hogan, The Heart throbs, Viscera, Carlito, HBK, Stephanie, Hogan, Orlando, the writers, the fans, George W, God and myself. Oh, and I might have said something negative about Hogan once. But, in the spirit of optimism, I’m not going to descry Hulk Hogan for his appearance at Raw Homecoming. True, he’s not had the same impact as Austin or Rock on the show but without Hogan there would be no Raw, and thus his place in this celebration is undeniable. Of course, I would be a lot more accepting of his inclusion if we’d have been spared watching him in the run up to and at Summerslam but then the world’s not perfect. If it was, I’d have an Alembic bass guitar with the LED’s on the fret-board and Candice Michelle would be a full-time naturist.
Though I’m somewhat of a Roddy Piper fan, it has been quite a long time since he was the shining star of any segment he’s appeared in. In fact, most of what Piper has done over the last decade, since his ‘Bottom line’ Raw diatribes during the Summer of ‘94, has been more reliant on what he was rather than what he is. Rambling and winking his way through WCW and TNA, only to end up back in the WWE as Zach Gowen’s limb remover and latterly HBK’s kicking post has done little to improve his stock since he was the number one heel in the USA in 1985, unable to get a sustained singles run at, then WWF champion, Hulk Hogan. But his classy induction speech at the Hall of fame ceremony this year and the decision to make his character more of a travelled sage than an ageless ‘loose-cannon’ seems to have given him new life and I hope his appearance this Monday isn’t a one-time thing. Someone could benefit greatly from having Piper in their corner (although Sean O’Haire might disagree with me on that point).
Now on to the matches. Though it will be a close run thing, match of the night honours will more than likely go to the contest that everyone is talking about. You know the one. The one that will leave us all sweaty, breathless and emotionally spent. But I’ll come back to the divas in a minute (oh like you didn’t know that was going to happen). Kurt Angle v Shawn Michaels in a thirty-minute ‘iron man’ bout is the calibre of match you would pay good money to see and it’s no coincidence that their feud has been hurriedly re-ignited to create this free-to-air match. Despite numerous meaningless or mediocre match-ups dotted around the main shows, Vince has finally proved that he does still remember what fans want to see and is applying a gimmick match in such a way that highlights the performers abilities. I’ll refrain from making a prediction as to the outcome of the contest, primarily because I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the action, but I will be amazed if Angle is diverted from his impending rematch with John Cena and I’ll be equally shocked if HBK has yet another 2005 face/heel turn up his sleeve to put him on the right side for a crack at the WWE champion.
With an end to their feud in sight, the war between Edge and Matt Hardy is building nicely to a satisfactory conclusion. In defence of his decision to return to the WWE and his initial Summerslam beating, Hardy said that it was the first step in a five or six step process and it now looks like he was right. Even though it seems likely that Edge will remain on the flagship show and keep his ‘money in the bank’ title shot, Hardy will emerge from this feud with his momentum intact and, if he does reappear on Smackdown, he will get a good spot on that roster with some meaningful opponents to come. As for the match itself, there’s not many guys in the WWE with more ladder match experience than these two so I expect them to work hard to make this one as memorable as the TLC series. Seeing as no one in their right mind would expect Cena/Bischoff to be a watchable contest, coupled with the ‘friends’ idea that McMahon planted in Eric last week on Raw, I assume this match will be about surprise interference and maybe another Raw return? I guess we’ll have to see. Though the belt switching to Bisch isn’t impossible from a storyline point of view, at a time when Cena needs to be seen not to be out-thought by anyone I just don’t see this happening. The five divas will wander around in their underwear. Nuff said.
Add to this the WWE legends and the Smackdown match, it should be a good show. Enjoy it.
On an unrelated issue (ignore this if you wish), for those of you who check my column for spelling mistakes (you know who you are), I’m fairly happy that I’ve done a good job this week. However, I have let the side down grammatically speaking. In paragraph one I put “new and familiar home” which is tautology (an object being described by two opposite and contradictory adjectives). In paragraph two I wrote “To truly understand” which obviously splits the infinitive and should have read ‘Truly to understand’ or ‘To understand truly’. Finally, and most heinous, I finished a sentence with a preposition when I wrote “…of any segment he’s appeared in” at the end of paragraph six. It clearly should have read “…of any segment in which he’s appeared”. I shall of course hand in my resignation to each of my webmasters over the weekend and eviscerate myself with a copy of Webster’s dictionary to assuage your syntax-driven blood-lust. Or (and here’s a thought) you can kiss my ass.
The nerve of it, my spleling is near perfect.