WWE Homecoming last night was an excellent two-hour show. Unfortunately, it lasted three hours and the final sixty minutes of the event tainted what could have been a resounding positive for the Raw brand. It’s impossible to understand how the creative juices behind Raw could have looked at the final third of their proposed broadcast and thought that there was even the remotest sense of crescendo towards the main event. All of the strong foundation that had been laid just crumbled away as the final five segments came in either too short, too light or missing that ‘wow’ factor that you might expect from the WWE. Okay, I think I’ve successfully hammered home my overview of the night but a show containing so many eagerly anticipated segments shouldn’t really be judged by the sum of its parts, primarily because a perceptively perfect event would be improbable under the sheer weight of such expectation. I’ll look at the show in order, for a change, seeing as the chronology of the event did affect its quality.
As an opening segment, Mick Foley and Roddy Piper praising eachother wasn’t going to work and it was hard to see where they were going to take it to rectify the situation. Luckily, Randy Orton, accompanied by the man with the second largest ears in pro-wrestling history, came to the rescue and it suddenly had life and meaning. I thought Randy was back to his best in this bit and the interaction between the four men was good stuff. It wasn’t a complete segment and I was expecting something like a brawl scheduled for later in the show but it now looks as though the argument will be carried on elsewhere. Come to think of it, Foley and Piper did screw up more than a few words during their bit at the start. I’m not slating them for it, pressure does funny things to people, but I wonder if they were supposed to reach a point before Randy came out and his music was played a little earlier than planned to keep it moving. Just a thought.
I’m reluctant to find fault in the Iron man match but I do feel as though it wasn’t quite the shoe-in match of the night it was expected to be. Far above most things you would see on a normal Raw show it was a good match, but not great. There’s obviously no problem with the two competitors, who are still unsurpassed on the brand, and the match was booked okay apart from Kurt deciding not to join in with the sudden death overtime. But there were too many transitional chops and punches and none of the early holds had a possible submission attached to them so it often felt as if they were killing time until the clock ticked to the next big move and subsequent pinfall. Despite this, Kurt and Shawn work so well together when they’re in full flight and they added a few new dimensions to the process using the ‘Angle-slam’ on the outside and that amazing moonsault into the ankle-lock counter. I was surprised in the early exchanges that Kurt’s offence seemed a step quicker than HBK’s and this leads me to believe that, a little belatedly maybe, that Kurt is the premier performer on either show now and should be the WWE champ as soon as possible.
I see that a lot of fans are concerned that the unconvincing ‘stunner’ on Linda McMahon might have ruined that segment but I was okay with it. It wasn’t the execution of the move that was important and the piece nicely demonstrated the sacrificial twisted logic of the McMahon family. On a night that is more their celebration than anyone else’s, they finish it sprawled out on the mat for the enjoyment of the viewing audience. Any wrestler, from Hart to HBK to Goldberg to Hogan, who has chosen not to fulfil a storyline because it’s not in their character’s best interests, should take a leaf out of the McMahon book where it says that the segment is everything, and protecting a reputation means nothing. It was a pleasure to see cowardly Vince again and the memory of those shows, especially the ‘BANG 3:16’ kidnap episode, are strong in my mind. Not quite an in-joke (well, not for us anyway), it was a great unfolding bit of business and a possible contender for Raw moment of the year.
The Ladder match was my match of the night. I predicted good things from these two and they delivered. After a very fast start there were plenty of new spots including the ‘V’ squash in the upside-down ladder, a cross-body over the barrier into the crowd and a nice apron dive from Edge through Matt and a table at ringside. The ‘Twist of fate’ from two ladders was also impressive and the swing onto the top rope across Hardy’s guts was just plain nasty. The brutality was commendable from two guys who are often accused of being light on offence and I guess it was only fitting that Lita played as much a part in Matt’s loss as Edge did. I was preparing to say that the match ended in a slightly weak manner but the replay showing a close-up of Matt as Edge released the briefcase from its ring made it a better spot. It’s just a shame that this camera angle wasn’t used in real time, it would have added greatly to the drama of the moment. So there we are, the Hardy/Edge feud is done. All in all, I think it worked out pretty good and I look forward to what’s next for these two.
It didn’t take HHH long to get back into the swing of things. He seemed a little tentative in the first few exchanges but a nearly fluffed backdrop (which was Carlito’s fault if anyone’s) coupled with an inability to perform the ‘Flair strut’ appeared to jolt him back into form. Carlito and especially Masters continued their solid recent trend and entered strong performances. To me, Flair seemed a little lost at times and executed the low tackle on Masters only just within an acceptable amount of time so that Chris didn’t look too stupid waving a sledgehammer over his head for no reason. Even though there was a good chance the turn on Flair was coming, no one (well, possibly Kurt) does intense and mental like HHH and he showed that even a predictable angle can still be shocking if you believe in it and perform it with as much passion as possible. Of course, having Ric Flair bleeding at your feet like a busted bottle of sauce doesn’t hurt either. Like it or not, The Game is back. Let’s see if anyone’s been listening to us.
The only thing that I thought was missing from the ‘legends’ segment was some introductions. They should have played that Wrestlemania music they use for Linda McMahon and had them walk to the ring in a sort of parade with the Fink announcing them by name as they came through the curtain. Without it they just looked like an elderly tour-bus group who’d wandered to the ring by mistake looking for the concession stand. Other than that it worked fine. Conway sauntered out, leaving a slug-trail behind him, and let the veterans prove they’ve still got ‘lead in their pencils’ by dusting off a few old moves to a nice pop from the audience. Personally, I would have included Orton in this part of the show. Imagine the carnage.
I appreciate that there’s a glaring contradiction in trying to artistically critique a ‘bra and p… p…’ (nope, still can’t say it) match but I’m having a difficult time figuring this one out. Forget for a second the cheapness of the gimmick and look at it from a supply and demand point of view. We already knew that we were going to see the women in their underwear so, as ephemerally enjoyable as that was, it wasn’t going to be enough to make it the main reason for the match. It needed a hook, a spot, some moment or occurrence that was above that which had been assured and would either lead the crowd to the pop (so to speak) or be the pseudo-salve to make up for a loss. But there was no moment. On paper, the match went like this: clothes coming off, clothes coming off, clothes coming off … oh look, we’ve won! If the writers aren’t going to include a reason other than ‘female flesh’ then they might as well have the women do two laps of the squared circle like the ring-card girls in boxing and then back to the hotel for off-camera champagne and pillow fights (we know you girls do that when us guys aren’t around, I saw it in a documentary once. At least, I think it was a documentary). I suppose it also doesn’t help if the women are wearing not a lot more than lingerie before the match even started. It’s hard to apply the puritanical embarrassment of being disrobed when they’re not being sufficiently covered by their street clothes in the first place.
This is the spot that suffered most from its place on the card. The aborted Smackdown six-man match was a decent angle and looks set to be the progenitor for some cross-branded shenanigans (man I love that word) but, at the time when what the show desperately needed was to get back to basics and have a good, solid wrestling match, it had a deflating effect on the crowd. Enhanced by the fact that there was nothing surrounding it of sufficient quality to cushion the blow of losing the match. I’m not so short-sighted that I can’t see the bigger picture. I understood the reasoning behind the Hardy stoppage and the Benoit quick finish at Summerslam but I also know that it was placed at the very start of a strong card with enough time to clear its palate before the bits of the show where the crowd were expected to come alive. Having said that, I still feel it was a shocking waste of talent.
Did Hogan really have to go to all that trouble just to put the thought of a match between him and Austin into our consciences? I would have settled for an email or a small paragraph in the obituary columns (“In loving memory of people’s interest in a brown-as-shite has-been, which died many years ago”). The least he could have done was kept his damn shirt on. Anyway, once again Hogan gets high gain for low effort and looks set for another big pay off. Seriously, does no one know how to flush the toilet in the WWE?
The only thing that could potentially have saved the Cena/Bischoff match was well-written interference that made it look at times as if Bischoff might actually win and an exhaustive struggle of the underdog spirit that Cena supposedly portrays. But again it was light on emotion, short in length and at no point did it feel as if Cena would lose his title. The double run-in brawl after the match salvaged something from the segment and ended the show on a mild positive but it was too little way too late.
Using the segments that the writers had planned, here’s the order in which I would have booked it: Austin/McMahons, Smackdown abort, Edge/Hardy, legends/Conway, lingerie, Angle/HBK, Hogan, Cena/Bischoff, Piper/Foley/Orton, HHH tag (I would have booked the Iron man match last if it wasn’t for the walk away ending). At least this way it starts with the ‘smartest’ moment, ends with the moment with the most impact and is a decent rollercoaster ride from start to finish. You not only have to look at the overall picture but at each segment within its own skin. That ethos applies especially to this week’s Raw because it was billed as a celebration and didn’t carry much of the creative lineage to which a regular show tries to adhere. But, as any wide receiver worth his salt will tell you, you take your eye off the ball mostly when you think there’s no chance you can drop it. For me, the lasting image of the homecoming show will be of four McMahons lying face down in the ring. It’s not ironic (because ‘beaten’ and ‘successful’ aren’t necessarily opposites) but it is poignant that the four pillars of the company lie spent and broken at the hands of the man that epitomises the prosperity of their company. Even if you hate everything the McMahon family represents, you’ve got to admire what they’ve put into the business.