Holy shit, Raw was bad this week. Almost all of the good work they’d built up over the last five weeks vanished in two hours of bad performances and terrible planning. As with any pile of crap there were a few attractive blooms to appease the eye but nowhere near enough to distract attention away from the vast amounts of dung on display.
Let’s start at the end. Kurt Angle. I know it’s unusual to paragraph his name like that but I’m keen to introduce him to the Raw writing team just in case they haven’t a clue who he is. Even though I was against it, I could see the point of Bischoff taking the lead heel position when Jericho was the number one contender for Cena’s WWE title. Y2J had been out of the main event for quite some time, questions remained about his ability to carry a top-line feud and he was leaving the company to pursue other interests. But now they’re doing it with Kurt Angle and he doesn’t need anyone, especially Bischoff, to play the brain to his muscle. If anything, the idea of working Cena only against Bischoff shows a lack of faith in the champ and, with his current saccharin gimmick, it is probably needed. With Cena as title-holder, Kurt shouldn’t be the number one contender because he’s too intense and too aggressive to put against such a corporate face champion. Unfortunately, WWE creative have deemed that the best solution to this dilemma is to make Eric the most hated man on Raw and push Kurt into a position where his servitude to Bischoff makes him appear less of a threat so Cena can still throw the double horns and not look like a little kid playing games in a man’s world. Here’s a thought … MAKE KURT CHAMPION instead. Until they take the belt off Cena, no challenger will be allowed to take the focus away from the champ’s commercial appeal for fear of exposing just how basic and lazy Cena has become. I couldn’t believe how ineffectual some of his punches were during the match. You’d never catch Kurt, HHH or The Rock (in his prime) putting so little effort into so many aspects of their performances. He barely breaks out of jogging speed from start to finish and the fact that nearly every move is pre-empted by a nod or a wink to the crowd is becoming so grinding that you wish he’d screw up in the hope that he’d be too embarrassed to do it next time. I’ve tried so hard not to dislike Cena because the guy’s got talent but as time wears on and there’s no sign of him increasing his work rate or rediscovering the edge that got him to this point then I’ll continue to push for his title loss and demotion down the card.
Up until last night’s show I was hoping for either Kane or Big Show to get the vote for the main event at Taboo Tuesday based solely on the idea that HBK is the shoe-in for the spot and I like things to be stirred up occasionally. I now retract that statement. Vote HBK. Big Show did everything that was asked of him during the opening triple threat match but he also showed that in a salvage situation (which is possible based on the Angle/Cena Raw match) he is under-equipped to turn a three-star match into a four or a five. But then we knew that already. What we did learn last night is that Kane is not only finished as a gimmick but also as a wrestler. I’ve made snide remarks about him being a ‘klutz’ and a ‘plodder’ before but his physical offering was akin to the sort of Raw performance that earned Jackie Gayda a year in OVW. The best wrestlers in the world have mistimed or bungled moves at some point but Kane’s botched belly-to-back and missed leap into ‘Sweet chin music’ were exclusively a result of lethargy and a sheer lack of effort. Personally, I was more annoyed with an example that was less noticeable. Towards the end of the contest he threw Michaels over the top rope with all the vigour of a dead badger and it just left you with the feeling that if he’s not going to be bothered to try then why should you bother to watch him? I recently suggested that what Kane needed to do to please the fans again was put the mask back on or move to Smackdown. The only thing relating to Kane that will please me now is his contract release. I would commend HBK on his attempts to carry the match but his efforts barely made a dent in how badly it came across and this match, combined with the Raw finale, has surely done more harm than good in building up Taboo Tuesday and fan’s interest in its main event.
I’m not going to analyse Vince’s award-winning performance during the JR surgery sketch for one simple reason. It was childish, gratuitous and (despite my better judgement) so funny that I laughed like JBL at a Klan rally. Okay, it was a few lame jokes too long and it was just the kind of self-indulgent crap that fuels almost all anti-McMahon sentiment but did you really expect anything less from Vince? As much as I am a fan of wrestling, I’d much rather watch the owner of a billion-dollar company act like a twat with the sole intention to piss as many people off as possible than sit through another Eugene/legend/Conway segment.
I said in my last Raw column that Austin was put with Steph because they work well together in vocal exchanges. Maybe I was missing the point. The segments between them, and even Steph’s promo return to Raw the week after Homecoming, worked because they had a very specific point to them and all the chatter, no matter how banal or trivial, funnelled towards that destination. This time, it seems to have been done because no one could think of a better way of keeping the McMahon/JR/Austin storyline going in Steve’s absence. Even Foley seemed a little pissed off to be included in it, which is probably why he did a better job than anyone else in the segment. It also explains why it became a transitional item (Coach/Austin > Coach/Steph > Steph/Foley > Foley/Carlito). If you can’t come up with one good idea, throw four at it and see if one of them sticks. Have you noticed how the worse a segment is (and presumably expected to be) the more cleavage Steph displays? If she ever runs a feud with Snitsky then she’ll have to be balls-out naked on a weekly basis.
JBL was Smackdown’s fly in the Raw ointment again this week, putting in an appearance primarily to lure Masters out to the parking lot so Rey Mysterio could do a number on Lita (I wonder if it was the same number as Edge did on her?) Again, the lack of interaction wore the segment down and by the time Rey stormed the ring to do his moves it was a good pop from the crowd but more out of relief that finally something was actually happening. Unless Vince really believes that the branding means anything to most fans other than red and blue, it’s illogical to have three Raw heels in the ring and one Raw heel (Bischoff) accompanied by a Smackdown heel on the big screen with no one to enliven the masses until the last moment. I’m not asking for an endless stream of Hogan clones to come saluting down the ramp so the audience can roar themselves hoarse doing the “USA” chant, but the heel/face divide is stronger than ever and a cheap pop works wonders every five or ten minutes.
Last week the segment involving Flair and HHH benefited from ending prematurely and the angle was different from what was expected. This week however, it worked against us in two respects. Firstly, we lost out on a wrestling match, which was badly needed at the time (yes, even one containing Viscera). Secondly, rather than something new or unexpected, we were treated to the classic ‘mildly successful pull apart’ spot, which never works because if it goes on for too long it becomes boring and unrealistic and if it’s too short … well, this is the WWE after all, so an idea or angle is never underplayed. Whether you wanted HHH back, didn’t want him back or were okay as long as he didn’t make a beeline straight for the title again, this feud deserves better than a page from the wrestling 101 playbook.
I enjoyed the match between Victoria and Mickie James and the latter’s ability to wrestle a good match so close to her debut should alert management to the shortcomings of pushing Diva Search winners (and losers) into Raw matches so early in their ‘careers’. After last week’s awkwardness between Stratus/Ashley/James, I was glad to see the sides reset with a fairly straightforward victory for our plucky divas. James doesn’t need to turn heel yet.
Just as the three female heels are playing second fiddle to what’s going on between Stratus and James, tag champions Cade and Murdoch took a back seat this week to whatever they’re doing with Gregory Helms and the dissolution of the superhero team. Rosey was forced to face the champs single-handed as Helms, now out of his Hurricane costume, stood on the ramp and watched disapprovingly. I’m in favour of adding some extra colour to the division if only, as it appears, to end up losing another tag team but Cade and Murdoch are still new champions and they should be the primary focus of the tag ranks. Also, once again a feud has been started that, demonstrated quite nicely this week, shifts the focus away from the wrestling rather than incorporating it into the fabric of the storyline. Of course, if the intention is to keep them as a tag team without the superhero element, as opposed to splitting them up, then I would be in favour of that. For now. But we need more teams.
Whilst it is true that there wasn’t enough wrestling on the show, that shouldn’t automatically equate to a bad episode of Raw. For the most part, Raw failed because it relied too heavily on that which had been done in previous weeks and assumed that tacitly or explicitly referencing these issues (JR, Austin, Evolution) would be enough to carry some weak segments. It also suffered from giving the live crowd so little to cheer about (an archaic idea is these modern times but still applicable) to the point where little if anything would please them. Add to that some poor in-ring performances and some meaningless banter and you’ve not got a lot to get excited about. I still believe that Raw is heading in a better direction, despite what for me was a bad show, so I hope that this acts as a reminder to WWE creative that not one week out of fifty-two can be allowed to ride on the coattails of the others. And certainly not this close to a PPV.