It’s difficult to know whether to lay the blame for last night’s Raw solely at the feet of the WWE. Firstly, it wasn’t a terrible show and was a damn sight more watchable than last week’s effort but the broadcast relied on some short-term solutions and not all of them can be blamed on some swift but necessary changes of personnel.
The opening segment was good stuff. I’m a fan of when faces are the instigators of action because it’s more of a surprise than when the heels do it and Mysterio’s mic-shot to Master’s dyed noggin was a perfect example. The Raw/Smackdown brawl was short and sweet, though Christian’s presence did carry all the unreal aura of seeing a ghost. But I’ll come back to him later in the week. It is odd that Vince has shown no small amount of contempt for those who think the brand split continues to be a bad idea, yet the rolling appearance on Raw of the enemy roster, now coupled with Batista’s involvement, shows that he understands how important using the best talent from both shows is for the prosperity of his product.
Coach calling out Austin was just another chance for Vince to prove that, on WWE tv at least, you still don’t cross the boss. I don’t know the ins and outs of the what caused the breakdown of this already tenuous working relationship but it does demonstrate the dangers of using part-time talent with nothing left to prove. Especially considering that Hogan was allowed to dredge up the same ticker-tape nostalgia in the run up to Summerslam and he was given a clean victory over the still-active Shawn Michaels, a considerably ‘harder’ proposition that Austin’s intended conqueror. Goldust looked good and seemed to enjoy his spot on the show. Vader looked like Vader and seemed to enjoy his spot eating everything that moved for the last few years. Upon leaving the ring, Vader tripped over an imaginary ham, dispelling the myth that ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’. If you need a replacement friend for JR then I guess Batista is the man, although it looks as if the ‘JR returning to Raw’ stipulation has been dropped, which does make you wonder why this match is going ahead at all. It also severely reduces Coach’s chances of coming away with the tainted but meaningful three-count. Note to WWE: after Vader’s balance issues, will you let Vader powerbomb Batista and run the risk of accidentally injuring him? He had a poor reputation with that move in WCW when he was relatively coordinated.
I enjoyed the Angle/Tajiri match, though it is annoying when you consider how great a match these two could put on given the time and the right slot. Furthermore, I know the idea is to build up Kurt’s ‘monster’ status but he isn’t one and he never will be. Kurt’s strengths lie in his technical ability and his determination to prevail and that can only be highlighted if he’s tested with a long match that carries some importance and the potential for him to lose. Having no build up to the contest and no highly-motivated desire to destroy Tajiri just makes Kurt look like he’s abandoned his ascent up the ziggurat for nothing better than a notch in the win column. Tajiri should have done something to distract Kurt away from his championship focus (green mist?) as a reason for the match and then Angle’s displaced aggression could have been presented as him using Tajiri as a surrogate Cena for the night.
Speaking of the champ, Cena only did one thing that bugged me this week but it was a good one. During his promo, Cena’s character claimed that Kurt had “sold out” and then, not six seconds later, he did the cheapest of cheap pops to the great fans of Anaheim, California. I know duplicity is not high on most people’s ‘reasons to dislike Cena’ list but for me it’s this type of contradiction that makes his gimmick so patently unworkable. Other than that I had no major problems with Cena on Raw. The rest of his promo (intentionally or accidentally) showed some fear and respect for the situation, rather than the usual grinning arrogance, and he wrestled a good match with HBK. A word of caution to those Cena-haters who have used his partly-negative crowd reaction as ammunition for their beliefs. You are aligning yourself with the same mob-mentality that pops big for Hogan and LOD but barely rouses for good wrestlers like Benjamin or the newly-departed Christian. Just because an audience’s opinion happens to coincide with an aspect of the truth, doesn’t mean it’s using a collective intelligence greater than ‘the desire to annoy’ to achieve that outcome.
HHH and Flair feuded at distance this week, the former finally getting around to squashing the giant bug he should have wrestled last time. His ‘match’ against Viscera had little of note other than the incredible sight of HHH bashing Vis in the head with the ring steps so violently that his head seemed to have disappeared into his chest. Either that or Vis had suffered the same head-shrinking voodoo curse as Beetlejuice. As usual, Hunter talked for two sentences too long and walked over his point but he had more of a spot than Flair whose sole job this week seemed to be to say the word “cage” again. We get it WWE, you want us to vote for a cage match.
When Mick Foley emerged from one of the production trucks claiming that he had a surprise for Carlito, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that we would once again be treated to a bit of ‘three faces of Foley’ video trickery. However, unlike the first attempt prior to Cactus Jack’s MSG return against HHH in 1997 (which was cleverly done, funny and entertaining) this came across as cheap, amateurish and a wasted opportunity to create another classic Raw moment. Without wishing to get technical, the morphing effect looked like it had been done on Windows 95, the ‘whooshing’ sound effect was surely made by someone sitting in front of a microphone and going “whoosh” and the promo itself contained no menace, was too short and went nowhere. WWE writers need to realise that having a good idea isn’t enough to create a good segment and the subsequent time should be spent making the best of that good idea, not slapping themselves on the back in self-congratulation.
The Diva segment this week was shallow and tawdry (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but it did highlight the current problem with the division. Just like when Edge was feuding with Kane while Hardy was returning several months ago, the lead feud (Stratus/James) is nicely bubbling under the surface but it does make the actual heels (Victoria/Candice/Torrie) mostly redundant until Mickie goes completely mental and attacks the women’s champion. And even then it is more likely that James will go solo rather than join the heel faction. Oh, and why did they give Candice the bumps rather than a traditional wrestling move? Was it her birthday? If it was, numerical convention would suggest that she’s only five years old.
It’s a shame that Romeo and non-Romeo of the Heart Throbs didn’t come dressed as Bo and Luke from the Dukes of Hazzard because Big Show’s beard and Kane’s bald head are an obvious homage to Uncle Jessie and Boss Hogg. Still, only two weeks into Kane’s demonic ‘I’m back’ pretensions and he’s already buddying up to Big Show and displaying affable character traits. As for those fans who emailed me last week saying that Kane’s poor performance was down to his back injury: depending on which move you believe was the cause, he was still desperately under-enthusiastic for either half or three-quarters of the contest and that still doesn’t excuse the vast majority of his WWE matches.
I would complain that they gave away the legends tag match at Taboo Tuesday by having a singles match between Eugene and Rob Conway on Raw, but to ‘give away’ suggests somebody has benefited from an occurrence and that damn sure wasn’t me.
With regard to Taboo Tuesday, seeing as promoting the show would have been this episode’s number one priority, the WWE has been left looking overconfident and slightly casual. You can’t tell me that no one behind the scenes was worried coming into the pre-PPV weekend that Austin was still pushing this idea that he should win the match, which would then lead to JR’s eventual reinstatement as the voice of Raw. Especially when you take into account that Vince had no intention of either of these events happening. Add to that having to remove one name from the proposed card at the last minute (Torrie Wilson) and the possibility of a soon-to-be gone star performing in a PPV match (Christian) and it all seems a bit … well … WCW? You are your own worst enemy and if the WWE forget this then they will do far more harm to their product than TNA or whoever could ever do.