I find it difficult to be objective when reviewing a ‘tour’ episode of Raw because it feels so different from the usual US circuit shows. Add to that the obvious tweaks and sneaks employed when presenting a show that is taped earlier that day and you end up with a Raw that leaves you with the feeling that you are watching a show from a few months ago. That sizzle of live anticipation is gone and you can’t help but realise that nothing is going to shock or surprise you because, if there was, they would have edited it out long before broadcast. Having said that, Raw was a pretty good show, if a little confused. But I’ll come back to that later.
The show opened with Bischoff bringing his troops out to the ring (albeit fifty-yards behind them) and they chatted amongst themselves until Team Smackdown arrived looking for retribution for the attack on Batista two weeks ago. As the parking lot brawl ensued, Batista was brutally attacked by a sound effect in a scene to expensive to film and was rushed to a nearby warm bus. JBL took exception to this and interrupted a match between Conway and Tajiri, which landed him a spot in the main event against HBK in a Lumberjack match. Credit goes to Michaels who did everything humanly possible to make this an enjoyable main event but as usual the lumberjack stipulation takes more than it adds and the crowd got less and less interested until the final stages. The major saving grace was the all-in brawl at the end that led to Batista’s return. Every moment that made up the imbroglio was highlighted and presented in its own time so that there were many medium-sized cheers rather than one big one that fizzled out early. I was trying to think where I had seen something like this before and it took me a while to work out that it was actually the opposite I was seeking. The brawl at the end of ECW’s One Night Stand was a complete mess and all of the individual spots got blended into one and the effect was lost. Looks like the writers are learning something at least. Anyway, Dave came back and cleaned house to a nice pop and a satisfactory end to the show.
If proof were needed that no one in the WWE reads my column, Daivari was named as Kurt Angle’s permanent gimmick referee. How in the name of Eugene’s crack-pipe is Kurt supposed to get over as a legitimate wrestling champion when (WHEN, not IF he wins the title from Cena) he seems so relieved to have help in his corner? Kurt doesn’t need a biased ref or a bitter General Manager to fight his battles for him. Just give him the damn belt and push good wrestlers to the number one contendership. Whatever. Maybe Daivari will be a blessing in disguise and be the catalyst for the title change. I like Daivari. I hope we see a lot more of him as a character and as a wrestler. But please put Kurt over Cena clean and in such a way that makes him look like a wrestling machine. And not like a whining coward with no teeth and a head like a sweaty gonad. Angle’s match with Shelton Benjamin was exactly what you’d expect from these two. Fast, smooth, precise (apart from the minor stutters late on) but anytime you put these two guys together and don’t give them the time or the platform to do what they do best then their skills are wasted and ultimately I felt a little cheated out of another five-star match between them. I liked Cena’s backstage promo (not just because of the obvious) but I still felt he played it too slowly (as if leaving gaps for the Cena chant to break out) and too many cheap pops at the end. I liked Cena best when he didn’t like us. If the ‘Cena sucks’ chant keeps going long enough, maybe he won’t?
Flair and HHH feuded at distance again this week with differing results. Ric was given a card-filler with Murdoch and it neither disappointed nor amazed. It was just there. As was Murdoch’s ass. On reflection, I could have happily avoided seeing both. Would a little bit of reason for the match been too much to ask? Maybe a misplaced word backstage or a spilt cup of coffee? I guess not. HHH promised a demonstration later in the night and duly demonstrated that Val Venis has nowhere near as much stroke as HHH in the WWE. From a wrestling point of view, these matches should have been the other way round. HHH/Venis would have given us the far better out-of-feud contest and Flair could have shown that he’s still the dirtiest player in the game with a cheating clinic to beat Murdoch. Not to worry.
I guess the lesser talents have to take centre stage in the women’s division occasionally, otherwise matches from the Trish/Victoria/James triangle would become monotonous, but I was spared endowing Candice Michelle with her first wrestling performance critique as she had very little to do in her match with Mickie James. With what she was given to do she looked comfortable and confident so if the training persists while she offers her best side (the inside) to the pages of Playboy next year then I see no reason why she can’t make a competent performer. Mickie continues to do a solid job in the ring and throws a lot of enthusiasm and understanding into her gimmick so I look forward to the time that she turns heel and realises her WWE potential. The big news for me is the proposed match between Trish and Melina for the women’s title at Survivor Series. Primarily because this match is unique on the card and promises what none of the other inter-promotional matches at the PPV can. Continuation. With no long-term ramifications attached to the ten-man elimination match or the battle of the General Managers, the brand crossovers could conceivably end on Sunday and the two shows would go back to their separate days and separate storylines. But if Melina wins the women’s title from Trish then the in-built revenge and customary title rematch would maintain a connection between the two shows. Of course, if Vince had any brains (insert comment here) then Sunday’s PPV won’t be the end of the Raw/Smackdown feud anyway and it should intensify as the weeks and months progress.
The confusing bit I alluded to earlier refers to this idea that heels and faces are interacting within the context of Raw versus Smackdown. We’re told as often as the WWE can possibly manage that the divide between good and bad is blurred and they merely present us with ‘athletes’ at which we can cheer or jeer depending on how we feel. A reasonable point relating to individuals but, applied to a crowd mentality, it does far more harm than good. Take this week, for example, when the Raw team were reminding Bischoff that he doesn’t control their actions. Big Show received decent applause for putting Eric in his place but then got no reaction to his bragging about putting Batista out of action. I’m not a puritanical enforcer of the heel/face divide but if it gets to the point where fans are stifling a response because their stance is contradictory then it’s an unnecessarily messy construct. Conversely, the WWE’s best feuds this year have come from a strong reaffirmation of the old good and bad principle (Mysterio/Guerrero, Angle/HBK, Batista/HHH). The only solution I can find to this problem is to push the positives and negatives of each team member above that of the team ethic and try not to promote the idea that they are magically best buddies now. I think it would make it more interesting if the wrestlers couldn’t even trust their own team-mates, let alone the other side.
I was also pleased to see Joey Styles brought back to call Raw. Hopefully this is a sign that Vince has the intention of making a major long-term commitment to Styles, and Joey will make the same commitment to the WWE. Happily, I don’t care about people disagreeing with me on this point. Just as long as Styles gets the job, then I couldn’t care less.
I’m surprised the WWE planned to produce its flagship shows on foreign soil so close to Survivor Series as the chances of it presenting any meaningful build up to the PPV on tour was negligible. I enjoyed watching the show and it seemed the live crowd got enough out of the event to make it worth the money but the WWE has long treated international tours as a chance to put on matches that bear no resemblance to what is actually happening on WWE television. True, most of the matches on the show were pertinent to current events, but it still felt like a dream. And tomorrow you’ll wake up and nothing will have changed in the real world.