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Losing Focus
February 24, 2003

by Erin Anderson
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Remember last fall, when Smackdown! had a habit of metaphorically spanking Raw's ass week after week? It was by far the superior show of the two; one only has to look at last year's No Mercy for a quick reminder. Smackdown! gave us what was probably the best match of the year (Edge and Rey Mysterio v. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit). Raw gave us RVD v. Ric Flair, which had been thrown together six days before the pay-per-view. Smackdown! gave us a bloody and entertaining Hell in a Cell match between Brock and the Undertaker; Raw gave us Triple H v. Kane, in the conclusion of one of the worst angles in WWF/E history.

What made Smackdown! so great in that period of time? The tag title tournament was a big help, but then again, so were the men involved: Angle, Benoit, Edge, Mysterio, and the Guerrerros -- a group of men seemingly incapable of having a bad match. Chavo, Edge and Angle may be out right now, but Angle will be back next week. Throw in Team Angle, Rhyno, John Cena, a Brock Lesnar who seems to gain an iota of personality as each week passes, an increasingly over FBI, Tajiri, Spanky, and Matt Hardy, and you've got what looks like a killer roster. With talent like that, Smackdown! can do no wrong, right?


Well, the past month has seen a string Raws that left the Thursday night shows eating dust. What the hell is going on here? Why is Raw seemingly so much better than Smackdown! at this point? The matches aren't as good. The roster, on the whole, isn't chock full of in-ring wizards. Sure, the Raw guys are generally much more established on the mic and capable of giving us some entertaining skits, but isn't this supposed to be wrestling?

So as I always do when I have such a wrestling dilemma, I consulted my strangely lovable brother on the issue. He always did have a unique way of simplifying wrestling matters for me. And what did "Bert" have to say?

"Smackdown! is boring. Raw isn't."

A-ha! I knew there was something, I just couldn't quite put my finger on it. When I asked my brother to elaborate further, he simply shook his head and shrugged. With that nugget of wisdom bestowed upon me, I sat down and got to thinking: what makes Raw so much more entertaining than its Thursday night counterpart? Why is Smackdown! lagging?

The answer is pretty simple: Smackdown! is procrastinating. They don't have a pay-per-view for another six weeks. They're slacking off, dammit. I liken it to waiting until the night before final exams to start cramming, and the results usually aren't pretty.

Raw, on the other hand, was forced to shift into high gear to get ready for Badddd Bloooood (did I add enough extra letters? WWE likes doing that for some reason), with only four weeks after Backlash to prepare for its first brand-specific pay-per-view. We've got two weeks left, but most of the matches are already set: Kevin Nash v. Triple H, Chris Jericho v. Goldberg, Flair v. HBK, Booker v. Christian, and Kane and RVD v. les Geeks Français. Throw in the obligatory women's match and the probable Steiner v. Test, and you've got a pay-per-view that's well-planned, with strong storylines backing up nearly every match. The matches themselves might not be astonishing feats of athletic prowess, but at least the booking committee isn't flying by the seat of its pants.

It's the storytelling that has made our Monday nights so entertaining over the past month -- clear, focused storytelling that is all converging on Bad Blood. On the Smackdown! side of things, I'm really not sure where the hell any of the feuds are going, or what matches we'll see on the first SD!-only pay-per-view. The shows should slowly build up over the weeks, setting up for the massive blow-up that a pay-per-view should be. Instead, the creative staff is slacking off on their studying, which can lead to only one thing: bombing the final.

I had a lot of trouble remaining interested in Smackdown! last night, and now I know why. Unlike the previously mentioned tag title tournament last year (all of which focused on the final showdown at No Mercy), most of the skits and matches didn't seem to have a point. There were two notable exceptions, which I'll discuss later.

The lie-detector test was the focus of the show, but I never got the sense that the skit was setting up any type of conclusion in the foreseeable future. Yes, McMahon's massive failure of the test was funny. But where is any of this going? Is this setting up some kind of big payoff match? Sure, you could argue that this is WWE's way of creating a slow-burn feud to be resolved at a future date. Instead, it looks like WWE's way of stretching out an angle to milk it for every cent that it's worth. That sort of thing can backfire easily; spending so much time per show on Hogan/McMahon can wear the fans' patience thin after a while, or at least make them apathetic to it.

And where does Sean O'Haire fit into all of this? He's supposedly getting pushed, but I don't see how a) winning a match via count-out and b) defeating Chris Benoit with outside interference is doing anything to establish him as a force to be reckoned with. Will he have a match at the pay-per-view? If so, with whom? There are two realistic options as of now:

1. Mr. America: Hogan isn't likely to lay down for Piper's new buddy -- at least not without any outside interference -- which won't do anything for O'Haire's credibility. Besides, we already saw this match last week. It didn't exactly blow the roof off the place.

2. Zach Gowen: A Catch-22. Zach can't afford to lose a match like this and still be taken seriously, and O'Haire can't afford to lose a match like this and be taken seriously. Everyone loses in this scenario.

Also last night, we saw the debut of the Basham Brothers. Who the hell are these guys? No backstage skit with Stephanie to at least introduce the audience to Smackdown's newest tag team, no vignettes to hype them up, no teasers by Tazz and Michael Cole… nothing. I could hear crickets chirping in the distance upon their entrance. All we know about these two is that they're bald, they're brothers (at least on TV), they wear leather pants, and they cheated to defeat the random pairing of Rikishi and Spanky. That's not the best way to build up a new tag team.

Torrie and Sable are wandering along as aimlessly as the rest of the Smackdown! roster. There's no end in sight to their epic Battle of the Playboy Centerfolds, and throwing Tazz into the mix isn't helping matters any. Unless this is setting up a Tazz and Torrie v. Sable handicap match, which I would personally find hilarious.

The lack of focus in Smackdown's storytelling is dragging down the show, but there were a few bright spots. Rey Mysterio's promo and subsequent interruption by Matt Hardy put the spotlight, if only briefly, on the cruiserweight belt and its importance. Pitting Hardy against Mysterio is a brilliant move; those two are more over than any of the cruiserweights in WWE, and a cruiserweight feud between two performers that the fans care about gives the CW division more recognition than it has seen since its heyday in WCW. Mysterio needs to drop the "Yo, dawg" vibe of his promos, though, or else he'll end up sounding like Randy Jackson (you know, the fat judge on American Idol).

And of course, there's the Kurt Angle video that left most of the smarks drooling. The hype surrounding his return is huge, and there are a million different directions that the writers can go with this one. Face or heel? Angle could conceivably return as a babyface, judging from the tone of his vignettes these past few weeks. He could turn on Team Angle for disgracing his name by losing the tag belts in his absence. He could return as a heel with more fan respect than he had coming in, ditching his inherent goofiness and instead presenting himself as a more focused, intense competitor.

Perhaps Angle's return can be the turning point in Smackdown's meandering efforts to create a coherent show. The creative team needs a good kick in the ass to capitalize on the extra time they have before the first SD! pay-per-view, and Kurt Angle might be just the man to supply it. Or, they could try cramming for the big test, and fail due to lack of preparation.


Erin Anderson is an Atlanta native and a student at Georgia State University. Since writing about wrestling didn't go over too well with her English professors, she vents here at Online Onslaught.

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