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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
Big Show In, Lashley Out, Royal Rumble
Preview, and Lots, Lots More.... 
January 24, 2008

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

It sure as hell is turning our to be a great year to be a Hoosier by birth and a Flyer by choice. I can't remember caring this much about college hoops this late into January since....
 

Well... since ever, really. And I say that as a man who enjoys the collegiate brand of basketball enough that I'll still watch games without any teams I care about. So you can imagine my glee as both the Indiana Hoosiers and Dayton Flyers are ranked in the top 20 and kicking some serious ass.

In fact, the Flyers' success has caused me to contract some

sort of virulent disease. Or maybe it's more a psychological disorder. It's kind of like OCD, where the only thing I'm obsessively compulsive about is UD basketball. It's Flyers-on-the-brain 24/7, it seems like. Having the same conversations, watching on as others have the same conversations and talk in circles and not even minding, trolling message boards for the slightest fresh detail about an injury, visiting RealTimeRPI.com about 6 times every night to monitor things (and about 30 times a day on Saturdays), tracking all bracketology and projections and maintaining a mental list of who is giving Dayton and the A-10 Conference proper respect (and who isn't).

I'm not kidding: it's like a full-time job. Such is life when your team is doing things like (1) savaging both Louisville and Pitt on ESPN, (2) getting off to its best start since the 1950s, (3) getting love in the polls, (4) hovering around #10 in the RPI, and so forth. It may be a lot of working keeping up, but if the option is a return to the mediocre Flyers of old, I don't ever want this chore to end.

Next on the To-Do List: getting Flyered up for an A-10 Showdown with the hated Musketeers of Eggsavier. Two top-20 teams battling for conference dominance. Even as the rational part of my mind realizes that two of UD's four best players are out with broken bones, and that we haven't won at Eggsavier in my lifetime, the OCD part of me couldn't care less, and expects nothing short of victory tonight.

Oh, and when I say "hated Musketeers," I mean it. I have an endless supply of hatred for Eggsavier, and I'll take joy in their agony. My hatred, if anything, is doubled this year. Tying it all back together to being Hoosier by Birth and Flyer by Choice, you may have noticed Indiana is rolling with only one loss. Guess who's the only team to beat them all season. You got it: Eggsavier. Boo! Hisssssssss! HATE~!

I guess I also tend to get pretty excited for the Royal Rumble every year, and that's this weekend, too. So maybe let's cut the chit-chat and look at the big show and all the other News o' the Day:

  • Seems as though the ECW Title is a lightning rod of newsworthiness here today. Not only did the belt change hands this week (more on that later), but two former ECW champions are making headlines as WWE's first major roster moves of the new year.
     
    The good news first, as the Big Show has agreed to return to the company.
     
    Big Show dropped out of sight about 14 months ago, the result of an extremely painful and rapidly deteriorating lower back. His WWE contract expired several months after his disappearance from TV, leaving Show to ponder other options. In the interim period, Show was said to consider a boxing career, and was unofficially attached to perform for a hypothetical wrestling company that Hulk Hogan wants to start.
     
    But at the end of the day, there's a lot of hypothetical things out there, and the reality of cold, hard cash being offered to you by Vince McMahon. For all the options, Show's back home.
     
    Regardless of what whimsical options Show might have considered, he also accomplished one very important thing while away from WWE: he got his back fixed, and has also dropped about 100 lbs (so now he's "only" around 425 lbs) which should increase his future durability. While Show is never going to be AJ Styles, he's not incapable of having good matches (in fact, as much pain as he was in, he had several fun Extreme Rules matches right before departing in late 2006), which is a probability that only increases the better shape Show is in. By all accounts, he hasn't been in this kind of shape since 2002.
     
    Show is like Jericho, in a lot of ways: not only does he bring an almost wholly-unique package of skills to the table, but he's an instantly credible main eventer who is also a familiar face for any lapsed/casual fans. We've hashed and rehashed WWE's developmental woes of the past 5 years enough, so suffice to say that it can't hurt to have another recognizable star on TV from back when WWE was, you know, watched by twice as many people are watching it today. 
     
    Where Show might deviate from being "like Jericho" is in terms of his return. With the deal essentially sealed, Show could conceivably make a surprise return (the Rumble would be perfect) at any time. He'd fit into the storyline of Vince McMahon trying to keep Triple H from headlining WrestleMania, or into the storyline of Vince trying to retire Ric Flair. Or into both storylines, should they become interwoven along the way. 
     
    It's common for returning stars to be welcomed as babyfaces by fans, but I think in both these cases, Big Show acting as Vince's henchman would work.
     
    Of course, as I lay all this out there, I could just be setting you all up to be disappointed, and we'll just get "Big Show Returns at WrestleMania!" vignettes, instead of some kind of unexpected surprise comeback.... oh well.
     
  • Then there's the bad news, which is that former ECW Champ Bobby Lashley has decided to leave WWE. While WWE hasn't officially announced anything, Lashley's official website confirms that he has asked for his release and will be granted it.
     
    Of course: it confirms that fact, and confirms very little else. In fact, statements from Lashley only serve to add to confusions and provide fuel for speculation. He speaks in generalities about people who have treated him unfairly, declares that "evil has prevailed," and also says that he doesn't really want to leave WWE but he has to anyway. Huh.
     
    The easiest place to start speculating would be Lashley's girlfriend, Kristal Marshall, who left WWE on less-than-ideal terms a few months ago. Some sort of lingering prickly heat over her treatment played into this, maybe? 
     
    The next place to go would be speculating about creative direction and Lashley's spot in the company. Lashley's actually been physically healed (from shoulder surgery) and ready to return for about 2 months, now, but has not been used, and apparently, hadn't even been hearing much from the company about how they intended to use him. Coming off a 2007 when he was involved in WrestleMania's signature "featured attraction" (the Vince/Trump deal), it's hard to believe WWE would intentionally sandbag Lashley... but still, six months on the shelf and not hearing much from the company might be enough to make one antsy.
     
    It could also be just as simple as Lashley having a lot of Brock Lesnar in him. By that, I mean: he looks at WWE as a job, something he can compartmentalize or turn on and off. But WWE often asks its performers to treat it more as a lifestyle than a job, and if you don't adopt that mindset, you're not WWE material. It's something that will either drive a performer to frustration, or will lead to the company "losing faith" in the performer (which, of course, can also boomerang back around and further frustrate the performer).
     
    But instead of going off on yet another tangent about the sheer retardation and insecurity manifested in WWE's (and the wrestling industry's) culture, let's stick to what this means for Lashley and WWE.
     
    For WWE: it means they lose one of the very few relatively successful and "projectable" new stars that they've introduced in the last five years. In fact, since the on-set of the Johnny Ace Era, it's really just Kennedy and Lashley that I can ever see potentially headlining PPVs. Then again, as long as Randy Orton is World Champ, the standards for what it takes to be a headliner in WWE's eyes are apparently non-existent.... but still: losing one of only two guys you have around who might serve to freshen the main event scene in the next 3 years is not a good thing.
     
    Perhaps WWE realizes this, and that's why they are going slow with the process of finalizing Lashley's release and announcing it publicly. Remember the tale of Carlito: disillusioned star wants to quit, tries to quit, but somebody, somewhere (not Johnny Ace) realizes this is a bad idea and convinces disillusioned star of his value to the company. Who knows?
     
    For Lashley: it's clear he'll have no trouble finding work. It's just a question of what kind and how well it will pay (unlike Lesnar, Lashley never really struck it big in terms of being able to stockpile 18 months worth of main eventer money before quitting WWE). MMA would be an option, for sure. But it bears mentioning that Lashley was essentially recruited into WWE by Kurt Angle. If Lashley hits the open market, I doubt very seriously that Angle wouldn't be all over Lashley again. And if anything, the atmosphere in TNA might play to Lashley's strengths (let's just say that mic is not exactly his friend, at least not yet), and unlike WWE's current top-line roster, there are even a couple of "dream match" scenarios in TNA, as both Lashley/Angle and Lashley/Joe could be special.
     
    Anyway, I guess it's not officially official until WWE announces it themselves, but from Lashley's side, this sounds like a pretty done-deal. OO wishes him the best of luck in his future endeavors.
     
  • And now to the current ECW Champ... and it's not CM Punk.
     
    Chavo Guerrero beat him in an unbelievably brief and anti-climactic match on Tuesday night's edition of ECW. Huh.
     
    What's probably most newsworthy about this is how hard I'm having to work to feel like it's newsworthy. Anybody else remember a time when the ECW Title changing hands would have been a big deal? Or a time when a major title changing hands on free TV was worth at least a double-take? Viva la brand split! Viva la C-show! Viva la boring homogenized product!
     
    I guess what is interesting to consider here is just what this means for Punk. Because Chavo's the one who pinned him and took the title. But coming out of the match, all Punk's heat is actually with Edge. Certainly, it'd be easy as pie to re-ignite the rematch with Chavo, but my feeling was that they were almost trying to elevate Punk out of the ECW Title scene by positioning him against Edge.
     
    If that's the case, it raises some questions like: did WWE decide Punk had done all he could do in ECW and it's now time to elevate him to where he can grow further? The flip side of that is whether or not this amounts to a "demotion" for Chavo, to the irrelevant brand, or if it's part of a scheme to keep the ECW/SD crossovers going in an attempt to bolster ECW's profile? If Punk's more full-time on SD, does that tell us anything about other pending roster moves (the babyface side would open up a bit for Punk if the Batista-to-RAW rumors are true)?
     
    I don't really have any answers for those questions, as Tuesday night's title change came completely out of left field and caught me by surprise... but they're certainly questions worth asking and pondering. I do know in my heart of hearts that I'd rather see Punk continue to mature on ECW, where he's got kind of the "big fish/small pond" think working for him (I still think he lacks the gravitas to pull the same thing off on either RAW or SD). Especially because (a) short of Tommy Dreamer, it's not like there are any other babyfaces fans give a shit about in ECW and (b) I had kind of gotten myself excited for the eventual series of matches between Punk and the new Shelton Benjamin for the ECW Title.
     
  • If all this talk of ECW Title changes and Edge showing up on ECW strikes you as a bit odd, I guess it isn't, really. WWE does not want ECW to become the #4 rated wrestling brand on TV, and is doing all this stunt-casting and title-changery in an attempt to boost ratings.
     
    That's because TNA has been performing quite steadily at a level a notch or so higher than where they were three months ago. In fact, the company is trumpeting the fact that last week's (01/17) edition of Impact was the most watched episode of the show, ever. In Nielsen terms, that means it did a 1.2 rating, instead of a 1.1.
     
    In statistical terms, however, it doesn't really mean jack shit, as the fluctuation is so small, and the dirty little secret that Nielsen likes keeping under wraps is that they have the same margin of error as even your finest political polls. And we know how accurate those have been lately. [Again: the value of Nielsen ratings is in watching general trends and in measuring MAJOR week-to-week deviations. It's OK to look at the numbers and accept that WWE has an audience roughly triple TNA's. But only a retard would give any significance to 0.1 fluctuations or actually take Nielsen ratings out to the second decimal seriously. It's not me who determines "statistical significance"; it's math that does it.]
     
    Still, the notion that TNA is attracting and retaining a few thousand incremental eyeballs every week is one that holds water. As such: you're seeing WWE try to fortify ECW against a possible ratings challenge from TNA. They need every ounce of help they can get: this week's ECW only drew a 1.3, which is pretty much in line with recent averages.
     
  • While on the issue of TNA, two other little newsbites:
     
    (1) You'll be seeing Brock Lesnar (in pre-tape form) on the episode of TNA preceding Lesnar's UFC debut next month. It'll acknowledge his wrestling past, and will involve Kurt Angle in some capacity. Though it'll only be a pre-done video package, this is exactly the sort of cross-promotional opporutunity Spike TV was eyeballing when all the Lesnar/UFC talk started.
     
    And (2) is a stupid bit of silly drama the company got into. TNA wanted to run a no-ropes barbed wire match at their February PPV in Greenville, SC. Problem is: the state athletic commission no-likey that idea. [Christ, if I never have to read/write about state athletic commissions thinking they belong involved in wrestling for any reason ever again, I would be a happy man.] So TNA was forced to tape that match this week at tapings in Orlando, and will have to figure out how to insert it into the PPV. 
     
    Given my comments in my last column about TNA's cable-access-caliber editing, I think you know how I feel about how smoothly that'll go.
     
  • Speaking of TV production going smoothly, the jury's apparently hung when it comes to WWE's high-definition debut this week.
     
    Technically, everything seemed to work perfectly, and those with both the equipment and the access to a cable/dish system with USA's HD channel agreed that RAW looked noticeably awesomer from the videophile perspective.
     
    Speaking as somebody with regular definition and an old tymey cathode ray tube TV set, I will say that WWE needs to shore up framing and camera angles, though. Many times throughout the night (it was worst during the Kennedy/Michaels match), things would be framed distractingly tight for those of us with 4:3 aspect ratio TVs, with things happening one or two inches off to the sides of our screens. This was clearly a case of WWE trying to take advantage of the widescreen format when they could.
     
    Ironically, however, I've gotten notes from a few people WITH the proper technology, and THEY say that one of the few downsides to the HD broadcast was that they didn't do enough with the widescreen, and there were camera shots that were badly framed and there was often a ton of "dead space" off to the sides as a result of WWE still trying to shoot the show with 4:3 in mind.
     
    So see, WWE: you're annoying BOTH types of viewers. Get on that, please.
     
    Probably my choice for fixing it easiest and fastest would be to get USA to broadcast the regular-definition version of the show letterboxed. Isn't that pretty much just the network's call whether to letterbox it or full screen it? So let's just do that, and then WWE should just focus on figuring out the widescreen format and forget 4:3 ever existed....
     
    The show itself on Monday? Bleh. The only storyline development was Triple H winning his way into the Rumble, and honestly, a more anvilicious anvil you will never find. The absolute epitome in stultifying obviousness. And, in my opinion, a HUGE missed opportunity for WWE to add some genuinely compelling texture to HHH's title chase. If Vince effectively blocked HHH from the Rumble, it makes HHH angrier and angrier. If you combine an angry and increasingly irrational HHH with a surprise Jeff Hardy title win, the drama and tension would be off the charts, I thik. HHH would want to keep his cool and pursue the title in a respectful manner; but his anger would be simmering under at all times, threatening to get the better of him.
     
    Vince could even shift gears and go all Emperor Palpatine by trying to feed HHH's anger and get him to turn on Jeff Hardy. It'd be a thing of beauty heading towards WrestleMania.
     
    But nah: HHH is in the Rumble as the result of an utterly anticlimactic and unsatisfying minor plot twist, and you know Randy Orton's keeping that WWE Title, too.
     
    A gripe about something that might surprise you: JBL and Jericho lost me the past two weeks. I get what they're trying to do, but this just isn't the time or place for it, and it just doesn't "fit" or "click." It's hard to explain, but I think the core of the issue is that they are forcing an element of "reality" that just isn't there. As fans, I think we have a sense for when we want a shot of "reality," and speaking for me, a feud as idiotically started (by JBL behaving in a nonsensical and random fashion) is NOT the place to get "real." 
     
    Now, instead of two extremely verbally-skilled personalities clashing in a crowd-pleasing Battle of Opposites, we've got cognitive dissonence. On one hand, JBL started this thing by lashing out randomly, as nothing more than the puppet of the writer monkeys; a cheap and easy way of getting to a desired outcome. But on the other hand, this isn't the creation of some writer, this is REAL, and we can prove it by having JBL and Jericho talking about Jericho's four-year-old son (even though I prefer my Jericho to have been lusting mightily for Trish Stratus four years ago, instead of siring a child). You see what I mean? It just does not compute, and as a result, there is no crowd-pleasing. Rather, it's been the opposite the past two weeks as first JBL, and then Jericho, each cut over-long, under-compelling  promos that didn't click with me and didn't seem to connect with any of the live fans, either.
     
    The one thing I do kinda like about the JBL/Jericho thing so far: Jericho clearly spent time reviewing his Ricky Steamboat video collection during his comeback preparations, and that is never a bad thing.
     
    I could break down the rest of RAW segment by segment, but I think I can sum my feelings about the show up by pointing out just two things: (1) Bob Holly is still on my TV and not only wrestled but also got to do a backstage skit, and (2) the "main event" was Randy Orton and Jeff Hardy having a handshake that (for the life of me) I can't figure out the significance of. And that was after Vince cut two separate promos about the handshake, neither of which made a lick of sense, both of which took 3 minutes to convey 0 seconds of logical content, and which utterly failed to make me give a shit about Orton, Hardy, or the handshake. That's great writing!
     
    As amazing as RAW's climax was last week (the Hardy light rig dive), this week it was almost unfathomably awful. Eh: strike that. Maybe not awful. Just mind-numbingly pointless.
     
    Ratings for the past two RAWs have been back to pre-holiday levels. After the 3.2 to start the year, last week's show did a 3.6, and this week's did a 3.6.
     
    As noted last column, January had sort of turned into a strong ratings month for WWE that past couple years. Not so this year. Instead of bumping up, things are coasting along at pretty much the same levels RAW's been at since autumn (a downturn that coincided almost exactly with Randy Orton's rise to RAW's top star, as I always love pointing out).
     
  • If you're wondering why Spanky Kendrick was by his lonesome on Monday, it's because WWE shut Paul London down two weeks ago. He'd suffered an ankle injury back in late November, but kept working through the pain for about 6 weeks. When it didn't get any better, trainers finally took a closer look and forbade him to continue working.
     
    And here's my UD Flyer OCD popping in again, because even when I'm NOT thinking about Flyer hoops, here I am haunted by improperly diagnosed stress fractures and bone bruises. Aaarrrrrrrrrgggghhhhh. Get well soon, Chris Wright.
     
    I mean: Paul London.
     
  • John Cena has been doing a round of international publicity appearances for WWE, but will soon be very busy filming a new movie. I could tell you the title and the plot and whatnot, but honestly: it's just WWE Films making "The Marine 2" in hopes of turning a profit, again. [All WWE Film releases lost money in the theatres, but "The Marine" did pretty huge business on DVD.]
     
    Pre-production is already underway, and shooting begins with Cena in New Orleans in a few weeks. The project wraps on or around May 1. Barring the need for heroic numbers of reshoots (which WERE needed for "The Marine" on the grounds that the movie, as originally shot, was so bad even the idiots at WWE Films knew it), that leaves Cena available to return to WWE by early summer if his shoulder keeps cooperating.
     
  • From the "That's Either Really Bad Planning, or Extremely Petty Nonsense" file, I wanted to let you know that TNA and ROH are going head-to-head with one another tomorrow night here in Dayton. Well, in and around Dayton.
     
    Though there's a goodly sized wrestling audience here in town, what sense is there trying to split it by running on the same night? What's even stupider is that whatever motivated the two companies to run house shows against each other on a random Friday night in Dayton, OH, means that they weren't paying attention to anything else. Like the fact that tomorrow night is also the start of the Toughman Contest here in town, and it'll outdraw BOTH their little dog-and-pony shows by an order of magnitude.
     
    You give me the choice between ROH, TNA, and Toughman, and it's Toughman every time, baby. Sure, your ticket buys you the action inside the ring, but only at Toughman does the free-flowing Pabst Blue Ribbon result in even more entertainment taking place outside of it! Real smart, ROH and TNA.... real smart.
     
  • If you were excited by the blurb in my last column about upcoming WWE DVD releases, well: sorry. The Randy Savage and Sting DVD sets originally scheduled for this summer and this holiday season, respectively, have both been shelved. Why? Because Vince McMahon said so. One of his patented random changes of heart, I guess, pulling the plug after originally green-lighting the projects.
     
    No word as yet on how other releases might be shuffled or what other projects may be inserted into the line-up (if nothing else, WWE does tend to like putting out at least one "tent pole" DVD around the holidays, and now, they'll need a new one).
     
    If you're the DVD collector type, the new Steve Austin 3-disc set is already getting some pretty rave reviews. Methinks that one'll be worth checking out, though I'm somewhat concerned that it might suffer from the same problem that Shawn Michaels' set suffered from.
     
    I've finally devoured those three discs of goodness that I got for Christmas, and despite all the great stuff on there, the one most tangible thing you're left with after watching is: apparently Shawn Michaels did nothing in 2004 or 2005. Which is funny, because one of those years, I named him OO's Wrestler of the Year. The problem, of course; Chris Benoit. A secondary problem: Kurt Angle. For the better part of 2 years, those were the guys Michaels was working with. Now, WWE has reasons for not wanting to mention either on DVD. And we're left with a documentary that goes from the "dream match" with Christ Jericho directly to tag teaming with "god."
     
    Well, not quite: they paused long enough to briefly touch on the Hogan match, but honestly: it felt like there was an hour's worth of content (all quite awesome) that belonged in there (and which might even have been produced, I dunno) that was just missing. I get it if there's kind of a statute of limitations on Benoit (though I also think it has to expire eventually, at which point, WWE, I fully expect you to send out a bonus fourth DVD to all Shawn Michaels DVD owners providing them with the make-good footage)... but man alive, if Angle is persona non grata, that sucks. An Austin DVD without entire vast expanses dedicated to Alliance Era Austin/Angle would be a travesty!
     
    I digress. Point is: no Sting or Savage DVDs. Not this year, at least.
     
  • And lastly, some Royal Rumble Preview notes...
     
    Traditionally, the Royal Rumble PPV is all about the titular 30-man match, and to hell with the rest of the show. The Rumble match is just that much fun.
     
    And it will be again this year, no doubt. But as WWE's roster has thinned over the past 4 years, and as the company tries to assemble a marketable undercard, we are, admittedly, left with very few legitimate options for winners of the Rumble match. It's been a problem for a couple of years, and it's really pronounced again this year.
     
    But whatchya gonna do? Well, short of sacking Johnny Ace and hiring competent creative team members? That's right: nothing. But hey, the weakness of the Rumble roster does mean we get some semblance of an entertaining undercard, and it also makes playing the Royal Rumble Game even more deliciously painful and fun.
     
    Honestly: who cares about the slight surge of hope you'd feel if you drew nothing but possible winners? The REAL fun starts when you invent all new swear words when you draw The Miz. And then you're surrounded by friends also forced to cheer for impotent choades like Chuck Palumbo and Bob Holly as if they were the Rock and Steve Austin. And everybody has a blast.
     
    [Long time readers should be well-aware of the Royal Rumble Game and it's rule. For the uninitiated, here's how it goes: (1) count how many people are in your group. (2) Put that number of pieces of paper in a hat, each one containing a number (1 through however many people there are). (3) Each person draws his/her number out of the hat; your will be assigned wrestlers based on this number. For instance, if you draw #3 in a five-person game, you will get entries 3, 8, 13, 18, 23, and 28. If you are #1 in a three person game, you get 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, and 28. You get the idea, right? (4) Sit on the edge of your seat and start murmurring ever time one of your wrestlers is about to enter; hope for the best, but prepare for Hornswoggle! React accordingly, and preferably profanely. (5) You accumulate points thusly: one point for every solo elimination made by your wrestler... one-half point for ever tandem/group elimination aided by your wrestler (yes, if eight men team up to get Viscera, they all get 0.5 points).... two points for each wrestler you have that makes it to the Final Four of the Rumble... an additional five points to the runner-up.... ten big points for the winner. If the scoring seems overly-simple, just trust me: it's time tested. For one, true fans will be drinking their faces off for the annuals spectacle that is the Rumble, so simple math is the best math. For two, it's actually quite an elegant set-up, with 30 points determined by eliminations, but 25 bonus points "back-loaded" into the Final Four, so that several people will almost always be vying for the point lead during End Game, which makes it all the more exciting.]
     
    [Oh, and before I forget: the game is fair and "even" with 3, 5, 6, or 10 players... meaning everybody gets the same number of wrestlers. In cases of uneven games where some players will get one less wrestler than others, it is permissible to give the handicapped players a "head start." We've done both 2 points and 1.5 points in the past, though I honestly forget what we decided on the last tie. So let's just leave that one up to you and yours to decide upon, should it come up.]
     
    Anyways, even if I always feel like the Royal Rumble game is the highlight of the event every year, we still might as well take at least a quick look at the PPV card that WWE has assembled for us:
     
    30-MAN ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
    Two men start. One more man is added every two minutes (or 90 seconds, or whatever interval is necessary to get the timing of the show right) until 30 men have entered. Then 29 men are eliminated by going over the top rope and having both feet touch the floor. The one man remaining is the winner, and goes on to WrestleMania to face the champion of his choice. 
     
    So far, WWE has only announced 24 entrants. They are: Triple H, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Batista, Ken Kennedy, Umaga, Mick Foley, Kane, Finlay, Hornswoggle, Carlito, Santino Marella, Bob Holly, Cody Rhodes, Shelton Benjamin, Tommy Dreamer, Jamie Noble, Snitsky, VIscera, Mark Henry, Great Khali, Chuck Palumbo, the Miz, and John Morrison.
     
    Clearly, this leaves plenty of room for a few surprises (as mentioned above, Big Show would work), but with six openings, you should also resign yourself to the fact that some of those slots will be going to guys like Trevor Murdoch and Spanky Kendrick, and probably not Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin..
     
    While you'll have opportunities for a few intra-match story elements (Finlay and his midget among giants; is anybody blatantly targeting HHH to keep him from winning; tension between partners, especially Holly/Rhodes, since Holly's just a dick that way), but mostly, we can cut to the chase and observe that there are only two real legitimate potential winners: Triple H and Undertaker. Michaels and Batista both have enough credibility to play through till End Game, too, but looking at the state of WWE, nobody can really view them as possible winners.
     
    HHH and Taker, though? Both are pretty obviously going on to title matches at WM, and either of them could use this  as the springboard to that match. HHH has Vince just inexplicably acting like a dick to him lately, while Taker has to deal with the fact that SD Champ Edge can duck him as long as Edge's sweetheart, Vickie Guerrero, is General Manager. They are the two men with actual obstacles between them and title shots right now, which means one of them is almost assured to get the Rumble win and the guaranteed title shot that goes with it.
     
    If it's me, I go with another win for Taker, as I think it suits the storyline of Edge being a chickenshit perfectly, and puts at least a bit of spotlight on the SD! brand. Meantime, HHH goes to RAW, where we can work on developing that last layer of "internal conflict" as he deals with anger and frustration trying to get to WM and to a title shot. Sadly, I think WWE's gonna go the other way, and thack us in the head with a bludgeoningly obvious outcome delivered via anvil, rather than via sledgehammer.
     
    EDGE vs. REY MYSTERIO (World Title Match)
    As Edge chickenshits his way through life, he sees no reason to face either Undertaker or Batista one-on-one for his title. Nah, 3-on-1 is how he's getting it done lately (with his doppleganger Edgeheads, whose names are stupid, which is why I insist on calling them Fringe and Verge), and if at all possible, he'd like fresh challengers, please.
     
    Enter Rey Mysterio, who won the title shot two weeks ago, and is a former champ himself. Sadly, he has a 0.0% chance of winning here; it's all about Edge/Taker at WM24. Still: these two guys are too awesome to not have a pretty sweet match. I expect nothing less than 20 minutes of fast paced, high flying action punctuated by the purist dickishness when Edge still decides he'd like to cheat to win.
     
    RANDY ORTON vs. JEFF HARDY (WWE Title Match)
    I mentioned this last column, and I'll underscore it here: Jeff Hardy now stands before you as a completely legitimate option to be WWE Champion. All the baggage from the past, all the credibility-reducing "rainbow-haired warrior" nonsense? Forget about it: Jeff is healthy, he is motivated, and sweet fancy moses is he ever over.
     
    That assessment doesn't mean that Jeff will win the title, or even that he can win the title. It just means that if WWE looked closely, they'd have no choice but to admit that Jeff Hardy is every bit as viable a choice as the guy holding the title now. Which, granted, isn't saying much, but still... in a backwards way, Orton has (by his sheer poorness) elevated Jeff to a legitimate title threat. A few times in the past, fans have seen Jeff Hardy next to a top star, and had the option to pick who they actually gave a crap about, and in all those past showdowns, Jeff lost. This time, getting to stand next to Orton, the fans have decided that delicate fruitcakes who write shitty poetry are more entertaining than line-mangling mantards who induce channel-flipping. Yay?
     
    If it's me, Hardy wins, and it's him and struggling-with-his-conscience HHH at WM in a match that people would care about. But this is WWE, and they've got a hard-on for proving that they're right about Randy Orton being marketable. Dammit.
     
    CHRIS JERICHO vs. JBL
    From title contention to wrestling announcers in 2 short months. But in this case, this *is* a match that Jericho has said he wanted to do and is part of the reason why he came back. It's just that so far, nothing's really clicked (as noted above, it was started by JBL behaving randomly, ramped up for one killer promo, and then ground to a halt with the insertion of "reality" elements), and this being JBL's first match back, it's not bound to be a pretty affair, action-wise, either. Three months from now (in the inevitable bullrope match)? JBL might have found his stride, but for now, my expectations are kinda low. Which sucks, because my instinct is always to want to be excited for what Jericho's involved in. Oh well.... Jericho's the full time wrestler who'll be having important matches weekly and for years to come, so it goes without saying he should get the win. Right?  RIGHT??!!!?!?!?!?
     
    RIC FLAIR vs. MONTREAL VESUVIUS PORTER (or NAMBLA, for short)
    The "if Flair loses, he must retire" saga continues. This time, it was less a machination of Vince McMahon's, and more just MVP needing something to do while Matt Hardy recovers. So MVP goes out and "old man this" and "move over, grampa" that. The disrespect started with Michael Hayes, and then moved onto Flair. Now, MVP wants to be the one to retire Flair. Note: he won't be. But so far fans are getting into Flair's matches and "near retirements" and crafty/evil ways of staving off defeat, so no reason this one couldn't at least be a quick and effective 6-8 minute crowd pleaser in between longer matches.
     
    EXTRAS
    Wouldn't be surprised if they added a CM Punk/Chavo match, I guess... even if only to make up for the travesty of a match they had on Tuesday and to re-affirm that Punk's primary agenda is still ECW. Other than that, we're packed pretty tight, and I don't think there'll be much of anything additional other than a few skits backstage or maybe some excuse to cart out the divas. As noted at the top of this bullet point, though: it doesn't really matter, so long as there's the roller coaster that is the 60-minute, 30-man Rumble match waiting for us at the end of the night.
     
  • That's it for me, folks. We'll have Rumble coverage for you after the event (Pyro with the recap, and here's hoping my man Tony is up for another year of doing the Rumble "By the Numbers"). Till then, enjoy the weekend.
     
    And: Go Flyers! 


  
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E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

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Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

 

 

 


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