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Chris Benoit, Master Ventriloquist? 
February 3, 2004

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com


You know how sometimes I do this gimmick where I let my "Sports Anguish" affect my enjoyment of RAW, if one of my sports teams plays on a Monday night?  Well, this week, I'm gonna be trying something entirely new.  And it's no gimmick.

I got to see St. Joseph's play for the just the second time this year (on ESPN prior to RAW), and for the rest of the night, I was feeling "Petrifying Sports Fear."  They are #3 in the nation for a reason.  The Dayton Flyers play them in just 8 nights in what will essentially be the last stiff test for St. Joe's all regular season.  I do not like our chances.  Villanova was only sort of in that game last night for two reasons: (1) they managed to use their superior front line to get some points in the paint and stick-backs (which UD WILL be able to do), and (2) St. Joe's had a number of unforced errors (which UD would be retarded to count on).

But I tried to put on a happy face... tried to put our inevitable loss in Philly in the back of my mind as I watched what turned out to be a pretty good RAW....

Introductory Video Package: To the shock of all, Chris Benoit debuted on RAW last week and is going to WrestleMania to face the Champ.

Opening theme/pyro/etc., and JR and King and Coach (he's here all night, folks) welcome us to the show with the announcement of two (2) Big Time Main Event Matches.  In one, Kane will face Goldberg.  In the other (non-title) match, Shawn Michaels will face Randy Orton.  But that's for later.  For now, there's a guy in the ring with a microphone and a plasma TV who wants to talk to us....


Jericho promptly moves into intro'ing his guest, Chris Benoit who has been all over SmackDown!, then he dominated PPV, and now he's on RAW... he's getting "more exposure than Janet Jackson's right booby," says Y2J (who neglects to take the comparison further by suggesting such other similarities as (1) fans have been asking for this exposure for years, (2) it's probably coming a few years too late, although (3) even after the delay, both Janet's boobies and the Wolverine are STILL more than up to the task).

Benoit comes out, and in a wise move, immediately moves to let Jericho do most of the talking.  Jericho congratulates him on coming to RAW, because it's the best brand, and for going to WM and all that.  But he also warns Benoit that HHH doesn't ride alone, and Benoit will have his hands full with Evolution and Eric Bischoff.  Jericho goes on to say that he hears all the whispers, and wants to know how Benoit responds to criticisms that he can't win the big one, that he's always second place.  Footage of Flair cutting that same promo on Benoit from the Rumble PPV is also screened by Jericho.

Benoit was about to respond when another guy came out to do some talking for him: Ric Flair.  Flair grabbed a mic and reiterated his Rumble PPV comments, and then moved into putting over Triple H as "The Man" and dusting off the old chestnut about how to be the man, you gotta beat the man.  Benoit decides to chime in at this point...  he says he respects HHH, and says yeah, he is the man, and at WM20, he'll relish the opportunity to test himself against the man.  But tonight, Benoit has another idea: he'd like to test himself against the Nature Boy, right here, in this very ring.

Before Flair can accept (or figure out some clever way to escape the challenge), newly-made-over Bookworm Bitch Eric Bischoff comes on out to holla at us.  He said that he admits that he likes the sound of Benoit vs. Flair, and that Benoit will find that, unlike Paul Heyman, Bischoff strives to have solid working relationships with all his stars.  But unfortunately, Bischoff has other plans for Flair, so Benoit's gonna have to wait.  You see, Bischoff is so keen on having good working relationships with his talent that he's axing the Christian/Jericho #1 Contender Match for tonight... and giving Vitamin C the title shot against Evolution straight out!  Jericho likes, Flair does not.  And further more, since Bischoff knows Benoit likes nothing more than to Compete In This Very Ring, Bischoff will give him a Very Special Opponent, and it's happening RIGHT NOW.  After these....



Whoa.  A weekend working house shows against the Master Technician Batista, and now, his RAW TV debut against the silky smooth Mark Henry.  Are you STILL wondering why I'd have left Benoit on SD?  [Hint: if you'd like me to shut up about all the competition on RAW sucks and Benoit will be wasted here, why doesn't one of you realize there is a simple one-word retort you could e-mail me?  And it's not "B-Cup" or "C-Student" or "D-Day," if you catch my meaning...] The match is all Benoit not being able to make a dent on Henry, then Henry pounding him down with power moves while shouting stuff like "Welcome to my world" at Benoit (insinuating that SD! is soft, and the RAW roster is much tougher).  Benoit finally started a rally of significance at the 2 minute mark, at which point, Triple H came out to watch from the entrance aisle.  Benoit chopped Henry down to size, and locked in the Crippler Crossface (to almost no pop, which is weird cuz Benoit's finisher is always way over on SD!, leading me to spend the ensuing commercial break wondering if there really ARE segments of the audience that are only loyal to one brand, but not the other) for the submission win.  As a means of legitimizing Benoit for the RAW audience (and apparently introducing his finisher as a legit and dangerous move), this was an effective, if not necessarily memorable, showcase, I guess.  Benoit taking out the recently-pushed "World's Strongest Man" in less than 3 minutes should impress them, I'd think.  Afterwards, HHH retreated and gave Benoit's win his best Sarcastic Golf Clap.


Backstage: Steve Austin is WALKING.  And Shawn Michaels is LURKING IN A CORNER.  Austin walked right up to HBK, and without any pre-amble, launches into some theory about how Michaels is giving off some sulky, depressed vibe (how about giving Michaels 10 seconds in which to act sulky or depressed, eh?).  Austin asks if it's because Michaels came so close to winning the World Title, and now Benoit's come in and taken his spot, and Michaels just responds that "It is what it is."  Apparently, he's been reading his "I am who am"...  Austin keeps on chiding Michaels about being down in the dumps, which eventually gets Shawn to show some fire. "He won the Rumble, he's going to WrestleMania. What's the point of getting upset?"  To which Austin replied, "Why don't you do something about it?".

Video Package: Mick Foley's hatred returned last week, and Randy Orton was the target.  As eloquent and deep as Foley's explanation was last week, there were also plenty of perfect soundbites to allow WWE to distill the 15 minute promo/angle into a very effective 3 minute video package.

Backstage: Mick Foley is ARRIVING.  And who should confront him but Test.  Test, it turns out, is not happy about Foley punking him out and taking his slot in the Royal Rumble.  Foley in in the middle of a dismissive, "Hey, sorry, but you were in the wrong place at the wrong time" response when Randy Orton sprints in from out of frame and pastes Mick in the back of the head with the IC belt.  Foley tumbles into Test, who thinks about putting the boots to Mick until Orton tells him to get lost.  Test promptly removes his testicles, puts them in a baggie, and sets them on the floor before retreating.  Orton continues the assault on Foley until he's confident Mick's not getting up.  Then, it's punchline time: recalling one of his "campaign ads," Orton tells Mick, "Make no mistake, you ARE my bitch."  Funny, in this segment, it seemed like Test was the bitch...


Corporately-Sponsored Video Highlight of Last Week: Rico beat Rob Conway thanks to Jackie Gayda's alleged toplessness.  This was just a reminder, in case you forgot or failed to read your bOOby-themed OO on Monday.


Conway is out with Dupree, and when Miss Jackie comes out with Rico, it's time to puncture your own eardrums.  This just in: Coach and Lawler should not be permitted to work together anytime there is a proximate vagina.  The immediately dismiss the chance to make Jackie/Janet jokes (which might have been unfunny, but which would have at least played off a red-hot pop culture topic) and instead get into more of this idiotic who's-gonna-be-in-Playboy talk, completely ignoring the fact that PLAYBOY ITSELF ALREADY PUBLISHED 2 WEEKS AGO THAT TORRIE AND SABLE WOULD BE FEATURED IN NEXT MONTH'S MAGAZINE.    Also ignoring the fact that THERE IS A MATCH GOING ON and that THEY ARE MAKING ASSES OF THEMSELVES.  One exchange went like this:

Coach: I like girls.
King: Do you read Playboy?
Coach: Yes, Miss Jackie should be in Playboy.
King: Puppies!
Jim Ross: Inverted Atomic Drop on Rene Dupree
King: OUCH! Right in the marbles, what do you call that move, JR?
JR: Uh, an Inverted Atomic Drop.  You fucking obnoxious twit.

I swear to god, I am NOT MAKING THIS UP.  Except for the "You fucking obnoxious twit" part. But I hope JR was thinking that.  Perhaps broadcasting it telepathically.  Match boiled down to Dupree in control, so that Jackie could try to lead the crowd in rhythmic clapping and what not.  They were more interested in chanting "We want puppies."  Wonder where they get that from?  Anyway, about 4 minutes into this, right as the crowd is starting to get restless, Rico starts a comeback.  And then, for reasons that transcend logic, Stacy Keibler struts down to ringside (why not at least wait till Rico's not in control, even if you wanna do this stupid gimmick?), waits till Dupree manages to regain the advantage, and then completes her interference by hopping up on the ring apron, turning around, and lifting up her skirt to distract Rene.  Rico, apparently unaffected by the display, kicks Dupree in the head and gets the pinfall win.  Yee haw.

After the match: Stacy got in the ring with Jackie and Rico and celebrated. Then she grabbed a mic, and announced, "If Playboy's looking for the two hottest WWE divas for next month's issue, they got 'em right here."  Then she and Jackie did a little dance number that seemed more overly-choreographed and underly-rehersed than hot.

Backstage: Trish Stratus is getting limbered up for what we're told is a title shot against Molly Holly.  Once ready, she walks out of her dressing room to find Christian loitering just outside.  He's reading a copy of Rolling Stone, and quickly launches into a thesis about how the Beatles (on the cover) were really awesome.  Trish can't dispute that.  But then, Christian theorized, something happened.  Yoko Ono got her claws into John Lennon, twisted his mind, and ruined the Beatles forever.  Trish said something like, "That's not what really happened" (but I like thinking that Trish is all really cool and smart and stuff, so I think I'll just pretend that she said "Yeah, I know she did. But what's that got to do with me?", instead).  Anyway, Christian started getting worked up, leaving fans to make the obvious inference that he considers Trish to be his and Jericho's own personal Yoko... except that Christian starts ranting and raving and said that if he had been Paul McCartney, he wouldn't have waited for Yoko to ruin the Beatles and break-up his friendship, he would have slammed her down and given her a one-man con-chair-to before she had the chance.  Trish seemed adequately freaked out by the implied threat.


We Are TOO Socially Conscious: WWE encourages young voters to participate in The System.  Good for them.  


Trish is in the ring, ready to take a stab at Molly Holly's gold when a  Eric Bischoff's face appears on the TitanTron.  He says he might have jumped the gun by giving Trish a Women's Title match tonight.  He checked his files, and it turns out Trish isn't even the #1 Contender, so the match is off.  But Bischoff knows that, like her countryman before her, Trish just loves to Compete In That Very Ring, so he's got a new opponent for her.  Just stay put, Trish, cuz he's on his way....


The match that didn't happen last week is on for this week.  Not even Coach could condone this decision by Bischoff.  Trish stands in the ring looking scared for about 30 seconds, until Kane finally makes it into the ring.  Only THEN did Trish decide to try to escape.  But Kane grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back into the ring.  He set her up for a chokeslam, but that's when Chris Jericho hopped on his white horse and came to the rescue.  He stopped the chokeslam, clotheslined Kane out of the ring, and then helped Trish up and told her to run away. Which she did.  Jericho, on the other hand, was gonna stick around and take Kane down.  Bad idea: while Jericho was tending to Trish, Kane was grabbing a steel chair, which he used to whack Jericho in the knee.  Then, he threw Jericho knee-first into the steel ringpost.  Refs and officials swarmed around the injured Jericho, as Kane stood in the ring.  Apparently, his night is not yet over....

[ads. Sidebar: during this break, I announced that I'd be VERY disappointed if the tag title match later on ended with anything but Jericho tapping out to the Figure Four after Kane's knee attack.  I'm just saying, is all.]

Still in the ring: Kane's still lingering, and his music is still playing.  Apparently, Goldberg will be out, shortly.

Backstage: a trainer is icing Jericho's knee, when Trish pops in to thank Chris for the save and ask how he's doing.  Jericho says it was a screwed up situation, and he's happy Trish is OK...  but that there's something else he wants to tell her.  Something important.  But d'oh, it'll have to wait, cuz here's Christian, and is he ever pissed.  He asks Jericho what the hell he's doing, playing White Knight for some dumb broad when he's got a Tag Title Shot to worry about later tonight.  Then he gets in Trish's face, tells her, "You've done enough for tonight, Yoko, so get lost!".  Trish slinks away, but Jericho stands up, grimaces in pain, and says, "You don't talk to her like that, pal, and you don't talk to ME like that, either.  I know what's important, and don't you worry about me tonight.  I'm gonna be fine in the tag title match.  You just mind your own business and make sure you bring YOUR A-game." Another one of these dealies where everybody did and said exactly the things they should have done and said....


On his way to the ring, Goldberg is Intense and Focused and Ignores All The Fans Who Want High Fives... until he makes his way to a girl named Christina, who was seated at ringside and got a Big Hug from the Big Lug.  He acts all mean, but he's really a softie!  In the ring, this PPV-caliber showdown immediately takes a backseat to incessant chatter about Kane and the Undertaker and what all the "mind games" with Kane from last week might really mean and how Brock Lesnar verbally punked out Goldberg on SD!.  Meantime, while no one is paying any attention to what they are doing RIGHT NOW, Goldberg and Kane are slugging away in a sort of odd-seeming match-up: I'm not saying it was "shoot-y" like Goldberg/Regal all those years ago, but it seemed like they didn't really have any spots called, they were just randomly throwing big power moves at each other in a disjointed fashion and then not selling them at all.  Seemed hard-hitting, but just, I don't know, OFF somehow.  It's one thing if you have Goldberg or Kane no-selling an "average man," but no-selling a fellow-monster was a bit awkward, especially when it continued for essentially 4 minutes with no real flow between moves.  They were in the middle of one of Goldberg's I'm-hitting-consecutive-moves-but-it's-having-no-effect-on-Kane rallies when suddenly the lights went out.  Then "lightning" (the same cheesy, drawn-in effect from the Buried Alive '96 PPV) hit the ring, causing an explosion on one ringpost.  Then the purple lights came on.  Then the same "The Ring"-esque video from last week ran on the TitanTron, distracting Kane.  Then the lights came back up, and Kane turned around to face Goldberg, who had been poised this whole time and nailed Kane with a Spear.  As soon as Kane hit the mat, the ring started filling up with Mysterious Smoke.  Goldberg decided to bail out (so the awkward 5-minute power-move-a-thon goes to a No Contest, officially), and eventually Kane did a Zombie Sit-Up, and the lights went back to purple in the ring.  This freaked Kane out, and he stumbled out of the ring, and escaped through the crowd while the announcers fell all over themselves to tell us how surreal and bizarre the scene was.  The segment ended with the video signal being "hijacked" by a quick portion of that "Ring" video and static, and then it just cut to.....



Wouldn't you know it?  They decided to pick the "Heat" that aired versus the Super Bowl to use as the basis for a major RAW match...  on the grounds that even fewer people than usual saw Sunday's Heat, they spent some time explaining how Booker beat Matt in a good match the night before, and how Matt, growing ever frustrated that his jump to RAW is not working out, demanded a rematch to get revenge and to end his "losing streak."  As mind-numbing obnoxious as the announcing was at times in other matches, it was exceptionally on-task and constructive here.  They really did a nice job of weaving a story where Matt was frustrated and couldn't afford another loss.  Coach or King (I forget which) even advanced the Theory of the Night by suggesting that Matt Hardy was so successful over on SmackDown! but was finding it much tougher going here on RAW, and then tied that into Chris Benoit's recent defection.  Smooth work (and it renders your other blithering jack-assery that much more frustrating when I see that wisdom CAN come out of your mouth, whichever of you two that was).  I think it was Coach who also, at a different point during the match, said something about how Matt was finding it tougher on RAW because "This is where the Big Boys play," (referencing, unintentionally, I'm sure, the old WCW/Nitro slogan). 

This is also the first really solid wrestling match of the night, with back-and-forth work with little in the way of extended runs for either guy.  The fast-pace led up to a few false finishes and teases as we headed into End Game (including the ref foiling an attempted foot-on-the-ropes-for-leverage pinfall by Hardy, and then some nice reversals between Twist of Fate and Axe Kick attempts).  Finally, Booker did hit the axe kick and got a completely clean pinfall win to further Matt's frustrating losing streak.  You know, I don't WANT it to come to this, but it felt like they could easily have Matt realize that his losing streak started when he came to RAW and dumped Lita...  I'd rather Matt's success and over-ness not be attributable to the girl in his corner, but it wouldn't surprise me if a much-too-soon teary reunion is where they head with this.  In the meantime, though, this was a good 8 minute TV match.

Backstage: Shawn Michaels is picking at one of his boots, when Randy Orton materializes over his shoulder and asks, "Whatchya doin', Shawn?"  Michaels hits a good line, "Oh, nothing, really.  Just cleaning Triple H's blood off my boot."  But then Orton ruins it by going into Actor Mode: instead of responding reasonably or in kind, Orton clearly had a Script to stick to, and was going to really SELL the lines.  He shouts something about how "Oh yeah, that doesn't intimidate me, and I'm gonna beat you in our match tonight."  Good for him, but what imaginary intimidation was he responding to?  You know, if they wanted to convince us that Orton was anything other than a good-looking, but completely empty, vessel, they wouldn't have had him go flying off the handle with a completely un-instigated tirade.  They'd have had him act smug, and clever, and not lunk-headed by responding to Shawn's excellent set-up by saying, "You know, Shawn, I saw that match against HHH, and there's just as much of YOUR blood on those boots." Then he and Shawn could have done a slightly less strained back-and-forth about who was gonna kick who's ass from there.  Instead, Shawn was involved in his second segment of the night where somebody just started doing lines at him out of nowhere (the Austin bit earlier was also a left-field type of skit).


TRIPLE H vs. ??????

HHH is apparently out here (in wrestling gear, no less) unannounced and unscheduled, sayeth the announcers.  But that's OK, because he's gonna grab a mic and explain himself.  HHH says he got a look at Chris Benoit earlier tonight, and that he's not impressed or worried about facing him at WrestleMania.  He says Benoit better realize what he's getting himself into, because next week, the wheels are in motion and there's no stopping the ride: not only will the Official Contract Signing for WM20 happen next week, but HHH also wants Benoit to sample what it's like to face Evolution, so Benoit will go up against Ric Flair.  And for tonight, he tells Chris to pull up a chair backstage and pay attention, because HHH is out here to show him what the Only REAL World Wrestling Champion is all about, and how the best in the business and the fightingest champ in all the land takes care of his opposition.  Or at least, that's what he should have said.  Instead, he continued to emulate his new father-in-law by constantly repeating himself and in general taking twice as long to convey an idea as he really needed to.  Great content here, great idea to make HHH smug and confident when Benoit's nowhere to be seen (and to also subtly throw another dig at SD! in along the way)... just could have used a little self-editing to tighten it up so fans absorbed the full effect instead of zoning out.


HHH's smugness becomes even more heelishly appropriate when Spike enters as his opponent.  Of course, it's easy to be confident when you facing a guy who's all of 150 lbs (even if it is "all heart").  If you thought HHH was gonna show ass here and give the underdog some heat sequences, guess again.  Pure squash.  HHH wins with a Pedigree (which Spike sold with a little extra torque or something, cuz it looked sick).  Maybe it went a full minute.  Maybe.  Taken together with the promo, this was an OK effort to recall HHH's 1999 caliber heelishness; I just would have made it so that the promo was only 2 or 3 times longer than the match (instead of 5 or 6 times longer).


Another Corporately Sponsored Clip of the Night: a highlights version of Brock Lesnar's "Goldberg is a Lesnar Wannabe" from SD! airs.

Backstage: Steve Austin heads into Goldberg's locker room. He also rehashes some of Lesnar's comments from SD!, and also brings up how Lesnar cost him the Royal Rumble, and so on and so forth. But, Austin notes, he's not bringing it up to stir the pot or anything, he's just making sure Goldberg remembers this stuff.  Goldberg remembers, and he's getting increasingly pissy as Austin goes on.  And then, Austin gets to the point: you see, SD! is having this PPV in two weeks, and Austin's friend in San Francisco got him a ringside seat.  But wouldn't you know it? Austin's busy that night.  So would Goldberg maybe want the ticket?  To see, among other things, Brock Lesnar defending his WWE Title in the main event?  Goldberg graciously accepts Austin's gift.  Then Austin sets a few ground rules:  Goldberg's not just there as a fan.  He's not just there representing RAW.  He's there sitting in the seat of and representing the spirit of Stone Cold Steve Austin.  "So," Austin tells Goldberg, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."  Goldberg smirks knowingly, and the crowd pops huge.  Interesting segment, and a GREAT freaking tag line.



Jericho is selling the knee during his entrance, and as the match starts, Christian opts to start since Y2J's nowhere near 100%.  It's the right call, but it means a few chilly minutes as the crowd is a few steps ahead of WWE's storytelling and knows it's OK to cheer Jericho, but that Christian is still a heel.  And heel vs. heel rarely sells.  Crowd heats up big time, thought, about 4 minutes in when Jericho finally enters the match and gets in some offense.  Eventually, Christian joins in and its a four-way brawl for a bit, with Jericho in the ring against Flair while the other two brawl at ringside.  Just as Jericho manages to lock Flair into the Walls of Jericho, Batista KO's Christian outside with a ringpost shot, and then tries to toss Christian into the ring.  This draws the attention of the ref, however, who apparently doesn't want Christian's limp, unconscious carcass interfering in this match.  Meantime, with the ref distracted, Flair is tapping out to Jericho.  And further, the ref is still distracted when Batista attacks Jericho, with a chop block to his injured knee from behind, to free Flair from the hold.  Ref turns around in time to see Flair slowly recovering while Jericho grabbed his knee in pain.  This not being Flair's first picnic, he pounces on the knee, locking in the Figure Four and getting Jericho to tap out in short order.  Christian is still out, so we don't know what he thinks of the outcome (but it should be interesting to find out next week).  But I know what I think:  the 6 minute match was maybe only "OK," but I loved the storytelling side of things.  A "problem smark" might bitch about how "I called it and WWE telegraphed it" or something with regards to Jericho's knee, but I think it was excellently handled.  Not only was it the perfect "out" to this match, but it's also the perfect way to advance the Jericho/Trish/Christian thing.  Another very elegantly conceived week of skits and matches for those three, with Evolution and Kane supplying the ideal foils.



Mat wrestling to start.  Headlocks, leg scissors reversals, all that old school stuff.  Then after 2 minutes, ramp it up with some of the punchy-kicky.  Then after a few minutes of that, they're at full speed, and Orton accidentally KO's the ref with a dropkick after Michaels dodges.  Orton decides to carpe the diem, and heads out of the ring to grab the IC belt to whack Michaels the same way he did Foley earlier in the night.  But Ehh-ehh!  Here comes Sheriff Austin's ATV of Justice, and guess who's riding shotgun?  Earl Hebner.  Orton tries to play coy by putting down the IC belt and acting like he wasn't gonna use it as Austin pulls up to the ring (big ups to ref Mike Chioda for staying KO'ed and not even flinching an inch when Austin came within a millimeter of running over his ankle).  Hebner gets in the ring, and Austin hoists Chioda onto the 4-wheeler and hauls him out of the arena.  The match is back on, and within 30 seconds, they do a spot where HBK clotheslines Orton out of the ring, and then tumbled out after him.  With both guys down, it's time for some....


When we come back, Orton has Michaels in the Reverse Chinlock of We Didn't Want to Exert Unnecessary Effort During the Commercials.  As usually happens, somebody whispered "We're back" into Hebner's earpeice, and about 30 seconds after the ad break, Michaels starts HBK-ing Up, and eventually escapes the resthold.  But before Shawn can begin an earnest offensive, Orton catches him coming off the ropes, and then applies the Reverse Chinlock of Jesus Christ Randy That Was OK During Commercials But We've Only Got About 10 Minutes To Work With Here So Why The Hell Don't We Try Something Actually Interesting.  Michaels takes another minute or two to escape this one, and finally does.  This time, his power-up sticks, however, and he gets a heat sequence.  Orton tries to stifle the rally, and puts Michaels down one more time.  But then Orton whiffs on a top rope cross-bodyblock, and it's more offense for Shawn.  HBK hits the Macho Man elbow, and then starts tuning up the band.  But Orton sees it coming, and reverses Shawn into position for an RKO.  But Michaels reverse that and shove Orton into ropes.  But Shawn makes the Rookie Mistake of putting his head down to back body drop Orton, and Orton makes him pay with a DDT.  From here, Orton seems like he's gonna hit the RKO and score the win.... but no dice.  Mick Foley picks this moment to start limping down the entrance ramp.  Orton can't believe Mick's back on his feet, and is more than a little distracted.  Michaels capitalizes, and rolls Orton up with a little Schoolboy for the cheap, but essentially clean, pinfall.  The two have had better, but even with a third of the match (immediately after the ad break) consisting of a reverse chinlock, this was still a very palatable 10-12 minute main event.

After the match: Foley immediately pounced on Orton, while Michaels rolled into a corner to further recover.  Orton tried to escape through the crowd, but Foley was right on his ass.  The rest of Evolution came out to aid Randy, and HHH immediately directed Flair and Batista to follow into the crowd.  None of those four was heard from again.  Meanwhile, HHH saw Michaels still woozy in the ring, and decided to get himself a little cheap and easy revenge.  That lasts for all over 20 seconds, though, before Chris Benoit sprints out for the save.  Benoit pulled HHH off, and then just stood in the middle of the ring, practically inviting HHH to come at him.  HHH charged at Benoit, but when Benoit didn't even flinch or raise his arms to defend himself, HHH got spooked.  Benoit's body language kept on saying, "C'mon, free shot, let's do this thing," while Jim Ross became the third man of the night to effectively put words in Benoit's mouth by calling HHH every synonym for "cowardly" he could think of.  

HHH kept on looking at Benoit, as if to identify some weakness, but he wasn't finding any.  Crowd FINALLY decided Benoit was pretty bad-ass and gave him a decent response during this last bit.  HHH also did a really nice job of conveying concern and yellow-bellied-ness as he backed out of the ring and let Benoit have this round.  Show ended with Shawn Michaels regaining his feet, behind Benoit as Benoit kept his eyes on HHH.  Trouble in paradise?  Nope, despite the little tease of Austin challenging Michaels to "Do something about it," RAW ends with Benoit and Michaels deciding to shake hands.  Yay!


There were rough spots (and a complete lack of anything even remotely resembling a good wrestling match for the entire first hour), but by and large, the important things were plusses tonight (including three good wrestling matches in the second hour).

Plus #1: everything with Jericho/Christian/Trish.  Last few weeks they've been couching the Jericho/Trish stuff within quality wrestling storylines and matches (instead of the sometimes tacked-on and soap-opera-y elements that served to annoy me at times), and this week, with Jericho's knee costing him the tag titles, was no exception.  Good forward progress in every way.

Plus #2: I think they're going slow and conservative with Benoit, but in so doing are increasing the chances of him succeeding on RAW. In promo situations, guys like Flair and Jericho are handling the mic work for Benoit, which is good for him.  Don't get me wrong: you don't have to the Rock or John Cena to succeed on RAW.  But because of RAW's basic vibe (live, anything can happen, and generally more story-centric) and because of the talent roster, Chris Benoit won't effortlessly win over the RAW crowd by just being Chris Benoit.  It'll be a process of combining other skilled personalities with Benoit's non-verbal charisma (the body language and intensity he displays will get a message across, but only once fans are paying close attention and giving a damn) and in-ring ability.  Once they lay that foundation, that's when I think you can give Benoit a mic, let him cut his usual no-frills promos, and have it work the same way it worked for Bret Hart.  If that's the plan for building up Benoit, then I saw RAW was an effective outing.

Some other plusses: the Frustrated Matt Hardy idea was nicely handled on all fronts and was a part of a good match, to boot...  the Goldberg's Ticket to SD! was a cool little element and like I said, I loved the Austin punchline in that bit...  Orton and Foley kept the heat on without doing anything earth-shattering...  

To register my complaints for the records...  I'm torn on a couple of things.  Like the Taker/Kane thing: I have very specific ideas about what is cool and spooky about the "supernatural" Taker, and I think stuff like the gongs and the purple lights and the video are pretty sweet in a "mind games" sort of way.  But then I temper that by thinking the cheesy-looking "lightning" effect and smoke are pretty over-the-top and dumb.  Taker spent years straddling that line, and I guess I hoped the post-Attitude Era WWE would have a better grasp on how to emphasize the cool parts of the "Dead Man" while discarding the crap.  Tonight's stunts equal out to a "push."  

Announcing tonight was also a push.  I hope I made it clear how bad it was in spots.  I hope I was just as clear about how I really liked it in other spots.  Maybe this is a slow process, too, I don't know.  It seems to me the Lawler/Coach combo have the chance to add to each other's suck during certain types of segments.  But it also seemed to me that Coach and JR are finding more effective ways to deal with each other (Ross let Coach have his moments during throw-away parts of Hour One, but then Coach simmered down and let JR actually call the matches more in Hour Two once they were of more import; end result is Coach got to be a heel for a bit, JR got to keep us on-task when the matches were good, and when they DID clash, it seemed a bit more genuine and intense than it did when both were taking every sniping, whiny, annoying little potshot they could in past weeks)

The flat-out bad: Rico/Dupree and all the Jackie/Stacy stuff (pointless on so many fronts, and so awfully-executed on others that I just don't want to talk about it anymore)...  the poorly-conceived, stilted way that two of the backstage skits (Michaels/Austin and Michaels/Orton) came across; not at all natural-seeming...  unless they go with a Shawn/HHH/Benoit three-way at WM, Michaels has nothing going heading into WM 20 (both of those are bad scenarios; my suggestion would be using the next few weeks to make it HBK/Rock/Foley vs. Orton/Flair/Batista in a "consolidate the part-timers" match)...  and the general lack of any good wrestling until the Booker/Hardy match.

But more good than bad for sure.  Still a small step down from the highly entertaining previous week, however.  More thoughts and fall-out tomorrow in OO... 


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RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28




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