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OO RAW RECAP
The RAW Blueprint?  Four Matches,
and Benoit Flat on His Back... 
February 17, 2004

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Looks like the Fed realized they stumbled on something effective last week...  four wrestling matches?  That's PLENTY!  More than enough, really!  Let's do it again!

But this week, one of 'em was even a really good match (not "pretty solid" or "a good TV match," just plan outstanding), to boot.  But how would the overall total package hold up?  Well, heaven forefend that a jackass armchair booker like myself should tell you how well the geniuses up at Titan Tower did this week...

Well, wait... actually, I will tell you.  But I'm gonna make you read through this whole recap and get it in tiny stream-of-consciousness doses instead of just telling you at the top and ruining the suspense.

Let's do this thing....

Video Recap: Last week, Shawn Michaels crashed the HHH/Chris Benoit contract signing, and put his Hickenbottom on the papers not intended for him.  What ever will the lawyers be able to do about that?!?

Opening theme/pyro/etc., and we get a sincere and heartfelt welcome from Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, who waste no time reminding us that tonight it'll be Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit in the first match ever between two of the most gifted grapplers of all time.  And then, it's time....

TRIPLE H'S BIG FAT HAIRY PROMO

The champ is out, and for some reason, JR no longer thinks he's a cowardly ass; no, the cut of HHH's jib puts him in a class with Race, Flair, and Brisco!  I hope whatever jib HHH's purpley-brown shirt was cut from had a bullet put in it.  But enough from Joan Rivers, let's listen in to HHH, who tells us he's here for answers, dammit.  Because he just came from Bischoff's office, and Bischoff still didn't know who HHH would face at WM.  And HHH doesn't care if it's Michaels or Benoit, he just wants to know which one.  And also, HHH doesn't like the way this is going down, because he remembers WrestleMania 10, also at MSG, when they could not decide which of two #1 Contenders would get the title shot, so champ Yokozuna had to defend the belt twice on the same show.  Which HHH flatly REFUSES to do.  Because lord knows if a world class athlete like Yokozuna got exhausted and was unable to defend the title twice in one night, HHH wouldn't stand a chance...

HA!  My first and only "HHH is fat" joke.  Just to appease you morons.  Because frankly, if you were built like "fat HHH," it'd probably mean about a 3500% increase in the amount of tail you got.  You'd rocket all the way up "touched one booby about 3 years ago" on the bone-o-meter.  And that one probably cost you about $150 in singles, you loser.

Anyway, the point was that HHH no likey where this is heading, and he wants Eric Bischoff out here RIGHT NOW to give him an answer.  So Bischoff sheepishly comes on down to the ring, and says, "OK, I promise you won't have to defend your title twice at WM."  HHH thinks we're heading in the right direction now, but he still wants Bischoff to tell him who it's gonna be at Mania.  But Bischoff can't answer that.  Because, you see, Benoit won the LEGAL RIGHT to face the champ by winning the Rumble.  But Michaels signing the contract also gave him an EQUAL LEGAL RIGHT to the same thing.  He's in a quandary, and his solution is this: Bischoff will cancel the Michaels/Benoit match tonight (BOO!), and in its place, HHH will defend his title against one of them (HBK! HBK! HBK! and no love for Benoit), with the other guy getting the WM20 title shot (YAY!).  HHH considers this (further YAYs!), but it turns out he was just joshing and doesn't care what the fans want.  No title match tonight, no way (BOO!).

And then, to bail HHH out from the boos and catcalls, Chris Benoit decides to come on out and say his piece.  His piece consisted of his finest piece of dialogue since coming to RAW:  "Hunter, I've only got one thing to say to you."  And then Benoit threw the mic aside and punched HHH in the face.  HA!  Gold, baby, gold!  Bischoff bails, and Benoit and HHH commence to throwing fists.  Back and forth they go, HHH's puke-evoking shirt an immediate casualty.  And then, HHH was a casualty, as Benoit managed to lock in a Crippler Crossface, and held HHH in it for about 30 seconds until Evolution realized they should probably save the boss.  Benoit got out of dodge unscathed as Orton, Flair, and Batista helped HHH back to his feet.

You know: this segment essentially advanced nothing on the world title match front. We learned nothing new.  And I didn't care.  HHH was really good on the mic for his second week in a row: focused, on task, and exuding enough asshole-itude that even harassing Eric Bischoff didn't get him any cheers. And I cannot overstate the genius of having Benoit's line to HHH be "I've got one thing to say" and then just dropping the mic to pop Hunter.  That says everything about Benoit's character that needs to be said, all in one 2 second clip.  Fun opening.

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Presidential Moment: It was President's Day, so they gave us a clip of FDR's "Nothing to fear but fear itself" speech in an homage.  They did 2 or 3 other Classic Quotes interspersed throughout the night, but I know I'm gonna forget to mention them on the grounds that they were pretty pointless, and this was just a case of WWE making a big deal out of a holiday that just about nobody in the real world actually gets to observe.  Maybe if they'd pulled Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" before a Christian/Trish skit or something....  

Backstage: HHH has huddled the team, and promises that Chris Benoit will get his before tonight is over.  Randy Orton offers to go give it to him RIGHT NOW, but HHH tells him to cool down and go out to make sure everything is OK in Flair and Batista's tag title defense next.  HHH will take care of Benoit in his own good time.  So off Scooter goes with the tag champs... only to come back and say, "Are you sure, cuz I'd really like to be useful for once?" but HHH told him no.  Then he shoved some props around because he's all pissed off.

RIC FLAIR and BATISTA vs. BOOKER T and ROB VAN DAM (World Tag Title Match)

Clips during the entrances paint the picture for us: Booker and RVD faced Orton in a 3-way IC Title match last week, which Orton won by cheap means.  And then, after the match, Flair and Batista came out and put a beating on Booker and RVD for good measure.  So I guess T and RVD petitioned for a tag match, and somehow the titles ended up being on the line, and here we are.... back and forthy for maybe 2 minutes or so, and then they did the requisite trainwreck spot with everybody down. In this case, RVD and Booker kind of got on a role, and had all three Evolution members on the ropes.  But when RVD went for a big cross body from the ring to the floor, they moved, and RVD wiped out.  Evolution was still getting its wits back, so obviously, it was time for....

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Match has continued in our absence, with Evolution, predictably, in control.  RVD takes about 2 or 3 minutes of ass-whupping until its time for the fire up...  not long after that, it's the hot tag to Booker, who comes in and goes on a tear.  RVD wound up occupying Batista at ringside, while Booker took care of Flair with aplomb.  After a Spin-a-Roonie, Booker bounded off the ropes, expecting to hit the axe kick, but Orton decided to pick that moment to get involved.  He yanked Booker down and out of the ring, and then whacked his knee against the ring apron.  Then, as the ref decided to check what shenanigans Orton was getting up to, Batista snuck up behind Booker and powerbombed him.  Flair took advantage by issuing a token stomp to the now-damaged knee and then locking in the Figure Four.  Then, in a spot that kind of felt like they got the timing off or something, Mick Foley ran out and attacked Orton.  They fumbled around for a bit, and then Batista came over.  Then they fumbled around a bit more, with Foley chasing Orton over the ringside barrier and Batista chasing both of them.  Back in the ring, Booker's been in the Figure Four for like 90 seconds, but we've been ignoring it.  But NOW it's finally time to pay attention again.  Booker's in the Figure Four, but Batista has bailed on his partner, and RVD manages to hit a Five Star Frog Splash on Flair even as Flair cinches back on the Figure Four.  That causes the hold to be released.  Booker drapes an arm over Flair for the pinfall win.  New champs!

Pretty solid 10-12 minute match, but something just seemed off about the way the last 2 minutes fit together.  Seems maybe like Foley/Orton/Batista should have done their thing more crisply, and that the ref should have been distracted by them when RVD hit his dirty Frog Splash.  Instead, they took forever and the ref had to act like he didn't care about RVD's cheating... I don't know, you tell me: am I being a giant clueless douche about this, or did you sense it was off, too?  As far as the new champs go: if this somehow plays into Evolution's internal politics, then cool, but if not, the pointlessness of a makeshift Booker/RVD team holding the belts exactly equals the pointlessness of a makeshift Flair/Batista team holding them, so we'll see.....

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Non-Paid Advertisement: JR and King fill us in on the highlights of the SD!-brand No Way Out PPV.  By "highlights," I mean token mention of Eddie Guerrero winning the WWE Title, and then non-stop yammering and a big video highlight package of RAW's Goldberg attacking Lesnar.  Twice.

Backstage: Eric Bischoff is clearly deep in thought when Steve Austin demands to know what is going on with the WM20 main event situation.  Bischoff still doesn't know, dammit.  But Austin says he better figure it out fast.  Before the end of the night.  Because if he doesn't, he'll be breaking Stone Cold's law, which means much mudhole-stomping and so on and so forth.  Bischoff is exasperated, and decides to leave his office.....

Kubrick Segue: the cameras follow Eric out into the hallway, where he comes across young Randall Orton, who has some dialogue he'd like to read.  Scintillating, as if off the written page, Orton says he can't believe what Mick Foley did to Evolution tonight, and that he wants revenge.  He's going to go out to the ring and call out Mick Foley for a fight.  Bischoff, realizing it's his turn to contribute to the VERY NATURAL SOUNDING discussion, announces "Fine, but it's not sanctioned."  Okey doke, Sleazy E.  Orton then pauses awkwardly, scans down to the bottom of the page, and throws in his IN NO WAY TAGGED ON final line: "Mick Foley won't walk out of Bakersfield tonight."  You know, given what follows, I really do appreciate what they tried to do here, but seriously... if you can't come up with a way of introducing a concept that sounds like two real, rational human beings having a conversation, then maybe you need to....  actually, I don't know how to finish that sentence.  But having Orton and Bischoff run through stilted dialogue just ain't right.
 
Elsewhere Backstage: Chris Jericho is getting ready for a match.  He is clearly sporting a new t-shirt, one which must have sounded way cooler in theory than it looks in execution.  He is also (I'm sorry to say I didn't notice this on my own) sporting a new haircut, which is the best evidence we have so far that the face turn is for real.  New hair = New affiliation! Here to help the establishment of babyface status is Christian, who even when saying completely nice, normal things, is sort of oozing a Slimeball vibe lately.  He questions Jericho's knee, and wonders why he'd take a match tonight against Kane when doctors told him to take 2 weeks off.  But Jericho says it's what Bischoff told him to do, and he thinks he can go out there and take care of things Sexy Beast style.  And more important, says Jericho... he's got something he wants to ask Christian.  Turns out, he doesn't want to be Just Friends with Trish, his feelings run deeper than that.  And he wants to tell her tonight, give her a single red rose as a kind of belated Valentine's Day gift and see how she responds.  What does Christian think about that?  Hmmm, Christian thinks for about 2 nanoseconds and says he doesn't think it's a good idea at all.  Jericho could embarrass himself, Trish might not like him, she might even be shacking up with some other dude.  Jericho's taken aback...  he asks if Christian knows any of this for a fact.  Christian doesn't, but he says Jericho SHOULD be focused on Kane, not on Trish...  Jericho says yeah, he'll go out there, take care of Kane, but then afterwards, he's putting the moves on Trish.  And then...  oh Chris, you dumb, dumb man... and then Chris gave the rose to Christian and headed out to the ring.

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CHRIS JERICHO vs. KANE

Normally, this could be a very marketable and very entertaining match pretty high up on the card.  Tonight, it serves a single purpose: to send Jericho to the hospital.  It goes maybe 3 minutes, tops, and that's all 100% Kane.  Jericho got maybe 2 hope spots that I can recall, but the rest was all Kane destroying Y2J, focusing intently on the injured knee.  It got so bad that by the 2 minute mark, Jericho couldn't stand.  A minute later, the ref just said "To hell with this" and stopped the thing, awarding the decision to Kane on humanitarian grounds.  But Kane is not much of a humanitarian lately... so he kept on pounding Jericho's knee, including tossing him into the steel ring post again.  A shattered kneecap is theorized by Jim Ross.  Not the most thrilling of TV, since you pretty much could feel where it was going from the opening 30 seconds, but somehow still pretty effective, as it played to Kane's monster-related strengths, and Jericho made everything look really good and painful.

After the match: officials tend to the badly-wounded Jericho while Kane grabs a mic.  He announces that whoever is behind the "supernatural mindgames" had better cut it out, because Kane's not scared.  He KNOWS it's not his brother, because the Undertaker is dead and buried.  So don't even bother trying to do the purple light show or anything any more.  To make his point, Kane squints extra hard and REALLY yanks his arms down, lighting his pyro.  See, no purple lights here!  But as Kane leaves the ring, his music cuts out, and the purple lights flicker on.  And the video plays on the TitanTron, with the countdown to the dead arising at 27 days.  And then smoke fills the top of the stage.  Then the thunder and rain sound effects from Taker's entrance theme kick in extra loud, and suddenly, Kane is drenched.  More indoor weather phenomenon from the Undertaker?  Or is the Mullet Brothers Roofing Company responsible for upkeep of the Bakersfield Municipal Auditorium?  [And you thought "The Mullets" -- coming back soon to UPN -- would die!  Ha!]  Doesn't matter.  Either way, Kane is spooked.  But back here in the real world, I quickly categorize this display as "gay-spooky" instead of "good-spooky."  Refer to my past rants on the very thin line involved with promoting the Dead Man for definitions....

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TOTALLY NON-SANCTIONED RANDY ORTON SUPERFIGHT~!

Randy Orton hit the ring, and did a much better job in convincing me the words coming out of his mouth might be his, instead of some writer from the Kevin Smith School of Dialogue Craftsmanship.  The general gist of his ranting: Mick Foley sucks, and is not even in the same league as Randy Orton.  And then, for the second night in a row, the password is "Bitch."  That's the one that got Foley to come on out to the ring for an "unsanctioned" fight.  Foley's hatred was blazing out of the gates, and he hit about a minute long heat sequence, culminating in a DDT.  But that's when the other shoe dropped.  Ric Flair and Batista ran out and joined in the attack, and it was curtains for Mick.

Punch stomp punch stomp.  Repeat about a billion times.  Fans actually gave up on chanting "Foley, Foley" or looking up the ramp to see who would come out to save Mick... that's how long this lasted.  Ref Earl Hebner came out about halfway through for no reason, and I was so bored my Smark Switch momentarily flipped on, and I theorized that maybe something went haywire, and they were having to audible this thing, so they sent a guy with an earpiece out to direct traffic.  Cuz this just went on and on. And really, just punch stomp punch stomp the whole time.  Orton hit one (1) RKO, which felt like at least it was the end of the segment.  But no... the storyline here is that Orton wasn't just making smalltalk earlier when he said Foley "wouldn't walk out of Bakersfield."  Oh no, he was being LITERAL.  So when Mick tried getting to his feet after 20 minutes of ass-whomping, Randy took it personally, and had to go back for more punch stomp punch stomp.  Finally, after the third come-back-to-the-ring-cuz-Mick-almost-stood-up, Evolution hit a kind of triple-team powerbomb (really a powerbomb by Batista with Flair and Orton standing in the general vicinity).  Then Orton stood over Foley and shouted "Stay down!" at him about a dozen times to make sure we understood the point of the segment.  Thanks Randy, but I think we got it about 10 minutes ago.  We just stopped caring.  Evolution left the ring after the horrifying beatdown to a torrent of mostly apathy with a few boos sprinkled in.

Like I said, I GET what they wanted to do here.  The Orton/Bischoff promo, the "stay down," the non-sanctioning, the whole thing.  I understand it in theory, maybe even see a glimmer of usefulness in it.  But in practice, this fell flatter than... I don't know, Stacy Keibler something something.  Make up your own joke; I don't even feel like giving this segment my A-game.  JR interjected "No chair shots, no foreign objects, just fist on flesh," or something to that effect, and all I could have said in response was, "Nice identification of the problem, Jim."  To me, it felt like we already got the point about Mick being involved in a 3-on-1 situation after last week, and that this was the week where, if you're gonna do something, it's give Mick back-up.  Namely, the Rock, who was a couple of hours away and might have made a cameo tonight.  But you didn't even need the Rock, RVD/Booker would have sufficed.  Just somebody to put an end to the pointlessness.  Because "fist on flesh" is well and good for a minute or two, but if this was supposed to be so cataclysmic a beat down that Foley could not even stand, then goddammit, I want some chairs or tables or something.  Some kind of pay-off or climax.  Mick Foley didn't leave Hell in the Cell on a stretcher, and not one person in the audience is gonna be left in awe of Evolution throwing punches, and think that should put Mick down.  Depending on their disposition, the audience will either (a) start looking at its watch wondering when this will end, or (b) lose a little bit of faith in Mick Foley's ability to take a licking and keep on ticking.  I certainly lean towards the former, but neither is a desirable outcome for WWE.  A misstep here, in my opinion; the Fed had at least 4-5 very good options for this story (and that leaves things to do even if "The Rock" and "Outlandish Thumbtack Related Stunt" are to be saved for later), and selected none of them.

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Moments Ago: Mick Foley was the victim of the longest sustained beating ever, and during the break, had to be wheeled out on a stretcher.  Orton wins this round.

Backstage: Shawn Michaels is getting taped up before his big match when Chris Benoit walks in.  Crowd still sounds pretty pro-HBK at this point...  Benoit keeps it short and sweet.  He intends to show Michaels exactly the same respect Michaels showed him last week.  So chew on that.

Elsewhere Backstage: Eric Bischoff is still agonizing, but at least now he's doing it with Stacy next to him on the couch, and Jackie Gayda lounging nearby, so the scenery might be a pleasant distraction.  Except, ah dammit, they go and spoil it by opening their yappers.  Stacy's saying that she can't believe Sable said the RAW divas didn't have class.  Which is Jackie's cue to stand up and show us her outfit -- about which I will trust Matt Hocking to come up with a funnier joke than I can -- while opining she's all about "class."  They are both still miffed about not being in Playboy, too.  Bischoff tells them to go take it up with Hef, cuz if they'll sell magazines, he'll gladly put them on the cover next.  You know what's dumb? Feuds based on magazine covers.  You know what's dumber? Continuing on with the feud even though there's no chance of satisfactory pay-off (in this case, I would care about this story only insofar as Stacy and Jackie might be naked in Playboy; which they won't be). And you know what's probably dumbest? The handful of fans who, despite the fact that being unable to pay-off angles based on concepts like "Playboy" or "lesbians" is never going to stop the Fed from duping audiences, will actually think there's a chance of nudity or accidental same-sex booby-touching at whatever gimmick match these four women do at WM20.

Staying Right Here Backstage But I Got So Off Track There That Now I Need to Start a New Paragraph: After Stacy and Jackie leave, Steve Austin walks in to do this week's Blatant Product Placement (the Monday Night War DVD).  For some reason, Austin decides to note that his favorite part of the War was the time when Eric Bischoff challenged Vince McMahon to come to a WCW PPV and fight.  Which sets Bischoff off on a spiel about how he could beat Vince McMahon's ass in a real fight for any number of reasons, including: he's old enough to be a grandfather (INSIDE JOKE ALERT!  GIVE YOURSELF A CONGRATULATORY HANDSHAKE FOR GETTING IT!), and "I've got that karate thing going, too."  But Austin set Bischoff up: Vince is standing right behind Eric, and heard every word.  Vince can't believe Bischoff thinks he'd win in a fight, and next week, after Vince makes a Blockbuster Announcement about WrestleMania XX, he wants Bischoff to come out to the ring to find out just who's ass would be kicked.  Vince storms out, and Bischoff looks a bit flustered.  But Austin claps him on the back, and with one of his increasingly dependable tag lines, tells him, "Ah, don't worry, you got that karate thing going, right?".  Kind of weird and off-putting to see Austin seemingly assisting Vince and stuff, but I'm still getting the vibe this is part of a grander scheme, so let's wait till next week and see what develops....

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TRISH STRATUS and VICTORIA vs. MOLLY HOLLY and JAZZ

Trish starts, does maybe 90 seconds of stuff with Molly and Jazz, and then tags in Victoria, who drives the boat the rest of the way home.  Sadly, the fact that she performed quite nicely in doing so was overshadowed by the fact that she also looked quite good in doing so.  See the distinction?  I'm so fancy with my words!  Seriously, it was a new outfit tonight, and it was ass-tastic to the point that (a) Lawler wouldn't shut up about it, and (b) even JR had to play along and didn't try his usual act of "You know there's a match going on here, King."  I don't know what say.  On one hand, Victoria's rear is exceptional to the point that it was once used as OO's Main Page headline ("Rumptastic Pentameter").  On the other, Lawler should receive no further encouragement to be a moron.  Maybe a compromise where we get our ass in the diva magazines, and Victoria doesn't distract us while she's doing the rasslin'?  I mean, going with nothing more risqué than "tasteful cleavage" for I don't even know how long certainly hasn't hurt Trish's popularity...  oh, the match? After tagging in, Victoria did a little work with Jazz, but mostly paired up against Molly, leading to the final sequence in which Jazz and Trish powdered out, leaving Victoria isolated and able to hit the Widow's Peak for the pinfall win.  I think everybody has like 2 pinfall wins over Molly in the last month, but we still have no clear-cut #1 contender to her title.  Good little match, though.  Maybe 5 minutes.  Three-and-a-half or four of which were not spent looking at Victoria's ass and contemplating self-flagellation for daring to let the thought "Well, for once, maybe Lawler has a point" cross my mind. 

After the match: Stevie Richards hopped in the ring and celebrated quite enthusiastically with Victoria.  Trish, in a nice touch, stayed off to one side and didn't seem to be quite so chummy with the duo that one year ago were beating her senseless in no holds barred streetfights.  But then, WHAMMO, out of nowhere (OK, he actually came straight from Heat) Test ran in.  He tossed Victoria, and KO'ed Stevie, on the grounds that they are sort of feuding, even if JR and King forget to show the highlights on Monday nights. And when Trish decided she should probably do the right thing and stop Test, she got shoved to the mat for her troubles.  But before it could get any worse, Christian ran out for the save.  Why Christian?  Because, the announcers tell us, Jericho is at the hospital, and Christian is out here to save his new friend, Trish.  Nice guy.

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Backstage: Christian is WALKING. And Trish is sprinting to catch up to him.  She's getting really good at thanking guys for saving her lately, and Christian gets Form Letter #37a ("Sincere Thank You with No Discernable Sexual Tension").  But she can't hang around and chat, because she wants to go visit Jericho at the hospital.  Oh coincidences of coincidences!  Christian was just on his way there himself.  Maybe they could, you know, go together or something.  Christian makes this sound like a bigger deal than maybe it is, but Trish sees no harm...  Christian just has to go get a few things, and then they can take off....  and he returns with Jericho's rose, which he proceeds to present to Trish, saying it's just a little something he wanted to give to her as a late Valentine's Day gift.  Trish again opts to interpret this as cute-but-harmless as they head down the hall... but then Christian puts an arm around her, and when he begins moving in a southerly direction, we get a quick glance back from Trish before they round a corner.  The glance clearly said, "I don't care what or who else goes downtown to Chinatown tonight, but your right hand better stay at home, Junior."  Because she and Jericho make such a great couple that she's already started to adopt his phrases and stuff.  In my head, anyway... will those two kids never get together?

Video Package: More Michaels/Benoit/HHH stuff.

SHAWN MICHAELS vs.......

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SHAWN MICHAELS vs. CHRIS BENOIT

Staredown of Ultimate Intensity to start.  For all the crowd being pro-HBK throughout the night, we are pretty even, now, it seems.  If anything, when Michaels starts doing a little "warming up the band" stomp at the end of the staredown, it gets some boos.  And then, we're off!  Back and forth, lots of punches and chops.  Finally, Michaels settled in on offense, and stayed there for several minutes.  He looked to be firmly in control when he decided it was time for a Macho Man elbow... but Benoit dodged it.  They followed up by a spot near the ropes where Benoit wanted to hit a German Suplex, but Michaels wouldn't let him.  So Benoit wound up settling for tossing Michaels out over the top rope.  Michaels is crumpled outside, Benoit just spent 4 minutes getting his ass kicked... a perfect spot for some....

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We come back to Benoit in control.  Using all the normal rules of thumb (who controls during the ad break, and the choice of sequencing later in the match during submission spots), this match was put together to subtlety cast Benoit as the heel.  I should note that by the second half of the match here, and through to the finish, Benoit was getting slightly more cheers, it seemed like.  It was maybe only 60/40 in his favor, but what threw it into the spotlight was the fact that Michaels was actually getting BOOED for some of his spots (but Benoit's offense met with only his 60% cheers and silence from everybody else).  So chalk one up for...  I don't know, for Cosmic Justice or something.  It was just kind of cool to see Benoit end up as a crowd favorite over Michaels: not because I got anything against Shawn (on the contrary), but because it's a little piece of proof that fans can and will accept Benoit in a top spot.

Anyway, off my tangent and back to the match, Benoit is in control, and they are pretty clearly doing a thing where Benoit is targeting Shawn's surgically repaired back (Shawn earlier had gone after Benoit's surgically repaired neck).    Benoit's offense leads up to my long-time favorite, the Abominable Stretch.  Actually, with these two, they actually made it look plausible, and not like two guys resting comfortably.  So I'll be nice: Abdominal Stretch.  But like I said, they were trying to make Shawn the babyface, so this wound up being his sympathy spot.  He fires up, escapes finally.  Gets a sleeper locked in briefly, but Benoit reverses this, and briefly has a sleeper of his own.  From that point, we're in End Game.  Both guys are spent, and we get more highspots, more near falls, and a lot of spots where ref Hebner is counting them both down, which amps up the drama.  Michaels scores the first close call, this time hitting the Macho Man elbow, but Benoit counters the Sweet Chin Music.  Then Benoit gets his shot: he can't lock in a Crossface, but while Michaels is going nuts trying to defend against that, Benoit switches gears and locks in a Sharpshooter, instead.  Michaels struggles, and just when all hope seems lost, makes it to the ropes for a break.  But the damage was done, and Benoit capitalizes by throwing on three German Suplexes worth of pain.  And then, he thinks he's got the match won: he's gonna go up top for the Swandive Headbutt.  Or is he?  Out comes HHH, who starts muttering in Benoit's general direction. Benoit, perhaps not as bright as he is technically sound, gets distracted by this and walks over to that side of the ring to mutter back in HHH's direction.  Meantime, Michaels recovers, sneaks up behind Benoit, and nails him with a superkick.  1, 2, 3, and we have a winner.    Outstanding 20 minute match; I'd maybe have liked to have forsaken some of the "clean finish" aspect of this in favor of something more physical from HHH.  What, the internet ASKING for a screwy finish, aren't we EVER satisfied?  C'mon, I have a pretty good track record of knowing the difference between good-screwy and bad-screwy, and you know what I mean here: just something so Benoit has a better excuse than "I'm a fricking idiot" for losing the match...  but still, good match. Any other non-PPV week, and we're talking Lock-for-Match-of-the-Week good..

After the match: Were HHH and Michaels in cahoots, maybe?  Well, HHH gets in the ring, and gingerly seems to be helping HBK to his feet.... but no!  He was just helping him up so he could Pedigree him back down.  HHH is mighty pleased with himself as he leaves the ring...  only to be intercepted by Steve Austin's ATV of Justice!  Austin says that he talked to Bischoff, and a decision has been made.  But Bischoff is too big a pansy to come out and tell HHH to his face....  so Austin's here.  WrestleMania's main event?  For the first time in history, it will be a Triple Threat Match: Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels.  HHH is not happy, but play Austin's music as the show ends and he drives off.

FINAL ANALYSIS

A much better week, wrestling-wise.  The opening tag match was about the equal of both of last week's serious RAW contests, and obviously Michaels/Benoit blew them both away.  But underscoring something that a few internet fans prefer not to acknowledge: the entertainment side was down this week, and even with a serious **** type of match as the main event, the total package this week was down a bit from last week's angle- and promo-heavy show.

The opening promo with HHH, Benoit, and Bischoff was pretty strong, but after that, it was hit and miss on the storyline side.  

I'm not gonna be a big enough dumbass to actually say Orton/Foley took a step backward tonight, because honestly, there's no way those two don't start next week back in the exact same spot as this week: with Foley getting serious respect pops and Orton getting whatever it is you want to call what he gets.  The "Boy it sure looks like we better get used to booing this guy" heat, maybe?  Whatever.  Evolution/Foley annoyed me deeply this week, but it's nothing that can't be put right with ease given the personalities involved.

On the other hand, the stuff with Jericho/Trish/Christian was a hit this week, again without any serious forward progress.  Instead of forward, we just amplified what was already there: Jericho, in case the Special Needs kids needed some help, finally admitted he's still got a major case of the hots for Trish and that this Just Friends thing isn't cutting it.  Christian took his under-handed prick game to the next level, using Jericho's own rose against him to woo the lovely Trish.  A rose, dammit, the most romantic specimen in the entire flora kingdom!  And he might also have been on his way to copping a feel.  Jerk.  You kind of get a feel that this could build up to a deal at WM20 where it's Jericho vs. Christian, and they could put Trish in as the referee or otherwise in the middle: trapped between her "friend" and a guy that is pursuing her but who she hasn't yet figured out is a total asshole.

I'll give Bischoff/Vince an "INC" for incomplete.  Again, seeing Austin aligned with Vince against Bischoff doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I'm guessing it'll make a bit more after next week.  So I'll wait.  And try to spend that time telling myself "Vince's idea of a Blockbuster Announcement is probably Lesnar vs. Goldberg at WM." You know, so I don't get myself worked up into a tizzy like you will...  and that way, I can actually be pleasantly surprised if it IS something cool. 

My complaints also run into the realm of the picking of nits.  I could talk about clunky dialogue here, the Taker stuff being just a bit off the mark for my tastes there, and find a few scattered holes in the finishes of the two primary matches if I wanted.  Nothing as singularly glaring as the Evolution/Foley bit, but taken as a whole, they kind of took the shine off the show as compared to last week's tight, fast-paced effort. Still an above average show, mind you, the strength of the 20-plus minute main event alone went a long way on that front... but also a step down if the Fed was thinking they had found some kind of secret "Four Matches and a Lot of Other Talky Stuff" formula for making RAW good week in and week out.

The lesson?  I dunno... probably that good matches are easier to depend on than coming up with good entertainment.  Which is why SD! generally gets and stays in grooves a bit more easily than RAW (they had that one blueprint that was 2 good long matches, 3 shorter throw-aways, and only 1 big promo that they used to really good effect for a while back late last summer).  

But if I want to do involved theoretical pieces, I'll save them for OO.  This is a TV recap, and you have been sufficiently filled in on RAW.  Good show tonight.  Not great.  It even got pretty ugly in one big spot.  But still good on the whole.

More thoughts and fall-out and whatever else is pertinent in Wednesday's Online Onslaught....

E-MAIL RICK
BROWSE THE RAW RECAP ARCHIVES


  
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