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OO RAW RECAP
Deja Vu All Over Again 
March 16, 2004

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com

 

The post-WrestleMania RAW...  sometimes little more than a recap show, filling in the cheapskates on what they missed, and putting the wheels in motion for the Spring Lull (almost an annual phenomenon for many years).  Sometimes a reset show, introducing new talents and new storylines to avoid a Spring Lull (like the debut of Brock Lesnar and the Brand Split two years ago).  And sometimes a shocking show designed to deliver a surprise so big that it almost overshadows the previous night's big show (like last year's appearance by Goldberg).

So which was it going to be coming out of the 20th installment of WrestleMania?  Stick around and find out....

Cold Open:  no opening theme or pyro or anything.  Not even a recap of WM20.  Just live to the arena, for one of Lillian Garcia's Awkward Pauses... she had SOMEthing in mind, but only got as far as "Ladies and Gentlemen, please wel...." before trailing off.  There was a decidedly pregnant pause before we finally got things started with....

One Really Pissed Off Ex-Champion 

HHH hits the ring to the sweet dulcet tones of Lemmy, and is, without hardly doing anything, putting Chris Benoit over huge.  First, he's wearing a sling on his left arm to sell the Crippler Crossface (nice touch, considering nobody's done anything similar since Mark Henry decided to sell the move by getting shoulder surgery and going away for four months).  And second, he lets the crowd have whatever fun they want at his expense.  "You Tapped Out" was their first choice of a chant.  Followed by a "Benoit, Benoit."  HHH still hadn't said a word.  Although, as a master lip reader, I can assure you that he mouthed a very obvious "Mother Fucker" at the fans.

Eventually, once the fans seemed to have had enough, HHH deigned to speak.  He proclaimed that the fans are stupid if they think one night or one win make you the best.  Going out and doing it night after night for months and years, THAT makes you the best.  And that's what HHH has done for 5 years.  So when Benoit woke up this morning and had the shiny gold belt, that didn't mean anything.  What mattered is that when HHH woke up, he knew he was still the best wrestler on the planet, and that as soon as his arm was back to 100%, he'd be waiting in line to prove it to Benoit and take back his title.

Out comes Benoit.  He gets the cheap pop by saying he was tired of sitting back listening to HHH piss and moan, but then moves on to a much more clever point: that HHH can do whatever he wants, take his time, get healthy, and when he comes back, Benoit will relish facing him night in and night out for months or for years or for however long it takes, because Benoit will kick HHH's ass and make him "tap and tap and tap and tap and tap and tap."  Man, it started out as a cool point, then it got lame after the sixth "tap," and then Benoit, bless him, stuck with it so long that he somehow made it intimidating again.

HHH immediately got back on the mic and told Benoit that would never happen, not even "on your best day."  Benoit pondered for about three seconds, then declared, "Come to think of it, today's not my best day" before decking HHH.  Evolution IMMEDIATELY bolted out to the ring and gathered up HHH.  They regrouped, and each man took one side of the ring.  Benoit stood in the middle, looking like a man about to get his ass kicked, but not willing to go down without a fight.  Finally, just as Evolution were all up on the apron, Shawn Michaels sprinted out with a chair to keep them at bay.  Michaels and the chair kept giving dirty looks to Evolution, but then eventually shot a few Benoit's way.  Benoit shot them right back, and it was clear those two weren't on the same page.

But before any more fireworks could erupt, Eric Bischoff's music hit, and he came out to proclaim that he just got off the phone with Vince McMahon and he can't do anything about the World Title picture, because he's been ordered not to make any title matches for the near future (and that we'll find out why as soon as Vince arrives).  But he does have the power to make tonight's main event... since Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista were so successful in a handicap match against Mick Foley and the Rock at WM20, Bischoff wants to see them do it again.  Against Michaels and Benoit.  Cheshire cat grins from Evolution.  Uneasy glances at each other from Michaels and Benoit as we cut to....

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Backstage: Jonathan Coachman catches up to Shawn Michaels, and asks him why he'd come to the rescue of Chris Benoit.  HBK says he looks at it as "protecting his investment."  He figures that as long as Benoit is healthy and champion, Michaels stands a good chance of getting a title shot.  Or at least better than he'd have had against his arch-nemesis HHH.  So Michaels came to Benoit's aid moments ago, and tonight in the handicap match, he stand by Benoit and do more of the same.  But make no mistake: he's also coming after Benoit's title at some point down the line. 

Victoria and Lita vs. Jazz and Molly Holly

Molly entered last, and there was actually a pretty big pop when her music hit.  Those turned to boos when Molly came out wearing a blond wig (complete with hilarious chin strap).  Nice work.  Molly came in en feugo, but once the ref restored order and got it down to one-on-one, it was Jazz doing the work for the heel team.  Acceptable, but forgettable work led up to the Big Spot about 3 minutes in.  Lita was in control of the match, and Molly tried to interfere... so Lita grabbed the wig, and yanked it off to expose the Austin/Angle/Goldberg/Scaia-like melon.  Big pop.  Molly, instead of going psycho, got very embarrassed, and ran away from the ring.  Cameras followed her escape (and Victoria's mocking laughter) instead of the in-ring action, so I'm not 100% sure how it happened, but within a minute, Jazz was on the defensive, and Lita pinned her clean following a DDT.  Competently worked, but let's be serious: this was four minutes of wrestling for the 30 second peak at Molly's skull.  My first instinct was to think that Molly would instantly "get her heat back" on RAW since the shave itself was sufficient humiliation, but upon further review, I get this. Let the WHOLE audience get the joke, not just the ones with $50 burning holes in their pockets.  When Angle did this shtick, he let it ride for a couple weeks, and it's not like it hurt him.  And unlike Angle's, I have a feeling Molly's hair will actually grow back.  [Oh, and since you don't care: the wig served to convince me that it probably should grow back blonde.  I'm not a blonde-guy or a brunette-guy -- or a leg-man, or an ass-man, or an earlobe-man, or anything-else-man for that matter -- and am, in fact, deeply suspicious of any dude who is so obsessed over any single characteristic.  It's all about the total package, and I just always thought Molly's unique case was that she was better looking blonde.  Then again, being blonde and cute isn't exactly what she's been going for lately, so....  whatever, it's just that it'd been so long I'd kind of forgotten.  The wig sparked my memory.]

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Speaking of Good Looking Blondes: JR and King narrate (after some audio difficulties) a series of pictures and clips illustrating how that vile temptress, jezebel, harlot, and possible wench Trish Stratus turned on Chris Jericho last night.  She definitely cost him his match against Christian.  And she quite possibly broke Chris' heart when she paused to make out with Christian at the top of the ramp.  

Backstage, Live: Jericho couldn't just see the video package, so That New Guy What Asks The Tough Questions (the one who, last week, got in Booker's face and asked if getting pinned by Jindrak and Cade meant he'd get beat at WM) tracked down Jericho in a hallway and tried to get him to open up about what happened the night before.  He asks about Christian winning, then about Trish betraying him.  But Jericho just keeps walking and doesn't say a word.  He's all business, baby.

Chris Jericho vs. Matt Hardy

Matt Fact: "Matt is ridiculously underrated."  Whoa, so now Matt's resorted to getting facts about himself from the Internet?  You're welcome for the material, kid, but I'd rather know about your favorite condiments and whether you use your car's air conditioner or just open the windows on particularly hot days!  Gimme something new!  Matt, by the way, will continue to be ridiculously underrated following this match.  It consisted mostly of him getting his ass kicked by the "all business" Jericho, who was using all kinds of heel-y tactics.  Matt got maybe 20 seconds of offense in the middle, but other than that, it was all brawling, and all Jericho.  When the fight went outside the ring, Jericho started using a camera cord, and got DQ'ed by the ref.  Jericho finished the choke out, and then just kind of stormed back up the ramp, all business, baby.  So, wait, Matt wins!  Kind of!  Look what it did for Stevie Richards' career last week!  Maybe 2 minutes, tops, and fast-paced enough, although far too short to be really good... mostly, it was an excuse for JR and King to talk about (a) how focused Jericho seemed after (b) what happened to him the night before, and (c) how Christian and Trish took the "cowardly" way out by not even showing up tonight (because they were off fucking, according to Lawler, who disguised his ever-clever one-track mind with a really bad "Viagra Falls" pun).

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Moments Ago, During the Break: Chris Jericho hopped in a car and left the arena without saying a word to anyone.  He's all business, baby!  Got that through your thick skull, yet? All business is Jericho!

Backstage: Randy Orton and his IC belt are standing around when a camera happens upon them.  So Randall decides to cut himself a little promo.  He brags about beating Mick Foley at WM20, doing it 1-2-3 in the middle of the ring.  Says it proves he's better than Mick, and that he'd love to prove it again, so he has an idea: how about they do a one-on-one match.  Randy says he'd be fine with a stip that bans Evolution from ringside so he can take Foley out once and for all, with no extracurricular activity.  And then, Randy theorizes, Mick's son "Huey" will start idolizing the Legend Killer instead of his own dad.  Thing one: I don't think Orton issuing that challenge is the right play to begin with.  Thing Two: I don't think he issued it very well (it was just a not-very-engaging, stilted delivery, which Orton specializes in).  Thing Three: I would have bet my appendix that Mick's son of cognizant-of-wrestling-age was named "Dewey."  Bottom line: more mediocrity from the third-generation superstar....

In a Hallway: Sylvain Grenier is back!  How come he didn't get any vignettes?  The injustice!  Grenier, along with Rob Conway, and the suddenly verbose Rene Dupree are walking along, talking about how great it is to have La Resistance all back together again.  And not just back together, but with an All New Member, too: a poodle apparently named Fifi.  Yikes.  There's probably a Ric Flair's Hot Chambermaid joke in there, but I was only barely watching WCW at the time...  so anyway: La Resistance is sauntering down a hall with their new dog when Steve Austin pops in.  He has a back and forth with Dupree, who has clearly been designated as "La Resistance Member You're Supposed to Be Paying Most Attention To Which is Why He Gets All the Speaking Parts."  It's something about Austin not liking all the dog crap in his arena, so as Sheriff, he's gonna write a ticket to "that French bitch."  When Dupree gets indignant at Austin referring to cute l'il Fifi as a "bitch," Austin clarifies.  He wasn't talking about the dog.  He was talking about Dupree.  Austin hands Dupree the ticket and then leaves.

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Kane vs. Val Venis

Val got to do his shtick before the match, at least: a woman from the audience (or more likely, judging by her implausible, gravity-defying dimensions, from a local gentlemen's club) got to remove the Big Valbowski's towel.  This entire spectacle took about a minute.  Then, just as the woman decided to announce that she wanted to take something off for Val (big pop), Kane's pyro hit (boo!) and hit power-walked to the ring for the match.  Which took about 30 seconds.  Big boot.  Maybe one other move.  Chokeslam.  Finish.  I am not exaggerating at all: the towel got more of a workout than Kane.  Nothing as a match.  I think the point was to get the story across that Kane doesn't like bOObies.  Or something.  Maybe he was pissed about losing to the Undertaker, too.  But mostly the bOObies thing.

Hall of Fame Stuff: the same recap segment that ran at WM20 was replayed.  Jesse says he wants to be president.  Sgt. Slaughter calls everybody maggots.  Bobby Heenan actually takes the night seriously and wishes his friend Gorilla Monsoon could have been there with him.  

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Stacy Keibler vs. Jackie Gayda

Wheeee! All attempts to lend context to this match -- anything about how the two girls are pissy because they lost last night at Mania, for instance -- is pretty much glossed over right away in favor of the Expected Commentary.  Hint: it involved Puppies.  They go for about 90 seconds.  Stacy hits her highspot (the cervix dilation boot, you know the one), then Jackie took over for about 30 seconds.  And Jackie opted to go to the Chinlock of Doom!  And apparently that made SOMEbody very angry, because we immediately got interrupted by....

Vince McMahon's "What do you Mean, This Isn't Tajiri versus Rhyno?" Theater

Vince's music hit in the middle of the chinlock, which Jackie immediately released.  Both girls looked confused, but immediately scattered, never to be heard from again.

Vince got on the mic and said that, with no due respect to the girls involved, he had something important he wanted to say.  To wit: "Where it all begins again" was just a marketing slogan for WrestleMania XX.  The company really is about to enter a whole new era.  Vince says things have to be shaken up.  General managers need to be goosed.  Teams and factions who kiss ass need to quit getting everything handed to them on platters.  Fans want new stars, new rivalries, new alliances, and Vince is going to give it to them, starting next week.

Vince orders all SmackDown! wrestlers to appear on RAW next Monday.  He orders all RAW wrestlers to be there, too.  He orders anybody even vaguely associated with WWE to be there, even specifically mentioning part timers like Austin and Foley, as well as "my family members."  EVERYbody is going to be a free agent next Monday.  And everybody will be assigned to either RAW or SmackDown! in a Lottery.  The result will be an "All new WWE."

Vince's music played to end the segment, while Ross and Lawler mused over the possibilities of Evolution breaking up or tag teams forced to split and stuff like that.  They'd also harp on similar themes throughout the rest of the night, forcing me to wonder if they somehow had the "April 2002" module removed from the brain they apparently share, or something......

Whoa, that certainly came out of left field, didn't it?  I mean, in some ways, the pieces of the puzzle were all there, but I didn't expect them to be put together quite this way...  certainly I'll have a few more thoughts below, as well as in tomorrow's news update.

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Backstage: Johnny NoLastNameThisWeek is talking on a phone and Eric Bischoff is pacing when Evolution storms in, demanding to know what Vince's speech means for them.  Clearly, Eric isn't going to allow Evolution to split up, is he?  Bischoff says he only knows what Evolution knows, they heard the same thing.  And from the sounds of it, EVERYbody is up for grabs in next week's Lottery.  Bischoff is meek in making the statement, but seems resigned to Vince's authority.  Evolution, on the other hand, are STEAMED, as they leave.

Booker T and Rob Van Dam vs. The Dudley Boyz (Tag Team Title Match)

This is, apparently, an offshoot of the only really compelling showdown to take place during WM20's four-team showdown, though again, you don't really get a clear explanation of the context.  Or at least, I didn't.  But I wasn't paying super-close attention, either.  Instead, it seemed like Lawler and King spent the entire first five minutes pouring over Vince McMahon's Lottery Announcement with complete shock and awe.  Almost as if they hadn't been through the exact same thing two years ago.  Ross ALMOST earned a gold star when he semi-chided Lawler when Lawler went back to "What happens if the Dudleys are split up" riff for the fifth time... but he didn't slam it home, he just let King off with a "I think maybe they've been through that before."  Which they did; it was a big deal, and even bigger when the Dudleys were allowed to get back together.  So no sprinkles on the ice cream tonight for JR.  Humiliate the King when he says something retarded!  I demand it!  The match was back and forth and very face/face-ish for the opening portion, but with the Duds inching almost imperceptibly towards heelishness.  About 8 minutes in, chaos broke out, and I got the distinct feeling we were heading for End Game.  But it was just a decoy.  RVD and D-Von eventually powdered out after a couple big spots (one was a sweet-ass RVD bump on a neckbreaker), leaving Bubba and Booker.  Booker took the advantage, and seemed to set up for the scissors kick... but D-Von came to enough to intercept, Bubba stood up, and they hit 3-D on Booker instead.  RVD also came back just enough to make the save, but all four men were spent and down, so let's do some....

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We come back, and you can forget about going for the face/face vibe.  The Dudley have flipped the Prick Switch into the On Position.  Bubba, in particular, is seemingly having a good time in getting to be an asshole for the first time in a while.  He's giving RVD a running commentary of the match, for starters.  He's also doing cool stuff like this one move I've never seen before: kind of a hip-toss into a Fisherman's Buster, maybe.  Looked sweet, but I have a feeling Bubba couldn't add it to his arsenal unless he was wrestling RVD or a comparable bump-taker every week...  finally, RVD managed to get the hot tag to Booker, who got in and took care of business.  He sent D-Von out, put Bubba down, did the Spinaroonie.  He even hit the scissors kick on Bubba, but D-Von made the save.  So RVD marshaled his remaining energy and hit a bit rana on D-Von, taking both men over the top rope to the floor.  That left Booker in the ring to hit a Book End on Bubba.  Three seconds later, it was all over.  The champs retain in an inordinately-long 20-minute match.  Honest: I love the idea, and this was an order of magnitude more entertaining than the tag title match on the WM20 PPV, but it took a while getting there, and given what came later, I kind of wish they'd invested about 8 minutes of this time elsewhere.  But a decent match, nonetheless.

Music Video: the same montage that closed out the PPV on Sunday night.  Nice highlight-style collection of key WrestleMania 20 moments, in case you missed them.

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Spike Dudley vs. ??????

Well, thanks for playing Spike, but tonight, he only gets about halfway down the entrance ramp when Christian dashes out to kick his ass.  And that wanton seductress, tramp, hussy, and strumpet Trish Stratus is right behind.  And she better make this good, because between this and the previous paragraph about her, I've blown through about 3 months worth of synonyms on trying to make sure YOU, the Home Viewer, buy her as a heel.  All I've got left for next week is "trollop."  Anyway, after Christian does the hard work, he hoists Poor Spike Dudley up so that Trish can kick him in the head.  

"Why, Trish, Why?"

Decimation of Spike complete, the evil couple hop in the ring and grab a mic.  Christian politely asks for quiet, because the young lady has something she'd like to say.  But first, she has to pause so the live crowd can chant "slut" at her.  Apparently, they like to keep it simple in New Jersey.  Why confuse the issue with synonyms when you can cut right to the chase?  Trish chastises the crowd, saying that she was the subject of a one dollar (Canadian) bet and didn't fold, so clearly they have her confused with some other cheap slut.  Then she suggests that there's some irony here: Jericho spent months trying to screw her, but she turned it around and screwed him.  Or, more accurately -- all while giving Christian the Eye Contact of Extreme Significance, as well as the simultaneous Torso Stroking of Even More Extreme Friskiness -- "screwing somebody else."  

Christian's grin as he took the mic back could be probably be described as "shit-eating," if only I really understood the etymology of that term.  He explains that Jericho blew it with Trish because he was too busy being all romantic and talky and emotional.  And while Jericho was acting like a wuss-bag, Christian came in and sealed the deal.  Because Trish isn't the kind of girl who wants to be pursued.  She wants to be TAKEN.  She likes it a little rough and dirty, and that's what Christian's all about.  Then he kind of fumbled for a minutes with a non sequitur tangent about New Jersey being full of Creepy Little Bastards, but he's not a Creepy Little Bastard.  I don't know, it didn't fit in with the rest at all: it was a little TOO obvious a case of a heel mentioning the very thing he DOESN'T want chanted at him in an attempt to remind the fans to chant it, if that makes sense.  Not smooth.  But then he and Trish finish with the punchline: a duet about how Chris Jericho "Can't Get No Stratus-faction."  Ha!  Then they make out some more. 

Decent enough segment, I guess, although it seemed to succeed more on the "let's just say some naughty, mean things" level than a "let's actually explain exactly why we did what we did" level.  Trish pretty much hit her three lines worth of material (though I have NO idea why SpikeTV decided to bleep out every instance of "screw"), and Christian was mostly OK in doing the more-extended requisite bragging about nailing Trish.  They also sort of hit on the issue of why Trish was getting beat up by Christian three weeks ago but making out with him at WM, without going overboard.  They danced around making a big deal out of it, but introduced the "Trish likes it a little rough" idea enough that you can fill in your own blanks at home.  It was handled well enough to get us to next week, when Jericho probably doesn't vacate the building, and we get two sides of the story, and perhaps a few more blanks getting filled in....  but you know what I hate?  I think about "Trish likes it a little rough," and the first blank I fill in is "Thank god they DIDN'T harp on it more, because Lawler would have been an incredible chore to listen to if they had."  That should NOT be my first thought....  [cartman] I hate you Jerry Lawler.  I hate you so very, very much.  You have warped my fragile little mind. [/cartman]  Well, maybe he un-warped it, in this particular case... but you get the idea.

Backstage: Rene Dupree is the Alpha Male of La Resistance -- not to mention the likely candidate to get split off into a singles role by this sudden Draft Lottery thing, leaving the other two to languish as a tag team -- and announces to Conway and Grenier that what Steve Austin said to him cannot be allowed to stand.  He's going out to the ring to demand an apology.  Or something like it.  Apparently, he doesn't actually watch the show, or he'd know that's a bad idea.  Grenier and Conway, though?  They promptly decide to stay and keep an eye on Fifi.  Smart fellers.  For Frenchies.  And Frenchie Sympathizers.

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Corporately Sponsored Video Clip of the Night:  At WrestleMania XX, Brock Lesnar faced Bill Goldberg.  And your winner was.... Stone Cold Steve Austin. 

Rene Dupree Is Not Very Smart

Dupree is out, and gets a mic.  He says that the stupid American Swine are under the misconception that the French are weak and spineless.  Au contraire!  They are smart and manly and a bunch of other things that are good!  He said the French's only crime was that they didn't want to go into battle to get shot at in a war that was America's and not theirs.  But now, he has a battle HE wants to fight, and it's with Steve Austin.  Or something along those lines.  He switched into French at some point, but it was pretty clear he wanted Austin to come out to the ring.

So Austin obliged.  Made a circuit of the ring on his Justice Buggy.  Posed for a moment.  Then hopped in the ring and kicked the hell out of Dupree for a minute or two.  Then hit a Stunner and drank about a 12 pack of beer while the crowd cheered. Some things will just always work.  This was simple as all get-out, but it worked.  It also gave JR and Lawler more time -- during Austin's celebration -- to riff on how this could be the Last Time Stone Cold Is Ever On RAW, since the Lottery was never far from the front of their mind.

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The Only Rock You'll Get For the Next 11 Months Unless You're Willing to Pony Up $8.50: they do a glorified 3-minute commercial for "Walking Tall," disguised as a mini-documentary or something.  Rock and the rest of the cast and crew are shown talking about how great the movie will be, with clips interspersed.  My take so far?  "The Rundown" looked way more interesting in its commercials.  Enough so to get my out to the theater.  But maybe that was just the Walken....

Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit vs. Evolution (Handicap Match)

Match didn't even get started until very close to 11pm (eastern), so even then, part of my brain was starting to craft a "And they gave the tag title match 20-plus minutes?" rant...  out of the gate, Michaels and Flair did some simple (but good) back-and-forth, then Benoit got in and he and Flair decided to chop the shit out of each other for about 90 seconds. Orton eventually got in the match for Evolution, and around the 4 minute mark, he and Michaels did a collision spot where they also took out referee Mike Chioda.  Then we cut to footage backstage, where Mick Foley was arriving in a car... and a minute later, he came out to the ring!  Everybody (including HHH, who was at ringside helping the other members of Evolution) started brawling, but finally Foley got his hands on Orton, and the two brawled into the crowd, never to be seen again.  Meantime, HHH's involvement meant the odds were still, technically, 3-on-2 in favor of Evolution.  So he took out Michaels with a Pedigree, and tried to revive the ref.  But Chioda was out.  Eventually, Earl Hebner sprinted out to finish the match, but by then, Michaels was able to kick out of Batista's attempted cover.  Order was restored, and we had ourselves something more like a standard 2-on-2 tag match with Orton gone (but HHH was still there, so...).  Batista hit another move or two on HBK, and tagged Flair back in.  Flair immediately went after Michaels' bandaged forehead and busted his WM20 wound wide open for a little color.  After a time-compressed face-in-peril sequence, Michaels got the hot tag to Benoit at about the 8 or 9 minute mark, and we immediately went to End Game.  Benoit cleaned house with suplexes, but then Flair distracted the ref while HHH got in the ring and tried to Pedigree Benoit.  Michaels picked HHH off with a superkick, however.  When Batista tried to hit Benoit with his powerbomb, Benoit countered it into the Sharpshooter.  HHH was out.  Michaels took out Flair.  Batista tapped out in short order to Benoit.  About 10 minutes.  Really good.  Better, in fact, with more drama and excitement, than the tag title match that was twice as long.  Kinda made me wish that they'd give 6-8 of those minutes to the main event instead...  but whatever: really fun main event, asshole bitching about time management aside.  Michaels and Benoit celebrated together without much tension as the show ended (and as JR expended his energy talking about how it might be the last time these two were ever in the same ring together, either as partners or as opponents, because of that Lottery coming next week).

Final Analysis

Well, you want a show that gets people talking?  This was it.  You want a show that practically tripled the Actual Wrestling Content of the last couple RAWs?  This was it.  

But I'm still not necessarily convinced it was a total home run of a show. 

The time management thing may sound like a stupid bitchy issue, but given my tendency to weight shows heavily based on the main event and my suspicion that a lot of you are the same in that regard, the Fed could REALLY have tied things up in a nice little package by leaving more time for Benoit, HBK, and Evolution to do their dog and pony show (while simultaneously tightening up the tag title match that did drag in a few spots).  That said, I'm trying to refrain from harping on that because I also realize that the Duds and RVD/Booker didn't bust their asses quite as hard as Benoit/Michaels did at WM20, so maybe it was just a case of spreading the workload around, and not a time management issue, at all.  That I can respect.  Even with that stated concern, the main event was still excellent and the Match of the Night (if a little short) and the tag title match was still quite good (if a little over-long).  Not a huge deal.  But definitely something I noticed.

But then you do have something that I have VERY strong concerns about: the Lottery.  I mean, it sounds really cool and interesting in theory.  But just because JR and King apparently forgot about the utter lameness of the Brand Extension Draft and how it took a good 5 or 6 months before they un-fucked-up things enough that the Brand Split Era finally got rolling doesn't mean YOU have to forget it... bottom line: they didn't get it right with WWF vs. WCW, it took them a few months before they started getting it right with RAW vs. SD!, and now they want to reset things again?  To me, that's stepping up to the plate with no balls and two strikes....
 
I'm not saying it WILL suck.  But I believe I'm justified in having my doubts.  History is on my side, for one.  And the fact that I suspect this is a wrestling/creative decision being made for what are almost exclusively business reasons means we might have a fundamental disconnect.  It's like somebody in a boardroom saw "70 percent of our fans are loyal to one brand and don't watch the other" so they went down to the writers' room and announced "Hey, you, disregard 18 months of brand building and shuffle 'em all up so we can trick people into watching both shows."  It's not a plan completely devoid of sense, but it's also probably not the way I'd have approached the situation.

My biggest concern: something as cool as a Draft or Lottery will, by nature, get my juices flowing, contemplating massive shake-ups and complex Fantasy Booking scenarios.  That stuff is really neat.  But from there, it's a bit of a lose/lose...

I mean, if the Fed doesn't shake things up, we'll all be disappointed and frustrated that they only made cosmetic changes after promising cataclysmic ones.  Just look at how utterly underwhelming that first draft was.  

But then, if the Fed DOES go insane with alterations, we'll all be giddy for about 10 minutes before the realization sets in that Mistakes Have Been Made.  I mean, think about it: I don't want them to break up tag teams and try to force Preacher D-Von or Solo Bradshaw on us again.  I don't want them to put Victoria and the women's title on a show with Dawn, Torrie, Sable, and Stacy Keibler.  I don't want two half-assed Cruiserweight Divisions when the Fed can't even handle one full-assed one with any particular skill.  

In short, the trade off is Real, Significant Change vs. Maintaining Any Sense of Order Or Logic.  There might be ways to do both at the same time, but they would require a LOT of thought and planning, and by all accounts, this decision to reshuffle came within the last week.  I'm not sure I totally believe that, either, but that's a story for another time.  Like tomorrow's column.  For now, let's take it at face value and assume this is kind of a rash decision.  If that's the case, I expect that my naive enthusiasm will, predictably, meet with disappointment when all is said and done next week.  But we'll see.

Like I said, though: if nothing else, Vince's bombshell has got us talking, so this round still has to go to him in that regard.

Other stuff: Orton/Foley was a bit of a misplay in my book, as I think Foley should have been the aggressor coming off a loss. Instead, they had Orton issue the follow-up challenge, and not particularly eloquently at that.  Foley got his sac back by attacking Orton in the main event, but I still think you could have maximized the impact of the future Orton/Foley contest by handling it differently....  conversely, the Molly/Victoria thing also went against my first instinct, but when I stopped and thought about it, I think that was a good play.  Only after tearing Molly all the way down can you build her back up.

I dug the opening promo, as well.  HHH was doing the little things that make a heel boo-able and make his opponent popular: selling the arm, letting the fans talk themselves into chanting various things, and so on.  Sometimes, HHH deserves the crap he takes from internet fans, sure... but the past couple months, he's been mostly gold.  Putting on great matches against HBK and then the early MotY against HBK and Benoit on Sunday, and solid heeling like this, without nearly as much of the bloated over-long rambling.  He's helping himself, but more importantly, he's helping Project Benoit.  Yeah, that's right: I said it.  HHH, master politician, is a big part of Project Benoit's success to date. 

Trish/Christian was also pretty good.  Not a home run, but again, I think what we're waiting for now is a week when Jericho can respond and we get a dialogue, more of a Both Sides of the Story thing going...  but still pretty good for setting a tone, even if not for explaining every little detail.

Pushes: the tag division, which delivered a good and long match, but which also didn't get any help in terms of any storylines or long-term feuds.  I don't think the Duds are REALLY going heel to stay any time soon.  Then again, if they are serious about this split thing, maybe that screws up the tag teams situation, anyway.  I don't know.  Another reason to be dubious about the lottery... and Kane's a push, too.  I mean, yeah, he looked big and mean dominating Val Venis.  But I mean, so what, he looked big and mean dominating VAL VENIS.  If he doesn't end up on the same brand as Taker, I'll be shocked.  He really has nothing else cooking just now.

In the end, an EXCELLENT "get 'em talking" show.  And a pretty decent/slightly above average show from an overall entertainment perspective, too.  But nothing so amazing that it overshadowed the "get 'em talking" element of the Lottery Announcement.  Nothing even close, really.

More thoughts and fall-out tomorrow in OO.

E-MAIL RICK
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