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OO RAW RECAP
Plenty of HLA: Hot Lottery Action! 
March 23, 2004

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com

 

WWE "Draft Lottery" Results
In case you just want the quick and the dirty, and not my amazingly eloquent telling of the Story of RAW: here's who's going where, as of the morning hours of March 23, 2004.
RAW Gets...
1. Shelton Benjamin
2. Nidia
3. Rhyno
4. Tajiri
5. Edge
6. Paul Heyman
SD! Gets...
1. Rene Dupree
2. Mark Jindrak
3. Triple H
4. Rob Van Dam
5. Theodore Long
6. Spike Dudley
But wait, there's more:  per the edict of Vince McMahon, the two General Managers of the two brands are also free to complete any talent trades they wish until 9pm Tuesday night (concurrent, I'm sure, with the announcement of a new SD! GM at TV tapings).  These roster moves are not yet set in stone.

The ultimate goal of Monday's WWE Draft Lottery will be to spark a new era of cross-promotional storytelling that will get more fans watching BOTH shows, instead of just one.  On that front, we won't know if RAW was a success until some point in the future.

But in the near term, I think we'd all be satisfied if RAW just implemented a roster shake-up in an entertaining fashion.  For all the hype over this being a "first time ever" event in history, the actual truth is that, specific mechanics aside, WWE has tried the same basic concept twice before.  The WWF vs. WCW/ECW inVasion failed badly, and the first RAW vs. SD! draft was a complete bore to sit through and was also an exercise in horrible judgment that took months to repair.

So: with those low expectations, could WWE deliver to good with the 2004 version of Brand Versus Brand?  Read on, find out...

Cold Open: Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler welcome us to a history-making, career-breaking night of RAW, as rosters will be irrevocably shaken up.  They narrate us through a pan-over of the RAW locker room.  Then Michael Cole and Tazz pick up the slack for a pan-over of the SD! locker room amidst similar proclamations.

Cut to: Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman, going nose to nose and giving each other the death stare.  Heyman, it should be noted, was sporting a neck brace courtesy of the Undertaker.  Before Bischoff and Heyman could get out of hand, Vince McMahon materialized and announced the structure of the evening: Heyman would select, at random, six RAW superstars out of a hopper (and EVERYbody is included, champions and all).  Bischoff would select six SD! stars at random out of an identical hopper.  Those 12 men or women would be the only ones to change teams.  Suddenly, all that talk of cataclysmic make-overs is sounding pretty ludicrous, isn't it?  But there's more: Vince announces that if the GMs aren't happy with their picks, they can also make any talent trades they want prior to a 12 midnight deadline after the show.  He wants the GMs to shake things up and create him a New WWE.

Opening Music/Pyro/Etc. takes us another dual opening, first from JR and King, and then from Tazz and Cole.  The two tandems would switch back and forth all night long, and for something that they've never done before, it was handled exceptionally smoothly (it only really got sort of contrived and cheesy during the very final seconds of the show).

It Begins

Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman came out onto the stage, and adopted their stations: two identical podiums and hoppers with the appropriate logo affixed on opposite sides.  Heyman decided to do most of the talking, because his job was to establish himself as the heel of the duo.  Which was easy, as he immediately kicked off by badmouthing RAW and its fans and putting SD! over as the superior brand.  Good stuff from Heyman, and he was stellar all night (as was Bischoff) in carrying the extended Lottery segments.

Finally, Heyman decides it's time to pick his first new star.  He grabs a ball, opens it up, examines the paper, and announces that with his first pick he is "breaking up one of RAW's elite groups."  He says this just as the camera pans past (an Orton-less) Evolution, raising expectations...  but then it's Rene Dupree who he announces as SD!'s first acquisition.  Heyman (and Tazz/Cole) boasted of Dupree's potential as Dupree made a heartfelt farewell from Grenier/Conway backstage and then they flashed an onscreen Bio for Dupree (as they would for all picks).  Dupree eventually made it onto the stage, where he was welcomed by Heyman and got roundly booed.  Then, Dupree decided to head to the ring....

Rene said he had no desire to have his last memory of RAW be a Stunner from Steve Austin.  So tonight, in his final appearance in front of these filthy RAW fans, he wanted a match so he could leave a winner.  Heyman and Bischoff quickly discussed, and said OK... so Dupree issued an open challenge to anyone in the back and got.....

Rene Dupree vs. Chris Jericho

Jericho picked up where he left off last week: all reckless and fiery and intense and stuff.  He beat Dupree down with moves that would generally be considered more heelish, but was getting cheered because apparently getting dissed by a chick gives you permission to act like an asshole and not get called on it.  Dupree staged a mini comeback, but after all of maybe 4 offensive moves, he got cocky: he did his little dance, which Lawler insisted on calling "The French Tickler," even though that is quite silly (I thought the idea of splitting Rene off on his own would be to let him develop a personality that wasn't so one-dimensional).  Then, Dupree decided to do it again.  Mistake.  Jericho had enough and took advantage of Dupree's show boating by scoring a near fall or two.  And then, out of nowhere and apropos of nothing as far as I could tell, Jericho hit Bad News Brown's old "Ghetto Blaster" finisher (they called it a plain old enzuigiri, but they way Jericho did it, it was definitely more of a standing version of a Shining Wizard or something) and got the pinfall.  Huh.  Maybe 3 minutes, total.  Quick and harmless and mostly well-executed and with good heat, but just too short to be anything memorable.

After the match: Jericho left without incident -- remember, he's All Business, Baby! -- but Dupree got on the mic and complained that he was cheated and that he still didn't want to leave RAW until...  *KEE-RASH*.  Oh well, this can't end well for the self-dubbed "French Phenom."  And it doesn't.  Austin and the Justice Buggy circle twice, and then come to a full and complete halt so Stone Cold can exit the vehicle.  Austin extends the Handshake of Oh Good Lord How Can Anybody Still Be This Stupid After Seven Years...  and Dupree decides to accept it.  Only to be Stunnered out of his boots.  Austin celebrated his Token Appearance with some beers....

[ads]

Rico (w/ Miss Jackie) vs. ?????????

Well, Rico starts the segment already in the ring, waiting for SOMEthing, but we'll have to wait to find out, because first, Heyman and Bischoff are back out.  It's time for Bischoff to make RAW's first Lotto Pick.  During a brief "RAW is awesome" speech that got some cheers, Bischoff also paused long enough to let the crowd do a spontaneous "Cena, Cena" chant.  Detroit likes its Cena, I guess, and I wonder if this response tells us anything about who SD!'s REAL top babyface is...  but the chant is irrelevant, because with his first pick, Bischoff drafts...  Shelton Benjamin.   This team break-up I'm much less happy about, but who knows if it's final...

Benjamin and Charlie Haas had a teary farewell backstage, and Benjamin was apparently on his way to the stage to accept a hat and t-shirt combo from Eric Bischoff when Kane's pyro exploded.  Whoa.  I'm sure it was Safety First and all, but that had to have been an adventure for poor Paul and Eric....

Rico vs. Kane

Kane storms in, Kane hits three moves, Kane wins in under 30 seconds for the second week in a row.  Bleh.

After the match: Kane stormed back up the ramp, and stopped to glance at the incredulous Bischoff and Heyman.  He called them both over, and announced that he doesn't care what happens with the draft picks and the trades, but he does NOT want to be on the same show as the Undertaker.  Bischoff and Heyman were appropriate mortified by the threat of physical danger, but composed themselves in time for....

Another Lotto Pick

Heyman accused Bischoff of being unable to accuse his talents, and made sure to (impotently) play the "I have an injured neck" card for no sympathy at all.  But all would be made better as SD! stole another RAW talent.  Heyman made the pick, and smiled fiendishly as he first stated "JR will not be able to call...." before trailing off.  Fans booed HUGE at the hint that JR would be leaving RAW.  But let Heyman finish, "JR will never be able to call this man a Blue Chipper again," says Paul.  Ha, Swerve #1. Then he apologizes for breaking up another RAW faction (again, camera on Evolution).  Swerve #2.  Heyman makes it look so easy.  But sadly, as good as Heyman is, he still only picked the name of...  Mark Jindrak.  Tazz and Cole do a suitable over-sell of Jindrak's potential, complete with onscreen bio.  It would probably have seemed semi-plausible if they hadn't just had to do the same thing for Dupree (who, to his credit, actually has some heat on him so he seemed semi-legit as a Blue Chip Prospect).

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More HLA: Hot Lottery Action!

Bischoff and Heyman are out, and now, it is Bischoff's turn to pick again.  And AGAIN, the RAW crowd signifies that it wants John Cena, and again, Bischoff lets them have a moment to delude themselves before going into the hopper...  he brings out a name, and grins.  He announces that RAW has always been known as the home of the Beautiful People (hey, was that just a little inside joke at the former SD! theme song, or just a coincidence?), something that'll only be underscored with the arrival of the former SD! star...  Nidia!  Nidia is VERY excited backstage, as she pops up from her seat next to her brother-in-law-to-be, pauses a moment to throw something dismissively at Jamie Noble, and then comes on out to be properly introduced to the RAW fans.

While this is going on, JR attempts to convey the idea that Nidia is a physically capable Young Woman, who has not had a chance to showcase her skills over on SmackDown!.  Lawler tries to convey the idea of PUPPIES~! on the grounds that he is Jerry Lawler.  In King's defense, Nidia's onscreen bio only had two bullet points: (1) "Tough Enough Champion," and (2) "Measurements: 38-24-36."  Putting that on the screen was practically BEGGING for trouble, cuz Lawler didn't need any encouragement to notice the "38" in that particular equation.  Nidia made it out to the stage, said she was so happy to finally be able to have the chance to compete for the women's title, and then accepted Bischoff's gift of a hat and t-shirt.  And of course, she immediately had to change out of her SD! Blue (yay! conservative brassiere!) into her RAW Red (boo! why'd she put another shirt on?).

Heyman put an end to the alleged T&A... well, actually, there's nothing alleged about Nidia's Ts.  They're right there, pendulous and in three dimensions.  But the display was really quite tepid is all I meant.  Booing a girl for putting a shirt on: you should be ashamed Detroit.  Heyman wants to move things along, and moves to make his next pick when he is interrupted by...

John Cena.  Hey, there he is.  Crowd loves him, but he's not here to jump ship.  He's only here to rap at ya a bit.  He proceeds to make a few rhymes there were about as allegedly edgy as Nidia's underthing was allegedly titillating, but the crowd still popped for the punchlines (about Bischoff keeping his t-shirts if he drafts Cena, cuz Cena don't like butt kissers, and about Heyman choking on "dese nuts" or something).  He concluded by deciding to select SD!'s next lotto pick himself ("I'm gonna make the next PICK"): he then handed the next choice to Heyman ("I'm giving you one ball, but you still got no AUDIENCE FILLS IN THE BLANK").  

Cena departed on his one funny line of the night, leaving Heyman to try to beg off, saying he didn't pick the ball himself, so this couldn't be legal.  But Bischoff stormed over and forced the issue.  Heyman finally capitulated, saying that if he wasn't hurt, he would never have given in, but since he was, he'd just.... and then he got a look at the name on the paper and just grinned an evil grin.  Another swerve?  He asked Bischoff, "Are you sure you want this pick to be binding?  I mean, positive?"  (and now I'm thinking "Yeah, it's swerve, but only because Heyman's trying to get Bischoff to un-do the pick because he just drafted referee Brian Hebner, or something")...  but Bischoff's not biting.  He says, yes, no matter what, this pick counts.  So Heyman just perfunctorily said: "OK, then Paul Heyman's SmackDown! is proud to welcome Triple H."

Backstage: as Heyman makes the announcement, the camera pans to Evolution just in time for HHH to do his very first context-appropriate spit take in years.  Fucking hilarious.  Perfect on so many levels.

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During the break: HHH was serenaded out of the RAW locker room with a chorus of the ol' standard "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye."  They ain't sad to see him go.  Tazz and Cole don't have to over-sell this one.  But they pick up the commentary and narrate us through his bio screen, anyway.  They also declare that John Cena had "The Midas Touch" in making this pick.  Although Hunter's a heel, they are very happy to have made the first really big score of the Lottery.

Christian vs. Spike Dudley

This is an off-shoot of last week's unprovoked attack by Christian on Spike.  Story is that this time, Spike will see it coming and get to defend himself.  Too bad it didn't really make much difference: Christian controlled early (with some cheating from Trish), then Spike hit a handful of hope spots and near falls for a minute before Christian put an end to that with an Unprettier and a clean pinfall.  Another maybe 3 minute match, but maybe not quite as quick or intense as Jericho/Dupree.  Kinda pointless, too, as it advanced NOTHING about Christian/Jericho or Christian/Trish.  Christian and Trish didn't even make out or do anything demonstrably boo-able.  

The only thing I really learned in this match is that instead of a new hair color/style, Trish's "heel makeover" apparently consists of only an over-elaborate and unappealing new wardrobe.  If the goal was to make me, personally -- Rick Scaia: gentleman, scholar, connoisseur, fan of nothing more complicated than jeans and a t-shirt, and champion of not over-doing it  -- into not so much of a Trish fan, well, then, Mission Accomplished.  But of course, as that is something of a limited demographic, your mileage may vary.  Maybe you like the New Trish better.  Or maybe you even thought that the goal of this segment was something entirely different... oh, maybe something like "Christian dominates Spike Dudley and should be taken seriously."  And if so,  you disgust me, sicko!  Paying attention to the actual wrestling match....  pervert.

Almost Another Pick: Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman came on out, with RAW's next pick scheduled...  but Bischoff just grabbed a mic, and muttered something about not be able to let HHH-to-SD! stand, so he had to go find Mr. McMahon.  So off Eric dashes...

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Backstage: Bischoff has found Vince, and is pleading his case, saying RAW can't afford to lose a franchise player like HHH, and that it was an illegal pick because Cena chose it, not Heyman.  But Vince says "no dice" and that the pick stands.  At that point, Heyman popped into the frame, and proclaimed that he had an idea for original, innovative, ground breaking television here tonight.  Something Bischoff would know nothing about.  Heyman proposes that tonight's main event be SD!'s WWE Champ Eddie Guerrero vs. SD!'s Newest Star HHH in a WWE Title Match on RAW.  A SD! main event in a RAW ring?  Bischoff won't allow that!  But Heyman notes that RAW still has three picks coming, and one of them might be Eddie Guerrero, so all he's doing by proposing this match is securing a shot at the WWE Title for a guy he KNOWS will be on SD!.  Vince takes it all into consideration, and says he's going to OK the match.  Eddie vs. HHH: WWE Title on the line.  But right now, he says Bischoff and Heyman better get back out there because they got picking to do.

Bischoff Strikes Back

With RAW's third pick, Bischoff decides to play Heyman's game.  He says he INVENTED edgy, boundary-pushing Sports Entertainment, and he would not be shown up by Paul.  So, before even making his pick, Bischoff declares that whichever SD! star he picks next, that person will IMMEDIATELY get a shot at RAW's World Champion, Chris Benoit.  A cut to the SD! locker room shows those stars suddenly perk up at the prospect...  Bischoff reaches in, pulls out a name....  and announces he's just drawn a man who can match Benoit's intensity any day of the week (one of the three I's?  Angle?  a swerve, a la Heyman?), and who also just happens to hail from Detroit (cheap pop).  It's... Rhyno.

Rhyno comes on out as JR and King hype him.  He throws his SD! shirt in the general direction of a despondent Heyman, and gladly dons Bischoff's RAW Red for a Photo Op.

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Rob Van Dam/Booker T vs. Ric Flair/Batista (World Tag Title Match)

Early portion of the match was kind of slow-ish, telegraphing right away that they were going for a longer match, here.  The start also let King and JR riff on the implications of the draft (such as one or both of These Very Teams breaking up).  One thing I didn't like so much was that the two spent a lot of time talking about the loss of HHH, and basically giving him a virtual blowjob with the "Oh, we never saw eye to eye, but he was awesome, the best wrestler in the history of time and space, and we've lost him" shtick.  That part was fine.  But they also verbalized an idea during this riffing that Eddie Guerrero wouldn't be able to match up to HHH later tonight: that HHH was doing something like stepping down to AAA where he'd dominate the competition.  I guess I could have stomached it, except that for it to have worked, Tazz and Cole would had to have responded differently than they did (but again, they were pretty much just in on the four-man fellating of the Game when they had a chance).

Oh, the match?  Well, like I said, kind of slow to get up to speed or generate much heat, in part because some spots seemed kind of clunky and awkward (and would continue to seem so through to the finish).  But the basic gist of it was that Booker T settled in as the Decoy Ricky Morton, and about six minutes in, hit the Decoy Hot Tag to RVD, who immediately nailed Flair with a Five Star.  Batista then struck, and he and RVD powdered each out.  Flair was selling the Five Star, Booker was selling the quasi-face-in-peril segment, so....

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We come back to RVD in the ring and doing the match's Real Ricky Morton act.  Batista and Flair focus on the left leg and knee of RVD, with the obvious implication being that they were setting him up for the Figure Four.  About 12 minutes in, Flair finally locked in the hold.  But RVD got a rope break, and then when Flair tried to re-apply the hold, RVD hit him with a spin kick and made a break for his corner.  Hot tag to Booker.  Ninja-style attack by Batista and Flair, who get decimated. Booker hit the Book End on Batista, did a Spinaroonie, and then followed up with an Scissors Kick for what seemed like the win...  but Flair broke it up.  Which brought back RVD for some Total Chaos.  The four way brawling had RVD get the better of Flair (with a Rolling Thunder), but Batista regain the edge on Booker.  Batista was setting up for his powerbomb finisher, and RVD decided he'd do a springboard back kick to break it up...  only trouble is, when RVD looked away to do the springboard part, Booker broke up the hold himself, sending Batista clear.  RVD wound up kicking Booker in the head (actually, I made this sound pretty decent, but in execution, it was another of those not-very-realistic-looking clunky moments).  RVD was down, Batista immediately hit his sit-out powerbomb for real, and scored the pinfall.  New Tag Champs in a 15 minute match.  Despite the solid length, I never felt like this one ever really clicked.  Amidst the surprisingly well-done drama of the lottery, it stood out as tepid and bland to me...  but still, Evolution with the gold back sets up some interesting possibilities, so....

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Another Pick, with Paul Heyman

Heyman doesn't dawdle, gets right to business...  with SD!'s fourth pick, he announces an "extreme reunion" of the Mad Genius of Paul Heyman and...  "Mr. Thursday Night" Rob Van Dam.  Just a few moments of gloating over the prospects from Tazz and Cole before it's a quick cut to....

Backstage: RVD and Booker T have been deep in conversation this whole time.  RVD is apologizing, and Booker's saying "Don't worry, dawg" and stuff like that.  Because Booker's confident that they'll get their rematch real soon.  Enter The Coach.  Coach brings them good tidings...  but also some news.  He drops the bomb that there will be no rematch, because Rob Van Dam just got drafted to SD!...  Booker got really mad, went into denial because "We're a team."  But RVD, either because it's his gimmick to not get worked up or because we're supposed to suspect something, took it in stride and seemed in no way put out by the announcement.....

Chris Benoit vs. Rhyno (World Title Match)

Whoa.  From feuding over something so important and pressing it was replaced by an even more pointless Benoit/A-Train feud on SD! six months ago to fighting for the World Title on RAW tonight.  Talk about your paradigm shift.  This was pretty good stuff: but I dig Rhyno and especially when he can click with somebody else who can match him with a little bit of stiffness, like Benoit, so of course I'm gonna say that.  This clicked, work-wise, way better than the tag match, but didn't seem to get over much with the crowd.  They got into it a bit at the end, taunting Rhyno for busting out the Sharpshooter and then popping for Benoit's rally when he reversed an attempted Gore and locked in the Crippler Crossface.  Clean tap-out win.  About five minutes long, and very tight, but again, probably too short to be much of anything.  Didn't help that Rhyno was not really accepted as a legit threat, so there was little heat on this: instead, it was a glorified squash for Benoit, albeit one that let him showcase his skill set very effectively.

Backstage: Eric Bischoff is watching Benoit celebrate on a monitor when Shawn Michaels approached.  Michaels said it looked like "his investment" was safe and sound for another week (referring to Benoit holding onto the World Title), but that he'd worry about that later.  Because first on HBK's mind was settling the thing with HHH once and for all (man alive, they've had some killer stuff the last four months, but might it not be time to let it die?)...  so Michaels gave Bischoff two choices: (1) trade me to SD! so I can chase HHH or (2) Whoops, sorry, I missed a line, there is no #2, so just trade me.  Bischoff says he has no intention of trading away somebody of Michaels' caliber.  Instead, he's going to put his full power behind pushing Michaels to the moon.  Starting at the Backlash PPV, where if Michaels stays, he can headline the show in a World Title Match against Chris Benoit.  Michaels and Bischoff then started stepping each others' lines a bit, but eventually HBK got the idea across that that'd be OK with him, because a good way to get revenge on HHH would be to take the thing that meant the most to him: that World Title.

[ads]

The Final Picks

Eric Bischoff started things off, complete with a little pre-amble... and he drew Tajiri.  Hmmm.  Part of me naively hopes that this means WWE has realized what I've been saying for years is true: that Tajiri is so damned good he should be playing with heavyweights and challenging for secondary titles.  But most of me just assumes he'll just get buried as a Cruiserweight with Nothing to Do on RAW (like Hurricane).  Tajiri does the teary farewell with Akio and Sakoda backstage, but doesn't get a chance to come out and say hello to his new fans....

That's because Paul Heyman says he's tired of Bischoff doing what he does every week: treading water and boring the fans... so Heyman moves things along by immediately drawing his next name:  Theodore R. Long.  Backstage, Teddy didn't even pause for a moment.  He stood up, straightened his suit, and got up to switch locker rooms.  Jazz expressed indignation at being dissed, but without Teddy to do her talking for her, I doubt seriously that many will care.

Bischoff decided to match Heyman's pace, and ditched the talky-talk, and just picked his next name.  And immediately grinned a shit-eating grin.  He just pick.... Edge!  Good pop for Edge, and Heyman made it seem like a big deal by trying to refute the pick ("He's not eligible, he's on injured reserve"), but Bischoff assured him that the pick was legal.  So Heyman decided that bitching and moaning is more something that Bischoff would do, so he'd be a man and just move on, and top Bischoff with a killer final pick of the draft....

Heyman, taunting the whole time, reached in the hopper and pulled out....  well, whoever it was, Paul's not happy, since he just crumpled up the paper and threw it away.  Bischoff wants to know who he picked, so he grabs the paper and reveals it was... Spike Dudley.  Heyman says "Fine, we get Spike Dudley.  Laugh it up.  But now I'll have somebody new to push around on my show."

And now, it's time for the final pick of the Draft Lottery:  Bischoff reaches in, picks out a name.  Looks at it.  Gets kind of a funny look on his face.  Then a smile.  "Wow," Eric exclaims, "Mr. McMahon really meant it when he said EVERYbody was eligible for the draft."  Heyman is equal parts confused, concerned, and curious.  Bischoff drags out the drama for only a few moments before revealing the latest member of the RAW roster is....

Paul Heyman.

Heyman goes berserk, the SD! locker room erupts in joyous celebration, and Bischoff starts rattling off the things Paul might busy himself with starting next week: laundry, car washing, stuff of that ilk.  But Paul Heyman will not be humiliated.  He says he built ECW, he took on Vince McMahon and Ted Turner, competed with the WWF and WCW, and he will not stand around and be belittled by Eric Bischoff.  He would not dirty himself by working in front of a RAW audience.  So, Heyman announced, "I quit."  And then he stormed off.

Meanwhile, Bischoff took his mic and started sauntering to the ring, professing his obvious greatness, good looks, large genitals, and so on and so forth, as witnessed by the fact that he's now outlasted 2 General Managers on SD!, he ousted Steve Austin from RAW's co-GM job, and now he stands alone as the big cheese in WWE.  He announces that "Eric Bischoff is back" to everybody on BOTH rosters, because now with Heyman gone, who knows who he might acquire in trades from SD!....

But before Bischoff can continue stroking himself, some almost familiar music hits.  I think I know it.  Yes, it's Edge!  Displaying about 13 months of pent up charisma in the form of extra hair flipping and general jumping around like a monkey, enthusiastic Edge gets a huge welcome back from the fans.  And from Bischoff?  Yep, Eric is beaming like a proud papa as one of his newest talents enters the ring.... but he doesn't beam for long, as Edge pauses for about 4 nanoseconds, and then charges Bischoff with a spear.  Bill Whoberg?  Bischoff goes down, Edge poses, crowd goes nuts.

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During the break: Paul Heyman stormed out of the building, hopped into a waiting limo, and took off.  The announcers are sharp enough to point out that this leaves SD! GM-less, which throws a wrench into a LOT of plans, including this idea that RAW and SD! only have about an hour left to make trades....  the plot thickens.

Eddie Guerrero vs. Triple H (WWE Title Match)

HHH came out in a one-size-too-big RAW t-shirt, drawing the ire of Cole and Tazz.  But then he took it off to reveal a one-size-too-small SD! shirt underneath, drawing more manlove from the announcers.  Actually, during the opening portions of the match, Cole and Tazz sort of seconded JR and King, suggesting that Eddie was over-matched.  Look, I don't see grand conspiracies cuz the guy's married to the boss' daughter like everyone else, and I think it was VITAL to promote the hell out of HHH as a huge acquisition for SD!.  But even as the majority of me was really enjoying the solid action in the ring, the tiny part of me that flips into the On Position when I sit down to write things like this was getting annoyed by the vibe that even SmackDown!'s own paid shills were acting like HHH coming to SD! and facing their very best was like Barry Bonds going to Toledo to hit off the Mudhens' bullpen.  They tried to temper it a bit once they realized what was going on (Tazz, in particular, reminded us that we shouldn't count Eddie out since he had beaten Brock Lesnar for the title and then defended it from Kurt Angle), but it wasn't enough.  If anything, given what was to come, complete and total indignation would have been better: "HHH is an amazing athlete, we recognize that, but if he thinks he can come to SmackDown! and beat our very best on his first night, he's sadly mistaken.  At SD! we'll put our best up against anybody, even HHH."  THAT would have been a smarter play.

But now I'm REALLY getting off-track of what a Recap is supposed to be.  The match was actually kind cool, even in its slower, warming-up phase...  early psychology was Eddie immediately going after HHH's shoulder, the same one that was in a sling just last week.  Tazz and Cole (all due credit) paused long enough to do a very nice job of explaining the lingering shoulder injury.  HHH immediately started selling the shoulder, even just 3 minutes in, like his arm was moments away from falling clean off.  Eddie was very good at bringing every type of arm-related offense he could think of, a few submissions, some brawl-y stuff using the ring post, everything.  Nicely constructed opening to the match.  This went on for about 5 minutes or so, and then HHH rallied with one or two quick moves (including a high knee).  Eddie went down, HHH was still sore, so let's break for some....

[ads; OO's resident Billy Gunn Enthusiast was live at RAW, and said some fan actually rushed the ring, I guess during this ad break; he was dealt with swiftly, and I don't recall any sign of the trespassing making it onto the broadcast]

RAW resumes with HHH now firmly in control.  No real psychology to HHH's attack, I don't think.  Maybe kind of a back/torso focus, but mostly, HHH was putting most of his energy into being a pretty big dick.  He had the heel body language working, and even took a few opportunities to bust out a mocking version of Eddie's celebratory dance to get big heat. But that wasn't gonna last.  Eddie eventually made his superman comeback, culminating in the Triple Verticals ("Three Amigos" was Tazz's call, and if that isn't new, I wasn't paying attention when he used it before... and I liked it).  Eddie was thinking Frog Splash, but at that precise moment, Ric Flair and Batista (still decked out in their RAW Red) ran out to interfere.  Eddie got tied up with them, allowing HHH to gain the advantage.  Cena and Rey Mysterio came out (in SD! Blue) for the save, and the ref got distracted by their brawl on the outside.  In the ring, HHH got ready to blast Eddie with the WWE Title belt... but that's when Shawn Michaels (in RAW Red) sprinted out for the save.  He superkicked HHH, and then hit a pescado onto the foursome of Cena/Rey/Flair/Batista.  Those five powdered out, the ref turned his attention back to the match, where Eddie Guerrero was getting ready to go up top and hit the Frog Splash.

And that's when things went nutty.  Christian (RAW Red) ran out and shoved Eddie off the top rope.  Rob Van Dam (SD! Blue) ran out to fight with Christian.  Evolution, Rey, Cena, and Michaels all came around and started brawling at ringside.  The ref just called for the bell, awarding the match (I assume) to Eddie via a Disqualification (due to Christian) at about the 15 minute mark.  About a half dozen RAW Reds dashed out to join the fight... and were quickly countered by about two dozen SD! Blues.  RAW seemed out-numbered for about a minute, but then got a big boost when Kane sauntered out (conveniently enough, wearing red even though he's apparently too bad-ass to wear the shirt).  But Kane's presence was immediately countered by the Big Show coming out (in SD! Blue).  I was loving the giant Red vs. Blue schmozz, and my mind was racing a mile a minute trying to figure out what was gonna happen next (I figured two things were gonna happen, it was just a question of in what order)...  First up:

*KEE-RASH*  Steve Austin and the Justice Buggy are back.  Austin parks on the ramp, and immediately makes a vague "Get out here" gesture with his arm, and then about a dozen more RAW Reds hit the scene.  Now we're roughly even on the sides, and Austin (in Stone Cold Black) fighting on the RAW side seems to be turning to tide to the home team. We have just an incredible 40-50 man brawl going on as JR/King and Tazz/Cole go back and forth on commentary talking about how wild the scene is, and wondering what could ever happen next to top this...  

And we're out.  OK, so I guess there was only the one thing.

Special Internet Addendum to RAW: immediately following the show, WWE.com released a video clip of Vince McMahon announcing that due to Paul Heyman's resignation, he was extending the Trade Deadline to 9pm Tuesday night (during SD! tapings).  At that time, Vince says, he'll announce the new SD! GM and that person will announce any trades he/she has made.  

Final Analysis

Upfront: I pretty much figured they'd draw out the trades/new GM thing till SD! as soon as Heyman quit.  That isn't the second thing I was expecting to happen at the end of the show.  I was, however, expecting Undertaker to make some sort of appearance.  Or his presence to make an appearance, or something.

Because of the unique nature and supernatural overtones of the hybrid DeadMan/BikerTaker gimmick, I realize you have to be careful about having him mingle with mere mortals, but I really thought he would be the counter balance to Austin in one way or another.  I didn't know which order they'd appear in, or exactly what they'd do, but I kind of thought having them both appear would be neat: two foci, one a sheriff the other a dead man, both "legends" with vested interests in the brand warfare, but both just a notch aloof and sort of removed from the actual fight.

Like I said, I didn't really think it out on the fly, but now that I'm stopping to ponder...  maybe one of two ways would have worked.  One would just have been a BONG, darkness, and a lull over the brawl; then on the TitanTron, some kind of cryptic message from Taker (about anything, the vaguer, the better, actually: something specific about wanting more Kane would pale compared to mysterious threats about wanted to next take his vengeance on Vince McMahon, no matter what the brand, or something like that).  The other would have been more traditional: have Austin lead his troops into battle, but instead of joining them, he just sits atop his Buggy and watches from the stage.  Then Enter Taker, who adopts a position on the stage and also observes the pitched battle.  But who also -- in positioning recalling the earlier Bischoff/Heyman podium spots -- eyeballs Austin with sort of a "Let them fight all they want, but this might come down to you and me yet again, Stone Cold" look.  Again, the more vague, the better.  I was just looking for an excuse to pop the crowd with an Undertaker entrance, and also to reinforce the idea that SD! has one more ace up its sleeve.  But it didn't happen.  Ah well, I'll get over it.

What I'm having a harder time getting over is just how well-constructed the show was: as if the past WWF/WCW war and RAW/SD! draft hadn't lowered my expectations enough, I was rolling my eyes as soon as Vince announced the rather underwhelming mechanics of the Lottery .  Twelve whole picks?  I was not impressed by the prospects of an All New WWE.

But it turns out it worked REALLY well.  As my Insanity vs. Simplicity  column underscored, the Fed was gonna have a hard time doing major shake-ups that didn't completely undermine the GOOD parts of the brand distinctions.  But by limiting the lottery to 12, the took us way over towards the Simplicity side of the continuum, and then within the confines of the 12 picks, dud a really nice job making a few very big, exciting, and necessary moves.  And they retained the outside chance of Insanity by introducing the Trade Deadline concept, too (not to mention a new SD! GM).

Nice.

They handled it all beautifully, too: pacing the picks, making them seem just random enough, but while making almost every pick mean something, and integrating the special "both rosters in one place" atmosphere by doing a couple of semi-interpromotional matches.  Not really interpromotional, since they featured guys who were now assigned to their new show, but you know what I mean.  Made it feel special, and the way they weaved in the two title matches into Bischoff and Heyman's show spanning antagonism was cool.

In fact, I can't say enough good about Bischoff and (especially) Paul Heyman.  Both played their parts perfectly, and both had to because they basically WERE the show.  They carried it.  Anybody who could watch RAW tonight and say that taking Heyman off TV is a good move is a freaking moron.  The guy is flat out good; do what you gotta do to tell the story regarding the new SD! GM, but let's not keep Heyman off screen for another 9 months. 

In fact, that's pretty much exactly where the Insanity REALLY kicks in.  The new SD! GM itself is a pretty big deal.  It becomes bigger because whoever it is will be in charge of the trades between RAW and SD!, which will impact BOTH shows hugely.  Anything could happen on that front.  Guys could get traded back "home," their partners/buddies could get traded to their new home, people not even referenced tonight might find themselves moving, anything.  And it all depends on the new GM.

With my heart, I want Teddy Long to be moving to SD! for a reason.  A non-Orlando Jordan reason.  The man was GM for a Week on RAW, and comported himself quite well; Teddy can talk.  I'll say no more, because I don't want to get my hopes up only to find out we're in for the inevitable: the return of Stephanie McMahon.  As I've said in recent days, I'm pro-Steph, but I'm not pro-Steph-in-this-particular-role-at-this-particular-time.  

And what of Paul Heyman?  More insanity options there...  I got ALMOST as many quick theories about a "New ECW" in the past half-day as I have angry missives about how Corona with lime is not a womanly drink.  I suspect both schools are equally naive, and are just deluding themselves... but if it makes you feel better, hey, go for it.  And if on some off-chance you're right, hey, I'll be as happy as anyone.  About a "new ECW."  But not about having to put, like, cherries or something in my whiskey.

The lotto picks themselves?  I agree with most.  I'll briefly mention that I'm anti-Tajiri jumping because I don't think WWE has any intention of actually pushing him against heavyweights, so I'd rather just keep him with the cruiserweight title... and I'm also anti-Benjamin jumping, although not for exactly the reason you might suspect.  I dig both him and Haas (I even think Haas has every chance, maybe even a better chance, of being a singles star, too), and I fully expect that they'd hit the wall of what they can do as a team inside of a year, and then they do project out as singles stars.  But I'd rather see them go into the singles realm only AFTER a chance to have a violent break-up and a killer feud against each other.  That can only happen if they stick on the same brand, have another 8 months or so of great tag matches, and then do a split in time to face off at WM21 or something.  Instead, they just sort of fade apart, and that's that, no chance to build up personalities inside a comfort zone, just BANG, new place, new expectations, and probably more of a learning curve than if they'd done it my way.

I'm a super-mega-huge-fan of HHH jumping.  I talked about it in Monday's column, but this is perfect: it allows him to cover for SD! heel weakness while playing to his own strengths (getting indignant about being Lotteried out of his shot at revenging on Benoit and/or Michaels).  Plus, it sets up about the coolest Evolution-based storyline I could think of: instead of clumsily turning HHH face at some point this year (and you KNEW this was coming) to feud with the insubordinate Randy Orton, they can have Orton smoothly take over the reigns of Evolution while HHH has to go elsewhere.  They can kind of manipulate TWO brands with an unspoken bond.  And the slow burn of Orton trying to usurp HHH's authority can be done slower, over time, across brands, and will have a better chance of succeeding.  I think Evolution regaining the tag titles is actually a nice little sidebar to this storyline.  It gives Orton the chance to do a "reset" of the December storyline where all of Evolution controlled the RAW gold, if they want to use it...

But I don't want to do a complete pick-by-pick analysis just yet.  Some picks might be unpicked.  We'll almost certain have more picks to talk about on Wednesday.  So let's just wrap it up.

Obviously, I was a huge fan of the entire storyline side of RAW tonight.  Then they piled on some good stuff in the ring.  The tag title match, sadly, was the longest but also never quite clicked.  I don't think the guys quick clicked with each other, which is part of the problem, but it also didn't quite get over with the audience...  as good as Benoit/Rhyno and Eddie/HHH were, I'm again gonna be an ass and say that Booker and RVD should have had some time taken away from them and given to the better matches...  because a little more time could have made the enjoyable-for-me Benoit/Rhyno match really good, and it would have made the enjoyed-by-everyone Eddie/HHH match great.  I thought those two had a stellar contest, and the huge schmozz ending (silly Taker fantasy aside) was just awesome fun to watch.

Nothing but a Thumbs Up from me this week.  More thoughts, more trade news/fallout, and more everything in tomorrow's OO Column!

E-MAIL RICK
BROWSE THE RAW RECAP ARCHIVES


  
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