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OO RAW RECAP
All About the Benjamin 
March 30,2004

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Hate the headline?  Worse: do you think I'm ripping off JR's closing line?  Well, screw you!  I decided "All About the Benjamin" would be the recap headline right before the commercial break during the main event.  And I'm far too stubborn and lazy to come up with something different now.

Just trust me: it might have sounded lame coming out of JR's mouth, but it's COOL when I do it because (a) I'm a hip cat who knows the derivation and can speak it without an incongruous Oklahoma twang and (b) I *know* it's a really bad pun which automatically has the effect of making it into a good pun.  Just ask "Battle of the Brands" namer Jeb Lund, he'll tell you the same!

But enough defensiveness.  You're here for The Show....

Lottery Recap: we open with a nice 2-3 minute video package hitting the highlights from last week. And by "highlights," I pretty much mean "only stuff about Triple H."  Insert your own smarky observation, I don't have the energy.

Opening theme/pyro/etc: I did the time-shifted DVR-version of the show, and FF'ed the intro.  Somebody else will have to tell you if they edited anybody out who had been traded to SD! or edited in anyone new... all I can tell you is that Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross briefly welcomed us to Live From Cincinnati before sending it to the ring for:

Evolution Tries It Short-Handed

Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista saunter out to the ring.  Immediately, JR and King wonder "If HHH is back on RAW, why isn't he out here?", so let your mind wander about possible "HHH splits from Evolution" storylines which will probably end up being invoked as a result of HHH taking some time off this spring or summer to do a movie. Once in the ring, a microphone is, mercifully and miraculously, handed to Flair.  Thank god for tonsillitis, I guess!  Flair proceeds to demonstrate exactly why I've been saying for months that they should use him as Orton's mouthpiece more often... he cut a sweet promo in patented Crazy Old Guy mode, and if he turned a sour phrase, he didn't pause to let it soak in, he just kept on going all over-the-top, like he honestly believed the words coming out of his mouth.  Learn, young Randall.  

The gist of Flair's rant:  first, that Evolution are awesome and fighting champs and they WELCOME the challenge of Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels for their tag team titles later tonight.  Second, that Triple H is awesome and the Franchise of RAW and will be here later tonight.  And third, that Randy Orton is ALSO quite awesome and has defeated Mick Foley, 1-2-3.  Therefore, Randy deserves respect.  The crowd didn't give it.  So Flair insisted again.  Crowd was ALL OVER this promo in exactly the way they wouldn't have been if Orton had cut it.  I'm not being a dick: I'm just being honest.

The stage set, Flair did turn the mic over to Orton, admitting that yes, his throat still hurt, but he was so pissed at the lack of respect that he just HAD to speak.  The difference in heat between Orton's lines and Flair's more spontaneous-seeming ranting was noticeable, and I don't just think it was his raspiness.  Before too long, though, Mick Foley decided we had heard enough, and came on out to speak his mind.

Foley immediately notes the crowd's lack of respect, and feigns like he doesn't understand it.  Because, afterall, Orton put on an amazing display at WrestleMania.  Crowd is slightly befuddled.  Orton did the impossible.  He beat....  a Hollywood movie actor and a guy who writes children's books, and did it in the 3-on-2 fight!  Aha, now we get it.  Big pop. Foley goes on belittling Orton's accomplishment, making it clear that he thinks he could beat Randy in a straight one-on-one fight.

Cue Flair, who says that 2 weeks ago, Orton issued a challenge, and Foley didn't respond to it.  Foley says, "OK, you want an answer?  My answer is no."  And then quickly added "Unless....".  In this case, Foley's list of "unlesses" was three items long: (1) Evolution is banned from ringside, (2) the IC Title is on the line, and (3) it's a No Holds Barred/Falls Count Anywhere match.  Flair was agreeing along with all these conditions, but Orton clearly got really concerned with the third one.  Foley wasn't satisfied with Flair OK'ing, it, he wanted to hear it from Orton.  "You want me so bad, that I'm gonna make you do this my way.  And my way, Randy, if you accept, you WILL get hurt."  The threat was eloquent, but Orton still got on the mic and affirmed Flair's claim: he'll face Foley, one-on-one, under these stips, at Backlash on PPV.  Hit Foley's music.  Very effective opening segment: pretty much everything clicked storywise and with the crowd.

Backstage:  C-team RAW Remainders Rob Conway, Sylvain Grenier, and Garrison Cade are welcoming Tajiri to the brand.  As part of his "initiation," they tell him he has to spew green mist in the face of the next person to walk through a door.  Tajiri just wants to belong, so he agrees... and ends up misting Jonathan Coachman.  Coach does a suitable over-sell and stumbles out of the room, leaving everybody to share a laugh.  Except La Resistance and Cade aren't laughing WITH Tajiri.  They are laughing AT him.  Because Coach is Eric Bischoff's boy, and now Tajiri's gonna be in big trouble with the boss.  The instigators chuckle on their way out, leaving Tajiri to show us his Very Concerned Face.

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Molly Holly vs. Nidia

This week, Molly's out with a curly brunette wig from the "Steph 2000" Collection.  Again with the chinstrap, too.  Lawler tries to sell it like it's her real hair.  Ross muses about the implausibility and likely artificiality of such sudden growth.  Lawler proceeds to completely miss the opportunity to make an almost-clever observation about two other implausible growths.  Yep, I'm making Nidia's Boobs jokes that even King passed on, folks!  Pure class, all the way, baby.  Off to a rocky start here, as Nidia did some screwy spot where she fell down for no reason, and then nipped up to put her right back where she was.  She immediately broke back even, though, as she took a wicked bump into the ringpost moments later.  From there, nothing much registered towards either extreme: it was just solid and unspectacular.  About three minutes in, Nidia went for a bulldog, and wound up yanking off the wig, instead.  Molly decided to try to grab it back, but when she bent over to pick it up, Nidia rolled her up for the three count and the upset win.  

Pretty typical action, as a match, but angle-wise, this is probably the part where I'd have inserted Molly getting mad and beating the holy living hell out of Nidia.  Instead, Nidia left, celebrating, while Molly stood in the ring comically trying to re-affix her hair.  The overall vibe wound up being Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop.  And it didn't.  Unless, that is, they are opting to try some form of bastardized Sampson and Delilah story where Molly will suddenly become invincible only after her hair returns to some arbitrary, socially-accepted length instead of doing the more obvious "psycho bald chick" thing....

Video Package: Edge got lotteried to RAW, and Eric Bischoff was happy.  Edge actually showed up on RAW and speared Eric Bischoff out of his loafers.  Sleazy E was no longer happy.

Backstage: Bischoff just watched himself get speared on a monitor, and asks Johnny the Apprentice who the hell OK'ed that clip.  Johnny doesn't know, and ends up getting a dirty look from Eric when he fails to refer to the boss as "Mr. Bischoff."  In a foul mood, Bischoff decides the only way Edge will learn sufficient respect for The Boss is if he has his first match at Backlash against the Monster Kane.  Fade out on Bischoff making his Angry Face.

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Hurricane vs.....  Political Power That Trumps All HurriPowers

Hurricane is apparently coming out for a match, but he gets no further than 5 feet down the ramp when Triple H bolts out from the back and attacks him.  Hurricane is left in a heap on the stage, and HHH heads to the ring to cut a promo.

HHH wastes no time promising the same kind of doom and gloom for the entire RAW locker room for the way they treated him last week when they thought he was traded to SD!; he even takes a moment to besmirch the RAW fans for not appreciating him.  But now he's back, and he's gonna prove to everybody that, like him or not, he is the Franchise.  My capitalization, not his. Because if it was his, I'm pretty sure Shane Douglas would have a lawsuit.

He says that he's back on RAW because Eric Bischoff is a good business man, and regardless of personal agendas, does what's right for business.  This is in contrast to Kurt Angle, who didn't want a star of HHH's magnitude stealing his spotlight.  Nice touch.  But Eric Bischoff appreciates HHH's value: he wants the #1 show, so he needs the #1 guy, and that just so happens to be HHH, and Bischoff was willing to trade any one of the chumps in that locker room to get him back.  Hell, HHH reminds us, Bischoff traded ANY THREE OF YOU to get him back.  Because he's ever so good.  And being so good, he thinks he deserves to get his rematch against Chris Benoit at Backlash...

Enter Eric Bischoff, who lauds HHH as the greatest single individual to ever live in an over-the-top way that was so smarmy I actually started thinking Bischoff was setting HHH up for something... but nope, that's just him being a good heel.  Bischoff says he can't un-do Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels at the PPV, because he made a commitment and he doesn't want to break any "laws" (probably a reference to Sheriff Austin, but not expanded upon)....  HHH looks upset.  But Bischoff says he CAN add to that match.  So at Backlash, it's a WrestleMania Rematch: HBK vs. HHH vs. Chris Benoit for the World Title.  Now HHH gives us his Happy Face, as JR and King talk about a "Final Encounter" and a rematch of the "Greatest WM Main Event Ever."  Another example of HHH in Excellent Heel Mode this week... and now, we also know our PPV main event.  Good segment.

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Backstage: Evolution are chatting in a hallway about how awesome it's gonna be at Backlash when Orton sends Foley packing and HHH brings the World Title back home...  and that's when Shelton Benjamin saunters past.  Batista decides to stir the pot, telling HHH that Benjamin was one of the guys who laughed and chanted at him when he got sent do SD!.  Then Batista and Benjamin when nose to nose, allowing HHH to attack from behind.  HHH finished the beatdown of Shelton with a stiff kick to the ribs and an exhortation to respect The Game. 

Lance Storm Can't Get No Respect, He Tells Ya

Lance's "Happy Fun Guy" techno music is playing (even though I thought the last time I remember actually seeing Lance on TV, he was using his old Canadian-y one?), and he pleads for the sound guy to cut it off.  Because he's tried really hard to entertain the people, but all he's done is turn himself into a joke.  Fourteen years of hard work in the wrestling ring, and all he ever hears from fans is "Dance, Lance, Dance."  And he just can't take it anymore.  Last week was maybe his last chance: he could have been drafted to SD!, gotten a new start, with new fans.

But that's just about enough talk about SD! being the Land of Opportunity....  there's one particular guy who just came FROM there, and he didn't exactly get pushed to the moon.  Enter the Manbeast.

Lance Storm vs. Rhyno

Rhyno storms out and interrupts Lance, and apparently, we have a match, here.  But not much of one.  Disrespected, misused Lance Storm was defeated clean with a Gore in less than one minute.  I'll tell you what: this was nothing as a match, but as a red herring to fans looking for excuses to talk about disgruntled employees joining a "new ECW," this was brilliant.  Speculate away, kids.  I think they want you to!

Backstage: Tajiri is walking down a hallway, practicing his English ("I'm Sorry, Mr. Bischoff" is his phrase of choice, except of course is has to sound like "I'm solly, Mistal Beeshoff").  He happens upon Bischoff's office, and walks in to find the Coach already there, and already telling Bischoff about what happened.  Except when Tajiri walks in, Coach decides to embellish: not only did Tajiri spew Green Mist at Coach as part of an initiation ritual, but he also claims Tajiri then talked bad about coming to RAW and called GM Bischoff incompetent.  Tajiri, like the good little racial stereotype he is, shouting "Riar!" repeatedly at Coach.  And although MY first instinct would have been to say, "Oh, really, Coach?  The guy who can't even say one word in English without comically mispronouncing it managed to tell you 'I believe that getting sent to RAW will be detrimental to my career.  And furthermore, I firmly assert my belief that General Manager Eric Bischoff is a bumbling oaf who could not find two hookers in a hotel room with his wife's hands.  If you catch my drift, Coach, my good fellow.'? Because I know for sure you don't understand Japanese, Coach."  However, my first instinct was not Bischoff's.  He bit on Coach's bait, and decided the only way to punish Tajiri and teach him to respect The Boss would be to have a match later tonight against -- and feel free to sing along, now -- The Monster Kane.  If you thought Tajiri looked concerned before, well, you hadn't seen nothing yet....

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Ric Flair and Batista vs. Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels (World Tag Title Match)

After all four men are in the ring, Lillian Garcia announces there is a special ref assigned to this match: and out comes Johnny the Apprentice, who is called "Johnny Spade" by Lillian.  Johnny pulls her aside, whispers something, and Lillian corrects herself.  The man is now known as "Johnny Nitro."  Hmmmm, another red herring?  Or just, as JR immediately asserts, a move to kiss-up to GM Bischoff?

Eh, who really cares, we gots ourselves a good match brewing here.  Although Johnny Nitro doesn't seem to be helping much.  In fact, he's visibly lost a few times as he tries to officiate; if that was what he was TRYING to convey, then he was outstanding.  If he was really lost, well, then, maybe refereeing is harder than we all think.  Pretty fast action to start, leading to an HBK plancha onto Evolution a few minutes in.  Then we settle down slightly.  The pattern was not a standard "face in peril" one, really.  Instead, they did a thing where Flair would tag in, get beat up, then Batista would get back in and regain the advantage, then Flair would come back and take a comedic delayed pratfall, then Batista would get back in...  and so on for probably really close to 8 minutes.  Then we settled in for a phase where Michaels actually did a mini Decoy Ricky Morton deal, and both Flair and Batista started beating him down.  After a quick bit of selling for the heels, Michaels made the Decoy Hot Tag to Benoit, who came in and cleaned some house.  Benoit isolated on Flair, hitting him with the Hat Trick of Germans and then locking in the Sharpshooter.  But Batista broke that up with a shot to the head.  So Michaels came over and shoved Batista out of the ring.  That's three guys down, and Johnny Nitro decides to start harassing HBK about the illegal interference, so it's time for....

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We come back, and JR and King tell us that Chris Benoit has been getting a brutal beating at the hands of Evolution all throughout the break.  Hey, not a bad idea: TELL us that Benoit's the face in peril, but put the majority of the predictable beating during the ad break.  There are some things I don't need to see, that I'm willing to just accept on faith; Batista's offense is one of them.  This way, Benoit only had to take about 2 additional post-ad-break minutes of time to sell the beating before making the Hot Tag to Michaels.  HBK comes in, goes on a tear, and then Chaos Breaks Loose.  Benoit and Michaels teamed up to send Batista over the top rope.  Then Benoit hit Flair with the swandive headbutt.  Then Michaels followed up with the Superkick.  Michaels made the cover.  One, two, three, NEW TAG CHAMPS!

Benoit looks like he's about ready to cry, as he gets handed BOTH his belts, and embraces Michaels.  So of course, when you've got an over-reaction that severe, you know you've just been had.  Sure enough, Johnny Nitro is over in a corner talking to Lillian.  We are informed that Batista was the legal man, not Ric Flair, and so thus, This Match Must Continue!

Immediately, Flair rolled-up Michaels, and Johnny dropped to do a super-fast count.  Michaels still kicked out, but he was hella pissed.  So he did what Jesus would do: he punched referee Johnny Nitro in the face.  The two teams brawled a bit, but as soon as Johnny came to, he called for the bell.  Flair and Batista are the winners via disqualification.  They leave with their belts.  Benoit gets in the ring and looks like he might be kind of upset at Michaels pissing away the tag titles by punching the ref.  But Michaels gives him a "Gimme one minute, let me make it up to you" gesture...  HBK promptly grabs Johnny Nitro from ringside and tosses him in to Benoit, who takes his frustrations out by putting the ref in the Crippler Crossface.  With tensions relieved, Benoit and Michaels share an embrace and then celebrate... well, their loss, I guess.  Pretty cool 18 minute match: I liked the early pacing without the typical extended Face In Peril segment, a nice change of pace especially after the last two weeks of over-long mid-show formula tag matches.  And the ending was tremendous: a very good use of the Dusty Finish.

Backstage: Shelton Benjamin was confronting Eric Bischoff about his encounter with Evolution.  Bischoff tells him to just settle down, because Evolution did him a favor: they taught him the "lay of the land" on RAW, who you have to respect to get anywhere.  Bischoff says now Benjamin knows to respect HHH, and if he's smart, he'll also respect The Bo....  but he's interrupted by a throat being cleared.  The throat belongs to Steve Austin, who steps in and says Bischoff's got it all wrong.  Benjamin shouldn't sell out: he's got a chance to start fresh as a singles wrestler on RAW, and the way you do things on RAW is you get in somebody's face and you challenge them to a match.  Benjamin thinks that sounds wise, so he immediately demands a match against HHH.  And Bischoff grants it, but says that if Benjamin was upset earlier, he's about to get a whole NEW respect for the Game.  Eric leaves, and Austin hit another one of his dead-on taglines: he turns to the confident-looking Benjamin, the guy he just pep-talked into a match against HHH, and tells him, "I sure hope you know what you're getting into here, man."  And then Austin leaves, with Benjamin suddenly looking a bit less confident.

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The Highlight Reel with Chris Jericho

We must be running late, cuz we return directly to Jericho in the ring, talking about how his guest tonight may have embarrassed him at WrestleMania, but he's been ordered not to put his hands on her, or else he'll be fined and suspended.  And that's alright with Jericho because all he wants tonight is An Explanation.  So please welcome.... Trish Stratus.

Trish grabs a mic and preemptively does a little "Hey, you can't touch me, I know you want to, but you can't" song and dance routine.  Sidenote: I'm guessing Trish was never a cheerleader...  then to business, as  Jericho asks for an explanation, and she's happy to oblige.  It all started over a month ago, when she had to face Christian in a match: she got beat pretty bad, and Jericho wasn't there to help her.  That was the week Jericho was out hurt, but Trish notes that he should have been willing to hop, one-legged, to her rescue because "any man would be willing to sacrifice his body for THIS body."  My, someone has a very high opinion of herself.  And it gets worse: Trish is an Internet Babe of the Year for three years running, and Jericho's not even in her league.  Ooooohhhh, burn.  Then she explains the last piece of the puzzle.  The night after their match, Christian came to her hotel room to apologize.  Trish refused at first, but eventually relented, and they got to talking: that's when Trish realized that Jericho was using her just like he used Christian, that he didn't really care about her or else he would have been there for her that night.  So she and Christian got on the same page and stayed up all night long, plotting and scheming to get their ultimate revenge at WM20.  The capper:  "And Chris, that's not the only thing we did all... night... long."

Trish might think she has sufficiently humiliated Y2J into more brooding silence, but no.  Now, we release the Kraken.  Jericho hasn't spoken in almost a month, and now I know why:  he was saving up all his material to unleash in one masterful, uninterrupted, five-minute burst.  I'm talking pure gold.  Lines that would maybe be kind of cheap, cheesy, or obvious if done individually, but which took on a kind of epic grandeur when rifled off, rapid-fire, in succession.  "I may have put my foot in my mouth sometimes talking to you, but that's nothing compared to what you're putting in YOUR mouth, now."  Or maybe: "I really do appreciate your explanation.  Thanks for coming out here and opening up.  I hear it's what you do best."  Don't like that, how about "You're easier than Paris Hilton on Viagra," which actually makes no real sense but is still hi-fricking-larious.   Helping matter even more: Trish has apparently been studying at the Christian School For Thin-Skinned Temper Tantruming, and Jericho had this perfect look of utter satisfaction and contentment on his face the whole while.

Jericho finally decided it was time for a big finish, and announced that he was happy for the new couple.  Because there's nothing more appropriate than the CLB bedding the FDDBBTH.  Trish apparently suffered morning head trauma and forgot the weekend's house shows (and also about endless months of Jericho feuding with Steph), because she wanted the acronym explained.  Jericho says he means it's nice to see the Creepy Little Bastard shack up with a Filthy, Disgusting, D-Word-I-Forget, Brutal, Bottom-Feeding Trashbag Ho.  Trish is appropriately appalled.  But it gets still worse when Jericho decides to do a call-and-response with the crowd.  He says Filthy, they say Filthy, and so on and so on.  This repeats twice, as Trish leaves the ring in utter shame. And then, for some reason, Jericho decided to keep on repeating the chant ad infinitum until they finally pulled the plug and cut backstage to a shot of Tajiri walking down a hall looking like a man on his way to his own execution.

Color me a HUGE fan of this segment; it'd have been the actual highlight of most any other night, I think.  I can't say enough good about Jericho's performance: if this is our prize for week after week of preceding tepid "All Business" performances, then I apologize for past criticisms.  His promo wouldn't have seemed nearly as cathartic if it hadn't been built up that way.  Tonight, finally, this was a Jericho that fans can enthusiastically cheer.  Although maybe the "trashbag ho" thing has already worn out its welcome after however many dormant years.  Man.  And Trish?  Hey, I say she carried her half: she had really strong material for the most part (as good a piece of Heel Logic as you'll get to explain a swerve turn, I think, and a couple very unlikable bits of egotistical gloating/mocking), which helped.  She had the basic foundation of self-centered bitchiness down, too, in terms of her delivery.  Unfortunately, she did exhibit a really bad case of nerves: at least, I assume it was because she was terrified on the inside and needed some kind of artificial pause to mentally reset and get her next line ready.  If that turning away from the camera after EVERY punchline and pacing was on purpose, not due to nerves, she needs to cut it immediately.  It was distracting as all hell.  But still not bad for her first ever real heel promo.  Or maybe I'm just being gentle cuz she wisely ditched the quasi-slut-wear and went back to jeans and a sweater this week....

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During the break:  Trish was all emotional and weepy and humiliated as she paced backstage, and then Christian arrived to console her.  He locks her in the Firm Embrace of Comforting, and did a few seconds of "Yes, dear, I know I should have been there for you." before trying to get her to quit her whining long enough for him to make an Important Announcement.  You see, the reason he wasn't out there to protect her and shut Jericho's yapper is because he was in Eric Bischoff's office getting a match made for Backlash... it'll be Christian versus Jericho.  And Jericho will pay for making his princess cry. 

Kane vs. Tajiri (No Disqualification?)

I think Bischoff missed a line earlier, because Lillian announced this as "No DQ," which is the first I've heard about it.  Unless I wasn't paying attention...  but I'm pretty sure I was.

Lots of you write in wondering why I'm such a Tajiri mark: well, here was your answer.  On a night when he correctly pronounced maybe a total of 2 words, he effectively turned babyface and got the fans on his side.  If anything, they had him OVERdoing the facial expressions and body language.  But point is, it worked, and Tajiri is The Man.  Out of the gate, Tajiri decides to quash the fear, knuckle up, and attack.  He hits a few kicks, and has already lasted longer than Kane's last 3 or 4 RAW opponents combined before Kane decides to quit selling them entirely.  Kane took over, and the match actually makes it past the 60 second mark!  Tajiri gets a big hope spot that has him countering a chokeslam with a boot to the head, then trying to counter a Top Rope Clothesline from Kane by locking in a Tarantula.  He can't quite cinch it, though, and both guys tumble from the ring.  They brawl back and forth, and ref is counting the whole time.  When the count gets up to 7, Tajiri decides to get back in the ring.  Kane tries to follow, but gets a face full of green mist for a nice pop.  Ref keeps counting, somebody finally tells JR to mention the No DQ stip cuz the mist happened right in front of the ref, and Tajiri ends up getting the win by Count Out.  Whoa.  A month worth of RAW opponents can't even break the 30 second barrier against Kane, and Tajiri's the guy who takes him past 2 minutes AND gets the cheap win.  Forget my gripes about Tajiri becoming a Lost Cruiserweight on RAW.  

After the match: Kane, obviously, is not happy.  So he wipes the mist from his eyes, gets in the ring, and corners Tajiri.  Tajiri tries to kick his way out to no avail.  Kane goozles him and hits a big chokeslam.  Maybe forget about forgetting about my gripes, as Kane sets up for a second one... but no!  Here's Edge to make the save.  Edge hits the spear, and Kane topples from the ring and stumbles away.  Edge checks on Tajiri as they play his (Rob Zombie) music.  Wasn't the smoothest match in the world, not by a long shot, but story-wise, I liked this a lot.  I think it's easier to feed somebody to Kane and get him right back where it was than it would be to get Edge (and Tajiri) as much rub as they did by booking things this way.  Good stuff.

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Shelton Benjamin's Kubrickian Gauntlet of Pep Talks: Benjamin started out in his dressing room, pacing a little as Chris Benoit entered.  Benoit put their past rivalry aside, saying it was an all new start between them on RAW, and he wanted Benjamin to go out there and show the world and HHH what he was all about. Benjamin: plus 2 on confidence.  Camera follows as Benjamin enters a hallway, and runs into Hurricane, who says he speaks on behalf of the entire locker room when he tells Shelton to take HHH out for good.  Benjamin: plus 3 more on confidence.  Finally, the camera keeps rolling with him as he rounds a corner and finds Mick Foley.  Foley delivers the strongest pep talk of all, telling Benjamin he's seen his tag work, and he's confident Shelton can go out there tonight and make a great first impression as a singles wrestler.  Benjamin: confidence plus another 7 or 8.  He is now positively STRUTTING to the ring.

SmackDown! Rebound:  In the guise of "keeping our RAW fans apprised of your favorites who got drafted to SD!," JR and King introduce a 3 minute package of last week's SD! highlights.  Not a bad little idea to maintain cross brand awareness, I guess.  But how many RAW fans are gonna see "Hey, Bradshaw in the main event!" and want to change brands?  Answer: none.  No seriously, Bradshaw, don't punch me.  I meant "Answer: I'm giving NONE because it was a rhetorical question."  Yeah, that's the ticket...

HHH's Significantly Less Involved Pep Talk:  a camera spied Evolution, where Ric Flair gave HHH about 30 by-the-book seconds of "You're the Game, you don't have to sweat this kid, just go out there and take care of business."  HHH seems pretty unconcerned.

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Triple H vs. Shelton Benjamin

The previous segments and the announcers here meant the story was already set: Benjamin's just a kid trying to make a first impression, even though he's over-matched.  And HHH is confident he'll get out of this one with an easy win.  Just in case, though, they do an awesome job telling the same story again in the ring during the opening moments.  If you're looking for rapid-fire displays of Moveset Madness, this wasn't for you: but if you wanted personality and psychology shining through, this was about as good as it gets during the first few minutes.  

HHH was oozing cockiness, and when he over-powered Benjamin in a lock-up, he broke with a really condescending "Hey, you're a cute kid" pat on the cheek.  So Benjamin came out, and immediately went Amateur Style on HHH's ass, and out-wrestled him.  Twice, HHH had to puss out and go for the rope break; on the second one, Shelton returned the pat on the cheek with a huge grin, and the crowd suddenly decided they really liked the kid.  I shit you not: a "Shelton, Shelton" chant got started; not very tight or loud, since I think most of the crowd was thinking, "My god, I can't believe I'm cheering for Shelton Benjamin, but I am and I like it," but it was there.  As HHH immediately got pissed and back on offense, it gave way to a more coordinated "You Tapped Out" chant to taunt the Game...  HHH dominated for about a minute, and suddenly had Benjamin locked in for a Pedigree.  But at the last second, Benjamin escaped the hold and went for a corner.  HHH's confidence was back at peak levels as he gave a cocky "This Close" gesture with his fingers, along with a smile.  They locked back up, and this time around, Benjamin managed to work his way into a quick pinning combination.  When a harried HHH kicked out at 2, Benjamin again grinned that grin and returned the "This Close" gesture to a big pop.  

It was right around here that I really wished I hadn't picked 3 days ago to re-assert my belief that Charlie Haas would be a bigger star than Shelton Benjamin....  and also when I started to sense I might have use for "All About the Benjamin" as a headline.  Benjamin continued with some offense, even hitting that two-footed spinning leg lariat-thingie that he used as a finisher against Haas two weeks ago in the Gauntlet match.  On that one, when HHH kicked out at 2, the crowd response was such that you could tell they'd officially been won over and believed Benjamin MIGHT have won.  It was apparently enough to concern Ric Flair, who immediately materialized at ringside.  Seconds later, Chris Benoit was out to counter him.  With the participants and ref trying to sort out the interloping, it was a good time for some....

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We come back, and apparently, HHH has been working an armbar/wristlock the whole time.  Doesn't last though, as Benjamin immediately stages a comeback, and hits a few moves.  That changes, though, when HHH reverses a whip and hits a high knee, then follows up by tossing Shelton's weakened arm/shoulder into the ringpost.  More mostly-arm-related offense from HHH for several minutes, with periodic hope spots for Benjamin.  The crowd and Cheerleader Benoit were wanting the REAL comeback, and they finally got it at about the 15 minute mark, when HHH missed a move off the top rope.  See, he does SO take after Flair!  Shelton fired up and the crowd was totally behind him as he took the brawl to ringside.  HHH took a bump into the steps, and Benjamin tossed him into the ring, and then went up to the top to follow up.  He hit a big flying clothesline (maybe supposed to be a cross-body, kinda looked like an overshoot that was smoothly covered with the side-sling clothesline instead) from the top rope, and made a cover.  Two and 7/8ths according to JR, and close enough that the crowd was LIVID and actually tried a "Bullshit" chant.  Wow.  

HHH got back into the match after that, and from here on out, it was a few minutes of reversals and teases.  But HHH couldn't put the kid away.  After Benjamin escaped another Pedigree, Flair decided it was time to throw his two cents in: while the ref admonished HHH for something, he snuck in and clubbed Shelton in the face.  HHH was ready to follow-up, but Benoit saw Flair interfere, and immediately went after the Nature Boy.  HHH was distracted by Benoit's attack.  He was standing, back to the ring, in a corner... and that's when Benjamin got his wits back and immediately charged with a big-ass high-elevation Stinger Splash to HHH's back.  HHH rebounded off the turnbuckle directly into a school boy roll-up by Shelton.  One.  Two. Three.  Play Shelton's (generic rock) music (that'll have to be changed or augmented soon if they really want him to be a star)!  He's just beaten the Game!

Probably right at 20 minutes.  Superbly constructed.  Match of the night.  A break-out performance.  What more can I say?  Show fades out on an incredulous HHH and Flair and a jubilant Shelton Benjamin getting his hand raised on the stage by Chris Benoit.

Final Analysis

Two super-strong shows in a row for RAW.  And this one did it without any show-spanning lottery gimmick.  It did it with solid storytelling and even better in-ring work.

Again, I apparently couldn't have picked a worse week to have done my Haas/Benjamin comparison.  I stand by my praise of Haas, mind you, and I didn't really think Benjamin showed a whole lot in his own backstage speaking (he mostly had to sit and listen to pep talks).  But tonight, Benjamin brought a here-to-fore unseen spark of something else.  Maybe "likeability" for lack of a better term.  What I talked about Friday with Haas was more about his "credibility" in the ring, but seeing tonight's RAW, I don't think there's anyway he could have duplicated Shelton's appeal, even if they'd done the exact same shtick. The big smile after doing the "You're a cute kid" cheek pat was something I think only Benjamin could pull off, for some reason.

They pulled off that match, as a whole, because of great work laying the foundation in those opening minutes.  Like I said, I don't think the crowd was fully convinced they bought Benjamin in a main event even when they were stunned into their first chants for him....  but by the end, they were right there and loving it.  The Fed and HHH took a chance, and it paid off this time: in the battle of Rushing Unlikely Talents Into Main Event Roles, RAW wins this latest round over SD...

Can't dismiss the work they did in the immediately-preceding segment, either.  The pep talks and Benjamin's visibly-rising confidence level were very well done and necessary for the match to set the vibe and make fans receptive to the foundation-laying opening moments of the match.  If you can find something to complain about from RAW's final half-hour, you're probably trying way too hard.

Next step: a polished entrance/image for Benjamin, and the follow-up to this big win.  Why do I have this horrifying vision of a feud with Batista (since Batista's actually the one who instigated the backstage attack), possibly even with Benjamin right back in the middle of a tag situation?  Let's hope for better...

Second biggest winner of the night: the Highlight Reel.  It now occurs to me that I decided to put my analysis of that segment right up there with the actual recap portion... but let's just get it on record down here:  Jericho was gold, Trish was OK, and I think we've taken the first substantive step forward in this angle since the actual heel turn at WM.

Third favorite thing of the night: the tag title match.  Well-worked, storyline-wise it introduced the vibe that Michaels and Benoit might be buddies again now that they know they have their "common enemy" back in another Triple Threat PPV match, and with an extremely effectively done Dusty Finish.  Other than facilitating said Dusty Finish, I have no clue as to what Johnny Nitro was supposed to be bringing to the table, but otherwise, very good stuff.

And I liked the opening promo, too.  Flair is outstanding.  I know the goal is to push Orton to the moon, but I hope somebody realizes that maybe if he did less, he'd actually get over more, if that makes sense.  LET Flair do some taking, LET Flair actually rile up a crowd to the fevered pitch, LET Orton step in and scoop some of that heat during his brief comments.  I know the joke around OO is that none of us think Orton's as good as the Fed thinks he is, but I'm not making this suggestion out of spite. To the contrary, I think Orton's good enough to take a stab at pushing him and see if he blossoms: and further, I think his best shot at getting over might be to let somebody else who's proven himself do some of his work for him.  I'm not suggesting Flair do more talking so that he can steal Randy's spotlight, I'm suggesting he do it because I think, at this juncture, Orton will benefit more from Flair cutting some promos than he will from learning on the job by cutting his own mediocre promos.  But tonsillitis doesn't linger long, so....

Well, at least for this week, Flair got to talk, and did a nice job getting all of Evolution's issues out in the open to kick off the show.  Then Foley came out and did a fine job of driving home the specific issue he's got with Orton.  Solid all-around opener.

Right there, you've pretty much got all your "over 5 minute" segments accounted for.  All the major things tonight hit the mark, I think.  Even among the shorter segments, I think there were some hits: most notably stuff with Tajiri leading to Tajiri/Kane/Edge's match/angle.  What the hell is even left to label a miss?  Maybe missing the boat a bit with the finish of Molly/Nidia and the sheer pointlessness of the Lance/Rhyno thing unless it really is leading to something along the lines of what a lot of you want it to lead to.

But still: talk about a hit rate.  Super show.  SmackDown! will, once again, have its work cut out for if it doesn't want to seem Minor League by comparison.  And Cole and Tazz bitching about "Shelton Benjamin used to work here, so that's KIND OF like two SmackDown! guys beating HHH in two weeks!" might be kind of cute, but that won't get it done.

More tomorrow in Wednesday's OO.
 

E-MAIL RICK
BROWSE THE RAW RECAP ARCHIVES


  
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PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28

 

 

 


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