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Making It Look Easy... 
April 13, 2004

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com


I don't know which I like better: being right, or being massively entertained.  Doesn't matter this week, since I was both.  Even if last week's RAW was a little flat, I thought it did some outstanding things in terms of building to this week's.  I was right.  And this week's RAW delivered the goods.  I was entertained.

A winner is me!  A recap is owed you!

Video Package: last week, Shelton Benjamin had the unmitigated gall to defeat Triple H via count-out.  He was severely sanctioned by Evolution, who left him in a pool of his own blood.  When Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and Chris Benoit decided to try to help Shelton, they were sanctioned by GM Bischoff, who ordered the three to join Benjamin in an 8-man tag match next week.  And by "next week," we of course mean TONIGHT~!

Cold Open: We're in GM Bischoff's office, where Shelton Benjamin is shooting Uncle Eric the Intense Stare of Fifteen Stitches In My Head.  Bischoff and Johnny Nitro are trying to get Shelton to simmer down, but Benjamin seems to think he's well within his rights to be angry about last week, when the GM left him out to dry.  Before Shelton could get too worked up, Benoit and Michaels showed up behind him and held him back...  then Foley waltzed in and took back "Barbie" from Johnny Nitro, and the babyfaces promised they'd take care of business "Chicago-style" later tonight.  There's a deep-dish pizza joke in there somewhere, but I'm too lazy....

No opening theme/pyro/etc., just another cold cut to the arena, which Jim Ross assures us is jam-packed and sold-out, which is probably more interesting to him than to those of us at home, but whatever....  he doesn't have much time to harp on it, thought, because it's time for...

One Face of Foley

Mick hits the ring with his barbed wire bat, and proceeds to hit a few of the highlights from last week's promo, just in case you managed to miss it even with internet critics such as myself moistening their panties and telling you how awesome it was.  And then he kind of switched gears, saying that he's looked deep inside himself, and he's not sure he can really do these horrible things to Randy Orton at the PPV on Sunday, afterall.

Mick Foley doesn't want to be responsible for ruining Randall's model-caliber good looks.  Mick Foley doesn't want to extinguish one of the most promising young wrestling careers in a long time.  But Mick Foley knows someone who DOES want to do those things.  Mick Foley knows....

Cactus Jack.  

Cactus got worked all up into a lather, making it quite clear that Mick Foley may be a nice man, but Cactus Jack just does not give a damn, and Randy Orton would pay the price at Backlash.  A rattled Orton tried to run in and attack Cactus with a steel chair, but Mick saw it coming and disarmed Randy with a shot from Barbie.  Randy tucked his tail between his legs and retreated while Cactus gave us a "Bang Bang" for old times' sake.  Very effective opening segment.


Kane vs. Grandmaster Sexay

Kane hit the ring first, then paused as he waited for his opponent.  And who came out, but Brian "Grandmaster Sexay" Lawler, complete with a winkwink nudgenudge comment from Papa Jerry.  Sexay is back on RAW, and GM Bischoff did him no favors, booking him against Kane in an attempt to "send a message" to Edge about what Kane will do to returning superstars.  Or at least, that's JR's story, and I really appreciated the attempt at rationalization.  More pragmatically, this was just a squash, with no real good reason for existing.  Sexay didn't look totally smooth, and by the time the match ended at the 90 second mark, his babyface pop had worn off and Kane was getting cheered.  The Fed might want to keep an eye on that: that's 2 or 3 weeks in a row where it's seemed like Kane's gotten cheered more than his ostensibly babyface opponent.  Kane wins with the chokeslam, and lights the ringposts.  Welcome back, Lawler Junior.

Backstage: Trish is getting prettified, when up walks Eugene.  Eugene says "Hi" to the nice make-up lady.  Trish seems one part disgusted to even be proximate to Eugene, but also one part insulted that he seems not to know her name.  Finally, Eugene reveals that he DOES know Trish as he calls her "Slut."  William Regal picks that moment to come in and drag Eugene away, while Christian finally materializes to console Trish.  He explains that this is all Jericho's fault, and together, they will make him pay at Backlash.  Trish, at first, doesn't seem enthusiastic about wrestling in the match, but by the end of Christian's sell-job, she's looking forward to letting Christian do the work and then tagging in to pin Jericho her own self.


Coach's Ninja Is Not as Voluptuous as Raven's

Coach hit the ring, accompanied by a ninja.  And in one of my purest Moments of Dork that I can recall, I knew EXACTLY where this segment was going as soon as I saw the ninja.  And I loved it in advance, despite it being an entirely obscure and archaic in-joke.  What can I say?  I was there in the audience for Shinobi the Ninja's WWF debut at RAW in Cincinnati back in '96!

Anyway, the deal is this: Coach reveals that Tajiri has challenged him to a match at Backlash.  But Coach has no desire to soil his hands with Tajiri.  So Tajiri can face Coach's Five Star Ninja here tonight.  If the Ninja wins, then Tajiri can go crawl back under his rock.  But if Tajiri can somehow win, then Coach will face him at the PPV.  It's on....

Tajiri vs. Coach's Ninja

The ninja starts out matching Tajiri karate kick for karate kick.  The tit-for-tat goes back and forth for about 2 minutes, until Coach manages to lend a helping hand to his ninja: the ref has been temporarily blinded by an inadvertant rake to the eyes, leaving Coach to break up a Tarantula with clubbing blow to Tajiri's head.  The Ninja makes the cover, the ref recovers, but it's only a long two count.  Tajiri quickly rallies, hits the Buzzsaw Kick, and scores the pinfall win to get his PPV showdown against Coach.  

After the match: Coach gives us his Concerned Face as he retreats.  Left alone, the Ninja is quickly unmasked by Tajiri revealing...  you guessed it: Al Snow.  He used to be Shinobi, now he's Coach's partner.  Perfect on so many levels.  Or at least: two levels.  I got a kick out of it, anyway.


Backstage: Ric Flair is talking to Eric Bischoff, insisting that Shelton Benjamin NEVER BEAT TRIPLE H.  Never happened.  And further, Shelton doesn't have adequate respect for his superiors, so at Backlash, Flair would like to beat some respect into him.  Bischoff says that sounds good to him, that he even had the paperwork ready for Flair already.  Flair, sated, tries to leave the office, only to find Shelton Benjamin waiting out in the hallway to disrespect him some more.  Shelton mounts Flair and chokes him out until refs break it up....

Point:  A 60-second pre-taped spot aired with HHH talking about the Final Encounter at Backlash.  He said nothing new: just reasserted how Benoit and Michaels might be good, but he's much more awesomer, so they'd best get ready to lose on Sunday because history will not repeat.


The Highlight Reel

Chris Jericho will have a guest out here eventually... but first, he'd like to preface this interview segment with a few freestyle comments.  And of course, they are directed at Christian and Trish and how he'll finally get getting his revenge on them at Backlash.  He had a good line at Trish's expense about how she didn't have to be worried about the match, though, since she's obviously quite experienced with being "in action with two men at the same time."  Then he started in on the "CLB" and the "FDDBBTH," as I started to cringe.  Then he took it to a whole other level, talking about DDP selling DVDs at the DMV until somebody was DOA and MIA and so on and so on.  It didn't make a lick of sense, but it was delivered with such enthusiasm that by the time Jericho wrapped up his two dozen or so acronyms, the crowd gave him a HUGE pop and Jericho just sat there with a very satisfied look on his face as he soaked it in.  He wasn't done with Trish, yet, either, as he busted out some footage from about 3 years ago when Vince McMahon had her barking like a dog on TV.  Finally, he decided it was time to introduce his guest, the woman who beat Trish just last week to earn a Women's Title shot at Backlash....

But before Lita could even make it five steps down the ramp, Trish attacked her from behind.  Jericho stormed up to break it up, but officials and Eric Bischoff were on the scene first.  Bischoff announced that if the two woman wanted it, they could fight each other RIGHT NOW.  But really, he meant after some...


Lita vs. Trish Stratus

We're already well underway once we get back from the break.  Jericho has stayed at ringside for reasons that are not clear, except then it becomes clear when Christian decides to come on down to the ring after a minute or two of action.  I think I see where this is going.  Trish settles in on offense, and Jericho does a nice bit of apron-banging and cheerleading to get the crowd chanting "Lita" and "Slut" at appropriate times.  Lita finally fires up after Trish decided on a chinlock/sleeper thing for a bit...  it all built up to Lita hitting a crazy dive through the ropes to the outside.  It looked like maybe she was ready to capitalize and get the win as she tossed Trish back in the ring, but that's when Christian decided to come over and blatantly slam Lita into the ringside barrier.  Ref saw it, instant DQ win for Lita.  About five minutes after the break: not totally smooth since these two have been allies instead of foes for the past however many years and didn't look real comfortable working with each other, but still plenty tolerable.

After the match: with Lita laid out, Jericho was left against both Christian and Trish.  At first, it seemed like he might get the better of the exchange, and was close to locking Trish into the Walls of Jericho.  But that quickly changed.  Instead, Jericho got two Unprettiers, and a series of humiliating slaps from Trish.  Big time heat on Christian and Trish, as they continued to talk trash at Jericho's prone carcass.  Really hot way to finish off a match that didn't quite get on track itself....


Backstage: the New Guy is interviewing La Resistance, asking why they've relocated to Quebec.  The short answer: so they can be closer to America, which will make it easy for them to conduct their campaign to civilize us.  In the background, Eugene started playing with the Quebec Flag until William Regal came in and pulled him away.  Regal gave La Resistance back their flag, and defused their anger.  Eugene seemed a little bit concerned as they walked away, but Regal assured him it was OK and La Resistance were his friends.

Johnny Nitro Has Something to Say

Again, Nitro comes out to the old "Nitro" theme, but this week, has a new entrance video that looks like somebody had a ton of fun Photoshopping the old Monday Nitro logo to replace every instance of "Monday" with "Johnny."  Nitro says he's got an announcement for Edge, and wants to make it to Edge's face.

So out comes Edge.  Nitro says that his Boss, Mr. Bischoff, isn't pleased at having been speared two weeks ago, and now, Mr. Bischoff's office is not pleased that Edge is walking around with a cast on his hand and is using it as a weapon.  So Nitro announces that if Edge is caught using the cast in his match against Kane on Sunday, not only will he be immediately DQ'ed, but he'll also be instantly suspended.  Understand, Edge?

Edge grabs the mic and says the only thing he understands is that he's been out of action for 14 months, that he's itching to return, and on Sunday, he'll beat Kane.  [Mostly cheers, but again, seems like Kane had some fans out there.]  And as far as Mr. Bischoff goes, Edge is sorry he hasn't gotten to talk to Eric since that Spear... so he wonders if "Johnny Jackass" will take a message to Sleazy E.  Sure enough, Edge nails Johnny with a Spear at that point.  Hit his (old, non-Zombie) music!


Hurricane vs. Sylvain Grenier

The partners (Rosey and Conway) are out here, too, but don't figure into things much.  Absolutely standard back-and-forth stuff for about three minutes, and then they hit End Game.  Eugene walked out with an Easter Bunny doll, and tried giving it to Conway, on the grounds that La Resistance are his friends, I guess.  Conway was having none of it, so Eugene got on the ring apron and tried giving it to Grenier, who was not pleased at being distracted from his match.  So Grenier took the doll and tore its head off.  Awwwwww.  Eugene tried scooping up the fluff, and Grenier walked right into a Shining Wizard (I think).  Hurricane wins a forgettable little 4 minute match.  Regal came out and guided Eugene to the back as I got visions of La Resistance vs. Hurricane/Rosey vs. Regal/Eugene in a "What the Hell? These Are the Only Tag Teams We Have #1 Contenders Match"....

Counter-point: In a 60-second pre-taped piece, Shawn Michaels talked about the Final Encounter match... his slant is that the WM match he had against Benoit and HHH was really awesome, and people want to know how they can top it.  And HBK says, that he's the Showstopper, and topping himself is just what he does for a living.


Low Content Visit with JR and King

A few comments about the night's action so far provide a segue for King and Ross to send us to the SmackDown! Rebound.  Wisely, the "Bradshaw Hates Mexicans" angle is downplayed, and they pushed the "RVD vs. Booker T" aspect as the main SD! storyline from last week.  That's wise not only because RVD and Booker are more familiar to RAW fans, but also because it did not suck.

Phase 2 of this segment was kicking it to an EXCELLENT video package about Mick Foley's hardcore past.  Tons of King of the Death Match footage.  Looked like some ECW stuff in there, too.  All with tremendous soundbites that put the focus directly on the horrible things that Mick Foley would do to Randy Orton Sunday at the PPV.  Video packages are a necessary evil and usually don't do a whole lot to help fans who have been paying attention... but this was not one of those cases.  No matter how familiar you were with the story, this segment only made you MORE interested in Foley vs. Orton.  Video packages do not get any better.

Phase 3 was coming out of the Foley/Orton hype with a rundown of the rest of the Backlash PPV card.  We're up to seven matches, now, and frankly, this is looking like the strongest brand-specific line-up since last July's Vengeance.

Phase 4 was Chris Benoit's Counter-Counter-Point: his 60 second pre-taped speech about the PPV title match had him declaring that he doesn't believe in luck, and that his win at WM was no fluke.  By winning at Backlash, he intends to silence those critics.  I'll say this: these 3 mini-interviews were almost completely pointless in terms of content.  None of the 3 guys said anything new, or said anything in a particularly memorable way.  But I very much enjoyed the vibe they gave off: something a little different, an acknowledgement that this is a "been there, done that" rematch but while somehow making it still seem very special.


Shawn Michaels, Chris Benoit, Mick Foley, Shelton Benjamin vs. Triple H, Randy Orton, Ric Flair, Batista

Michaels and Flair get us off to a fast-start, with some tried and true shtick.  Flair even augmented his usual delayed-reaction flop with a Bonus Spit Take.  Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks?  Then Benoit got in and got into a chopping contest with Flair.  Benoit won, and Flair decided to get out of dodge.  HHH came in, and then we kind of settled in for a bit, with Evolution controlling Benoit for a mini-beat down.  This set us up for Benoit making a superman comeback at about the 5 minute mark, even managing to lock HHH into a Sharpshooter for a big pop.  When Batista came in to break that up, it was on: all 8 men got involved, and brawled for a few minutes.  Crazy heat for this, we're really clicking.  The fan favorites gained control, and managed to toss all the heels out of the ring.  Evolution then decided to regroup...  except that Shawn Michaels saw them congregating and hit a wild plancha onto all four guys.  The heels are down, Michaels rejoins his pals in the ring, and it's looking like a good spot for some....


We come back, and somebody remembered that Benoit and HHH were the legal men before things broke down into a Pier 8 Brawl.  HHH was in control, but Benoit was able to get to his corner before much longer.  Foley came in for a little stretch, but then he tagged in Benjamin for the first time who drew Ricky Morton duties.  Evolution isolated Shelton, with Flair almost re-busting open his stitches and HHH/Orton seemingly focusing on the ribs/back.  The beatdown lasted for about 6-8 minutes, and ended when Batista got cocky, leaving Benjamin enough time to hit the double leg whip thing he's been using lately.  Batista tagged in Orton, Benjamin hot tagged HBK.  These will be your legal men the rest of the way, but good luck keeping track unless you're an incisive wrestling genius such as myself.  Michaels house-cleaning provided Evolution with all the motivation they needed to stay involved, instead of letting things settle down into a one-on-one affair.  Six guys all powdered out, leaving Michaels to nail Orton with the Macho Man Elbow and set him up for the Sweet Chin Music... but Flair managed to get back in the ring at that point.  HBK nailed Flair with the superkick, instead.  The distraction was enough to allow Orton to hit the RKO.  But Orton was still groggy and couldn't make the cover right away.  By the time he did, Benoit had recovered enough to get up to the top rope, and he nailed a headbutt into Orton's spine to break up the pin.  HHH tried to put things back in Evolution's favor, but Foley got back in the ring and back-dropped HHH out to the floor.  Batista yanked Foley from the ring, and started brawling with Mick.  I'm pretty sure that's everyone (Flair got superkicked, Benoit woozy from headbutt, HHH backdropped from the ring, Benjamin still selling the Ricky Morton act, and Batista and Foley brawling)....  isolated with Orton, Michaels loaded up the Sweet Chin Music again, and this time, he hit it.  One, two, three, and Michaels pinned Orton.  Out-freaking-standing 20 minute TV main event.

After the match: Benoit and his title belt get up in Michaels face for a stare down, and then rising from the ashes, HHH gets up on the apron directly behind them for a nicely-framed shot of all three men to close out the show.

Final Analysis

What can I say?  It seemed like this show did just about everything right, story-wise... I mean, there's a reason I'm more fired up for Backlash than for any other brand-specific PPV in recent memory.  And then they added in that main event match, which was right up there with HHH/Eddie and HHH/Shelton and any of the other outstanding main events we've seen on RAW in the last month.

That's what I like to see, and that's exactly what I expected going into the show last night.  
Even little throw-away bits like Tajiri/Coach/Ninja were hits with me.  I also though Foley's opening promo and later video package were absolutely perfectly done.  Lita/Trish was mediocre as a wrestling match, but was bracketed by Jericho's effective promo and a really hot heel beatdown, with the end result being two consecutive outstanding segments.  I've got no complaints with Edge's treatment, and I think that bit he did with Johnny Nitro might mean that Nitro is the ref for his match on Sunday, which might provide them with the storyline "out" they need to make both Edge and Kane look good coming out of the match.

If I had to complain about anything, I'd say that Kane/Sexay and the La Resistance/Hurricane/Rosey/Eugene stuff was pointless.  But it wasn't bad.  It was also short.  Beyond that, I'd have to start making stuff up that didn't happen to complain about (such as my on-going bafflement that Molly's quietly growing her hair back when she SHOULD be getting the title shot that's gone to Lita).  And in the end, it's not fair to fabricate things to bitch about, nor were the segments that I found disposable anywhere near enough to detract from my enjoyment of the rest of the show.

RAW gets a huge Thumbs Up again this week.


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RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28




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