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Love Conquers All 
August 26, 2003

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com


Let's try to think some happy thoughts.... because on a night where WWE seemed to fumble an opportunity to actually add some depth and excitement to the Batista/HHH story, and on a night where Lita returned to TV despite being in the center of a massive behind the scenes soap opera mess, some good things happened...
Mostly, you had some key developments on the Six Man Ladder Match front, as we found out the line-up for the match, and what would be on the line; it's not a title, but rather a title shot, and the signs seem to be pointing to this possibly being the start of the rebuilding of Chris Benoit... ain't nothing wrong with that.

With Lita's return, 

you also got a reason to think that maybe -- even if Spaz isn't gonna be capable of dazzling us with a display of wrestling ability at WM -- we'll get us a surprisingly entertaining Sports Entertainment Segment in the women's title match at WM21.

And mostly, with so much emphasis lately on cheating and betrayal, it was great to have RAW focus on one of the most compelling and genuine Love Stories of all time: the chemistry and sexual tension between Triple H and Sweet Lady Sledge has NEVER been as profound as it was last night. Their tale really tugged at the heartstrings.

Or maybe not. But RAW was a mix of the good and the bad, and I'm here to sort it all out for you. Enjoy:

Video Package: Triple H has released the Kraken, and nobody is safe from the wrath of Batista, not even Ric Flair. Not that I recap recaps.

Opening Theme/Pyro/Etc., and we're live in Raleigh, NC, and if you weren't watching last week or were unable to connect the dots in the opening package, JR and King remind us that tonight's big main event is Batista vs. Carolina's Own Ric Flair. But that's not for two more hours...

Shawn Michaels is All Dressed Up With No Where to Go

For reasons never adequately explained, Shawn Michaels is in full ring gear as he hits the ring for a promo. Perhaps he learned last week that jeans grant him special powers when wrestling, and thinks that to best channel his verbal ability, he requires bedazzlered chaps? And has to leave them on for the entire promo? Note to Shawn: if you're not wrestling, then carpe denim... Seize the Jeans. It'll be a bit easier to take you seriously.

But red leather chaps and all, Shawn is All Business as he grabs a mic. HBK manages to rewrite history so that Kurt Angle is the one responsible for him being bloody and unconscious at the end of RAW, erasing Edge's contribution to the rather thorough and entertaining ass-kicking. Perhaps because it *is* a commandment that one shalt not commit adultery? And there's another one about not coveting your good friend's girl? (Although if we start down that path, I think organized religion is pretty much on the record as being against premarital co-habitation and the frequent hot, sweaty monkey sex that it facilitates, so I'm sad to report that I must put a bullet in this running gag; by God's way of thinking, Matt, Lita, and Edge are ALL going to hell, and there ain't nothing funny about that!).

So focusing solely on Angle's RAW attack (and replaying the entirety of his own trespassing on SD!'s territory later in the week), Michaels launches into a bit of attempted psycho analysis, and decides that the reason Kurt Angle is so angry and full of rage is because of self-doubt. Because for all his Olympic and amateur accolades, Angle has never tested himself against the man they call "Show-Stopper" on the biggest stage of all. Shawn then decided to call himself "Mr. WrestleMania" (we'll have to go to the spreadsheet here in a few weeks for the Road to WM Feature, but I do believe Shawn sports a losing record in Mania matches!), and says that on April 3, he's giving Kurt a chance to erase that doubt. Because WWE is all about making dreams come true. Myself, if I'm doing the talking at that point, I close with a line about how Kurt's dream will turn into a nightmare (or words to that effect), but Shawn just glosses over that and closes with the much more generic, "And then we'll find out which one of us is the greatest performer of this generation."

And then, as if pre-taped hours or days before, Kurt Angle showed up on the TitanTron, assuring us all that he's not in the building, but rather at WWE Studios in Connecticut. And then Kurt counter-pointed Shawn by revealing the REAL source of his rage: and it's not self-doubt. It's because back in 1996, Kurt Angle busted his ass, fulfilled his life's dream, and won an Olympic Gold Medal for his country with a broken neck, but when he went out to do interviews, all anybody ever asked him was "When are you gonna go pro?" and "Did you see how Shawn Michaels won the WWF Title by wrestling Bret Hart for 60 minutes?" and "Wow, that means Shawn Michaels is the greatest athlete in wrestling, right?"... and so 1996 went from being one of the greatest years in Angle's life to one of the worst: because everybody was belittling his achievement and talking about Shawn Michaels instead. *THAT* is the source of Angle's rage.

But Angle is confident that history will remember HIM as the greatest athlete in wrestling. Because if Kurt hadn't spent his time training for the Olympics, if he'd joined the WWF instead, he knows that all Shawn's accomplishments and records would have been HIS instead. In fact, Angle is so sure of himself that he closes with a rather intriguing (and mouth-watering) promise: Angle says we all have to tune into SmackDown! this week, because he's going to prove himself as the greatest of all times by accomplishing in 4 weeks what it's taken Shawn Michaels 20 years to do... and once he finishes that, he's going to beat Michaels at WM to put the cherry on top.

Michaels looks as confused as I did following Angle's promise... but probably wasn't also feeling more excited about actually watching SD! than he has in almost a year, like I was. Because I have no idea WHAT this will really mean (it can't be about winning titles, since half of Shawn's four championships are either deactivated or on RAW), but if it ends up including winning any combination of ladder matches or IronMan matches or anything like that more from the "show stealer" category of accomplishments, I have a feeling we're ALL gonna enjoy the hell out of the next few weeks of SD!. As long as the final "accomplishment" isn't Kurt announcing that he's backing out of the WM match on the last SD! before the PPV because he "lost his smile"... 

Really good start to the show: Michaels half of the promo was just there (intense and well-delivered enough, but also was more about setting the stage than about actually introducing any compelling new concepts), but then Angle came up and followed up with an absolutely kick-ass few minutes of retroactive storytelling that goes back to 1996 that rings just true enough that you can really sink your teeth into it. His delivery was also spot-on, and again: that little promise of his is intriguing as hell.

Backstage: Triple H is WALKING~! But as soon as Jim Ross says, "and he's in singles competition next," pretty much everybody gets out their secret decoder rings and discovers that the message is actually, "HHH is squashing a jobber next."


Triple H vs. Rosey

The secret decoder ring: it does not lie. Rosey approximates an offensive flurry for about 30 seconds, but as soon as he misses a second rope moonsault (where's THAT been since the demise of 3 Minute Warning, big fella?!?), Triple H takes over, and Rosey gets not one additional big of offense the rest of the match. HHH takes it outside the ring briefly, tosses Rosey into the ring steps, and after probably about 2 minutes of the methodical beating, finally finishes Rosey off with a Pedigree.  It was a well-executed example of the Heel Squash, I guess, but last I checked, nobody was clamoring for 3-4 minute heel squashes on Monday nights: not exactly thrilling TV...

After the match: HHH was not content to let Rosey be... so he went under the ring and grabbed a sledgehammer. HHH was making eyes with the sledge as he contemplated his next move... I mean REALLY making eyes with the sledge: I swear to you, I got the distinct impression that if Trips could find a mouth on the damned thing, he'd have had his tongue halfway down Sledge's throat. And Sledge would so TOTALLY have kissed him back. HHH finally broke the tension by using the sledge to ram Rosey in the gut. Rosey sold it like a gunshot, and JR oversold it as the most heinous act of all time. Meantime, I cannot take my eyes off of Triple H and Sweet Lady Sledge, wondering if they may have found true love. 


Video Package: Spaz got naked for Playboy, and WWE cameras were on hand to capture everything except for the parts that fans might actually want to see. No naughty bits, all talking. Which mostly makes me laugh, since it was just 24 hours ago that I declared that taking one's clothes off and looking hot ain't rocket science, but for as much talking about it as they did here, you wouldn't know that from talking to Spaz or her photographer. They presented it like they successfully developed a cure for cancer or something, instead of pointing and clicking and wasting a bunch of other time on lame fluffery.

Backstage: Ric Flair is contemplative as HHH storms into the locker room, still caressing Sweet Lady Sledge in a vaguely post-coital fashion. Flair is not interested as HHH rambles about how AWESOME the sledge is, and how he never wants to go anywhere without sledge, and how sexy it is when sledge goes and breaks some tubby sack of crap's ribs. Trips finally realizes that Flair's not his usual hyper-active self, and asks what's wrong. Flair tries to brush him off at first, but HHH insists, and Flair spills it: he got his ass kicked by Batista last week, and tonight he's got to face him in a one-on-one match because of HHH, and it's not a match he really wanted himself. But HHH goes into Pep Talk Mode -- "Dirtiest Player" this, "16 times" that -- and Flair is quickly won over. [Really? That's it? You have a great chance to do something genuinely interesting with Flair in the middle as a sidebar to the HHH/Batista feud, and you just gloss over it and put things back to the boring old status quo like this? BOO!] Finally, HHH hits his punchline: that Flair won't be going out to the ring along, HHH will be there too... and he's bringing his Special Friend. Flair eyeballs the sledge, and suddenly he REALLY likes his chances.

Elsewhere Backstage: Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Shelton Benjamin, Edge, and Christian have all assembled, and none of them know why, exactly. Although you'd think that Jericho should probably have an idea unless he's a much dumber man than I give him credit for, and the others should be able to make an educated guess if they actually watched the show last week... and sure enough, Eric Bischoff finally materializes and announces that he's taken the Chris Jericho Six-Man Ladder match, and set the line-up. These five men will be a part of the match at WM21... instantly, Edge is all "Screw this noise," cuz he doesn't need the headaches of a ladder match. But that's when Bischoff announces that he hasn't just set a line-up, but he's upped the ante: the winner of the ladder match will earn a World Title Match. Edge is back on board. Bischoff explains that this will be a "Money in the Bank" Ladder Match, with a satchel containing a World Title Contract hanging above the ring. The man who grabs the satchel will then get a World Title Match at the time of his choice at ANY POINT in the next 12 months (which means that somebody could save it back for WM22). Very interesting stip, though I can't see them actually holding it back till WM22, given that the Fed seems to be having problems planning much more than 2 weeks in advance these days... I *do* like the possibilities that this *could* be the match that sets up Chris Benoit for a heel turn and a title feud against Batista over the summer months (after Mania, Batista does rematches with HHH and Benoit turns heel on Jericho, and by SummerSlam, Benoit plays his "Money in the Bank" card? I'd love it).  Bischoff closes by saying that tonight, fans'll get a tastes of the match, cuz all the participants in the ladder match will be in action: it'll be Benoit vs. Shelton, Jericho vs. Edge, and... Christian thinks that maybe Bischoff doesn't have a sixth man yet, and so he'll get the night off. But no: Bischoff tells him to get to the ring and get ready to face the sixth man.... NEXT~! [Huge fan of the title shot prize, and I even kinda like that they teased the sixth man this way, knowing full well that about half the crowd might be expecting Matt Hardy...]


Christian vs. Kane

Christian's cockiness evaporated as soon as Kane's pyro hit... and I'll say this: while Kane is kind of the odd man out, stylewise, and Matt Hardy would have been a better "fit," I like the idea of having a monster or power man in a six man line-up like this. I mentioned that if it was cross-brand, I wouldn't have minded seeing Big Show in the match: a big man practically becomes another "prop" in a ladder match, and Kane's absolutely the best of the big men. I'm definitely fired up for this match.

Not so much for *this* match right in front of me, though. I don't think it lasted much more than 3 minutes, which is great for me lazing on the recappening, but not so thrilling for the watchening. Basically: Kane starts fast, Christian begs off and manages to get a quick flurry of heelish offense, Kane comes back, and wins clean with a chokeslam. Whee. That's 150 seconds of my life I'll never see again. After the match: Tomko grabs the ladder (which was at ringside for "symbolic" purposes, sayeth JR, but we're not that dumb, are we, kids?) and smacks Kane with it. Tomko and Christian beat a hasty retreat, and are none-too-pleased when Kane does the Zombie Sit-Up.

Backstage: Randy Orton and Stacy Keibler are making sounds. Orton's sporting a sport coat, and asking how he looks. Because, as we've long since established here at OO, Orton is the kind of glossed up douchebag who almost certainly spends more time in front of the mirror than is, strictly speaking, healthy. Or manly. Stacy, who seems to have had much of Randy's vapidity rub off on her, assures him -- in her best Paris Hilton -- that he is quite HOTTTT~! And then, apropos of nothing and without anything resembling a logical, natural transition, she changes gears, and wants to know if Randy really wants to "do this" tonight. They are clearly trying to keep "this" mysterious and secret, which is silly of them, but Randy's gonna play along with Stacy and not say anything specific about what he plans on doing tonight, other than that it will "shock the world" and "it's time to make his challenge." At this point, I will allow you to select from two Closing Jokes (or if you're greedy, you can enjoy both):

1) "Wow. It looks like Randy and Stacy really ARE as dumb as they seem on TV. Afterall, it was just last week that Randy was reading SmackDown! Magazine, where it says right there in black and white that Undertaker vs. Randy Orton is happening at WM21. He's not gonna be shocking the world, and it seems his challenge was already made without his knowledge -- perhaps during a concussion-assisted black-out? -- and accepted to boot. Maybe Randy and Stacy just like looking at the pretty pictures, and aren't so good at reading the articles, though..."
2) "Wow. You know that palpable sexual tension between Triple H and Sweet Lady Sledge? Those two lovebirds make Randall and Stacy seem about as real and compelling as life-size cardboard cut-outs by comparison."


This is a Paid Product Placement: Jerry Lawler is munching on a Subway-brand sub sandwich, conveniently enough the OFFICIAL sandwich of WrestleMania 21. Apparently, Subway specifically endorses the return of Piper's Pit, with special guest Steve Austin, since we get a little mini-package hyping said segment.

Chris Jericho vs. Edge

From the get-go, it was obvious that upwards of half the crowd must have known about the Edge/Lita/Matt Hardy thing... a rather clever sign read "Edge Speared Lita," and there were "You Screwed Matt" chants early on, and then later they shifted to the more literally- and anatomically-correct "You Screwed Lita." All very audible on TV, and all VERY ignored by the commentators. Although JR was (you all kept your secret decoder rings on from earlier, right? I mentioned it for a reason, dammit, and I didn't tell you you could take them off!) making a few other oblique comments about Edge being a "changed man" who has made some "bad choices" lately. Considering how he didn't let Lawler distract him from that riffing, one has to assume JR was having some fun speaking in code to some of the fans while also going on record with his own personal beliefs about the situation...

Lengthy passages about commentary and behind-the-scenes soap opera are entirely appropriate here, folks, because this match just took its own sweet time getting on track. I don't know if it was Edge just being a bit off-kilter due to the fans riding him (honest to god, for the first 10 minutes of this match, there was very little crowd reaction and NO chants that didn't have something to do with Lita/Hardy), but the entire first part of the match can be summed up this way: Jericho worked over Edge's arm. And not in a particularly compelling fashion. Just slow and methodical, with lengthy armbar and keylock segments. If I didn't know any better, I'd say they were just killing time because they wanted to let the fans "get it out of their system," or something... because for five or so minutes, this thing really kinda sucked. They finally ramped up a bit, and Jericho tossed Edge out to ringside, and followed up with a plancha. Both guys down, so lets take a break for....


Back, and Jericho's still in control, and still working the arm a bit. He follows that up with a minute or two of more mostly-flaccid punchy-kicky-choppy, and then finally decides to do something a bit flashier by going up to the top rope. But Edge wasn't hurt as bad as Jericho thought, and Edge caught him up top and hit a Superplex. Edge followed up by making it two-for-two in terms of the "symbolic" ladder getting some use as he baseball slid Jericho into the ladder. And then, just to make sure that the pace didn't pick up TOO much, Edge brought 'em back into the ring and locked in a body scissors/chinlock combo. Jericho fired up (to pretty much dead silence) out of that, and they did a double clothesline spot, so both guys were down. Ref did the double count, and when Jericho got up to his feet first, we FINALLY found a bit of a groove for this match: fans slowly started to get a bit more into it as Jericho launched into the high energy babyface offense, including a few near falls after things like a DDT and a Frankensteiner into a pinning combo. I think somewhere in here (probably around the 12 minute mark of the match) we also got our first actual "Y2J" chant, which meant the fans maybe DID get it out of their system and were finally starting to pay attention to what was happening in the ring. Then again, this was also the first part of the match where Edge and Jericho were really giving us anything WORTH paying attention to...

Jericho's flurry finally came to an end after a reversed Irish Whip and a Big Boot from Edge... from here, the vibe changed from Babyface Fire to Edge's patented Heelish Frustration. Unable to put Jericho away, Edge got pissier and pissier, and finally, that opened the door for Jericho to strike again: he got Edge down and tried to lock in the Walls of Jericho. Except that it was Edge's ARM that hurt, and his legs were fine, so Edge kicked Jericho off... and Jericho collided with the ref. And all of a sudden, things got really weirdly disjointed...

Edge hit a couple moves on Jericho, and after each one, sort of meandered around like he wasn't sure what should happen next. After putting Jericho down with a Big Boot, Edge actually got about halfway out of the ring, like he was gonna go get the ladder, but then he paused and acted like he was too injured to even stand up, and just stumbled back across to the other side of the ring. And he immediately lined up to hit Jericho with a Spear, but Jericho dodged it and tossed Edge out of the ring, instead. But Jericho was too hurt to follow up, and so Edge took advantage of landing near the ladder to bring it into the ring, afterall. So I guess getting the ladder was always the plan, they just forgot how they were gonna get it? I dunno, but this was VERY awkward-seeming.

Back in the ring, Edge is gonna hit Jericho with the ladder, but Jericho instead hits a drop toe-hold. I think the idea was that Edge's head was supposed to hit the ladder, but the ladder actually ended up about 6 feet away. They still did a teased "near fall" (the fans counted, since the ref was still out) where Edge stayed down for about a 7 count. Jericho then decided that since he's a babyface, he needs to do something naive and dumb: he started hunting around to find out which side of the ring had a passed-out referee. But just as Jericho found the ref on the north side of the ring, Edge had regained his feet and grabbed the ladder again. And just because it's the biggest jerk move he could come up with, he uses the ladder to paste Jericho directly in the nutsac. Ouch. Jericho goes down, Edge gets rid of the ladder, the ref picks NOW to wake up. Just to make sure, Edge hits Jericho with an Impaler DDT, and gets the cheap pinfall win.

Probably about 15-16 minutes, and if it spent much more than 3 or 4 of those genuinely clicking and hitting on all cylinders, I must have missed something. Certainly not bad, but also about as bland and unmemorable a match as you'll ever see out of two guys this good.

Backstage: Coach, in his role as RAW Greatest Ass Kisser, is puckering up to tell Bischoff how awesome the "Money in the Bank" ladder match is. But Bischoff is just getting started, because he's got ANOTHER great idea: "Pick Your Poison" Monday. The next two weeks, he's letting his two WM21 main eventers pick the other's RAW opposition. Next week, Batista picks a match for HHH, and the week after, HHH picks for Batista. Upon hearing this, I begin fearing that we'll be treated to a HHH vs. Hurricane/Rosey handicap match next week... but as far as Coach is concerned, Bischoff has just out-geniused himself, and he's about ready to add in a reach-around while he's kissing Bischoff's ass. Sleazy E appreciates the groveling, but assures us that "he's just getting started." Hmmm...


Hall of Fame Ad: Same thing as last week... it's the "six other guys and then OMG HULK HOGAN~!" spot.

Randy Orton: Attention Span Killer

Young Randall hits the ring, and in the confounding counter-point to Shawn Michaels over-dressedness earlier, Randy has somehow misplaced his suit coat in the last half hour. So the douchebag sits around preening and making his girlfriend tell him how pretty he is, and then before he goes on TV, he loses the jacket? That is such a total Randy Move: because where he goes, continuity disappears, and in its place, more reasons to find him an unlikeable toolbox show up.

Orton sizes up his most challenging foe of all times, the Microphone, and tries to drop some knowledge on us. Tonight, that includes talking about how proud he is of his dad getting into the Hall of Fame, and how much he learned by growing up in a wrestling family. And one of the things he learned from his dad is how to stand up and make your mark on the grandest stage of them all. OK, so wait: did Randy just reveal this is father is actually Superstar Billy Graham? Or are we just supposed to forget what has passed for attempted storytelling in the last few weeks and take Randy's word for it that THIS is how he actually arrived at tonight's decision? Again: there goes continuity and logic!

Randy says that he made his mark in WWE initially by being the Legend Killer, and that while the decisions he made might not have been popular, he WAS successful. So with that in mind, and with everything he's learned from his father (or from Superstar Graham, apparently, it doesn't matter), Randy realized that he needs to challenge another legend. Proving that he still the bestest language mangler on the roster, Orton says he has decided to challenge the Undertaker to "the most ultimate match" at WM21. If I thought Randy did it on purpose, I'd appreciate his sense of humor; but when HE ends up piling too many superlatives into one sentence fragment, he really only convinces me that he might be the mostest dumbest guy in the company.
Randy rambles on a bit more about "Legend vs. Legend Killer" and ending the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WM21. And the fans? As you might expect, they don't give a shit: this match was not exactly a surprise, as it has been advertised in print and on TV for weeks, now, and Randy's trying to enthrall us all by acting like he's just come up with the idea tonight. Which is horseshit. In so far as the fans react, it's at least 70% boos (although, in a recent development, I've learned that my Babyfaces Getting Booed Percentage Meter may be miscalibrated, so who knows? It really did sound like an even more amplified version of Orton's usual "other than girly squeals, nobody's really cheering" vibe tonight, though). I don't want to say I told you so, WWE, but I did. This is the only way fans COULD respond given the way you've set up this match...

But wait: here's WWE's idea of how to "fix" things and force the fans to cheer and boo who the creative team wants them to! Because GM Eric Bischoff is out to talk to Randall! Bischoff says he's VERY happy and proud about Orton's decision to challenge Taker at WM, and that after Michaels beats Angle and Orton beats Taker, it'll prove RAW is the superior brand, and that'll mean all kinds of bonuses and benefits for GM Eric. Orton bungles his way through this rambly sentence fragment about how "I'm glad you're happy with challenge I make and stock options and bonus for you is good." Luckily, at this point, I think most of us are working with a separate decoder ring for Randall, and we still get the point he's trying to convey even if it's not, technically, in English. But then, taking his cues from his girl Stacy (you know it's true love when you start talking alike!), Randy changes gears without even an ATTEMPT at a logical transition or segue, and utters the non sequitur "Um, so you used to be in charge of WCW, right?"
Bischoff says that yes, he was, and then continues to answer Randy's dumb-ass rhetorical questions out loud. The gist of the exchange was Randy proving that Bischoff made history with WCW by kicking RAW's ass, and now he's making history by managing RAW and still kicking ass. Because, in Randy's mind, such accomplishments make Bischoff a Legend. Bischoff doesn't like the sound of that, and sort of turns to leave (except he mostly just stands there and waits for Orton to stop him)... and sure enough, Orton DOES reach out and grab Bischoff, spins him around, and hits an RKO.

This was quite transparently WWE's attempt to trick fans into not turning against Orton. It also, just as transparently, didn't seem to work. At best, the crowd reaction to Orton after RKOing Bischoff was a 50/50 split. Again: in some conference room, writers may be confused and baffled why their trick didn't work, but I'm here to tell you that if WWE could just escape its tunnel vision and pay attention to the sounds fans make and show an awareness of basic psychology and what has historically worked in wrestling, NONE of this would blindside them. Orton's likeability is already an issue, and the crappiness and anvilicious way they set up this match only compounds problems. This segment amounted to WWE asking us to sit around and listen to a line-fumbling dumb guy tell us something we all already knew: of COURSE that's not gonna click. I know *I* was just waiting for it to be over and fighting off the urge to FF, and it sure sounded/seemed like that was the vibe from the live crowd, too.


Shelton Benjamin vs. Chris Benoit (Non-Title Match)

Babyface vs. Babyface, right? Well, for now, at least (and pardon me if I delude myself into thinking that this is the subtle start of my Benoit Turns Heel to Challenge Batista Plan), so that means we start off with chain wrestling. Pretty good chain wrestling at that. Maybe not quite as tight and crisp, but for some of the softer/faster-paced chain wrestling, it was very fluid; evenly-matched, too, with neither man really gaining an advantage, and the crowd giving them the Mutual Respect Pop of Mutual Admiration after each break. Unable to establish superiority with wrestling, they went to fisticuffsmanship... and in that exchange, Benoit took over with the usual choppery. He even sent Benjamin out over the top rope, and then tried to follow up with his torpedo-like tope suicida....

And instead, sweet jesus, we got the sickest Holy Shit Moment of the night, as Benjamin dodged, and Benoit went crashing into the "symbolic" ladder headfirst. Adding to the visual impact is that the ladder was totally twisted and busted by Benoit's body. Scary. But Benoit was OK, and got back in the ring, where Shelton, obviously, found himself in command. Shelton kept the going for a bit, but when he whiffed on a Stinger Splash, Benoit rattled off the Hat Trick of Germans... but NOT SO FAST: Shelton counters the third German. Benoit quickly regains control, and hits the Hat Trick successfully, and tries to follow up with the Swandive Headbutt, but AGAIN Shelton has a counter, and nearly steals the win with a pinning combo. That seems to be the vibe: that Shelton can counter almost anything Benoit throws his way. But finally it's Benoit who hits the Ultimate Counter: reversing some attempt by Benjamin, Benoit locks in the Crippler Crossface. Shelton almost makes it to the ropes, but Benoit rolls it over without breaking the hold, and traps Benjamin in the center of the ring. Shelton has to tap out.

Some might argue that the IC Champ jobbing is not the best possible move, but if this is the start of a Benoit Project that won't pay off till SummerSlam, then you'll get no complaint out of me; there'll be time for Shelton to rehab his image as IC Champ after WM21, and as long as he carries some of the load in the ladder match, he'll probably come out of that match with more respect from fans than if he got rushed into some shitty IC Title feud that he'd actually win. I know that boggles the minds of some of you internet jerk-offs, but trust me: it's true. If the six-way ladder match is good enough, Shelton can CERTAINLY win by losing. If I did have a complaint here, it's simply this: that they should have taken about 8 minutes away from Edge/Jericho and given it to Benoit/Shelton... cuz this was really entertaining for the 4 minutes it lasted, and I'd have loved more of it. And you jack-offs probably would be more willing to zip your traps if Shelton jobbed in a 12 minute match than a 4 minute match, too, right? See, we'd have BOTH won...

#6 in the Ongoing Series: another WM21 movie spoof. This time, it's the Undertaker in his 1970s finery doing "Dirty Harry." Easily the worst of the bunch, and just a lazy excuse for Taker to do Clint Eastwood. There was no wrestling context to the thing, just a straight-up recreation of the seminal "Feeling lucky, punk?" scene. Truth be told, I can't believe that you'd put Taker in one of these things and NOT have it be a spoof of a Western... it fits more with his on-screen look (well, his original 1990 on-screen look, at least), and if he really wanted to do Clint, there are COUNTLESS possibilities for that, too. This struck me mostly as the most thoughtless of the spoofs so far, although there *is* one good thing that could come of it: Randy Orton could spend the next year getting called "punk" by Taker. Feelin' lucky, Randy?


Backstage: Eric Bischoff is icing his neck and receiving the tender ministrations of Coach. He's in no mood, but in storms Muhammad Hassan, who can't believe he's not a part of the "Money in the Bank" Ladder Match. He opines that this is the purest discrimination, as he's undefeated on RAW and clearly deserves the shot to win a World Title Match. Bischoff says that he handed out the six spots based on "Past WrestleMania Success," and obviously since Hassan is a rookie, he didn't have the kind of track record to deserve a spot in the match. Hassan insists that this isn't over, and that he wants to make an impact at WM21. Daivari tosses in some Farsi ranting for effect, and then they leave. Bischoff certainly seems to have a contemplative look on his face... possibly wondering if Hulk Hogan would accept a phone call from an old nWo ally?

SmackDown! Rebound: I don't recap recaps.

Elsewhere Backstage: William Regal and Tajiri are ogling the latest Playboy magazine. And there, folks, are YOUR Tag Team Champions! Because nothing says Tag Team Excellence like being drooling perverts! I also have jokes about guys getting all excited and aroused by looking at nudie pictures in the company of other men and how very strange that seems, but I will save those for a time when I can lob them at Randy Orton or some other douchebag of flaming metrosexuality! Instead, I'll just get to the point, which is that Tajiri and Regal's Leer Session is interrupted by Trish Stratus... the two chaps timidly hand over the magazine and retreat.  And Trish? Well, she can't help herself: she start flipping through the magazine. And conveying a general sense of disgust all the while.


Two For the Price of One Theatre

Christy hits the ring, and wastes no time declaring that she's none too pleased with Trish Stratus... but also says that what she's got to say, she wants to say directly to Trish's face. So she dares to call out the Women's Champ.

And the Women's Champ eventually complies, but you can tell she doesn't like being dictated to by lowly Useless Divas. She insists that Spaz get to the point, cuz she's got important business to tend to elsewhere. So Spaz spills it: she wants to challenge Trish for the Women's Title at WM21. Trish, for the first time I can recall, actually DOES get on my nerves like a good heel should by doing some really fake laughing and then making "truck backing up beeps" before insisting that Spaz back it up and say that again, cuz she can't be serious. 

Oh, but Spaz IS serious. And once Trish realizes that, she figures "What the fuck? A free pass at WM for me!" and says Spaz can have her match. But also warns Spaz that she is ill-equipped for what she's getting into against a six-time women's champ and greatest female performer in the history of wrestling. When asked "What makes you think you can hang in the same ring with me?", Spaz has an answer, though: she's been getting wrestling training. Trish is not impressed. But Spaz presses on: she's been getting wrestling training from somebody Trish knows VERY well. So cue the music...

And out for a half-speed "hobble in" comes Lita! I will repress the entire slew of jokes one could make about the likely outcome for anyone trained for in-ring action by Lita; but mostly just because I just noticed that Matt already made enough of them! There's definitely a loud and positive "recognition pop" for Lita's music... but once that cuts out and Lita goes nose-to-nose with Trish without the music blaring? Well, lest I hyperbolize or let my mis-calibrated Babyface Boo Meter get the better of me, let's just call that an "undercurrent of boos." Maybe it's just cuz North Carolina is Hardy Country (but it's also supposedly Lita's Adopted Country), but I don't think the fans were 100% behind Lita here...

As Trish is distracted with staring down Lita, Spaz sneaks up from behind and grabs Trish for Lita's Inverted Twist of Fate. That's met with what I will definitely call "A Crowd Reaction." But before I can really get a read on it, they make sure to fire up Spaz's music to drown it out. Jim Ross, apparently cribbing notes from my Friday assessment of Michelle McCool's in-ring debut, states that Spaz's Twist of Fate wasn't as smooth at Lita's, but that a lot can be learned in 4 weeks... he fails to sneak in any Secret Decoder Ring comments, although with all due respect, I'd probably have laughed my ass off if Lawler had made a non sequitur drink order, and asked for a Red Headed Slut. And then JR followed up with: they're on special tonight, two for the price of one. But that's only because I'm an asshole.

Just a quick tangent: I have my reasons for really not liking this match or the reasoning/motivations behind making it, but let's just cross our fingers and hope that the match is already "written" and that they're already practicing it; if Stephanie McMahon has been a part of two or three eminently watchable wrestling matches with no concerted, years-long training in the fundamentals, maybe Spaz can learn to do just enough to keep up with Trish for a solid 8-10 minutes. Having Lita likely hobbling around ringside will add to the drama/entertainment side of things, too, and could be a HUGE part of making Spaz's debut a quality Sports Entertainment Segment, even if it's no great shakes as a display of wrestling ability. I remain steadfastly pissed off that the women's division has come to this, but with the addition of Lita and a naive hope that Christy can bring at least as much to the ring as Steph did, I'm at least now seeing how this could end up being an entertaining pairing at WM... like I said, let's hope they've already got this thing mostly mapped out and are putting Christy through the paces so she'll have it down pat come April 3. Hey: if they Ultimate Warrior could do it...

Backstage: Trips and Flair are walking. And HHH is still fondling that vixen, the sledgehammer. But they are interrupted by Eric Bischoff, who won't HHH go to the ring with that sledge. Either HHH has to give up his soulmate, or he'll have to stay in the back and let Flair go it alone. HHH grudgingly gives up the sledge, and Flair, in a rant so retarded and non-sensical it'd have been more natural coming out of Orton's mouth, got overly-pissed off. His reaction seemed to indicate that he, too, has intense feelings for Sweet Lady Sledge, and that he'd almost rather have had Triple H stay backstage with her than break up the group. I honestly have no idea what the hell was going on, but by the end of 30 seconds of Flair's rambling, I just gave up and decided to laugh at how over-the-top the whole thing was... on a night when Triple H apparently wanted to make sweet, sweet love to the sledgehammer, Flair suddenly decides to consider the thing the newest member of Evolution, or something. Baffling if you try to make sense of it; but sorta funny, I guess, if you turn the brain off...


Next Week: Batista has "picked HHH's poison," and goddamn, it's NOT the Hurricane/Rosey match I feared. Instead, next week in Atlanta, GA, Triple H will have to face Chris Benoit. Chris Benoit who has not only just beaten the IC Champ tonight, but who made HHH tap out to win the World Title and who has never been beaten by HHH. All of these things are mentioned by JR, and again make me think that somebody finally got his/her head out of his/her ass, and there might be a plan afoot to rebuild the Wolverine. I like the prospects for next week, and if it weren't for my new-found raging jealousy of Erin Anderson, I'd have nothing but positive feelings about this announcement...

Batista vs. Ric Flair

Even with Flair cutting a promo against the North Carolina fans (during the last commercial break), there are still plenty of fans who want to cheer for the Nature Boy, and JR has no choice but to acknowledge that... you know what would have solved the problem even more effectively? If the creative team had just ditched the tunnel vision and realized they had an opportunity to turn the Carolina fans into a positive by playing up Flair's tweenerness... I'm STILL baffled that they undid that ambiguity so quickly and anticlimactically.

But even with some fans for Flair, there are NONE who sound like they are against Batista. Even though he's obviously been told by some marketing consultant to do the cheesy-ass "Thumbs Up into the Thumbs Down" gesture approximately 4 times per minute, which is (if you can believe this) even MORE annoying a pose than the Churning the Butter or the Pointing the Toe things he does during his ring entrance. I hates me things that are so obviously fake and choreographed: the "Thumbs Down" thing may soon grate on my nerves every bit as much as Orton's Douchebag Pose if they don't tone it down.

Match was very basic, just a series of pretty predictable spots, starting with Batista over-powering Flair for the first couple minutes, pounding on him and basically no-selling any punches or chops from Flair. After a few minutes of that HHH distracted Batista long enough that Flair could attack from behind with a chopblock, so we entered the "work the leg" portion of the match, which lasted for about 2 more minutes; when Flair finally locked in the Figure Four, though, Batista almost IMMEDIATELY turned it over and forced Flair to break it. From here, we entered our third phase of the match, which was just the Babyface Fire Up: Batista went to town on Flair, and after again doing that annoying "Thumbs Down" thing to signify that he was getting ready to hit the Powerbomb, HHH tried to interfere. But Batista quickly dumped him over the top, and again did the Thumbs Down thing, and hit the sit-out powerbomb on Flair. A three count later, and Batista was the winner in a rather simplistic, connect-the-dots kind of 6 minute match; you could have done SO much more here if Flair was a tweener and if his relationship with HHH was in doubt, but instead, this is about as flat and predictably bland a RAW main event as you'll see. But again: Batista's a strong enough fan favorite at this point that WWE can get away with treading water and doing the predictable... I may envision ways it could be better, but there's nothing fundamentally wrong with how WWE's handling it, either; there might be incremental gains to be made, but for the most part, Batista's appeal means that they can't screw this up.

After the Match: HHH was poking around under the ring, and found another sledgehammer. THAT TWO TIMING MANWHORE!  Your honey-bunny is backstage waiting for you, and you throw yourself into the arms of another sledge? What a jerk...  HHH tries to take the sledge into the ring to attack Batista, but Batista blocks it, and takes the sledge right out of HHH's hands. HHH is apparently SHOCKED by Batista's ability to block a sledgehammer blow, and is TERRIFIED by the implications, so he plays the chickenshit card and powders out. Meantime, Batista does the Thumbs Down crap AGAIN, and snaps the sledgehammer over his knee. One can only assume HHH's heart was broken, too... Batista then takes the two pieces of the sledge and AGAIN does a modified version of the Thumbs Down thing to taunt HHH to end the show.


SMACKDOWN RECAP: Bonding Exercises
RAW RECAP: The New Guy Blows It
PPV RECAP: WWE Night of Champions 2012
RAW RECAP: The Show Must Go On
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Boot Gets the Boot
RAW RECAP: Heyman Lands an Expansion Franchise
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Losing is the new Winning
RAW RECAP: Say My Name
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Deja Vu All Over Again
RAW RECAP: Dignity Before Gold?
PPV RECAP: SummerSlam 2012
RAW RECAP: Bigger IS Better
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Hitting with Two Strikes
RAW RECAP: Heel, or Tweener?
RAW RECAP: CM Punk is Not a Fan of Dwayne
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Returnening
RAW RECAP: Countdown to 1000
PPV RECAP: WWE Money in the Bank 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Friday Night ZackDown
RAW RECAP: Closure's a Bitch
RAW RECAP: Crazy Gets What Crazy Wants
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Five Surprising MitB Deposits
RAW RECAP: Weeeellll, It's a Big MitB
RAW RECAP: Johnny B. Gone
PPV RECAP: WWE No Way Out 2012
RAW RECAP: Crazy Go Nuts
RAW RECAP: Be a Star, My Ass
RAW RECAP: You Can't See Him
RAW RECAP: Big Johnny Still in Charge
PPV RECAP: WWE Over the Limit 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: One Gullible Fella
RAW RECAP: Anvil, or Red Herring?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Everybody Hates Berto
RAW RECAP: Look Who's Back
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Care to go Best of Five?
RAW RECAP: An Ace Up His Sleeve
PPV RECAP: WWE Extreme Rules 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Sh-Sh-Sheamus and the nOObs
RAW RECAP: Edge, the Motivational Speaker?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: AJ is Angry, Jilted
RAW RECAP: Maybe Cena DOES Suck?
RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28




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