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Listen Up 
April 19, 2005

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com


Listen. That's all I'm asking for, WWE. Just listen. 
You obviously don't listen to wrestling websites, and having seen what passes for analysis at most of them, that's not such a bad idea. But there's a few folks out here who tend to hit the nail on the head with startling regularity, and we've been trying to help.

You obviously don't listen to your own workers, at least, not unless they are the 

handful of coveted "locker room leaders" -- which, near as I can tell, is a title that can only be obtained by (1) banging the boss' daughter, or (2) committing juvenile "ribs" in the name of enforcing some antiquated notion of a tenure-based pecking order. And yet, there are sharp people who love the wrestling business on the roster who actually COULD help craft their own character's direction and, by extension, help the company, if trusted.

But maybe, just maybe, you'll listen to the fans? I'm not talking about sending Triple H and Stephanie on TV to *say* they listen to the fans. That's such an unmitigated load of horse manure I wouldn't even know where to start. Pulling Randy Orton out of a WrestleMania main event 6 months after everybody else in the wrestling universe (including, I'm proud to say, some particularly perceptive internet types!) knew he was gonna flop doesn't count as "listening to the fans," dum dums. It counts as being marginally aware of the bludgeoningly obvious. It's about as commendable as knowing the answer if somebody asks you "What day of the week is it?".

I'm talking about REALLY listening to the fans. And then adjusting the product accordingly. It doesn't seem to me like this should be difficult. An intelligent person who marries a good grasp of psychology with an even better grasp on what works in the unique genre of pro wrestling can't be that hard to find, can it? And then it's just a matter of guiding a few underlings to do the detail work at TV tapings, and also trusting the wrestlers themselves to come up with some of their own stuff and run it past you so that it "fits" them best. [Note: if there are wrestlers on the roster who cannot perform this simple task for themselves, maybe they do not belong on the roster. Randy Orton.] It's always baffled me how WWE has managed to create this entire Creative Department, where each brand is staffed by a small army of Hollywood Writers, when once upon a time, one or two people (even up until the Russo/Ferrera Era) were enough to keep the stories moving along nicely. 

And I think this leads to dangerous things like a "too many cooks" problem creating periodic continuity issues, and also to a DEADLY phenomenon of Group Think, where you can sit around and say "Hey, there's 6, 8, 12 of us here, and therefore, we MUST know what we're doing, so let's keep doing it, regardless of the noises emanating from the crowd." Whereas if you're one or two guys with nimble enough minds and ample creativity to handle the jobs alone, you end up developing the flexibility and self-confidence to hear an unexpected reaction and adjust accordingly: because there's not a half-dozen other jackoffs sitting around the table to reinforce your misplaced confidence. Being able to make a change on the fly, THAT takes real confidence in one's ability; unlike the faux confidence that goes with refusing to hear the dissenting voices from the audience and forging ahead with your own crappy ideas, sure that they'll magically start working, somehow. You know? Anytime I've ever dabbled in the fantasy booking, I've always wondered why it takes so many people to do a simple job. All I'd want is one trusted lieutenant, really: someone just to counterbalance my own head-up-the-ass smark/hardcore-longtime-wrestling fan tendencies with a TOUCH of a more mainstream consciousness, my own "stupid patrol" basically. And you could then axe, what?, about 6 other unnecessary jobs at WWE HQ... of course, the problem is that I could only do this for 3 months before burning out and needing 3 months off to work up the energy for another 3 month stint. But still: then you'd only need to find 4 of me (2 for each brand), and that's WAY less than the number of idiot writers Steph is over-seeing today.

But anyway, I'm really digressing and making myself sound like the answer to every problem facing the wrestling business, aren't I? My reason is simple: I don't think I've ever felt quite so vindicated watching a wrestling show as I was last night watching RAW. The Madison Square Garden crowd is one that Vince McMahon might finally listen to over his daughter and son-in-law. Because the Madison Square Garden crowd are not "internet jack-offs," they are the barometer of what fan reactions TEND to filter out to the rest of the country. 

Don't believe it? Here's a simple observation: yes, everybody in the crowd was all over Lita, something that they may have read about on the internet, but NOT something that makes them an "internet jackoff." Because if there were internet jackoffs only in that audience, then those Heartthrob guys would have been massively over in front of 17,000 OVW-watching, indie-loving wankers, and Regal and Tajiri would have been cheered massively for their technical excellence. But none of that happened. Because you can't get 17,000 internet jackoffs in one place. What you CAN get is 17,000 of WWE's most loyal, perceptive, and VOCAL wrestling fans, though. 

You know, the kind you should listen to.

On a side note: I'll be hitting on all the very vindicating crowd reactions to RAW as I go along here, but a live note from the SD! tapings that preceded RAW... the most over two stars on that show were Carlito Cool. And the Brooklyn Brawler. Still want to tell me there's not a huge top-level talent deficit on Thursday nights that's rendered the show nearly as disposable as "Impact" on a weekly basis?

OK, enough self-back-patting. So one night on RAW pretty much proved every point I've tried to make in the last 9 months about WWE's creative team not listening to the fans and not "getting it" in terms of what makes wrestling wrestling... but before you know it, we'll be back to Souix Falls, SD, or whatever, where the fans aren't quite as quick on the uptake, nor as vocal, and WWE can go back to telling themselves they're doing everything just exactly right.

Unless they Listen. To this....

Cold Open: Jim Ross is backstage in Eric Bischoff's office. Bischoff briefly teases JR with visions of calling off tonight's match against Triple H. But Bischoff notes that he's decided not to do that because this match "Really intrigues me." That makes one of you, Potsie. Instead, Bischoff wants to even RAISE the stakes, making it a No Disqualification Match. For some reason, JR acts like this is his own death sentence, when in reality, it gives him pretty much his only opportunity to win: by cheating his ass off. Finally, Bischoff adds that since HHH will have Flair at ringside, JR can have Batista at ringside. Whee: Batista, interfering in the HHH/JR match? Who would ever have thunk it? Besides everybody.... but as an opening segment, I guess plus 3 points for trying to explain why in the blue hell this match is actually sanctioned. "Because Bischoff wants to see it." It's not a good reason, but at least it's an attempt...

Opening Theme/Pyro/Etc., and we are live at Madison Square Garden in New York City... and sitting in on commentary ALL night long is Jonathan Coachman? Goddammit. And I'll probably not single out each individual time he was annoying, so I'll just sum up here at the start: Coach was annoying all night long. If his job is play-by-play (and it's gotta be, since lord knows Lawler won't contribute anything on that front), he simply can't be more interested in his character than in the action. I can't count the number of times Coach had to present something, but then had to back-peddle out of it because he remembered he's a douchebag heel. His mantra on the night was "I can't hardly even bring myself to say this, but look at xxxxx go! Not that I like xxxx! He's a worthless pustule who doesn't get laid constantly like the Coach! But look at xxxx now! Actually, don't! I forgot: I hate xxxx, that talentless loser!" REALLY distracting and counter-productive. During the opening little pan of the arena, we also find out that we've got a Shawn Michaels vs. Muhammad Hassan match coming up later on, and that we're kicking it off with a potential Jim Dandy in....

Chris Benoit vs. Edge (Very Special "I Thought They'd Save This For the Pay-Per-V.... Oh, OK, I Get It, Now" Match)

Edge is out to solid heat. Benoit is out with footage from 2 weeks ago, when Edge attacked his arm/shoulder with a chair.

Edge attacks Benoit before the bell even rings, and jump starts things, but that backfires pretty spectacularly, as Benoit quickly gets to his feet and backs Edge into a corner with a series of chops. As Benoit continues to work over Edge, let's Listen: "You Screwed Matt, You Screwed Matt." Ahhh, MSG, you're making my day. 

Benoit, perhaps trying to make up for last week's over-long match, all of a sudden pops off a series of German Suplexes (four of them, though, which was odd) at about the 90 second mark. I guess maybe we're not settling in for a long one here? But then Benoit goes up top for the Swandive Headbutt, and predictably: nobody home. Edge rolls out, and Benoit's shoulder takes a beating. After a quick transition sequence, Edge ends up with Benoit locked in a chinlock (huh, not going after that shoulder, there, Edgeward?)...

Listen: "You Screwed Matt, You Screwed Matt." You'd think, 2 months after the fact, that it'd be out of folks systems, but nope... louder than ever. Me being a mere dilettante on the fringes of the business, perhaps it's not my place to say, but I do believe this is more outrage at Matt Hardy losing his job for doing nothing than it is genuine anger towards Edge, anymore. Edge behaved as an asshole, no doubt, but we're kinda over that. What we're not over is Matt Hardy getting fired for no good reason. Listen.

Anyway, THERE Edge finally goes, locking the arm up WITH the chinlock... but too little, too late. As formula dictates, Benoit pretty quickly began firing up and escaped the hold. Edge tried to keep control with a suplex, but Benoit floated out of that and got behind Edge, and took him down with the Crippler Crossface. Whoa, probably only 3 minutes in, we really ARE making up for last week's 20-minute-match-that-should-have-been-15, aren't we?

Edge fights it, and finally gets to the ropes, but Benoit won't let go. So Edge tries pulling himself out of the ring. Benoit STILL won't let go until both men are on the mats at ringside. But that doesn't mean Benoit's gonna let up... Benoit decides to lay in with more choppy-stompy, and Edge decides "Fuck this," and starts trying to escape through the crowd. Benoit and Edge finally brawl all the way to the backstage area, where officials swarm and get them pulled apart (to a chorus of boos).... so let's call it a no decision after about 3-4 minutes of action. And let's call it crisply executed, but ultimately pretty substance-free, as by the end, it was OBVIOUSLY morphing into an excuse to have a FUTURE match, not a match unto itself. As officials keep Benoit and Edge apart, we hit some....


Backstage: four of RAWs most Useless of Divas are joined by Victoria, and they are all checking out copies of the new Diva Magazine. You know, even though there's something pretty cool about when chicks are secure enough to check out other chicks and appreciate beauty and all that, it's really kinda off-putting if chicks are checking THEMSELVES out and telling themselves how pretty they are. Luckily, we don't have time for Maria the Mic Stand to stumble through any dialogue ("Me. That, me. That Maria. Maria, pretty!"), because storming into the hallway are Edge and Benoit! Apparently, they have NOT been separated. Or they have re-un-separated themselves! The divas scatter, and the officials swarm again, and FINALLY get Benoit and Edge broken up; and to make sure they STAY that way, Eric Bischoff gets in the middle of the two and says that if they want to fight, they can fight. But not tonight. And not in just any match. At Backlash, they will face off in a Last Man Standing Match. A ha, and just that quick, the pre ad-break premonition has come to pass. Benoit/Edge, Last Man Standing: should be a good 'un.

Trish Tried... She Really, REALLY Tried

Trish Stratus hits the rings, and kids: Listen. Those are cheers. Anybody who wrote in last week telling me to chill out because Trish is still a heel, and that Kane/Lita's creepy make-out session was perfectly in character and that they are still solid babyfaces may kindly kiss my ass. Me: knows basic fan psychology. You: don't. Even going back to last summer, there was an underground of fans cheering Trish over Lita; that's something that actually became more pronounced in recent weeks when Lita even had to be kept in backstage skits and stuff because fans were lashing back cuz of the Matt Hardy stuff. And you want to tell me that that cheesy skit last week wasn't gonna be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Maroons....

So as the crowd cheers, Trish condescendingly tells them, "No, oh, now, thanks, but no: you don't have to do that." Which works better when a heel is pretending she's getting cheered, but is really getting booed. But Trish finally repeats the basic shtick 3 times until FINALLY the crowd gets sick of it and half-assedly boos a bit.

Trish, unfortunately for her, *is* charged with trying to be the heel here, and it becomes an infinitely more difficult task the second she utters the name "Lita." Listen: Trish says, "I want to clear the air and get a fresh start with Lita." The crowd says, "[vociferous boos]." And methinks Trish knew it was coming because she followed up with Attempted Save #1, and acted like the crowd was booing her for an insincere "I want to make up with Lita." But that ain't what they were booing... but Trish's efforts are appreciated nonetheless.

Trish gets to the part where she asks Lita to come on out to the ring, and sho 'nuff, out with a crutch hobbles Lita. Can somebody tell me when capri pants became Xtreme? Just remember kids, you can't spell "capri" without "crap"! Lita finally gets in the ring and braces herself across from Trish, not looking like she's particularly gonna buy any of what Trish is selling. Listen: the crowd launches THUNDEROUS "You Screwed Matt" chants. Trish tries to act like all the noise is directed at her and says, "Excuse me, people, we're trying to have a conversation here. What a bunch of idiots." Attempted Trish Save #2. Clever girl.

From there, Trish actually does get about 20 uninterrupted seconds in which to declare that she did some serious soul-searching in the last week, and this TOTALLY has nothing to do with Kane, but now she wants to be Lita's friend. Listen: the crowd launches THUNDEROUS "Slut, Slut, Slut" chants. Trish responds with a smile and a "Oh, come on, now people, don't call Lita a slut. You're all a bunch of idiots. I'm sorry, sweetie, they don't know what they're talking about." And the crowd re-responds with cheers, because Trish used the old triple-reverse-psychology to say what they all meant. Tee hee. Attempted Trish Save #3, and now I'm a bigger Trish fan than ever. She's doing her best here, flinging this stuff off the cuff to try to save things... but the crowd's having too much fun to let her off the hook. On this night, Trish was entering Eddie Guerrero Territory: the crowd would not let her be a heel.

But the crowd gets the humorous Slut Interlude out of it's system, and Trish tries to continue. She gets partway through her yarn about how Trish and Lita have been through so much together, some good times and some bad, but it makes Trish feel like Lita's a sister.... Listen: the crowd says, "You screwed Matt, You Screwed Matt." Trish, trying her damnedest to take the heat on herself and act frustrated, says, "Will you idiots shut up? I'm trying to talk." Trish even threatens to walk out, and actually, that seems to settle people down a bit. Attempted Trish Save #4, and either she was WELL-prepped (knowing how the NYC crowd might react), or she's even a sharper cookie than I'd imagined.

Again: a pause, so Trish continues, and gets to a spiel about how after everything they've been through together, Trish RESPECTS Lita. Hey now! *That* gets the crowd booing! How does Trish become a heel on this night? By saying something positive about Lita! Crazy! Trish's little reaction to that moment was cute, too: she paused, smiled, and gestured as if to say, "FINALLY!". Furthermore, Trish... she... she LOVES Lita, like a sister. Listen: the crowd starts booing that, but then a THUNDEROUS "We Want Matt" chant kicks in over top. And this time? I think Trish was honestly frustrated. Either that, or she was out of ways to try to make Lita look like the babyface here. She just shut up, shook her head, and waited for the "We Want Matt" chant to peter out. No Attempted Trish Save #5, but who cares? Trish already busted her ass on Lita's behalf enough, and the first four gave me plenty of material for the ol' raging erection of the brain.

Once the crowd is silent again, Trish hits her punchline, which is, "So Lita, do you accept my apology, and can we start fresh and be pals?"... Lita is handed the mic, and is instantly serenaded with boos and "slut" chants. Trish, making another semi-attempted save, gestures in everybody's favorite fashion (Broadly) to make it seem like she's getting booed for an insincere offer of friendship, but I don't think anyone's buying it.

But also: Lita's not buying anything, either. She's all "So you respect me? You even LOVE me?"... Trish is indicated that she does, in fact, do all those things. But Lita says, "So I guess that's why you've made my life a living hell for the past year, then, huh? And that's also why I don't believe a single word coming out of your mouth, Trish Stratus." Boos for that, and if it weren't for how hard Trish worked to try to be a heel earlier, I'd almost guess that WWE wanted to pull a double turn, or something, given how totally (and predictably, if there'd been even a nanosecond of thought given to the issue) the fans turned against Lita. And then, Lita hits her punchline: "You're gonna find out, Trish, that much like you, paybacks are a bitch." I barely have time to register my eyeball-rolling at that over-wrought, writer-y, Springer-caliber line, and Trish barely has time to pretend like she's semi-offended by such schlock because....


Kane's pyro and entrance distracts Trish, and so, like a good babyface, Lita whacks Trish in the back (her poor, poor, possibly injured-for-real back; DAMN YOU, my Trish Sympathy Gene!) with the crutch. Still, Trish is able to evade Kane for a bit by crawling out of the ring and working her way up the entrance aisle. But Kane catches up to her, and is setting her up for a chokeslam (the crowd boos this).... when Viscera comes out to make the save?

Yep. Viscera attacks Kane, and brawls back to the ring with him. How bad is it for Kane? By association with Lita, by virtue of going after Trish, he's not only getting booed... he's also the first heel strong enough to get a full crowd of fans CHEERING for Viscera. Well, kind of. The "Let's Go, Mabel" chants were mighty, though. So Big Vis unleashes all of his mighty fat man offense on Kane, getting cheers from the crowd (and from Trish, who has recovered to be standing at ringside). 

When Vis finishes Kane off with a Splash, he goes out to Trish, who gives him a companionable "Way to go!" and a pat on the chest... but Viscera? He no likey "companionable." He wants a little bit more: so he scoops up Trish in his arms like he's her knight in shining pleather, and carries her to the back. Trish, who's just fine to walk on her own thank you very much, appears quite flummoxed and dismayed at this unnecessary display of not-quite-chivalry.

You know what? As far as unplanned trainwrecks go, this was WAY more entertaining than Goldberg/Lesnar at WM20. Because unlike Goldberg and Lesnar, at least once things went south, Trish was still trying to save things. Trying really hard, too. There's probably a few GUYS on the roster who wouldn't have had the awareness or ability to pull off what Trish did, or at least, not as smoothly. So let's everybody bow down at the Altar of Trish in respectful worship, for a moment, OK?


Backstage: We pick up Trish and Viscera talking in a hallway. Trish has been released and is again in chummy, companionable mode as she's congratulating Vis on a job well done. But Viscera wastes no time making it clear that he's in it for more than the job: "I'm glad to be of service," he notes... and then follows up with "And I'll be even gladder when you service me." Trish is clearly not into this particular conversational tack, but Vis defuses things with a, "You know, by going out with me next week." Trish is all "Oh yeah, dinner, sure, that'll be fun." And then, just because she wants to burrow further into my head by utilizing one of my favorite mispronunciations, she says, "We'll talk bidness. It'll be great." But Vis, he says, "Well, you oughta know that I like to mix my... BIDness... with a whole lot of pleasure." Trish is positively squirming, now, and is probably trying to fashion an escape when Vis says, "That is, unless you want to deal with Kane and Lita all by yourself." Backed into a corner, Trish flashes that smile, and says, "No. NO! Don't be silly. I need you... so, ummmm, OK, yeah, we'll hang oot, and that'll be fun, too. Yeah, hang oot." Trish is also clearly trying to convince herself of this more than convince Viscera. "So OK, we'll hang oot, and umm, you know, maybe just take it slow." Viscera says, "Sure, slow. Real slow. Like All Night Long Slow." Crowd actually seems to be enjoying this whole thing, from the reactions here.... Trish decides she needs to get away now, so she gives Vis the old, "OK, so thanks again, and see you next week" act. But that's when Vis grabs her and pulls her back... and lays a big ol' smooch on Trish (but not before she has a chance to give us an hilarious "Hoh boy" take that managed to convey the full gamut of reactions from fear to disgust to resignation in about 2 tenths of a second). And then Viscera leaves and Trish stands around trying to casually and innocently look like she's not wiping her mouth, but she's wiping her mouth. Funny.

I don't know why, but this whole bit struck me as very amusing... if Trish has no capable opponents with which to work in the ring, then you can do worse than put her in situations where she can carry funny little skits like this one. Trish is pretty much eons ahead of the other women in terms of being able to act "in the moment" (with all the genuine-seeming reaction takes and all), and so why not utilize her timing? And something else funny: in an odd way, Viscera trying to be an over-the-top smooth-talking ladies man came off WAY better than just about any time Randy Orton has attempted to be work his swerve!

William Regal and Tajiri vs. The World

Regal and Tajiri hit the ring to pretty much dead silence. And I'm secure enough to admit that, no matter how much Tajiri might be one of my personal favorite wrestlers! Coach and Lawler kind of run down how Regal and Tajiri had issued an open challenge the previous night on Heat, and Coach says he knows exactly who's gonna answer it tonight, because they are close personal friends of his.... so let's meet 'em.

William Regal and Tajiri vs. the Heartthrobs 

The Heartthrobs are, individually, Romeo (brunette) and Antonio (blonde). And although their act is flamingly gay, Coach spends the entire time putting over how much pussy they get, and how he hit the clubs with them the night before, and witnessed it all first hand.

Now see, here's the problem: I get the impression that WWE wants (for whatever reason) to stay away from them being flamingly gay, which is pretty much how the gimmick played down in OVW, where the deal was that they were SO gay that they didn't KNOW they were being gay. I don't know why you'd do that, since WWE wasn't afriad of pushing a retarded wrestler, but whatever... they don't want the Heartthrobs to be flaming, fine. 

But I also spent a lot of time last night chatting about how the gimmick COULD still work, even with Coach sincerely insisting on what world class poonhounds Romeo and Antonio are. And the way *I* would see this gimmick clicking would be as a perfect blend of Billy and Chuck and that "Night at the Roxbury" gimmick that Kattan and Ferrel did on SNL. You can let them be annoying club-going tossers who act like ladies' men on one hand, but you HAVE to do bits where they get caught out saying/doing gay things (and you can't have Coach straight-facedly denying that's even a possibility), too, because the ladies' man act is just that: an act, a cover. It's gotta be both sides of the coin, otherwise all you've got is two guys who watch too much of the Bravo Network and really do go out to dance clubs and all that crap. Which is despicable in its own way, but it won't be very entertaining to watch. You know, exactly how "Queer Eye" is not entertaining to watch and serves no useful function in our society. 

The alternative we worked out last night is to keep the gayness as a metrosexual affectation, but then to play it more as a straight-up "Roxbury" deal where Romeo and Antonio are hetero as can be, but that they NEVER get laid. Ever. Every single girl they approach looks them over, grimaces in horror at what a pair of tools they are, and walks away. This would be the way to make it an entertaining gimmick if WWE's afraid to have them be actually gay. And you could even keep the gay thing on the back-burner, and bust it out later, if you want: have the Heartthrobs realize that maybe they never will get girls, but they'll always have each other. or something

And as a bonus, if you play up the Futility Angle, we realized that the Useless Diva Brigade could finally serve a purpose! All they'd have to do, in the on-going series of skits, is sit idly and mutely by and watch as Romeo and Antonio carry the whole thing on their shoulders by acting like putzes! You could do backstage bits, you could have them hitting on Maria the Mic Stand during interviews, you could even do pre-taped "dates" with them taking the Useless Divas out on the town! Given what we just saw with Trish and Vis, I even think that having it all build up to a spectacularly emasculating shoot-down by Trish could be golden!

But before you get to that? Trust me, this is the skit Stacy Keilber was put on this earth to perform in, and the promo that Boobsy McTitsalot was born to cut! Make yourselves useful, girls!

But why do I fear that WWE's idea of a "gimmick" is going to be expecting us to boo them because they watch "Queer Eye" and according to Coach really *do* get girls? That's not an entertaining character: that's somebody who should be rounded up and shot into the sun for being such a boring, worthless sack of vapid, insecure crap. And I don't like watching boring, worthless sacks of vapid, insecure crap. I tend, actually, to ignore them completely. It's a fine line WWE's gonna have to toe here to sell this gimmick: on the first night out, there seemed to be a MASSIVE divergence between Romeo and Antonio's presentation and Coach's presentation, and I'm not liking that. Let's tighten it up and figure out what these guys are about, and let's make it snappy. And let's make it INTERESTING, OK?

Why the mega-rant? Because the match was largely nothing to write home about. Coach was at his annoying worst on the night here, actually undermining what I thought would be the more interesting angle to take with the new characters.... whereas I'm being totally serious when I tell you that Regal and Tajiri's OUTSTANDING facial reactions did about a billion times more good for the Heartthrobs. Just dead-on for how I think the team should be presented.

Regal started first, Tajiri followed, and the champs "controlled" the opening minute that way, although a lot of that was spent watching in terror as the Heartthrobs did something flamboyant, and then hitting a quick kick or move to make the gayness stop. When Regal tagged in the second time, though, he became the Babyface in Peril. The Heartthrobs double-teaming continued to have undertones of gayness, but now, it was effective gayness. A certain kind of Getting Shit Done Gayness. A bona fide Taking Care of Business Gayness. Good for them! Too bad Coach was still on commentary assuring us that this is all actually a surefire way to get ladies, and too bad Lawler didn't have the opportunity to really say anything to the contrary (I think he got a grand total of one "Light in the Loafers" comment in).

Finally a hot tag to Tajiri, and truthfully, it was a lukewarm tag at best. Crowd really just wasn't into this. Tajiri came in a like a man gone mild (but actually did make a sweet save when one of the Heartthrobs was out of position to take a kick, and made it look pretty much like he accomplished what he wanted to, despite whiffing on the first pass), and took care of business for about 30 seconds. But then the Heartthrobs decided to try double-teaming Tajiri, which set up a sloppy, out-of-nowhere finish in which Tajiri tossed Romeo out of the ring, and then (right in front of the ref), Regal attacked Antonio with a hangman-type move. Tajiri quickly followed that up with a roll-up and got the three count. Huh. Maybe they cut it short with the anticlimactic finish since the crowd wasn't into it? Otherwise, you could probably have set up a stronger-looking finish...

After the Match: Regal and Tajiri are celebrating another victim smoten, but Romeo and Antonio attack from behind. There is absolutely NO gayness present, only intensity, as they get Regal tossed out of the ring and then focus exclusively on Tajiri for a beatdown. It culminates in their finishing move, which is a double Side Russian Legsweep. Again: I've seen some of the Heartthrobs from OVW and I like the idea of them on RAW... but this segment was flat at least in part because I don't think most fans live knew exactly what to make of the gimmick (a negative when you hot shot a new character(s) without vignettes), but once WWE gets that sorted out (hopefully along the lines I outlined above), it should be clear sailing. Also not helping the crowd heat here: the fact that Regal and Tajiri have really only had one single RAW appearance in a non-retarded capacity in the last 2 months.


Backstage: Jim Ross is chatting with Referee Mike Chioda. The gist of things is that Batista has yet to arrive at the arena, and nobody knows where he is, and JR is not happy. Chioda, displaying a personality and verbal ability that should make certain wrestlers with the initials R.O. jealous, assures JR that it'll all be OK.

Elsewhere Backstage: HHH and Ric Flair are watching JR pacing on a monitor, and Flair wonders, "So, champ, aren't you at least a little bit concerned about when Batista arrives." But HHH, not exactly surprising anyone, reveals that Batista won't be arriving. Because HHH contacted Batista's limo company, and has Batista touring NYC; he'll not make it to MSG. Ric Flair promptly drops to his knees and fellates HHH for being the smartest, strongest, bestest, handsomest wrestler in the entire world for coming up with such a plan. Flair fails, however, to take into account the fact that HHH just REVEALED HIS PLAN IN FRONT OF A CAMERA. And if HHH and Flair can be sitting there watching the show on a monitor, that means JR should EASILY be able to do the same thing. In which case, the plan has just now been foiled. Or am I thinking too hard? Actually, I'm not... this is an age-old argument, and you know where I stand: I don't care which way you go (either NOBODY knows what happens in other segments because NOBODY can watch the show on monitors, or EVERYBODY knows what happens and there's no such thing as privileged information for the fans), but you do have to pick on and stick with it. WWE just managed to change POVs/realities on us in under 2 minutes, which is just horribly annoying to me.

Elsewhere Elsewhere Backstage: Tough Questions Todd Grisham has Muhammad Hassan for an interview. Hassan takes a moment to get cheap heat by bad-mouthing NYC in especially prickish fashion. But then Grisham gets him on track by asking about tonight: Hassan says he saw how easily Daivari beat Shawn Michaels last week, that he just HAD to get a piece of that his own self (so wait, last week the stipulation was that Michaels could only wrestle Hassan if he beat Daivari, but this week, after losing, he gets what he wants, anyway? There *has* to have been a smarter and less-lazy way of handling this, WWE; the continuity holes are enormous, and Hassan's explanation was little more than the proverbial band-aid on a bullet wound). Then Grisham mentions the possibility of Hulk Hogan joining Michaels at Backlash. But Hassan dismisses the possibility, saying that he knows for a fact that Hogan and Michaels haven't even spoken in the last week, and that there's no way Hogan will answer the challenge. So Michaels better keep on looking. Daivari closed with a little Farsi, and we are out....


Shawn Michaels vs. Muhammad Hassan

Hassan entered first, Michaels second. And Michaels wasted no time with his ring entrance. Probably because he knew he'd be wasting plenty of time after the match. So HBK sprints to the ring and takes the fight directly to Hassan... as HBK flails away with the punchy-kicky, the crowd, of course, is chanting for "Hogan, Hogan." Tough break, there Shawn. [Actually, apparently "Hogan" chants also plagued more than a few SD! segments, too, so it's not like Shawn was being singled out for dismissiveness by the fans.]

Hassan opts to powder out, where he conducts Top Level Discussions with Daivari for about 60 seconds. They get their gameplan together, and when Hassan gets back in the ring, the kicky-punchy quickly turns to his favor as he overpowers the smaller Michaels. When Michaels briefly semi-fires-up, Daivari reached into the ring and caused a distraction, so Michaels went after him... chasing Daivari around ringside, Michaels was attacked from behind by Hassan, who rammed Michaels' surgically-repaired lower back into the ring post, and commenced a bit more offense.

Attempting to stay focused on the back, Hassan eventually tried a suplex, but Michaels floated through that and get the advantage back with some chops and whatnot.  He kept bringing the high energy offense for about another minute, successfully dodging more attempted Daivari interference, and finally tossing Hassan out over the top rope. Daivari tended to Hassan's carcass, while Michaels dusted off his hands in the International Signal for "Well, that job is now done." But of course, it wasn't done... he was just on break. For some....


Back, and Michaels is still in command. For about 10 seconds. Then, a veteran of 20 years, he makes a Rookie Mistake: he lowered his head too soon on a backdrop attempt, and Hassan capitalized with a double-sledge to Michaels' injured back. And from there, you can pretty well figure out the formula....

Hassan piled on with suplexes, backbreakers, and whatnot, probably his most extensive and varied offensive outburst since debuting on RAW. He also peppered in plenty of Blatant Chokes that he'd break at the 4 count. And somehow, he got a pretty nasty gouge on his upper back. Eventually, he decided to be polite and give Shawn a resthold out of his he could HBK-Up: Hassan's choice was a modified chinlock with an arm locked in (not unlike what Edge busted out earlier). And right on cue: Michaels drew his energy from the crowd, went into the Convulsions of Extreme Babyface Righteousness, and manages to get to his feet, and then get separation.

From there, we were only a few fists away from an Irish Whip and the Flying Burrito, followed by the nip up. Michaels took out Daivari, put Hassan down with a bodyslam, and hit the Macho Man Elbow. But when he decided to tune up the band, Daivari interfered again. At first, Michaels took care of him, so the ref let it go... but then when Hassan got back on his feet and came after Michaels, and when Daivari joined in the attack, he had no choice. A disqualification win for Shawn. A nicely executed, non-offensive match, but it was also only about 2 minutes before the ad break and maybe 4 after it, so nothing much special, either. That's OK, because the reason this match existed is yet to come....

After the Match: Hassan and Daivari continue the assault on Michaels, going so far as to use Hassan's turban to hang Michaels over the top rope. But just when things look bleakest.... Hulk Hogan hits the ring to a monster pop! Just like WM21, Hassan and Daivari break from what they're doing to attack Hogan together, and just like WM21, Hogan does the Ultra-Time-Compressed Hulk-Up on them... three fists and a Big Boot for both of them, and then Michaels gets back in the fight to clothesline each guy out of the ring. And then? Begins the posedown. Hogan does all four sides of the ring on his own, and then invites Michaels to join him. They had to restart "Real American" at least twice that I noticed. So yes, the posedown probably managed to be longer than the match, but it was also a fun moment that I can't say overstayed its welcome at all. Hogan won't make the Europe trip next week, but he'll do the PPV in 13 days, and I think that should make for the perfect level of exposure for the Hulkster. Let's fans get the nostalgia thing all the way out of their system, but without lingering too long.... fun times here, it might have been long, but that I couldn't bring myself to FF a second of it says something.


The Rick Is Running Long and Shall Shave Time Here By Delivering a Shitty Keller-Caliber Recap of This Segment

Chris Masters came out, fumbled his way through a promo that nobody in the crowd reacted to, and then opened up his $1000 Full Nelson challenge to anybody in the audience. Some guy came in, and failed to escape the full nelson, so this horseshit will almost certainly be reprised next week. Six minutes of our lives we'll never get back.


Diva Search 2005: "A year ago, nobody knew who Christy Hemme was. But today, nobody's buying her Playboy, instead! So just think, YOU could be next!" I'm only partially making up this advertisement!

Extensive Pre-Match Mic Work, Presented by Tenacious C

Simon Dean is in the ring as we come back to MSG, and gets a few words in edgewise about the greatness of the Simon System. But then, he is interrupted by Shelton Benjamin's ring entrance. Apparently, these two are slated to wrestle. But first, ANOTHER interruption...

Chris Jericho is out with a mic, and announces that he's just come from Eric Bischoff's office, and at Backlash, it shall be Shelton vs. Jericho for the IC Title. Shelton is cool with this. But then Jericho wants to provide Shelton with a special service, which Shelton is not gonna be so cool with. Because Jericho wants to make sure that Shelton gets to hear the latest Fozzy single... to help him out, Jericho presents Rich Richenstein (or something), a guitar player from Fozzy. And then he launches into a little ditty that goes a little something like this:

You shoulda known better than to mess with me /
A 7-time Champion you will never be /
You think you're the biggest superstar in town /
But your momma gave birth to a big Assclown

Shelton, Shelton is a little bitch /
Shelton, Shelton is a little bitch / 
Shelton, Shelton is a little bitch /
Shelton, Shelton is a little bitch /

All it was missing was Richie Richenburg having a mic so he could chime in with the back-up vocals the chorus was BEGGING for (obviously, after each of Jericho's lines, a high pitched "little bitch" would have been hilarious).

I have a feeling response to this shtick will be negative, but let me say this: I want Jericho and WWE to consider keeping it as a recurring bit, especially when Jericho needs to channel some heelishness. Two reasons: (1) these are the same kind of silly little songs me and *my* caliber of musician come up with, and if Jericho's funnier than me, and if Richie Whathisname is more musically talented, then they can keep the hits coming.  And (2) this is SUCH a "Tenacious D" type gimmick that I'd love to see it continue and follow the Tenacious D road map. The D were a pair of actor/comedians who -- on a larf -- set out to be the rock band that got booed off of every stage they appeared on with intentionally silly lyrics and ridiculous amounts of pomposity and attitude. But they were too funny and too likeable, and never did manage to stay "heel." Instead, they wound up with a cable TV show, a record deal, and successful world tours.

Jericho, maybe even as part of a little "Decoy Heel Turn" (before fans get wise to the gimmick's lack of taking itself seriously, and then start reveling in the silliness), could so easily do the same thing. It's so perfect for his I'm A Huge Rock Star personality, and in the end, as long as he only did it every second or third week, he'd turn into the type of mocking-your-opponents-in-verse character that John Cena only wishes he could be. Anyway, once the Tenacious D-like interlude was over, it was time to get back to business....

Shelton Benjamin vs. Simon Dean

Dean actually jumped Shelton from behind while Shelty was failing to enjoy the live music. So he controlled for about 90 seconds, mostly mat-type stuff. And then Shelton made his comeback -- crowd was dead for this, probably expecting more from Jericho, who remained at the top of the aisle -- and hit the Stinger Splash and immediately followed up with a T-Bone Powerslam for the pinfall win. Maybe 2-3 minutes, tops, and not a whole lot of sizzle to it. The pre-match stuff was the more important thing here, as I now think they're trying to make sure that Jericho is the de facto heel between the two... Jericho only reinforced that with a mocking Golf Clap after Shelton's less-than-thrilling win.

SmackDown! Rebound: I don't recap recaps.


Vince McMahon Has No Choice But To Listen Theatre

Christian hits the ring, along with the Lovely Miss Tomko, and is getting cheered by at least three-quarters of the fans at MSG. Wild.

Christian is clearly enjoying this, and plays with the fans a bit: he says that he couldn't help but notice the "little ovation" they gave to Hulk Hogan earlier, and that he wants a little of that same sugar from his Christian Coalition in New York City. And so they gave it to him! Mick Foley would be so proud! Christian says that Hulk Hogan didn't beat Chris Benoit last week, but HE did, and so he figures he deserves an ovation commensurate with that big win. But he also says, "Don't worry peeps, I'm not gonna turn on you. I'm not gonna come out there and swing on you like Gary Sheffield." HA~! But before Christian can continue with the surprisingly well-received hilarity....

NO CHANCE IN HELL. Holy crap, Vince McMahon is here! Hell, if nothing else, he'll HAVE to listen to the fans if he's standing in the middle of the ring, right?

Vince powerwalks his way out to the ring, keeping a tight-lipped grimace on his face the whole time (and getting a Courtesy Camera Cut-Away as he navigates his way up the ring steps and through the ring ropes)... probably in a lot of pain and certainly not yet 100% is Vince McMahon. But it's MSG, and everybody's gotta suck it up!

Vince's very first words after snatching Christian's mic away? "You know, if there's one thing I can't stand, it's somebody who stands in my ring and just talks and talks and talks without saying a damn word."

Man alive. Sadly, at this point, my Ironyometer exploded, completely destroying the device, and causing collateral damage to my Snark. So much to your surprise, I have no further comments at this point. An unfortunate twist, but I figure you folks can make up your own stuff, right? So just take that, imagine making it 10 times funnier, and *that* is what I would have said here.

Vince, apparently oblivious to the destruction he just wrought, continues, "Do you know why I picked this instant to make my first public appearance since the Royal Rumble?"... and it's not exactly a rhetorical question, so Christian asks for the mic back to answer. But Vince, devilish bastard he is, won't give Christian the mic. Christian, thinking on his feet, slaps Tomko on the chest and tells his lovely valet to go fetch a microphone. And his slippers. And make sure dinner's ready on the table when he's done talking to the boss, OK, Tomko? Christian thinks Vince clearly MUST be here to congratulate him on his big win over Chris Ben.... but Vince cuts him off and says, "I may not like Stone Cold Steve Austin, but he really is right about you being a CLB, a Creepy Little Bastard." Christian, hilariously, mouths the phrase "I'm not creepy!" HA!

But Vince continues, saying he's out here because he's got a huge announcement to make. Because last year, something momentous occurred, and this year, it's coming back... at which point Christian cut Vince off and said, "One step ahead of you... we know about the return of the RAW Diva Search, we heard about it last week." Listen. Those are boos, Vince. Just listen. Boos. Listen. If not to me, then to the boos from your favorite fans in the world.

Vince, no-selling the boos, but acting very miffed at Christian's interruption, says, "If you cut me off one more time, you won't be Captain Charisma. You'll be Captain Unemployed." Which would be funnier if there wasn't some part of me that thinks it rings a little TOO true when talents like Matt Hardy and Molly Holly don't have WWE jobs anymore... it also would have been funnier if he made it "Ensign Unemployed." I don't know why, but it just would have been.

Christian's about to retort to that, when Tomko actually clasps his hand over Christian's mouth to keep him from getting in trouble. Hilariously, Tomko was actually ALSO very good this entire segment, despite not saying a word: his reaction takes managed to convey the exact right mixes of confidence, doubt, and frustration in Christian at all the exact right times. Is he studying Trish Stratus tapes, or something? If you've still got it, re-watch this bit and keep your eyes on Tomko, cuz I'm not making this up...

With Christian thus muzzled, Vince is able to continue. He's here to announce the return of something huge, something that will effect RAW and SD!. And all the fans. Something that'll really Shake Things Up. Because it's time for another Draft Lottery. It'll take place in "About a Month" (I'm assuming Secret Code for "after the next SD! PPV," since then the next PPV after that is the ECW one, which will give both the new brand rosters time to gel before RAW has to present a PPV in late June). And there will be NO exemptions from the lottery, either. Hmmmm, needless to say, the speculation switch was flipped into the on position last night, but the sheer lack of boundaries (when you could do something like actually have both champs flop rosters) almost made speculating a pointless and painful procedure.

Christian now does decide to speak. He says he LOVES the idea of a Draft Lottery, because he's been purposely held down on RAW. Listen: cheers. And then, get this: "And if I went over to SmackDown!, and happened to face, oh, John Cena" [Listen: boos!] "I think all my peeps would tell you that I'd kick Marky Mark's ass" [Listen: cheers!] "And become the new WWE Champion, because that's just how I roll." [Listen: even BIGGER cheers] Wow. Again: Listen. Just listen.

Vince may have just been given something interesting to think about regarding "Just how popular is John Cena, really? And has The Rick maybe been right about this issue all along?"... but he's also got a punchline to get to. He asks Christian if he really believes that he's main event caliber. Christian says he does, and that everybody knows it. Listen: from the cheers, New York City knows it. So Vince relents... if Christian wants to be the Main Event so badly, then next week, live from England, he can be in the main event. Against the New World Champion, Batista. Christian and Tomko both register fear at first, but Christian quickly changes that to a confident smirk. Tomko, however, is having a harder time masking his concern as Vince leaves the ring to "No Chance."

So pencil it in: Christian vs. Batista next week... and problematically, Christian not only kicked ass with the NYC audience, but he's also got strong support overseas. D'oh, as AWESOME (and as vindicating) as this segment was, it might also boil down to being another massive dent placed in Batista's armor, depending on how they play things next Monday.


Backlash Hype: I'm not on a the payroll, so fuck this. We move on....

Backstage: Tough Questions Todd Grisham has Triple H standing by, because it's not RAW if we don't get to hear HHH tell us something he's already said before. In this case, that means 90 seconds of riffing on how un-kick-out-able the Pedigree is. Again. And it's no more true, and no more convincing than it was last week. It's just further confirmation that WWE's idea of a Special Batista Moment is gonna be him kicking out of the Pedigree at Backlash. Except that at this point, we all know it's coming. So who cares? HHH makes sure that we know that the Pedigree is "The End," and then throws it to a video package. Pedigree this, Pedigree that, Batista will never kick out, never ever, never. "Whatever," says I. "Need I say more?" says HHH. "Um, no, and you didn't even need to say THAT," re-says I. The wrestling audience is significantly more savvy than WWE's giving it credit for if this is their 1980s-caliber idea of build-up for a match... Oooohhhh, the Unstoppable Pedigree: the way this is playing out, it's little more than the Chris Masters' Full Nelson Challenge, except pushed in the main event slot.

Backstage: Jim Ross is walking. And Batista is absent. Can you feel the drama? I can't... I'm already feeling like we got our main event, and it was, indeed, everybody's favorite CLB....


Jim Ross vs. Triple H (No Disqualification Match)

So let me get this straight? Batista's main event matches start no earlier than the top of the 11pm hour.... but put Jim Ross in the ring, and we gotta get things kicked off at five till? And that's AFTER HHH and Flair kill plenty of time with a full-length ring entrance...

Then Jim Ross enters, we ring the bell, and the match is on. And by "match," I mean "not a match by even the most charitable description." They take a full minute at the top to do a Handshake Spot. Whee. And then, once HHH decides to start things, it pretty much amounts to one punch, followed by 30 seconds of stalking around to brag about his handiwork and to gesture broadly so as to indicate "Well, it's really too bad there's no Batista here, eh?".... thrilling television.

When JR dared to throw a single punch by way of offense, HHH got angry, and started only pausing 15 seconds between offensive moves. In this case, "offensive moves" means "punches." After a bit, the punches were enough to bust JR open. God bless you, JR, for trying and doing everything you had within YOUR abilities to make this as compelling as possible.... but it's the creative team whose (in)abilities pre-rendered that a near impossible task. Crimson mask now in effect, HHH went back to the more methodical pace. On commentary, Coach was again defying all logic and continuity with his unrealistically heelish gumflappery, while Lawler was getting increasingly indignant that HHH wouldn't just pin JR and be done with it.

Finally Lawler had enough, and decided to go to the ring. At first, Flair came in to counter Lawler, but since we have massive tracts of time to kill here, HHH held Flair back and spent 2 minutes feigning concern, seeming to "listen" to Lawler's pleas, and eventually deciding to go over and check on JR. But as soon as they do, HHH attacks Lawler. Flair joins in, and eventually Lawler is dispatched with a Pedigree. And then HHH goes back to methodically pounding on JR, with no end to the match in sight. Maybe it wouldn't have sucked so bad if they hadn't taken 10 minutes of non-action to get to the obvious punchline that everybody knew was coming, anyway... the entire construction of this match (the mere EXISTENCE of this match, really) displays a baffling lack of grasp on fan psychology. 

FINALLY, the other shoe dropped, and we do one of those cheesily convenient cuts to a backstage camera, which just so happens to take place moments before a limo arrives! Nice work, Hollywood hacks! And apparently, nobody bothered to watch HHH's revelation earlier in the show and contacted the limo company to get things sorted out, because out the driver's door is Batista. He's commandeered the limo himself! HHH apparently saw this play out on the TitanTron, but chose to ignore it, continuing to beat on JR until Batista made his way to the arena entrance. Only once Batista's music hit did HHH decide to sell being worried about Batista. And I'm not entirely sure that the fans were much more into it than HHH. Listen: the apathy you heard? That's EXACTLY what I was talking about last week in the "using up Batista's good will" rant. Not only have we still not gotten the One Batista Promo that he needs to establish his character, but on this week, they made it worse by making Batista the entirely predictable anvil at the end of the show (and they made you wait through 10 minutes of interminable crap before they bothered giving it to you), sapping any sizzle that his appearance at MSG might have had. Listen. Just listen. You may doubt my analysis, but you have to listen to the fans, and you have to be able to arrive at why they're telling you what they're telling you.

Anyway, Batista goes through Flair with no problem, and once he turned his attention to Triple H, it was more of the same. Clothesline, spinebuster, and then when Flair tries to introduce a steel chair, Batista cuts him off again, and takes the chair... and whacks Triple H in the head with it. HHH is down. Batista eyeballs JR's carcass. Then HHH's carcass. Then gets an idea. He drags JR over on top of HHH, and tells the ref to count. One. Two. Three.

The fuck? So when it would have been right for storylines and would have benefited an Actual Wrestler's standing, Triple H can't drop a match to Chris Benoit in the Pick Your Poison angle.... but put him in there against Jim Ross, and he'll lay down? Seriously, I don't know if this is "political clout" or if the entire creative team honestly devises this shit, believing they are doing right by the product, but there need to be some eyeball punches administered when things are this badly out of whack. The JR/Benoit observation might be smarky of me (but it's also true), but the simple fact is that they once again managed to come up with another total loss of a night for their alleged brand-carrying World Champ. Mind-boggling.

Anyway, Batista poses and Bloody JR tries to get to his feet to join in as we close the show with a confoundingly crap-ass segment at the end of a show that, otherwise, was largely VERY entertaining, and had some extremely fun, surprising, and vindicating moments.


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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