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This is the Land of Confusion 
December 27, 2005

by The Rick
Undisputed Lord and Master of OnlineOnslaught.com


I don't know if I'm losing my writer-y touch, or if my mind is just a bit holiday-addled, or what.... but I'm at a complete loss to really describe -- in my trademark eloquent prose -- my over-riding feelings about last night's RAW.
To say it was a show I wasn't looking forward to would be an understatement. The promise of Kurt Angle's "announcement" alone had me terrified of what sort of all new crap the show would unleash upon the world. I think the fact that I got home from a round of Holiday Festivizing at around midnight, but then promptly wound up finding other ways to amuse myself until 

about 2:30 says it all. In no rush to invest 90 minutes of my time in RAW, was I.

But then I finally realized that -- holiday slacker schedule or no -- I was gonna have to get this show watched and recapped. And I promptly found myself unable to sustain any grand thesis about the show from segment to segment... one might be surprisingly good; then the next surprisingly retarded; and it was all capped by a lengthy Main Event Promo which was neither good nor bad. It was just plain confusing.

It was like somebody took a 90 second backstage skit, padded it out with enough pointless exposition and dialogue to stretch it out into a 12 minute in-ring segment, and then forgot to give it an ending. That final segment left me scratching my head, as much by the fact that it came out of left field and has no discernable interesting/satisfying end-game or pay-off as by the fact that it honestly limped to an anti-climax just as you thought something might, you know, FINALLY HAPPEN.

But I guess if the final segment left me confused and scratching my head, it was the perfect capper on a night of wildly-varying events that left me at a loss to formulate a cogent overall theme for my review.

Well, except that Chris F. Master really, really sucks, and had another night that proved it. In your face, people who (for some ungodly reason) think that I'm too hard on Chris Masters and that he's improved in the past year to the point of being a valuable contributor to TV.

Wait, I'm too WHAT Chris Masters? Mheh heh heh heh.

And alright, just because I'm not able to really generate my usual elegant over-riding thesis for the pre-ramble here doesn't mean I have to degenerate into sharing my Inner Beavis' running commentary with you.

So let's just get to the events of RAW and see if YOU can make heads or tails out of a show that included some surprisingly good, some pitiably bad, and more than a bit of the just-plain-perplexing...

Cold Open: We're somewhere backstage, and Vince McMahon himself wants to welcome us to the show. Because, you see, he's still searching for a new General Manager of RAW, and he promises that he'll be conducting further "interviews" tonight. From the tone of voice, that's apparently somehow a suggestive innuendo or something. I dunno. Or maybe Vince has just completely gone off his rocker, and is unable to determine anymore where the line between "acting compellingly slimy" and "becoming a ridiculous, eyeball-roll-inducing caricature" is. Vince also has further plans for us tonight... for all six men competing in the elimination chamber match on PPV will all be competing right here, tonight. Against the clock. The winner of the second annual "Beat the Clock" Night will get to enter the Elimination Chamber Match last, giving him -- according to Vince -- a "mathematical advantage." Oy. I'd go off on a tangent about Vince's lack of comprehension of what counts as "math," here, but there's really no point, is there? Instead, I'll just move on to Vince's final announcement: that Santa brought him the new Bret Hart DVD for Christmas, and Vince will be watching it over the course of the night, and then at the end of the night, he'll go to the ring and deliver his review.

Hoh boy, so that set off my Crap Detector right out of the gates. Vince needs to spend the night "watching" a DVD that he produced, AND he's giving himself the main event segment to do a promo? Even with all the potential Beat The Clock Goodness, we're already tempering that with concern over something that seems rife with Suck.

Opening Theme/Pyro/Etc., and we're live from Bridgeport, CT, which can only mean one thing: WWE's live event business is in such a nosedive that we're a hair's breadth away from the return of TV tapings from the massive super-arenas in sprawling metropoli such as Lowell, MA. The announce crew (goddammit, Coach is back again), however, has no time to linger on these implications. Because we're sending it straight to the ring for....

Shawn Michaels vs. Gene Snitsky (Beat the Clock Match)

All night long, the "beat the clock" gimmick was played up by having the Elimination Chamber Wrestler hit the ring first, and then have them await the revelation of their "mystery" opponent, who we are assured were determined by a Totally Random Luck Of The Draw (spanning the entire RAW roster).

So Michaels has to try to eek a watchable match out of Snitsky, eh?

Things start out OK, because the gimmick of the match is that you don't just want to win, you want to win fast. And Michaels wants to set the bar so high (well, "low" actually would be more applicable in this case) that none of the other five wrestlers can squeeze under him and steal the last entry spot for the chamber match. But after Michaels does a quick flurry of offense and roll-ups and getting (mostly unconvincing) near-falls, we settle in for a bit more of a long haul.

So it is thus that -- at the 45 second mark of the match (thank you helpful clock!) -- Snitsky takes over with a clothesline. Yes, a clothesline. Out of nowhere, and without a transition, Snitsky just hits one clothesline after getting his ass kicked and remains in control for the next 4 minutes. His target: Michaels (SURGICALLY RECONSTRUCTED~!) lower back. This involved a lot of Michaels doing all the work, taking hard Irish Whips into turnbuckles, and then again into the ringside barricade, and stuff like that. I think the complexity of Snitsky's actual offense peaked at "a body slam." At exactly the 3:30 mark, Snitsky opted to go with the bear-hug.

Of course, this is little more than an invitation for Michaels to start a comeback. So start one he did. Michaels punched his way out of the bearhug, Snitsky whipped him into the ropes, and Michaels came back at him with the Flying Burrito (Joey: "Shot with the elbow!" Huh?), at the 4:20 mark. Oy, 4:20. It's too bad JR isn't still on the job. He'd actually call it a Flying Burrito, and then dumb, filthy hippies everywhere would have spent the next 3 and a half hours wondering where that magical flying burrito is because they so have the munchies. But neither the motivation, nor the legal tender, to procure a non-magical burrito. Stupid hippies.

Anyway, after the Burrito is the Kip Up. And after the Kip Up, it's supposed to be the Macho Man Elbow. Except when Michaels tried to plant Snitsky with a body slam, his (SURGICALLY RECONSTRUCTED AND ALREADY WOUNDED~!) back gave out on him. Snitsky regained control for a few moments, and eventually got cocky: he set Michaels up for a superplex. But Michaels punched his way out of that, and Snitsky helpfully fell backwards and planted HIMSELF in perfect position for the Macho Man Elbow. So Michaels hit that. Then he started Tuning Up The Band... but when he moved in for the Sweet Chin Music, Snitsky one-upped Michaels with a Big Boot To The Head.

This, however, only netted Snitsky a long 2-count. So of course, Snitsky decides to spend the next 10 seconds arguing with the referee about this, while Michaels gets up on his feet behind Snitsky's back. Snitsky finally turns around, and you guessed it: he eats a superkick. Done and done.

Your Winner: Shawn Michaels, via pinfall, in 5:56. To be honest, this wasn't so bad. You might think "Snitsky" and "Six Minutes" don't go together, but with Shawn throwing himself around during the potentially-boring Snitsky Offensive Phase of the match, it didn't really bog down too badly at all. And then the end game? Hey, I likes it anytime that Michaels spreads out his Five Moves of Doom over the span of a few minutes, and has to find creative ways to back into them, instead of just lazily stringing them together. Given that last year, they started the "Beat the Clock" gimmick with a first match up closer to 15 or 20 minutes and then whittled that down over the course of the show, setting the first bar at under six minutes is interesting... it'll either mean some interesting/creative booking as the show progresses, or it'll just mean all shorter/less-exciting matches. We'll see soon enough, won't we?


The Cutting Edge: Very Special Intellectual Thievery Edition 

Edge and Lita are already in the ring as we return from the break, and we've been promised that Ric Flair will finally appear as a guest on Edge's interview segment. So after making sure we all know about Flair's recent troubles with assault charges and an ugly divorce, Edge decides it's time to call out The Man.

Except: not so much.

You see, all that happens is that a picture of Flair pops up on the TitanTron, except with the mouth cut out and somebody else's mouth put in. Like the Conan O'Brien deal. It sure sounded like Edge's voice doing the "talking" for Flair in a few spots, which means that the Flair's Mouth Bits were pre-taped. And also meant that this was decidedly clunkier and less funny than when Conan does it and actually interacts with the Lips of Smeigel. 

Actually, the way it worked out, it was kind of done so that "Flair" had one longish rant with Edge mostly doing brief reaction takes, then Edge doing a longish rant (with Flair's lips just doing seemingly random funny faces in the background), then Flair again doing a longish one, then Edge.... you get the idea: so that there was less chance of getting "off-script," they set it up that way.

First Flair rant was just him being delusional (thinking Edge was Arn Anderson, and that the Four Horsemen were still together) and then spouting off a bunch of stolen catchphrases (Austin and Macho Man were included). Then he handed it off to Edge, who did an extended monologue about how there is nothing original about Ric Flair and his entire repertoire is stolen, and he's been fooling fans into thinking he's special for the past 30 years. [Lawler did openly acknowledge the Conan rip-off at some point later, but none of the announcers took the logical step at this point that I did while sitting on my couch, which was to point out the hilarious irony of Edge accusing Flair of ripping people off while himself ripping off Conan.]

Then Edge handed things off to Lita, whose job it was to segue into asking "Flair" about his Road Rage incident. So that set "Flair" up for another lengthy riff about exactly what happened. Of course, it ended with a twisted version of reality in which "Flair" acted remorseful for having gotten arrested for beating a man who simply told the truth: that Edge is so clearly better than Ric Flair.

So that was the passing of the baton back to Edge to talk about how it's good to hear that "Flair" finally realizes that Edge is better than him. He runs down a list of ways he's better than Flair, and when he gets to "better all-around athlete," for some reason Edge tries the Mr. Perfect Gum Swat, and totally shanks it. Note to all the kids out there: the Mr. Perfect Gum Swat is not hard to do as long as you follow one simple guideline. Just remember to spit your gum UP, not just out. Then just follow the arc, be patient and time your swat, and send the thing flying 20 feet across the room. It's easy, no matter how Edge made it look last night.

Finally, Edge's last bit of tauntery of Flair is that sure Flair might be a 16-time World Champion, but that also makes him a 16-time loser. And when Edge cases in his Money In The Bank, he'll be a one-time champion whose reign eclipses all of Flair's combined.

And apparently, that's about enough of THAT happy crappy, cuz here comes the Real Ric Flair, out for a little chat. Or maybe no chatting, cuz Flair removes his suit coat at the top of the ramp, and appears to be in a fighin' mood as he hits the ring. But Edge apparently thinks he's still talking to Conan Flair, cuz he keeps on bringing the assholitude. Finally, Edge gets right up in Flair's face with the mic and insists that Flair just tell the world the truth: that Edge is the better man of the two.

So instead, Flair punches Edge in the face, and the brawl is on. Even with Lita briefly jumping on Flair's back, though, it's 100% Nature Boy. Edge and Lita quickly decide to high-tail it outta the ring, leaving Flair to gesture (Broadly) that he's still more than happy to continue this fight, if only Edge weren't such a spineless wussbag.

I can think of about a thousand ways to keep the Flair/Edge feud interesting, but this really did none of them; instead, this was pretty much a text-book example of taking 10 minutes out of a show to accomplish absolutely nothing new. It would have been OK if the Conan Flair thing had been a bit more clever or funny, but when the water-treading fluff falls flat, it does kind of result in an anticlimactic segment.


Chris F. Masters vs. Chavo Guerrero (Beat the Clock Match)

Well, this oughta be interesting: the no-talent hack who (for some unearthly reason) is WWE's favorite over-pushed pet-project versus a guy who should still have some Sympathy Push left and cannot possibly be getting sent out there to be a glorified jobber unless WWE is truly heartless. How do you book your way out of this corner? Well, the short answer is: you don't, and you hope nobody notices.

But the long answer is actually recapping this match, which starts out with massive "Eddie, Eddie" chants for Chavo. So Chavo decides to channel a little of his late uncle's deviousness: he'd out-quick the lumbering monkey (sometimes ending up in a roll-up, but also sometimes just ending with a disrespectful bitch-slap), and then when Masters would get back up to his feet to unleash vengeance, Chavo would be loitering around at ringside, pointing to his wrist as if to say "Tick tock, tick tock, dum dum." Then the intellectual colossus that is Chris F. Masters would try to chase down Chavo, only to follow him back into the ring so the cycle could repeat.

Finally this built up to the match's big transitionary spot, which was bungled by CFM as only CFM can. Recalling a favorite bump of mine from a tag match (maybe Michaels/Shelton vs. Masters/Carlito?) this past fall, Chavo and Masters did a little chain-wrestling/reverse-y spot that ended with Chavo hitting a standing dropkick. Which Masters sold by standing there in place for about 1.3 seconds, then he turned his head to look, and then he just threw himself -- at Warp 7 -- out between the ropes and to the floor. You expect nothing less than sheer buffoonery, though, from a man who got called up to debut on national TV despite being unable to even run the ropes in a comfortable manner.

Whether they just missed out on the positioning of the spot or something, clearly Masters was deadset on throwing himself out of the ring, because it was required to set up the start of his offense. [Silly me, what with my massive non-experience of having wrestled a few times in front of sold out living rooms in my house in college, would probably still have just sold the dropkick by, you know?, falling backwards. And if there was no way to safely/convincingly take the bump to the outside because I was too close to the middle of the ring, I would just trust that Chavo would then come over and help me out with stomping me the rest of the way out of the ring. Beats the hell out of pausing awkwardly after the move and then practically jumping halfway across the ring to get out to ringside. And that is why this match not only underscored that Masters is still quite limited, physically, in the ring, but that the mental part of his game is absolutely non-existent.] Once Masters was out at ringside, Chavo tried to follow up with a slingshot plancha, but instead, Masters just caught him and slammed Chavo's back into the ring apron. 

Thus begins CFM's offense at roughly the 2:30 mark of the match. Like Snitsky before him, Masters targets the lower back. And like Snitsky before him, Masters doesn't try anything more complicated than a body slam. But unlike Snitsky before him, Masters is trying to Beat the Clock, so this uninspired segment is only about 90 seconds long before CFM decides the clock's under 2 minutes and he needs to finish Chavo off.

It should be noted that -- once again -- the "Eddie, Eddie" chants have morphed into "Let's Go Chavo" ones, which is cool. Nobody wants to forget Eddie, but at the same time, when it's Chavo going in there and doing the hard work of making Chris F. Masters appear mildly-coordinated, it's nice the fans turn around and give him his props, too.

At the 4:00 mark, Masters started going for the shitty full nelson, and Chavo kept coming up with ways to escape it. He'd flip over and behind Masters one time and turn it into a surprise small package. Then the next time, he'd slide out and when CFM reached down to try to pick him up again he'd be greeted with a boot to the face. One time, he even found some way to leverage things into an arm drag. Crowd's definitely getting into it, as Chavo's managing to make something as boring as a full nelson exciting to escape from.

But the fun time comes to an end when Masters finally does cinch in the full nelson at the 5:30 mark. But Chavo won't submit, and when the match hits the 5:56 mark, a buzzer goes off. Not signifying the end of the match, but signifying that Masters did not Beat The Clock. So dum dum still releases the full nelson, and throws Chavo to the mat.

And then, despite the fact that all signs point to the match still being on-going, Masters insists on getting a live mic. His first claim is that the clock was fast, and that's because the company is trying to hold him down. Oh sweet fancy Moses. I guarantee you that that was the hardest I'll laugh all week. And I'm a man who got some Eddie Izzard DVDs for Christmas. But I can't see anybody topping the Unintentional Comedic Genius of Chris F. Masters claiming that WWE is trying to hold him down.

CFM also claims the *fans* are holding him down. And that officially just makes no sense, other than in Chris F. Masters dim little brain, he's apparently been coach that "When in need of cheap heat, mention the fans in a derogatory fashion." Trust me, Christopher, we're not holding you down; that would require that some of us actually care enough about you to invest any time in your person. Which ratings and crowd responses indicate that we don't. 

And finally, just because Chris F. Masters is in a giving mood this holiday season, and wants to make sure that he gives me another Belly Laugh before wrapping up, CFM's Big Finish was an Orton-caliber mangled line. Because he doesn't care what the company or the fans think: CFM's resolution for 2006 is to be the WWE Champion. And he's going to make that come true when he wins the title at "New Year's Resolution." Even Joey Styles had apparently given up by that point, cuz I think it was his voice that just resignedly said, "Or Revolution, even."

I'm being honest people: if you're one of the Masters Apologists who think I'm too hard on the guy, please just show me one performance (not cosmetic) aspect of this business at which he is anything other than "below average." Because my thing with Masters is totally different than my issues with the Cenas and Ortons of the world: in those guys cases, I mostly get/got annoyed with presentational issues and thought that WWE booked them stupidly, causing their characters to suck. But I still essentially thought that both brought/bring enough to the table for them to contribute to the product (be it Cena's regular-guy charisma when he's not wiggerring, or Orton's innate heelish ability to convey his true nature as a douchebag of sub-normal intelligence). None of this applies to Masters, who doesn't need to be "repackaged" or booked better; he honestly just needs to go back to OVW and increase his skill set so that the bookers actually have something to work with.

Anyway, after Masters mangled his punchline, he noticed that Chavo Guerrero was sneaking back into the ring. I guess Chavo at least realizes this match is still on? Except, not really. Because as soon as Masters drops the mic and goes over the Chavo, Chavo gets the better of him. Back drop out of the ring... then a baseball slide into Master's ugly mug. And then.... 

Play Chavo's music? What the hell? And the ref is just checking on Masters at ringside instead of counting him out, so I guess this is over. Lame.

Your Winner: Ummm, nobody, apparently. No decision, I guess. So maybe the official match time is 5:56 again, with Masters giving up on the match when he didn't beat the clock? Or is it a no decision in more like 9 minutes once you count in Master's stand-up comedy act and subsequent attack by Chavo? Why -- given what was yet to come -- was it even a No Decision in the first place? And most importantly: do I really want to bother trying to figure out the Writer Monkey's gaping logic and continuity holes? Not really. This honestly wasn't an awful little match, as Chavo held it together nicely and was over with the fans, while Masters (one comically bad bump aside) did what little was asked of him without screwing up too badly. It's just the "finish" and "post-match" stuff was just lazy (because there are more creative ways to book yourself out of a corner like this than just doing an ill-explained No Decision) and unnecessary (because Master's ranting accomplished nothing other than exposing another of his weaknesses).

Backstage: Kurt Angle is sitting in a chair and getting make-up or something. I dunno. He had people hovering around him, anyway. In preparations for his Big Announcement, which is coming up after these...


Kurt's Big Announcement: he saw the RAW special from Afghanistan, and it made him proud. Proud that he didn't sell out and go on that tour. Somehow, he manages to take a good 3-4 minutes to do so, but Kurt actually says nothing new that he didn't already say two weeks ago. Troops suck this, I'm a real American hero that. Troops volunteered to go to war, so nobody should feel sorry for them, and on top of that, they get paid. It's their freaking job to be over there. And nobody paid Kurt when he dedicated 10 years of his life to winning an Olympic Gold Medal for his country. I think the punchline was turning the diatribe slightly on its ear by saying that not only do the troops make him sick with all their bitching and moaning, but any fan out in the arena who sympathizes with them makes him sick, too. Then he stormed out of the room.

Huh. I don't know what to say. On one hand, there was nothing major about that, and I'm pretty sure that a careful examination of the videotape would reveal that nothing about Kurt's Major Announcement even fell under the realm of "an announcement." So do I act pissed off at the underwhelming anticlimax? Or do I be happy that WWE's creative monkeys apparently had an idea for Kurt a week ago, but that somebody apparently stepped in and said, "We're not doing this retarded crap," forcing them to do this flaccid little promo as Plan B? All I can tell you is that as soon as Kurt said exactly nothing new, I was warming up a spot on the couch, because WWE was about to be welcomed to My World, where ill-conceived attempts at one-dimension Cheap Heat might work one week, but that's about it. 

Elsewhere Backstage: Vince McMahon is bending over and apparently addressing a pair of bOObs. By all appearances, I'd guess they are Torrie Wilson's. I am quickly proven right when Vince starts talking about how much he likes to play with puppies, at which point the bOObs turn slightly towards the camera to reveal Torrie Wilson's yap dog. Which apparently now has a name: Chloe. There's more alleged hilarity when Vince mistakenly thinks that the dog wants to be General Manager, but really, it's Torrie Wilson who's interested in the job. Ugh. So many opportunities to do actually interesting/compelling GM Teases, and it's crap like this that we get, instead. Vince is about to turn the Creepy Old Pervert Dial up to 11 when Todd Grisham interrupts, because he heard Vince wanted to see him. Well, YES, Vince wanted to see him, but apparently Todd's timing is a bit off... so Vince rushedly tells Todd that his job is to inform Ric Flair that he'll be defending the IC Title against Edge at New Year's Revolution. Todd turns to leave, but Vince stops him again; Vince knows Todd just interviewed Bret on "Byte This," and wants to know what Todd thinks... could Vince take Bret now? Todd, as the only person in the segment to behave in a realistic and relatable manner, actually gets a bit of a snarky, patronizingly-sarcastic tone in his voice as he tells Vince, "Sure. Sure you could take him. No problem." Vince not only fails to register the tone of voice, but actually dismisses Todd with a line about how good it is to have people around him who aren't afraid to speak their minds. Again with the Unintentional Comedy and Perfect Irony! Is there one of the Writer Monkeys sneaking these Easter Eggs in on purpose, or is it just coincidence that they're all over the place tonight? Anyway, once Todd is gone, it's back to perving it up for Vince. Luckily we are not subject to anything further on that front, and instead cut to...

Elsewhere Elsewhere Backstage: Mickie has prepared a nice little two person Bonus Christmas, and has hung the stockings in the lockers with care. Trish steps onscreen, and Mickie says that it was too bad that they couldn't be together on Christmas and all, but that didn't mean she and Trish couldn't celebrate a little late.... and Trish cuts her off. Because as nice and cheerful as Mickie is, Trish just wants to let her know: this women's title means a lot to her, and friends or not, Trish will do what she has to to retain the title at New Year's Revolution. Mickie sort of says that's cool, but doesn't really grasp what Trish is getting at here (which is that Mickie's a bit of a load, and Trish might even be looking forward to beating a bit of sense into her)... and that's because Mickie wants to point out a final Christmas Decoration. Above Trish's head? Oh lord, it's the mistletoe, the favorite romantic crutch of shitty TV shows and movies. Trish gets about 7 nanoseconds in which to effectively convey a perplexed "She wouldn't really? Would she?", and then Mickie moves in and smootches Trish right on the lips. Plus 10 for hot chicks making out. Minus several million for this being EXACTLY what this storyline didn't need (you're building up to a heel turn for Mickie, and you suddenly introduce lesbian nympho tendencies? do you even have a clue about your own audience, WWE?). On the upside, the kiss made Trish angry and shoved Mickie away and stormed off. So unless one is a fan of Forced Lesbianism, I guess maybe even WWE's clueless, pubescent fan base won't have a chance to think this was OMG HOTTTT~! For Mickie's part, her reaction was an homage to Chris Farley, as she started muttering about how stupid she was for trying that. 


Kurt Angle vs. Daivari (Beat the Clock Match)

Angle awaits his foe, and when he discovers it's Daivari, breaks into a shit-eating grin. And sure enough, as soon as the bell rings, Daivari drops to the mat, and Angle covers him. One, two. And the ref stops counting. Angle and Daivari register frustration, and repeat the process. Again the ref stops counting at 2.

So Angle starts threatening the ref, and the ref bails out of the ring. When Angle follows, the ref ducks into the crowd and sneaks away. Kurt goes into the crowd to follow, but loses the ref. The ref has, however, gotten back into the ring and is now counting Angle out. Angle spots this and tries to sprint back to the ring.... but he's too late.

Your Winner: Daivari, via count-out, in 1:30. Kurt is enraged, and to be honest, rightfully so. I guess it's a cute little bit of creative booking, but when you have fans already leaning towards Kurt, you're not helping your cause by having a referee go out there and pretty much thumb his nose at every established rule in the book (failing to count to three, and then fast-counting Angle out of the ring) just to get Kurt's goat. And anything that causes me nightmare visions of an Angle vs. Mike Chioda match isn't really a good thing, either.


Contractual Obligation Theatre. Literally.

Coach, two chairs, and a six-foot banquet table are in the ring. Which means it's time to Officially Sign The Contract for Big Show vs. Triple H... funny, I don't remember ever extending the Official Contract Signing courtesy to a mid-card match, but that's neither here nor there.

Coach, the chairs, and the table are soon joined by Triple H and Big Show, both of whom eschew the chairs, and would prefer to stand. Coach simply says that both men have reviewed the paperwork, and if they don't have any questions, let's just dot some I's and cross some T's.

Big Show does this quickly and with a smile on his face. 

Then the contract is handed to Trips, who balks. Or who at least wants to preface his signing with some dazzling rhetoric.

Because you see, HHH never wanted this fight with Big Show. Even when Show started calling HHH a piece of crap a few months ago, HHH didn't care; he thought the two could co-exist peacefully enough. But then Big Show cost HHH his shot at the WWE Title last week, and had to re-evaluate his stance.

And HHH realized that he does have a problem with Big Show. A big one. Because while HHH was busting his ass to perfect his craft and earn his world titles and main events (ummm, again with some of the unintentional irony? at least half-irony; let's just say he divorces Steph tomorrow, and as much as Hunter has really worked hard at his game, I'm betting his resume of titles and main events would become a bit more anemic), Big Show was having everything handed to him on a silver platter. Including his debut match being a PPV main event. Show can't deny this, but since this is a heavily scripted rant and not a genuine exchange, he can't fire back with anything that might actually engage the crowd and perk them up. He just has to sit there and take it until we get to his stilted cue to respond...

And that's too bad, because then HHH went off on a tangent that is either utterly pointless or which is a harbinger of something to come... he declares that the fans don't even really care about Big Show, other than the fact that he's Really Tall. Like a circus freak. Or better yet: like an NBA Player. Yes, an NBA Player. Let HHH say that again: NBA. And, in the Red Alert Potential Foreshadowing Line of the Night, HHH says, "And there isn't a one of those 7-foot NBA pipe-cleaners whose ass I can't kick." Uh oh. Does Rodman need money? Or Malone? Maybe Barkley? If HHH had just mentioned basketball players in passing and moved on, I wouldn't be so worried... but he really riffed on this and kept repeating "NBA' enough times that I can't shake the notion that we're supposed to remember this. Which is too bad, cuz all I want to do is forget about it, and pretend it never got said in the first place.

HHH keeps on ramblings about basketball players, and finally I guess Big Show decided it was time to speak up. He says that HHH better watch his mouth, because he's all alone in the world, now. Has no DX, no Evolution, no back-up. So unless he wants to take a whupping right now, he'd better shut up, sign the contract, and Show will see him at the PPV. HHH: "No back-up, eh? Well, I don't need back-up against somebody like you. Fat boy." And then he poked Big Show in the eye with the Contract Signing Pen.

And then he revealed that he does, indeed, have back-up, in the form of his long-time companions, Sweet Lady Sledge, who has been conveniently ducktaped to the bottom of the table. Big Show fends off the sledge attack a few times, but it's only a matter of time before HHH gets control. And then he slams Big Shows right hand with the sledge. Oh no! That's his Chokeslammin' Hand. What ever will Big Show do now? 

Trips smirks at his handiwork, finally signs the contract, and then smirks some more as he makes his way up the ramp, all while Big Show is curled up in the fetal position, clutching his injured hand to his chest. Actually, queasiness over the NBA riff aside, this was about as effect a Contract Signing Thingie as WWE's done in a while. I'd prefer less stilted dialogue and less forced basketball mentions, and more engrossing, conversational back and forth from two guys who could easily pull it off, but you still got where you needed to in the end.... the breaking of Show's Chokeslammin' Hand makes things a bit more interesting heading into the match, anyway.


No Fucking Way: Stacy Keibler plus "Dancing with the Stars." Oh, you know that equals Fast Forward.

John Cena vs. Shelton Benjamin (Beat the Clock Match)

Welcome back to the real world, John Cena! Yes, those are hearty boos for you! I bet you've been missing them the past 2 weeks... from the get-go, there are definitely mixed reactions going on here, and by the end of the match, the crowd was so hot and so split down the middle that it was giving things a Big Match Atmosphere. I'm talking about Indie-Douchebag-Fan Dueling Chants ("Let's Go Cena"/"Let's Go Shelton") and the whole nine. Only real difference/advantage in terms of crowd support seemed to be that the pro-Cena fans (which included no male over the age of 12, from the sounds of things) wouldn't boo Shelton when he hit a move, whereas the pro-Shelton crowd would shit all over Cena the second he'd hit an offensive move (or pose for the crowd, or whatever). 'Tis all very amusing in its own way to me, since WWE appears clueless and powerless to fix this, despite the fact that if they had anybody on staff with an inkling of intelligence, they'd have seen this coming back a year ago, just like certain sharp-witted webmasters did. Instead of waiting for the Anti-Cena Epidemic to reach epic proportions before recognizing the problem really existed somewhere besides in the rather impressive mind of The Rick. 

The match? Started out with very basic back-and-forthy chain wrestling for about 30 seconds, and then we kind of fell into a groove where Cena would hit pretty much any move, and then go for a cover. Even a headlock takeover or a clothesline, and he'd go for the cover, and then glance frustratedly at the clock... which is either a nice touch, or some bratty, petulant over-reacting that would fit better if more than one minute had elapsed. I guess if you accept the notion that Cena wasn't just trying to beat the 6 minute time set by Michaels, but also trying to set a fast enough time that neither Kane nor Carlito could match him, then his too-soon frustration act fits a bit better; sadly, the announcers didn't really pick up on this and help explain it. So to the home viewers without the same grasp on psychology that I have, it probably *did* seem more petulant than it should have.

So anyway, this was the basic way the match went for the next 3 minutes. Cena would hit moves (of escalating impact; he eventually got up to some body slams and stuff) and go for covers, and then act pissed off and stare at the clock when Shelton kicked out. At around the 4 minute mark, Cena tried for an F-U, but Shelton flipped out of it and countered with a Samoan Drop, and got his first real sustained offense of the match. Sadly, because of the way the time was ticking down, he only got the chance to hit maybe 2 nice moves, and then cinched in a chinlock, so that Cena could have a chance to fire up.

At the 5:30 mark, Cena back-suplexed his way out of the chinlock, and both men struggled to their feet simultaneously. After a quick bit of reversey-ness, Cena hoisted Shelton up for the F-U with just 10 seconds to go before time elapsed... and Shelton grabbed the top rope, preventing Cena from hitting the move. When the buzzer sounded at 5:56, Cena just dropped Shelton to the mat, since there was also the issue of a referee's five-count/rope break to deal with.

And just because WWE can't be bothered with consistency or continuity, in THIS case, the match IS continuing. Cena follows Shelton to the outside, and beats on him a bit out there. The announcers are now REALLY over-selling the idea that Shelton did something evil and unsportsmanlike by grabbing the top rope and spoiling Cena's bid to Beat the Clock? What the fuck? You whiff on a chance to explain a story that will help render Cena's behavior earlier a bit more likeable and relateable, but now you're attributing heelishness to Shelton for simply making an attempt to win a match and NOT rolling over (which was determined earlier to be an evil act when Daivari tried to do it). Methinks the voice in the announcers head-set truly has lost it if these are his ideas for how to help the announce crew tell stories. And meantime, no matter what the announcers are saying, the live fans are voting with their mouths, and they're still almost exactly 50/50 split between Cena and Shelton.

Shelton cheats (maybe it was an eyepoke, but I don't remember exactly, as I was too busy mentally composing venom-laced diatribes about the many ways WWE is screwing Cena over, presentationally-speaking) to quickly gain an advantage on Cena... but once back in the ring, this only makes Cena angry. Shelton, for his troubles, gets to enjoy an FU, and then an STF, which I refuse to call by Cena's brandname on the grounds that it's so very, very retarded.

Your Winner: John Cena, via submission, in about 7-8 minutes; but he does NOT Beat the Clock. Issues over Cena's likeability and the mind-numbingly stupid way that WWE just magically had this be a match that continues past the Beat the Clock gimmick whereas earlier the match was just deemed a No Contest at that point aside.... this was actually pretty good. The dueling fans added a lot to the atmosphere, if nothing else. Unlike when this stuff happens in TNA, the fans weren't hear to cheer BOTH guys (whether heel or face), they were here to cheer the guy they like and to savage the guy they don't. It's a subtle, but important, difference when trying to create the atmosphere where it feels like something important is on the line in a given match.

After the Match: Kurt Angle and Daivari tried to attack Cena. And yep, just like Shelton before him, Kurt had more than enough fans for an audible "Angle, Angle" chant to start in their very brief brawl. Like I said earlier: welcome to my world, WWE, where you it's not NEARLY as hard as you make it look to understand what fans want and how they'll react. Officials swarm and break things up before Cena and Angle can really do any damage to each other. Or can re-polarize the crowd again to the point that middle school boys and teen-age girls with unfortunate taste are forced into pitched battle against the grown-ups. 


Backstage: Shelton's talking on a cellphone, lamenting his loss to Cena... but the voice on the other end is apparently trying to pep talk him, since Shelton is saying stuff like "I know it isn't my fault, and I'll get him next time, but still..." And then, "You're what? You're coming here next week?!?!" Uh oh. Then the phone conversation ends with a forced "Yeah, I love you, too." And so it is thus that Shelton's Mama will make her debut. And so it is also thus that WWE takes a perfectly serviceable and compelling storyline and renders it as retarded as humanly possible.

Elsewhere Backstage: Matt Striker is making his case for being RAW's new GM. Yet again, this involves bragging about things that have nothing to do with anything. So many chances to entice/intrigue the crowd with truly interesting GM options, and instead it's a non-stop parade of fake tits and not-over prelim wrestlers who get to "interview" for the job over the past 3 weeks. Nobody cares, nobody believes in any of these "candidates," and thus, this is a massive missed opportunity in my book. Vince, however, appears to be taking Striker seriously, and asks what Striker would do about Angle and Cena brawling if he were GM. Striker says that he'd assign "Kurtis" and "Jonathan" 500 word essays on sportsmanship to learn them a lesson. Because he's our teacher, you see. Ugh. But Vince is also disgusted by Striker's answer, albeit for a different reason: Vince hates it because he hated teachers, and he hated school. Gee, given the afformentioned grasps on Logic and Math Vince has, why does this not shock me.

Vince continues that when he was in school, teachers were always trying to make him, you know, learn stuff. And Vince didn't like that, and he often got in arguments with them. And teachers would always try to talk things out and be reasonable and stuff, but that's not what Vince wanted to do. He wanted to fight the teachers, because Vince doesn't care about book learning, he just loves violence. Holy christ. Just remember kids: in a skit against Matt Striker, this is Vince thinking he's a babyface. When in reality, just about every word out of his mouth in this segment paints him as a total jackass to anybody who's matured past the point of roughly 7th grade. Anyway, Vince's hatred of learning and love of violence gives him an idea: next week, there will be no essay writing. Instead, John Cena and Kurt Angle will fight in a (presumably non-title) First Blood Match. Hey, give it 15-plus solid minutes, and that's a promising match, actually.... but WWE really could not have come up with a more soul-crushingly awful way to set-up/announce it in this skit.

Elsewhere Elsewhere Backstage: A Poetry Moment with Carlito Cool. It's "Twas the Night After Christmas." And while I'll not transcribe, I do remember that Carlito tried rhyming "happening" with "champion," and magically pulled it off. Closing stanza was something about how in 2006, Carlito will rule. Which unlike you fans, would be pretty cool.


Carlito Cool vs. Victoria (Beat the Clock Match)

Huh. So this is taking the notion of "randomly selected opponents" to a whole new level. Carlito hits the ring first, still rocking a Santa Hat after Xmas, which I can't help but love, since I (mostly just to annoy my mom) wore my own Santa Hat to church on Christmas Eve. She thought I was being disrespectful, but I spotted at least 7 other people wearing them, dammit! It's just I was the only one over the age of 4. Heh. Victoria hits the ring second, causing Carlito to start grinning the most shit-eating of grins; she is accompanied, as always, by Torrie Wilson and Boobies McTitsalot and both of their (significantly-less-cool-than-a-Santa-hat) affectations, which will come into play in the match.

First 90 seconds or so of the match was just a lot of Carlito enjoying locking up and copping a feel and giving Victoria a companionable swat on the fanny when the opportunity presented itself. Then Victoria got a few little moves in, possibly constituting a rally, but Carlito still thought it more cute than threatening.

Then, at the 2 minute mark, Torrie and Boobies leapt into action. First, Torrie unleashed her yap dog, which scampered around the ring for a bit, distracting Carlito. Then, as the ref was busy shuttling the dog back to Torrie, Candice came in with here stupid little wand and whacked Carlito in the knee. Victoria finished up directing traffic and turned around to take advantage of the situation, only to find that Carlito has no patience for selling shots from the lamest of foreign objects. So instead: Carlito's just upset by the cheating, and as soon as Victoria's within arm's reach, he grabs her, hits a neck breaker, and that's all she wrote.

After the match, Carlito grabbed an apple, took a bite, and spewed it all over Victoria's face while Torrie and Boobies looked on impotently. Although Victoria was positively plastered in gunk and it got all in her hair and everything, Lawler did not make the predictable joke, leaving me with absolutely nothing to make fun of at this point of the recap.

Your Winner: Carlito Cool, via pinfall, in 2:36, which also Beats The Clock. I'm not sure I approve of the haphazzard way WWE doesn't care about it's female characters -- here, the ostensibly heel Victoria was cast as a babyface, and earlier, the soon-to-be-heel Mickie James was displaying the kind of lesbian tendencies that some portion of the audience would no doubt find HOTTT~!, which makes Trish a spoil-sport for not playing along -- but this was actually some pretty amusing fluff. Nobody's accusing Carlito of being Christ Benoit inside the ring, but unlike others I could mention, he's got the personality and the mental aspect of the craft down so perfectly that he can carry segments like this and make sure the fans get into them.


PPV Hype: the announcers run-down the New Year's Revolution line-up. I'm kinda pissed that Edge/Flair is taking place. Screws up my whole Fantasy Booking plan that had Edge/Flair being a much better-built-up issue (and free of the IC Title, which I had other plans for), and not just a hastily-thrown-together affair.

Kane vs. the Heartthrobs (Beat the Clock Match)

Kane enters. The Heartthrobs enter. The Heartthrobs try to dance. Kane is having none of it. Kane chokeslams both Heartthrobs. FIN.

Your Winner: Kane, via pinfall, in 25 seconds, assuring that he will enter the Elimination Chamber match last. I'm thinking they didn't do nearly as much interesting with the Beat the Clock gimmick as they did last year, but in terms of a capper, they probably had to put over one of the 3 non-believable participants on this night to TRY to create a fourth viable member in the Chamber match. Letting Kane squash his way into the Final Entry Spot is probably the best choice, since Carlito's at his best as a sneaky (not dominant) heel, and Masters.... well, he's Chris F. Masters.

Backstage: Vince is still scanning through his Bret Hart DVD. And apparently, he doesn't care to make it to the end. He'll just freeze frame it on a shot from the Montreal Screwjob, mutter something about "Best there is, was, and ever will be? We'll see about that..." and exit the room. Presumably on his way to the ring.


When is an Ending not Really an Ending?

So we're back, and Vince gesticulates wildly as he does his increasingly-Monty-Python-inspired Silly Walk to the ring.

Vince promises to give his own thoughts in a moment, but first, in the interest of Equal Time, a clip of Bret himself speaking about The Incident in Montreal... in it, things basically boil down to Bret feeling like he was in the right, and would do the same thing again, and knowing that Vince feels he was in the right and would do the same thing again, too. So they've pretty much reached a point where they know they'll never agree on who's right, but they each have come to understand the other's position. Seems a mature enough stance.

So of course, coming out of the clip, Vince decides to bring the maturity level down a notch. He figures he'll let the fans decide. "Is Vince McMahon right?" BOOOOO! "OK, that's your right. But now: is Bret Hart [pause] wrong?" About 2 people cheer, but the rest pick up on it and boo that, too.

Sadly, Vince's script has been lovingly-hand-stilted by a crew of writer monkeys working around the clock, so he's not able to deviate... instead, he has to act like his little trick worked on some significant percentage of the audience, since his entire following riff is based on "See, I tricked you, just like I tricked Bret Hart." Vince says he sees no problem with tricking people, because if it's good for business, then that means it's good for Vince McMahon, and Vince will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.

Also: Vince with his newly-revealed loathing of average-or-better intelligence and those teachers who facilitate it among certain freakish elements of our society, made sure to stay In Character by uttering the Orton-esque line that "the means justify the end." Good lord, I must have been nice this year, cuz this show is giving me Unintentionally Hilarious Christmas Presents right and left....

Vince's bragging on something he did 8 years ago starts getting a little monotonous, and so to the rescue is.... Shawn Michaels?

Shawn tries whispering something to Vince, first, but Vince insists that anything Shawn has to say, he can say it out loud and with all the fans listening. So Shawn takes a mic and admits that he's not out here to defend Bret Hart. Because nobody would buy it, and it wouldn't be entirely sincere. Because just like Bret and Vince, Shawn things he did the right thing in Montreal, and if the circumstances were the same, he'd do the same thing again today.

But therein lies the rub, according to Shawn. Because the circumstances never could be the same again. Shawn says he's pushing 40 and a father, and Vince is 60 and a grandfather, and Bret's retired, and basically, it's just really sad if there are still people so wound up over something that happened so long ago. He doesn't care if it's Bret not being able to let the thing go, or if it's Vince still bragging about something that's no longer consequential. Finally Shawn says, "I've grown up in these 8 years. Don't you think it's time you do the same Vince, and just move on?".

Wrong move, I guess. Cuz Vince suddenly got very angry and started sputtering. But then he got calm again, and decided to use his Inside Voice when addressing Michaels. "You want to talk about Moving On? Well let's just take a look...." and then Vince runs down a long list of champions from Buddy Rogers to Bruno to Hogan. Each one of them has Moved On, and not always of his own accord. Because the one name in that entire span of time that has NEVER Moved On is "McMahon." So Vince wants Shawn to be very clear about that before speaking up again about "moving on." Vince doesn't want it to come to this, but he can help Shawn "move on" if that's really what he wants. 

But Vince knows it's not what Shawn wants. Because he's all growed up and a man with responsibilities, now. He needs his paycheck, and unlike back in the day, there's no competition, no WCW to go running to. [Exactly 2 people try to start a "TNA" chant, and it fails miserably.] So Shawn better keep that in mind, too. Cuz Shawn, just like all the fans, serve the wrestling world's one true master, Vince McMahon. And on a night of unintentionally hilarious irony, that's just a little too true to laugh at. Vince says where he's at in the world, he just realized that his New Year's Resolution for 2006 should be that he won't take crap from anybody, because he doesn't have to, anymore. And that includes from Shawn. Then he closes with "I admit it. I screwed Bret. Don't make me screw you, too."
And if that was the Big Finish, it sure didn't feel like one. People were still waiting for something to happen, as the two just sort of awkwardly eyeballed each other for a bit. Then Vince started shuffling towards the apron, like this really might be over. But then Michaels took off his suit coat like he was actually gonna do something. But then Vince still stepped out of the ring, and Shawn didn't stop him. And then finally, somebody decided that was gonna have to be the ending, so they got around to firing up Vince's music. Only a full 45 seconds or so after his punchline.

A punchline that wasn't even all that good, and which facilitates more confusion than it does interest/excitement. Honestly: this comes out of nowhere, and a compelling end game for it is not springing to mind. Given Bret's public statements, he won't be playing a role in this storyline; given that the "rebel vs. the boss" storyline was already just done (with tepid results) with Cena vs. Bischoff, Michaels vs. Vince does absolutely nothing for me; and if they think that the way to turn Michaels heel is to do a Corporate Puppet Shawn thing, I'm not entirely sure that's the way to go, either. Especially not if the plan is to have Shawn then be the primary foil against Cena. The left-field nature of this closing segment makes it hard to really latch onto any meaningful "why I should care about this come next Monday" aspect, and instead gets on pondering just how chaotic and unstructured WWE's creative direction is when things like this appear to materialize out of thin air with no build-up (and which actual short-circuit other, pre-established stories) and with no real compelling outs, either.

Like I said in the open, though. A fitting end to a show that was neither good nor bad, and more just confusing. RAW closed with staredowns between Vince and Shawn, and then the announcers hyping next week's Cena/Angle match.  


SMACKDOWN RECAP: Bonding Exercises
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PPV RECAP: WWE Night of Champions 2012
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PPV RECAP: WWE Money in the Bank 2012
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PPV RECAP: WWE No Way Out 2012
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SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28




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