The Oratory RAW Review Crew: 03/08/04
The weeks just before and just after WrestleMania have traditionally been among my favorites of the entire year, not just for the fact that the year's biggest resolution point is finally just around the corner, but for the intense feelings of anticipation, excitement, intensity and dedication that flow from the episodes of RAW and Smackdown! immediately preceding and following that legendary Sunday night event. It's almost as much fun watching the talent get caught up in the festivities as it is becoming engulfed by them myself. WrestleMania is truly an addictive event, not to mention an all-encompasing one, and its inborn electricity never fails to invade the federation's regularly scheduled TV broadcasts. This year, though, something feels like it's missing. Honest to god, I almost forgot this Sunday was the big day after taking in this week's RAW. But allow me to elaborate.
Kane and the Undertaker opened the show with perhaps the most ridiculously silly non-interaction of their entire non-feud. Up until this point, Kane had been single handedly carrying this storyline on the strength of his promos and his obvious dedication to the character, but even he had an off night in the ring on this night. They're really playing up the wrong element of the Undertaker's character with these little segments and mind games. The whole unbelievable, "supernatural" element of his original run was certainly a big selling point, there's no question... but as the years went by, the seams began to show in his facade. The Federation began to move in a more realistic direction, while the 'Taker stagnated and then went even deeper off the edge of reality, reverting to an elaborate, inexplicably orchestrated "devil worshiping / corporation embracing / championship seeking / cross burning / unholy raising the dead" creature. While Bobby Heenan's claims that shaking the 'Taker's hand was like "shaking hands with a dead man," complete with balmy, cold skin may have worked in the early '90s, alongside wrestling garbagemen, brawling barbers and dancing turkeys, it just looks childish and completely out of place today, next to pure athletes like Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Ric Flair, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle.
I've always thought that the biggest attraction of the original Undertaker's character wasn't its graveyard gimmicks, but the deeply emotional psychiatric torture such an act must evoke in the minds of his opponents. An enormous man who fights for a living is more likely to be thrown off of his game by an opponent who approaches the ring in complete darkness, dressed in morbid attire and seemingly numb to pain than a ring that "miraculously" shakes around, an impromptu rainstorm or a flurry of indoor lightning bolts. It's also much easier for the viewer to suspend their disbelief when the former is going on in the ring, versus the latter.
The reason this character is going to fail after WrestleMania is because they're embracing that wrong aspect. They're trying to pander to us as six year olds again, when in reality it's been almost twenty years since those tricks last worked on us. It'll be cool to see the deadman in the ring again after all this time, but after that the flaws are really going to stick out.
Getting back to the present, though, this whole segment was outlandish. If continuity were to be believed here, why wouldn't Kane just pick up the urn and gain the supernatural powers that have always seemed to accompany it, rather than kicking it away like a sissy?
I don't have anything nice to say about the eight man tag match, for several reasons. For one, I find it extremely difficult to accept a "face in peril" scenario in any match of this nature, since the guy could basically trip over his own feet and hit a teammate on the other side of the ring. Making a tag when there's a small army in your corner of the ring is not as difficult as last night's booking would lead you to believe. Likewise, with three other guys to watch his back, how could Booker be swept off his feet and pinned without any of them realizing what was going on? This was hurried, (I don't even think every participant in the match got ring time) needless and boring. Matches with more than six participants don't work unless the word "elimination" is in the description.
The Evolution tag vs. the Hurri-powers was just about as dull as they come. It didn't put over Flair, Orton and Batista as unstoppable, enraged monsters... it just buried the Hurricane and Rosey even further, delivered the outcome everyone was expecting, and actually exposed a few of Evolution's weaknesses in the ring. It didn't make any sense to book this as a handicap match unless it was the other way around, with the Hurricane and Rosey taking on Orton or Batista alone and still doing the job. This didn't build momentum for Evolution or put the ball in Rocky and Mick's court, it just discouraged the fans from ever expecting any hint of an upset.
Benoit didn't perform any miracles in the minute he was given with Matt Hardy, which really sucks because this could've been a very sound match if it were given closer to seven or eight minutes, as Smackdown viewers will remember from the US Title tournament a year or so back. I'm confused about the reasoning for this match, because you either kill Benoit by forcing him to struggle against a guy who hasn't won since coming to RAW or you kill Hardy and the crowd by force-feeding them a squash job. Benoit's popularity is dying down noticeably now, after a couple weeks as Shawn Michaels' emotionless, brain dead bitch. If the guy's promos aren't very good, but he floors the audience with his intensity, his dedication and his never-say-die attitude... well, I guess you shouldn't send him out there with JR, a microphone, fifteen minutes, one of the best promo men in the industry and Mr. Monotony himself, Triple H. Let the guy do what he does best and he'll deliver. Force him into unfamiliar territory over and over again and he'll flounder.
They're killing me by highlighting Benoit vs. Michaels and Michaels vs. Triple H, but not Benoit vs. Triple H. That's the singles feud I want to see, guys. Unless you turn Shawn ultra-heel in the next seven days, let him cut loose on Canada as a whole and send Benoit out there to shout and wipe him across the mat a couple times, let me see the Crippler opposite a straight heel Helmsley.
The sports entertainment-izing of the women's division continued this week. I'm still pissed about what they're doing to this division, after it had built such a nice little legacy completely on its own over the last year. It's like Chris Jericho in WCW: he was at his best when they just handed him some time, told him to entertain us and just cut him loose. When he came to the WWF and the writers started scripting his speeches, tightening the reigns and constricting his moveset, bad things started to happen.
In what's becoming a theme for the night, Jericho and Steven Richards did what they could with the minute and a half they were allotted... which adds up to about "dick." It's a shame, too, because I'm a really big fan of both these guys. Steven Richards has been criminally misused since coming to the federation, while Jericho's status has ranged from hot to cold with little or no middle ground. I'd love to see these guys get as much time as they want to DO whatever they want, but within the confines of the current WWE scene, that's never going to happen. Not a memorable match by any stretch of the imagination.
Johnny Spade has a much nicer sound than Johnny Blaze, plus it avoids another needless relation between Vince McMahon and Marvel Comics (remember why they always had to have a disclaimer after every PPV on which Hulk Hogan appeared?) so it's all good. The guy actually grew a pretty solid personality during his time in the minors, too. I'm anxious to see him in a larger role as the year goes on... he could actually go somewhere. Just so long as they avoid the obvious tag team with Johnny Ace.
Finally, the Rock n' Sock revival. I'll be honest with you here; I really wasn't looking forward to this segment. I absolutely despised the original "This is your life" bit, and immediately tore it apart in an issue of Ringside Shadows when it first aired in late 1999. Later in the week, when the ratings came in, the masses disagreed with me in great number. It was one of the highest rated segments in federation history, but when I look back at it today I still cringe just thinking about it. I could NOT understand why they were going back to this painful memory, a full five years later, when it was announced for RAW last night.
And then... I was pleasantly surprised. This didn't feel forced and unfunny, as the original segment had. It didn't feel TOO overly scripted, (even though there's no way this was ad libbed) and Mick and the Rock really seemed like two old friends having a good time. This shouldn't have been the main event, but it was fun nonetheless and was probably the only partially successful segment on the show. My major complaint is how much Rocky was cheesing it up out there. I don't understand... he was stale as hell in this exact same character a year ago, to the point that the fans were DEMANDING he turn heel, the bookers finally turned him, he reinvented himself and started drawing cheers again... and then they brought him back as the annoying, pandering dipshit? It's a good thing he won't be around long, because this adoration wouldn't last if he were back full time. It's good to have him back, but I already miss the heelish Rock.
The Evolution beatdown that closed the show didn't make much sense either. They've built this whole feud around Foley overcoming the odds to finally beat the young upstart, when it really should've been the other way around. Mick doesn't need the win at WrestleMania, Orton does. However, if Orton takes it now, the victory won't be as important, because he's killed the whole element of suspense by completely owning the former World Champ at almost every single opportunity. Foley looks like a guy who hasn't wrestled in nearly a decade out there, trying to relive his glory days with a body that just can't do it. Orton doesn't benefit by beating down an old man, WrestleMania or not.
Six days to the big show and the bookers continue to shuffle their feet, minimalizing their risks and playing their waiting games. I realize there's something to be said for caution, and if there were ever a time to be careful with their big names and storylines it'd be the week before WrestleMania, but that doesn't necessarily have to go hand in hand with a slow, uninspiring, altogether boring show. There are ways to keep guys visible without endangering their availability for the big show Sunday night, but this was not one of them. This week should have been one of the most exciting shows of the year, with personality conflicts building to the breaking point, physical altercations spilling into the locker rooms and last words being shared by all. It should've given me an itch to run out and watch my entire back catalog of past WrestleManias, not to call it an early night.
Despite an unexpectedly fun performance from the Rock and Mick Foley, this was an extremely dull show. I'm still thrilled to be seeing WrestleMania this Sunday night, so it didn't completely kill my interest in the big show, but it certainly did a marvelous job at flattening its own momentum. It's already hard to imagine RAW ever being as good as it was just one month ago.
Score: 2.6 / 10