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The Crippler, Chris Benoit

Y2J: Chris Jericho

Matt 'Version 1.0' Hardy

Slobberknockers abound
The Oratory RAW Review Crew: 04/19/04

If you read my portion of this week's Backlash Preview, you'll know that, while I was relatively happy with what RAW had pieced together for the April PPV, I was honestly worried about the direction they'd be taking for the rest of the season and the amount of time it would take them to determine said direction. RAW has been a show with, honestly, quite a few very good ideas and storylines over the last six months, but its pacing has been a constant stumbling block along the way. The program (and the federation as a whole, really) absolutely cleaned up with the feuds, matches and payoffs of the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, but once it had hurriedly established its half of the WMXX card with well over a month to spare, there was a sense that we were just treading water until the big event actually got here. If you look back at the RRC's grades, you'll see a correlation there, too, as the numbers spiked just after the Rumble, when the Mania bookings were still coming together, and then slowly dove as the event grew nearer and nearer.

So, when I saw a good number of WrestleMania rematches at this past Sunday's Backlash PPV, I worried that things hadn't been planned very far in advance. I had just cause... it's something the federation has done countless times in the past after a big card. There was only one way to be sure, though. If the writers really did have nothing in the tank for near future, they'd coast through this week's RAW, lightly touch on a couple of lingering rivalries from 'Mania and just take it easy, since there's no PPV to worry about this month. If they had done their homework, this week's show would be a launch pad.

The night started off on the right foot, not with a promo, a mysterious limousine or an update on Eugene's current whereabouts, but with a followup on one of the better matches at WrestleMania XX and a chance to wrap up one of RAW's longest running storylines. Chris Jericho and Christian have had better matches than the one they pounded out last night, in my humble opinion. That's not poo-pooing last night's effort, per se, but I thought both guys looked a little off at the outset. The spots with Trish just felt forced and unecessary to me, especially the "bend her over your knee and spank her" bit. Doing it once is cute. Doing it the very next night is a bit much. To their credit, the match picked up after the commercial and built to a nice crescendo before the newest in a series of awkward big men fumbled his debut on WWE airwaves. Incidentally, I really do like that running enziguri Jericho's been doing. But, while they gave the match plenty of time, it seemed anti-climactic to finish it off with a run-in from out of nowhere. I honestly thought Nathan Jones had returned when the new guy showed up, judging from the combination of his ugly balance, his choice of offense and his ineptitude at delivering said offense. Y2J and Christian deserved a better blowoff than that, if they plan to move forward with this new guy, Tomko, in Christian's place.

Chris Benoit punched out a wicked promo in his first appearance last night, which honstly surprised me. Over the last couple of months, the Crippler has become much more confident in himself, both physically and verbally, and is becoming a much more credible champion as a result. There should be no question in anyone's mind, his ringwork has always been there, but his charisma and comfort level with the mic have been well below average for years. Now that he's been given the chance to run with the ball, he's developing in those areas a lot faster than I'd imagined he might. When you're afraid of the microphone, it comes through in your body language. Benoit was not comfortable on the stick, all the way up to the main event at WrestleMania. Since then, though, he's taken a more relaxed approach to that aspect of the business and has stepped it up big time. Case in point: rather than ignoring the fans' chants and barreling on through his promo, as he would've done just a couple of months ago, Benoit stopped speaking to acknowledge the audience when they had something to say. The end result was head and shoulders above anything he could've said on his own.

I was glad to see them finally take a step forward with Molly's character last night. It's been over a month since her hair hit the entryway in MSG, and we've all seen her without the wig on more than one occasion since then. As of last night, the constant removal of her wigs have gone from being a source of embarrassment to a source of frustration for the former champ. These are exactly the kind of heels I love to watch; Molly's completely justified in her anger, but takes it just a little bit too far in her hunt for payback. Now if only they'd let Victoria drop that shallow, smiley, goofy facade and go back to doing what she's best at.

Randy Orton really did turn the corner Sunday night. There was something in the way he strode to the ring last night that confirmed it, something that had been missing from his character just last week. His attitude has gone from uncertain cockiness to unshaken confidence. For the first time since he came to RAW, I can say without question that he held my attention throughout his promo. He had a good subject to dig his teeth into, and he tore a big chunk out of it all on his own. I'm intrigued, I want to see where they can take him from here and how he'll react to the next challenge they throw at him, whether it turns out to be Edge or Shelton Benjamin.

I really haven't been impressed by Garrison Cade, and considering the amount of chances he's had to do so, I don't know that he's on the brink of revealing anything big. I'd been hoping they'd transfer Coach over to a more substantial managing role since he turned heel, but Cade's probably the last person on the roster I'd want them to pair him off with. Still, I guess a little progress is better than none at all. Cade really is worthless, though.

I wasn't expecting the Matt Hardy face turn, so thumbs up on that. Lita doesn't have much of an upside as more than a valet any more, so moving her back over to Matt's side is probably the best thing they could do with her at this point. At the very least, it'll give the writers an excuse to use him again... even if it is as a punching bag. Meanwhile, Kane's character is still swirling around the toilet bowl.

Finally, the main event... which was, yet again, undeniably sweet. I'm in heaven with the kind of main events they've been pouring out for us over the last month or two... between Benoit's title reign, Benjamin's elevation and Hunter's rediscovered willingness to work a long, exciting, competitive match. I'm not sure why they passed on the HBK heel turn here, instead opting to fight the crowd yet again in an attempt to move past the '97 Survivor Series. While I'll usually agree with the sentiment of moving on from something that went down nearly seven years ago, the legitimate hatred that Canadian fans still have for Michaels (and Hebner) is the kind of stuff McMahon should be willing to KILL for. Why they're trying to shift gears when the heel of the century is stagnating as a dull, boring face at the top of the card is beyond me. So they fought against the tide again this week, trying to get HBK over as somebody that Benoit likes and respects (despite the fact they'll be facing off for the World Title in two weeks). Weird. Just weird.

But anyhow, like I said, this was the next in a string of superb main events, and it left me with a nice taste in my mouth, for a change. I'm interested in seeing where they go from here, with Benoit, Edge, HBK and Benjamin all riding their own individual little hot streaks.

I'll take my hat off to the writers this week. They had a big task to tackle and met it head-on. The new storylines are here, they're refreshing, they involve some new faces and they're all off on the right foot. A big step above average, despite a few minimal rough spots. I'll watch this kind of a program every week without complaint.

Score: 7.3 / 10


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