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The Crippler, Chris Benoit

The Heart Break Kid, Shawn Michaels

Gail Kim

Slobberknockers abound
The Oratory RAW Review Crew: 05/03/04

And here I was, thinking this week's show was the PPV-calibur free-TV counterpart to Judgment Day. With Benoit / Michaels announced a couple of weeks prior and a number of invigorating storylines beginning to sprout up for several fresh faces, all of whom were floudering on Smackdown just a month or two ago, RAW seemed like a good idea even before the show went on the air. In the midst of perhaps its best string of shows in years, the Monday night chapter of World Wrestling Entertainment's story almost certainly had its work cut out for it this time. Not only did they need to maintain the speed they'd built over the last month, but they also needed to deliver on the hype for the main event without leaving their fans feeling ripped off. They needed to take their developing stories in new and interesting directions, when in the all-too-recent past their weakness had been doing just that. They needed to keep Evolution in the spotlight in the wake of a series of high profile losses. And they needed to do it in two hours of airtime.

I have no complaints whatsoever about the way they chose to kick the show off. Though the team opposing Evolution seemed bizarre, mismatched and overwhelmingly outclassed at first glance, they actually managed to not only hold their own, but to gel as a tandem and put on a tremendous opener. Every one of these guys are interesting, new to the scene and being treated exactly as they need to be... and I'm not just limiting that scope to the faces in this instance, either. Helmsley, Orton and Batista are each taking enormous steps with each passing week, both as individuals and as a team. I can honestly say that Evolution is at this point the strongest, most intelligently-booked heel stable in the history of RAW. Yeah, I'd go that far. Between Orton's metamorphosis, Triple H's rediscovery of the elements that made him so entertaining in 2000, Ric Flair's undying charisma and Batista's slow, steady improvement (and hey, EVERY team needs a guy to take the pinfalls on a regular basis), I can't think of anyone that's done it better.

Naturally, that's due in no small part to the kind of talent they've been facing over the last six months or so. From Shawn Michaels to Mick Foley to Chris Benoit, all the way down to rising stars like Shelton Benjamin, Edge and Tajiri last night, they've been opposed by a group of guys who have made them look exactly like the kind of well-oiled machine they really should be. Likewise, Hunter, Randy, Ric and Dave have done the same for their opponents, as there's no question in my mind that Benjamin, Tajiri and perhaps even Benoit wouldn't have even a fraction of the momentum they do right now if it weren't for the efforts of Evolution.

In case my shilling for the show's top heel stable has clouded my message, I'll spell it out for you: I was madly into this opening match. Everything from Tajiri's brutally precise kicks (and Randy Orton's subsequently beautiful selling of their effects) to Batista's horrific counter to the Japanese Buzzsaw's ricochet handspring elbow to Edge's visible disdain for the whole of Evolution... it was all handled beautifully. The match was given more than enough time to do its job, the workers were treated with an enormous amount of respect and credibility, and the finish was about as well-booked as you're ever going to see. The real star of the show here was Tajiri, but everybody involved with this match came out ahead because of their involvement and I can't wait to see the singles matches it's spawned on next week's show.

It was like a light switch flipped on in Eric Bischoff's brain when he was told Vince McMahon was in the arena last night. Just beforehand, he was losing control of his show with Evolution breathing down his neck, but just a few whispered words later and it was like a transformation had taken place. Gone was the subservient, uncertain Eric and in his place was the cocky, full-of-answers Bischoff that needs to be around a hell of a lot more. He dispensed with the show's top heels, simultaneously achieving both his and their goals (but not without creating a bit of an enemy out of Randy Orton) and strode out of the office as though he owned the place. Which, for storyline purposes, should ALWAYS be his outlook on the show. I want to see an asshole Bischoff that knows he's always got the upper hand, whether the faces are the ones whining to him about their problems or the heels.

Conway vs. Hurricane and Kane vs. Stevie were, basically, the same match with a slightly different length. I can understand the need to feed less credible guys to their peers for the sake of building a roster of believable heels, but I'm not sure if this is the way to handle it. Of course, putting Conway and Kane over a pair of no-names on Sunday Night HeAt wouldn't exactly have the same effect, but I still shudder at the thought of two guys as talented as Richards and Helms being nothing more than cannon fodder. I guess what I'm saying is... I don't like the fact that somebody's gotta be a jobber, but I don't exactly have the solution to that predicament. Well, aside from maybe swapping Richards or the Hurricane with A-Train or Bradshaw.

Like the rest of the guys in the forums, apparently, I was too distracted with the possibility that Chris Jericho had given away the outcome of the main event to really pay attention to his promo the first time around. When I went back and took it in again, though, barring the one obvious stutter, this was yet another quality performance by the first Undisputed World Champ. I'd love to see Chris Jericho in the title hunt again, and I'm honestly surprised it's taken him this long to get there. His work has been almost universally praised as the saving grace of RAW, both today and over a year ago, when the show was in dire need of somebody new at the top of the card. His work in the ring has really been stepped up over the last twelve months, working to shed the image he'd created in the past of hitting a homerun in a feud's initial stages but bunting in a panic when it came time for the big payoff. To tell the truth, he should've been called back to the main event when Triple H was having trouble finding a new opponent, but I'll take a feud with Chris Benoit for the title as a suitable replacement.

Can't say I felt compelled to see Matt Hardy throw down with Kane after their brief, indirect head-to-head during that past segment. Matt's dull as a face and Lita's acting skills rival Trish's in their ability to completely suck ass. I don't buy Kane as the big, intimidating rapist here. Where's this going to get any of them?

By this point, I think I've harped long enough about the collapse of the women's division, Victoria's abrupt (not to mention unnecessary) change of character and the all around sports entertainment-ization of the scene. You know I don't like the turn things have taken if you've read an edition of the RRC in the last four months, so how about I let you know if they start doing things I like again? Nothing noteworthy with this week's non-title match, aside from that startlingly well-executed head scissors / arm bar. Gail and Victoria did NOT match up well together.

I seem to be in the minority here, but I didn't think the Eugene training segment was so out and out hysterical. I'll admit it, I laughed at bits and pieces; the HHH water bottle and Dr. Tom's sudden waves of emotion, to be precise, but a lot of this was too over the top for my taste. "Eye of the Tiger"? Come on. It also mildly bothered me that they pulled out Eugene's ring aptitude in a taped segment, rather than holding off on it for one more week. In an ideal world, they'd have merely alluded to Regal's training session this week, only to have Regal singing his praises (and selling his injuries) next week. Conway would naturally think Regal was trying to look out for the kid and wouldn't buy his claims, which would pay off with the match later in the night. But I guess I'm not the booker, and this is one instance where my opinion isn't the popular one.

And then Benoit and Michaels went out there and tore the fucking house down. As if I should've expected any less. I think the thing I've loved most about the two times we've seen these guys alone in the ring together is the little things they throw in to make the whole package that much more dramatic and believable. Stuff like Michaels working his way out of the crossface on two separate occasions before the champ could really lock it in, or Benoit attempting to run directly through the turnbuckle on a basic irish whip. HBK told a similar story the last time they met, when he refused to let the Crippler hit his rolling Germans and hung onto the ropes for his life. These guys are so good at what they do right now because they're more concerned with making the storyline and their opponent look good than they are with making themselves look dominant.

Despite the dual commercial breaks, this was everything they promoted it to be, and (surprise!) I have very little problem with the way they finished it off. It doesn't make Benoit look weak or inept, because he had the match in hand under similar circumstances the last time they met in a one on one situation, and he had enough time after that superkick to have potentially kicked out when the ref came to and made a count. It doesn't resolve the conflict between these two, but you shouldn't have been expecting that anyway. This leads naturally to the big blowoff between Triple H and Shawn Michaels, while cutting Benoit loose to defend his title against another opponent, which is ultimately the best possible situation right now. I could've lived without the ref bump and the Triple H interference, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the match nearly as much as it seems to have done for some others. This was the best TV match we've seen in ages.

All in all, this was a fantastic episode with some very minor lag in the middle. An absolutely terrific opener that made some new stars shine a little brighter, a great Jericho promo, an outstanding card already laid out for next week and yet another main event for the ages. I hope RAW's hot streak never ends.

Score: 8.7 / 10


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