The Oratory RAW Review Crew: 12/15/03
Well, you're coming off a PPV that was panned even before it hit the airwaves, three or four universally-praised episodes of RAW and an almost clean sweep of the brand's title scene. You're riding high on the temporary momentum of two unexpected, major, major high profile returns in Mick Foley and the Rock. And you've got an off-week next Monday, effectively making this week's episode the closest thing to a season-ender as WWE is likely to get. If you're involved with the creation of WWE's RAW, you have a helluva lot of different directions, spins and motivations coming into this week's show. So how did they react...? Well, let's take a gander;
We kicked the show off with Evolution, gloating about their three title victories last night at Armageddon and looking every bit like the most dominating force in the sport. Like I said in my preview for Sunday's PPV, I have no beef with Evolution... in fact, I constantly enjoy them. Batista is being used well as an unimaginably powerful monster who isn't afraid to talk. Randy Orton is on the verge of coming completely into his own and "casting his own shadow," to steal a phrase. Ric Flair is getting another opportunity to make that big farewell tour, as a heel, in a position where he can simultaneously cover for his missteps in the ring (which are becoming more and more frequent) and lend some of his legendary heat to a couple new guys who could really use it right now. And, finally, Triple H is back in the kind of leadership role that helped get him to the main event in the first place. I'm not happy to see the belt back around his waist, not by a damned long shot, but if there were any predicament that I could've accepted with that end result, this is it. I love good, tough heel stables, and even though I'm tired of seeing their leader in the main event, that's precisely what Evolution is right now. Like it or not, this is something I've been wishing we had more of.
I'm not sure where they're going with Chris Jericho right now, which is why I'm so interested in his current storyline. I live to be surprised, and thus far I haven't been able to predict a thing in the ongoing Jericho / Trish / Christian / Lita affair. Y2J is owning the show with his subtle expressions and body language, telling more of a story with a dirty look than we'd ever get out of him in a ten minute promo. He's retaining most of the elements that make him such a compelling heel, yet he's slowly gaining more and more fan support for doing so. Here's hoping the whole storyline doesn't end with him wildly changing gears into a crowd-pandering face character, which is unfortunately something these writers have grown notorious for doing in the past.
The Henry / Hardy vs. Maven / Booker tag match was an odd little number, really not something I'm used to seeing on free TV. Rather than going balls out and hitting spot after spot after spot in a windless, action-packed fluff match with all flash and no substance, these guys actually slowed things down a little bit and let their skills as wrestlers tell the story. Unfortunately, there are better people to have attempted this with than Mark Henry, Maven and Booker T, but I like the idea of it and I was caught completely off-guard by it here. Give me Lance Storm vs. Chris Benoit in one of these matches somewhere down the line and I'll be forever your bitch, WWE. Anyway, there were a few shining moments despite the sluggish pace and I'm interested in seeing Booker and Matt Hardy in the ring together again in the near future. Not horrible, but not particularly entertaining either.
I can't say I understand the logic, on-screen or off, to suspending Goldberg for thirty days. Bischoff himself has even said he'd be a fool not to realize the marketing potential of a guy like Goldberg, (Remember? Back when Bill was about to wrestle a "Lose and I Quit" match? Bisch said something along the lines of "I'm gonna make some money off of him while he's still here") so why take him off the show if you're attempting to succeed as GM? If he'd simply explained it away as a precaution to keep his other talent healthy, since Big Bill DID just wipe out a single tag team in one fell swoop, that'd make sense. Instead, we get some crap about Eric punishing the former champion "for being patriotic" or something equally as lame. I couldn't care less about France, and I think that's an opinion held by the vast majority of my fellow Americans... so why would seeing Goldberg trample their flag make me want to rush out and buy a pile of wrestling tickets?
Shawn Michaels was spot-on last night, single handedly raising the show a couple notches through his brief promo with Mick Foley and his participation in an unexpectedly good tag match against Evolution. I can't say why, but I've just been left a little bored by HBK in recent weeks... maybe it's got something to do with his character being stuck in 1996 and the magic of his return finally wearing off. Or maybe it's the guys he's been fighting for the last year. Regardless, he snapped me out of that mindset last night. I'm interested in seeing him wrestle a World Title match in two weeks, but if he does win that belt he's GOT to do something to freshen himself up again. RAW needs the kind of self-centered fire Shawn used to carry with him, despite the upward curve of the last few weeks' worth of programming.
Call me what you like, but I'm going to come right out and say it: Rico's probably the freshest character on all of RAW right now, and he's got a lot of potential now that the ball's started to roll. The whole pseudo-gay thing he's doing is a lot more believable than anybody's willing to admit, and his offense is overly original and more than a little convincing. Everybody knows a guy who's wormed his way out of a fight by preying on his opponent's homophobia, whether it's merely licking somebody's arm to get them to loosen up or release a choke or straight-up straddling them and acting like it's enjoyable to chase them off for good. It's a characteristic weakness of most athletic guys, especially if it's done in front of a large crowd of people. Rico even takes it a step further by leading right into his offense, catching his opponents off-guard and then kicking them in the face before they've even had a chance to wrap their heads around what's going on. If the bookers know where to go from here, this thing could really take off.
I didn't see the Jericho / Kane match as a burial, as I saw several people calling it in the Forums. Instead, it looked like a guy who's down on his luck, wrestling his second match of the evening against a guy twice his size, pissed off about losing a title shot and looking for someone to maim. And even working against those odds, Jericho got a bit of offense in before defending himself with a chair and causing a disqualification. It's easy to get so caught up in the whole internet love affair of "where's this going, why did so-and-so have to lose that match, what good does it do for the company to do that, why isn't so-and-so champion by now," that you overlook the obvious simplicity of it all. Sometimes guys' gameplans don't work, and as a result they lose the contest. Simply enough, the breaks didn't fall Jericho's way and he lost the match. It's extremely easy to overanalyze stuff like this, but I really don't think he's any further down the ladder now than he was before the match. I still can't wait to see how this thing with Christian turns out.
And, finally, we had the main event which seems to be the real deciding factor over whether you loved this show or despised it. Personally, I thought it was one of the best cliffhangers I'd ever seen... after all, this is the season-ender, isn't it? I can't wait to see what motivated Mick to suddenly lose his nerve and quietly back away from the ring like a puppy who just witnessed its first lightning bolt. It's indescribably better than seeing yet another "face gets screwed as nameless heel returns to RAW and costs him the match" scenario, or another helping of "face overcomes the odds, returns to glory and ousts the evil emperor." This is a story with depth, it's a guy who's on top of the world until he realizes he's lost what got him there in the first place. I'm thrilled to see where they go with this, and honestly can't wait the two weeks until we'll find out. A profound thumbs up from yours truly, and let all the nay-sayers be damned. I want to see more storylines that leave me unsure of what's to come, hungry for more, like the ending of this episode did.
A couple of great storylines going into uncharted territory, one lengthy tag match that was much better than I'd anticipated, a couple segments' worth of filler and a few sparks that could just as soon go nowhere as lead to the next big feud. An above average show that left us with a visual that will more than keep us chomping at the bit for RAW's return to the air two weeks from now.
Score: 7.35 / 10