Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 01/28/08 from Philadelphia, PA.

The Big News: Randy Orton vs. John Cena is coming early. Too early.

Show Analysis:

John Cena came out to start the show. He got roundly booed again. I’ve seen wrestling fans turn on a lot of people over the years, but never has that sentiment seemed dumber, less deserved and more pathetic than with Cena. He said that the doctors told him he would be out for 12 months and that he would have to watch WrestleMania at home. With a new champion and contenders, Cena made a gamble and risked his career for a chance to go back to WrestleMania. He challenged Randy Orton for Raw.

Orton came out, and said that everyone challenges him, and everyone loses. Cena said that Orton is smart, and that he’ll take the match on Raw because Cena isn’t 100 percent yet. Orton said that he has become a bigger deal than Cena ever was. He said that he won’t defend his title unless people are paying to see it. That’s a good thing to say. Orton suggested they wrestle at No Way Out, and Cena agreed. Cena then said he would get some on Raw.

Beth Phoenix and Jillian Hall beat Ashley and Mickie James. Beth mocked Mickie for crying. Mickie came at Beth with punches. Beth gained control, hit a side slam and fisherwoman buster, and pinned Mickie again. Ashley never tagged in, thankfully.

William Regal came out to announce that there will be an Elimination Chamber at No Way Out with the winner getting a title shot at Mania. Regal stumbled over his words and went blblblblbl with his lips, which was great. The wrestlers in the Chamber will be Umanga, Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy, Triple Haich, Chris Jericho and JBL.

Carlito beat Cody Rhodes in a bad match. They managed to blow an arm drag, which is quite the feat. Cody went after Carlito’s arm. Santino distracted Cody, and Carlito hit the back stabber for the pin.

HHH and Shawn Michaels beat Umaga and Snitsky. Triple H took a shot at Michael Buffer for stealing “his” material before the match, which was funny. Shawn hit chops and a flying forearm on Snitsky, but was knocked off the top rope by Umaga. The heels worked over Shawn. It was the first match in a while where both members of a tag team used a lengthy bear hug. Umaga missed his running butt drop, Michaels hit a tornado DDT, and made the tag. HHH came in with a high knee and face buster for Snitsky. Michaels hit sweet chin music and a somersault plancha on Umaga. HHH then gave Snitsky the spine buster and pedigree for the pin. This was a good match for the audience.

Randy Orton and JBL had harsh words backstage about WrestleMania, but agreed to team up. Elsewhere, Jeff Hardy said that he is at a crossroads. He noted that he needs to win the Chamber and go to WrestleMania. He asserted that last night was just the beginning, not the end, for Jeff. We’ll see about that. Vince McMahon was angry at Hornswoggle for not winning the Rumble. Vince said he’s ashamed of Hornswoggle and ordered him away.

Mr. Kennedy beat Brian Kendrick. Kennedy jumped Kendrick coming into the ring. Kendrick came back with an enzuigiri, but Kennedy hit him with the mic check for the pin. This was an effective squash. Afterwards, Kennedy said he wants to end Ric Flair’s career. Backstage, Chris Jericho said a new Jericho emerged when he choked JBL and he likes that Jericho.

Maria beat Melina, in one of the rare editions of Raw with two women’s matches. Maria used a bronco buster, spinning head scissors, and gut buster. Melina tried to roll up Maria. Maria grabbed the ropes, so Melina pulled down her pants. Maria dropped down for the pin. Santino after the match was angry that the audience got a shot of Maria’s bikini bottom. Maria’s hair and makeup reminded me way too much of Christy Hemme this week. That’s a very bad thing.

JBL and Randy Orton beat Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy. Jeff hit the swanton early on Orton, but JBL pulled Orton out of the ring. The heels worked over Jeff. He tagged Jericho, who went after JBL. He hit a springboard drop kick to take out Orton, and hit the lionsault on JBL. Jericho applied the Walls on JBL, but Orton hit an RKO on Jericho. JBL covered for the pin. John Cena came out after the match. JBL left Orton on his own, and Cena gave Orton the FU.

Final Thoughts:

We still won’t have a perfect idea of WWE’s WrestleMania plans for a few weeks, but I’m not a fan of what is shaping up. Randy Orton vs. John Cena should have been the big match. It has the perfect story of the champion who never lost his belt coming back to defeat the man who has dominated in his absence.

That should be a big match, both on pay-per-view and in terms of making the title really mean something. It’s easily the best candidate for WrestleMania main event. Only, that’s not the main event now. Instead, we’ll likely get HHH vs. Cena, HHH vs. Orton or HHH vs. Cena vs. Orton. None of those has the same dynamic as Orton vs. Cena with the proper buildup.

You could theoretically justify this by saying you can pop two buy rates rather than one. However, there are two problems with that. One is that the Elimination Chamber is likely to boost No Way Out above the normal B numbers as much as is possible. Two is that they don’t have enough time to properly build this match for No Way Out.

Wrestling is fundamentally about making fans want something badly, teasing it for a long while, and finally delivering. Orton vs. Cena should be a big payoff. But the problem is over the past few months, they haven’t been planting the seeds for it. They haven’t been talking about how Orton never beat Cena for his title, or about how Cena is training to recapture his title from Orton.

Instead, Cena returned and the next night he’s already wrestling the champion on the next pay-per-view. Orton vs. Cena, which should have felt like a major culmination, instead feels just like any other pay-per-view main event. It’s almost an anticlimax with WrestleMania coming up the next month. It’s like they’re undermining that program out of fear of how well it could do, when a properly paced Orton vs. Cena program over the next three months would make HHH vs. Cena for the title all the bigger in the summer.

With Orton involved, this makes me flash back to Orton/HHH in 2004. That should have been a big WrestleMania program, but they rushed it. The result was the match which should have been huge meant very little, and it took Orton years to recover from that. Pacing is of paramount importance in pro wrestling, and this whole thing feels way off. It’s like they’re booking just to keep fans on their toes, when a slow, predictable build would be so much more profitable.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 01/21/08 from Hampton, VA.

The Big News: Royal Rumble is Sunday.

Show Analysis:

Shawn Michaels opened Raw’s HD era with a victory over Mr. Kennedy. This was a really fun match. The first half in particular was as good as any first half of a match on Raw in ages. Kennedy worked over Michaels, who came back with a swinging neck breaker, flying forearm and elbow off the top. Michaels was setting up for sweet chin music, but Kennedy left the ring. Michaels followed him with a somersault plancha, but during a break Kennedy used a slingshot to send Michaels into the post.

Coming back, Kennedy stomped a mud hole in Michaels, and followed that with an ole kick. Michaels did the Ray Stevens bump but came back in with a head over heels clothesline. Kennedy went for the mic check, but Michaels escaped. Michaels came off the top with an elbow, but Kennedy got up his knee. Both men sold this huge. Kennedy then hit the Lambeau leap for a two count. Michaels went for sweet chin music. Kennedy ducked, so Michaels went for the inverted figure four. Kennedy escaped that, but Michaels hit sweet chin music for the pin.

Randy Orton backstage spoke with Vince McMahon. It kind of undermined last week’s angle that Orton was basically fine. Vince directed Orton to shake Jeff Hardy’s hand, but Orton didn’t want to. Vince said the handshake would make Orton look like a gentleman. Why would Vince care about that? Vince then said he didn’t care if Orton didn’t mean it. So why did he ask for this in the first place? Vince then said the handshake would let Jeff know he can’t beat Orton. Okay. This all felt very contrived.

Beth Phoenix beat Mickie James. Beth dominated the match again. Mickie hit a huracanrana and went for an implant DDT, but Beth blocked it. She then hit her finisher for the clean pin, which was most definitely more of a muscle buster than fisherwoman buster this week. Not that this is some huge distinction. Mickie cried after losing. I really, really like a wrestling match where one competitor definitively proves to be the best and the other is sad to discover this is the case. It’s kind of doubtful they came up with this scenario watching B.J. Penn vs. Joe Stevenson, but that’s what it reminded me of.

HHH backstage said he didn’t know who his opponent would be. He made a joke about Vince trying to cover up his defects since they are now in HD. HHH said the winner of the Rumble usually wins at WrestleMania. Thus, he said, it wouldn’t matter who he fought on Raw since he would be winning the Rumble. He guaranteed victory. Elsewhere, Cody Rhodes, Brian Kendrick and Hardcore Holly had a little comedic discussion. Basically, they all love the idea of competing in the Rumble and Holly is a grouch.

Hornswoggle and Finlay beat the Highlanders in a squash. Remember when they tried to push the Highlanders as tag title contenders? Basically, Finlay beat the crap out of them and Hornswoggle got in his spots. Finlay hit the Celtic Cross and Hornswoggle the frog splash for the pin.

Chris Jericho came out for a promo that started out way too melodramatic but ended up building into a good one. Jericho said that he was watching last week’s edition of Raw with his son, and his son wanted to know if he was a coward. Jericho was angry that JBL shook his son’s confidence in him. Jericho said that JBL made a mistake by attacking him and not finishing the job. He put over Madison Square Garden and said that Sunday it will be a fight.

Vince spoke with Jeff Hardy backstage. Vince told Jeff never to risk his life or Orton’s again like he did last week. He said that the Hardy/Orton handshake will be like touching gloves before a fight. Jeff said he would go out there and give people something to talk about. He then sat back in his seat and made faces at the camera for 10 seconds. Seriously. Again, the handshake deal felt totally contrived, and holding that camera angle for so long presented the sort of comic absurdity you just don’t want in a main event program.

Umaga beat Brian Kendrick in a match where Kendrick could have qualified for the Rumble. Kendrick hit a missile drop kick, spinning heel kick and enzuigiri, but couldn’t knock Umaga off his feet. Umaga then finished him with a press slam into a Samoan drop and the Samoan spike.

Backstage, Mickie was crying. Maria wanted to know what was wrong. Mickie said that she gives it everything she can, but she just can’t beat Beth. Ashley arrived, and Mickie left like any reasonable person would. Ashley said she was at the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Heffner had an idea for Maria. This was the first tease for MARIA IN PLAYBOY~!~!~!~!~!~!~!~! I predict that issue will sell 14 billion copies. Anyway, Santino interrupted before the conversation could progress.

Carlito beat Hardcore Holly. Holly hit a suplex, back drop and low blow. He was going for the Alabama slam, but Santino got up on the apron. Carlito used the distraction to hit the back cracker for the pin. This might be the tease of dissension between Holly and Cody Rhodes given Cody was at ringside and couldn’t prevent this. Throughout the show they aired excellent video packages for Orton vs. Hardy.

HHH won an over the top gauntlet match to qualify for the Royal Rumble. Boy, did this make Vince’s grand scheme last week make absolutely no sense. He acted like he had some diabolical plan, and instead it was an over the top rope qualifier. The booking of Triple H over the past month has made absolutely no sense. Anyway, Triple threw Snitsky, Mark Henry and William Regal over the top rope and that was that.

The final segment was built around the handshake. Orton said that Hardy won’t win his title, but he has won his respect. Hardy said he doesn’t care about that. He didn’t hit the swanton to impress Orton but rather to hurt him. He added that he did it for his brother and to show he’ll do whatever it takes to become champion. Hardy said that if he is going to shake hands with people he respects, there are a lot of people he respects more than Orton. He shook hands with the announcers, Lillian and a bunch of fans. He then went back in the ring and gave Orton the twist of fate to end the show.

Final Thoughts:

This show was about building the Royal Rumble, and they did a good job.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

X-Box 360 Sucks

I received a 360 for Christmas. Have been pretty busy so didn't get a chance to start playing it until this week. The 360 stopped working on my THIRD USE. Yes, that's right. Loaded it up once and played one game to try it out. Loaded it up twice the next day and played another game to try it out. Loaded it up a third time a few days later, game freezes, and now it freezes every time I try to start up the console. I've never seen anything like this. My PS2 had problems about 3 years after I bought it - this 360 made it 3 uses. Just unbelievable.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 01/14/08 from Mobile, AL.

The Big News: Jeff Hardy took to the sky again, with an even more spectacular stunt than last week.

Show Analysis:

Jeff Hardy came out to a huge reaction. Jeff challenged Orton to come out. Orton said he would wrestle Jeff on Raw, provided Jeff put up his Intercontinental Title. Jeff agreed, and throughout the show they played up that Orton could be the third man to hold both the titles at once. Jeff said he would take the title at the Rumble and take out Orton on Raw. Well, that doesn’t make much sense.

Beth Phoenix, Melina and Jillian Hall beat Maria, Ashley and Mickie James. The heels worked over Maria, who tagged Mickie. Mickie cleaned house, and hit a Thesz press off the top on Beth. She followed with an enzuigiri. However, Beth caught Mickie with a botched stun gun and finished her with the fisherwoman buster. They have pushed Beth so strong that at this point it’s hard for any of the other women to be perceived as a threat. I say turn Victoria face. She’s one of the few women on the roster with the physical credibility to hang with Beth and a strong performer to boot.

William Regal told Vince McMahon that he would end Ric Flair’s career. They bashed the city of Mobile. Snitsky came in and told Vince that he wants to make an impact. Vince made Snitsky vs. HHH.

Shawn Michaels beat Trevor Murdoch to qualify for the Royal Rumble. Prior to the match, Michaels complained about having to qualify because he has won the Rumble twice. He said that it was unfair. Whoever scripted that should be fired, and maybe shot. In this week’s Restating the Obvious department: Main event faces don’t whine about having to earn something.

Michaels suggested his qualifier be against Kennedy Kennedy. Instead, Murdoch came out. Murdoch hit an inverted atomic drop and yakuza kick. Michaels came back with chops, a Thesz press, a flying forearm, an inverted atomic drop, a body slam and an elbow off the top. Michaels was setting up for sweet chin music. Murdoch fell down in anticipation, and Michaels fell down into an inverted figure four for the submission.

This was a clever finish, and I’m glad they went with a new submission for Michaels’ alternate finisher. With that said, why not just use a heel hook? That’s what you would actually use if you were dropping down and back like Michaels did, and it looks good. Kennedy appeared on the screen, and said that Michaels can’t handle the fact Kennedy beat him. Kennedy said they will wrestle next week, because he needs a warm-up for the Rumble. Michaels then gave Murdoch sweet chin music.

Vince and Hornswoggle spoke backstage. Vince said Hornswoggle has no experience in a Rumble match, so he would be in a mini-Rumble (well, Mini Rumble really) with some surprises. Vince said it isn’t likely that Hornswoggle will win the Rumble, and Hornswoggle agreed. Vince at that point grabbed Hornswoggle by the throat and yelled at him that he’s a McMahon and anything can happen. Someone call child protective services.

Snitsky beat HHH via DQ. Snitsky was on offense early. HHH came back with a DDT, face buster and spine buster. He went for the pedigree but was elevated to the floor. Snitsky rammed HHH into the steps, and tried to crush his skull between the steps. HHH hit Snitsky with a chair for the DQ. He then hit Snitsky with the sledge hammer and used the pedigree.

Vince appeared on the screen below the Titan Tron, and told HHH to calm down. HHH tore the screen with the sledge hammer, and explosions went off in areas he didn’t hit. He threw the sledge hammer into the screen and an explosion went off. This may have sounded like a good idea, but it ended up looking unbelievably lame and fake. Vince confronted HHH backstage, and said that HHH would be back in the Rumble if he wins next week. They didn’t say who HHH would be wrestling.

JBL came out, and once again a bunch of balloons dropped from the ceiling. He said that Chris Jericho wouldn’t be appearing. He then had a message for Jericho’s children. He told them that he’s bigger, badder and better than Jericho, and their daddy is a coward. He implored Jericho to tell his children that JBL is the better man. He said that if Jericho comes to the Rumble, the savior is going to need saving.

As JBL left, he kept raising his hands and massive amounts of fireworks went off. Seriously, with the amount of money they spent on fireworks in this segment they probably could have brought in KISS or Master P. As for JBL’s performance, it was simply phenomenal. JBL carries himself like a major star.

Next up was the Mini Rumble. The visibility was awful for this match, as all the JBL fireworks took their toll. Hornswoggle came out, and was joined by Mini Mr. Kennedy, Mini Mankind, Mini Batista and Mini Kane. Mini Mr. Kennedy couldn’t reach the microphone that dropped down, which was amusing. Mini Mankind was different from the original Antonio Pena version.

Hornswoggle eliminated them all. Great Khali’s music played and Jerry Lawler telegraphed the twist by proclaiming that Mini Great Khali was on the way. Of course, it was the full size Khali. Finlay made the save for Hornswoggle with the shillelagh. Finlay confronted Vince backstage. Vince said that he had nothing to do with Khali coming out there. Finlay grabbed him and called him a liar. Vince told Finlay to never put his hands on Vince again. Vince suggested Finlay take care of Khali on Smackdown.

Ric Flair beat William Regal in a quick match. Flair went after Regal’s leg. He sent it into the post, hit a chop block, and applied the figure four. Regal made it to the ropes. Regal rolled up Flair and grabbed the tights, but the referee caught him. Flair then rolled him Regal and grabbed the tights for three. This Flair storyline is going nowhere. I have no idea how they turn it around at this point.

Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy wasn’t a match so much as an angle. Orton jumped Jeff, and they brawled on the stage. Orton went for his kick to the head, but Jeff back dropped Orton off the stage. Jeff then climbed up scaffolding and hit the swanton from a ridiculous height. This was a really impressive spot, but too dangerous for my tastes, particularly given they did an incredible spot with Jeff just last week. Either way, the angle got over. Both men were carried off on stretchers. Jeff raised his hand as he was carried off, and the crowd chanted “Hardy.”

Final Thoughts:

Jeff’s feud with Randy Orton is starting to remind me of Mick Foley’s feud with the Rock in 1999. That wasn’t planned to be a big program, but rather a feud to last until Austin vs. Rock. However, that was the feud that finally put Foley over the top as a headliner. They have similar momentum with Jeff Hardy, whose push has taken off better than any new main event push in years.

As such, I think you put Jeff over at the Rumble. I know that wasn’t the original plan, and you can have Orton and Jeff trade the title if you really want Orton as champion at WrestleMania. But it would be a real shame to waste this opportunity with Jeff, and having him win the title would send the message to skeptical fans that Jeff should be taken seriously at that level. WWE has struggled to create new stars in recent years, so they need to take advantage of this opportunity.

One final note on Jeff Hardy. The success of this push once again goes to show that fans in 2008 react to talent more than physique. WWE pushed Bobby Lashley twice as hard for about four times as long last year, and it didn’t take at all. Jeff’s push is really working, because he has charisma and is an exciting performer. Vince McMahon still has the size fetish, but WWE would be in better shape if Vince were bringing in the wrestling industry’s best performers (read: the lighter weight stars of ROH and TNA) rather than muscleheads and gimmicks.

Have a good week. Be sure to check out the team UFC 80 preview at CBS Sportsline.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 01/07/08 from Uncasville, CT.

The Big News: Raw opened 2008 with a bizarre show. It featured some very bad segments and some very good segments, in terms of entertainment and in terms of build.

Show Analysis:

This report is dedicated to the man who is smelling fear, smelling blood, and coming to eat you.

Vince McMahon started the show by promising a special and unpredictable Raw Roulette show. William Regal told Vince that he tried to redeem himself for not hitting Hornswoggle by taking Triple H out of the Royal Rumble. Vince was pleased, but suggested Regal go further by injuring HHH as well. He announced HHH vs. Regal, and spun the wheel to make a first blood match. Regal was jumped by HHH as he left Vince’s office.

Shawn Michaels and Mr. Kennedy beat Charlie Haas and Trevor Murdoch. This started with Michaels and Kennedy coming to the ring presumably to wrestle each other. Vince spun the wheel and it landed on strange bedfellows, which meant parejas increibles. I guess in the spirit of a lucha libre gimmick match, Charlie Haas inexplicably put on a mask. It appeared he was parodying Mil Mascaras based on the mask and mannerisms, but I’m not entirely sure. This development went entirely unexplained. I would think Charlie Haas of late has more closely resembled El Hijo del Santo. Get it? Get it? Eh, forget it.

The heels worked over Michaels. Michaels took off Haas’ mask, and that was the end of that. There was a point when Haas came off the top and it appeared Michaels was supposed to get up his boot but didn’t. Haas thus jumped off the top, landed on his feet, and dropped an elbow. I’ve seen that spot done intentionally on independent shows, but always with a heel who is teasing but not delivering a spectacular top rope move.

In any event, Michaels went to tag Kennedy but Kennedy wouldn’t tag. Michaels took matters into his own hands, giving both opponents sweet chin music. Kennedy at that point tagged in, gave Michaels the mic check (clever new name for his reverse STO), and scored the pin. This match was too goofy, to the point it totally distracted from and diminished the Kennedy/Michaels story.

Hardcore Holly beat Carlito with the Alabama slam in a trading places match, which meant that each man had to dress as the other. The announcers tried to sell that Holly wasn’t pleased with the stipulation, but Holly didn’t appear to get the memo. He played up the gimmick, wearing a big fake wig and carrying an apple to the ring. Carlito had a goofy yellow wig. They also wore each other’s ring attire. Hopefully the next trading places match will feature Hardcore Holly against Maria.

This was intended for comedy, but the crowd didn’t react to it at all. It was short, but stupid. Jim Ross got in a spin the wheel make the deal reference, which is where the Raw Roulette concept was lifted from. The stipulation drew a surprisingly strong buy rate the first time it was used by Bill Watts, for a Jake Roberts vs. Sting match.

Vince McMahon and Maria were backstage. She spun the wheel to determine the match the divas would be in. It landed on a submission match, so Vince moved it to lingerie pillow fight. Elsewhere, Jeff Hardy said he spent New Year’s in the hospital with his brother. He said he would take Orton’s title and take Orton out. They kept this short and to the point, which is smart with Jeff. Next, Vince McMahon told Hornswoggle that he could qualify for the Royal Rumble if he won a tag match with a partner of his choosing.

The returning Ashley won a lingerie pillow fight. Ashley got fireworks for her big return, which was greeted with deafening indifference by the crowd and by me. The bigger news was Maria, who looked stupefyingly, mindbogglingly, timestoppingly hot. The other competitors were Melina, Mickie and Jillian Hall, and it basically amounted to a handicap match with the faces having the numbers advantage. The match went on and on and on, with the women doing a bunch of spots on a bed. Maria hit a bronco buster on Jillian. Ashley hit an elbow off the second rope onto Jillian lying on the bed, and scored the pin.

Hornswoggle was looking around for a tag partner. Finlay wasn’t there, so the dim-witted Hornswoggle decided to recruit a tag partner from the ranks of the guys who never win. First he went to Super Crazy, who said that he isn’t that crazy. He then went to Santino, who didn’t want any part of the match and said that he finds short people creepy. Take that, Joe Stevenson! The joke ended up being on Crazy and Santino, given who they would have had to defeat to qualify for the Rumble.

HHH beat William Regal in a first blood match. It was a good brawl. Regal sent HHH into the post, steps and unprotected turnbuckle. HHH retaliated with a face buster and went for the pedigree, but Regal reversed. Regal hit a running knee and brought in the brass knuckles. HHH caught him with a spine buster and punched Regal in the head until he bled. HHH continued to pound the bloody Regal, gave him the pedigree, and celebrated over his corpse.

You’ve got to hand it to HHH. One week after for all intents and purposes beating his childhood idol in his final hometown match, HHH followed it up by destroying his friend and mentor in the first match of their apparent feud when Regal needed all the help he could get to make it work. They could have told a hell of a story with Regal going back to his roots. And HHH would have got over a lot better in the end cleanly pinning this reinvigorated man in the payoff to their feud. Instead, Regal isn’t a real threat to HHH and so the win doesn’t matter.

Chris Jericho beat JBL and Snitsky in a handicap match via DQ. Yes, JBL made his long awaited in-ring return completely unannounced in a gimmick match. Apparently nobody in WWE read the Observer with all the buy rate figures and noted how well SummerSlam did. Oh well, at least they presumably understand the concept of a pay-per-view buy rate unlike some other promotions that shall remain nameless. Don’t worry Calvin Ayre, I’m thinking of someone else.

The match was brief, before JBL hit Jericho with the ring bell and choked him with a cable. JBL dragged Jericho around by the neck and tried to hang Jericho. It was a long and intense angle. Given that I can never recall WWE doing this heavy of a choking gimmick pre-Benoit, and that WWE doesn’t exactly have a sparkling record when it comes to taste, my suspicion is they planned this angle with the specific intent of playing off Benoit. The angle as executed didn’t bother me, but if that was the intent, well, that’s disconcerting.

The worst part about the whole thing is that we have seen the big beat down 8,000 times and it never, ever pops a buy rate any more. Meanwhile, announcing an in-ring return does. So they did a big angle that likely makes them seem like total creeps to many people, and they hurt business in the process.

Mick Foley and Hornswoggle beat the Highlanders. Hornswoggle’s partner at first was B.K. Jordan, who looked kind of like a cross between Christopher Daniels and Keith Lipinski. At that point Foley came out. Foley softened up the Highlanders, and tagged in Hornswoggle to deliver the frog splash for the pin.

Jeff Hardy beat Umaga in a cage match. Umaga worked over Jeff, including applying the dreaded nerve hold. Given the premise of a nerve hold was exposed about 10 years ago, I guess that just means Umaga has a lot of nerve to use such a dull rest hold for three minutes of every match. Umaga back dropped Jeff into the cage, and hit an avalanche that sent Jeff into the cage. Randy Orton at ringside threw a chair into the ring, and Umaga hit Jeff with it.

Jeff kicked out, and came back with a DDT. He went to escape, but Orton slammed the door in his face. Umaga covered, but Jeff again kicked out. Umaga went for the Samoan spike, but Jeff countered with the twist of fate. Jeff weighed his options, and then went to climb the cage. Jeff hit a whisper in the wind off the top of the cage. He covered Umaga for the pin. It was an incredible spot to end a great final segment. Jim Ross and Randy Orton did a tremendous job selling the move. They should play that clip about 15 times between now and the Rumble. If pro wrestling TV were all about the main event like a boxing or MMA PPV, this show would have been a home run.

Final Thoughts:

The first hour was dreadful. The second hour was very entertaining, but did more to hurt the Rumble buy rate than to help it. I suspect people enjoyed this show, but I thought it was a definite step down from recent weeks.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 12/31/07 from Greensboro, NC.

The Big News: Ric Flair’s career will continue, thanks to William Regal of all people. That’s not a face turn, by the way.

Show Analysis:

Randy Orton began the show by talking about how 2007 was his year. Jeff Hardy came out and said that 2008 will belong to Jeff. He added that he has the momentum right now. Orton pointed out that he has cut off the momentum of plenty of people. Orton and Hardy got into each other’s faces, and Jeff hit the twist of fate.

I think this is about the time they should start planting the seeds for John Cena’s return. When Orton talks about how dominant he is, the announcers should occasionally get in a remark about how Orton never beat Cena for the title. A long build is a good thing, and those sorts of subtle remarks will pay dividends later.

They announced that next week from the Mohegan Sun will be Raw Roulette. Used sparingly, I think that’s a good gimmick. Matt and Jeff Hardy met backstage. Matt said he’s proud of Jeff, and that he hopes he will be back for the Royal Rumble. Matt suggested Jeff give him a title shot if Jeff wins. Jeff agreed.

Mr. Kennedy beat Shawn Michaels. Michaels went after Kennedy’s arm, then his knee. Kennedy speared Michaels out of the ring, hit a superplex, and went after the lower back. Michaels came back with a flying forearm, inverted atomic drops, and a body slam. Michaels missed the elbow off the top, and the two men went through a series of pinning attempts. Kennedy set up for the Lambeau Leap, but Michaels fought out. Michaels missed sweet chin music, and Kennedy hit a reverse STO for the clean pin. This was a good match.

HHH backstage said his match with Ric Flair caught him in a dilemma because losing isn’t an option. He said that at least Flair will lose to the best. Vince McMahon approached HHH and was excited about his idea. William Regal told HHH that if he loses, he won’t participate in the Royal Rumble. Vince also told Regal to prove himself in a match against Hornswoggle.

Umaga beat Hacksaw Jim Duggan in a Royal Rumble qualifying match with the Samoan spike. They played up Duggan winning the first Rumble. Again, this is the sort of little angle that would work better with a little bit of build. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Just play Duggan winning the first Rumble and have him talk about wanting to win it again one week, and then have him lose the qualifier the next. That little bit of time where you tease it could happen will make it more meaningful when it doesn’t.

JBL made his return to Raw. This was very effective. Jerry Lawler in particular put this over huge, and they had balloons and fireworks. JBL said that he doesn’t have to be on Raw. JBL noted he is rich, but that he likes power and domination. He said that if he can’t buy it, he will take it. At that point Chris Jericho came in and brawled with JBL.

The real key to this segment was that JBL arrived with a purpose. WWE’s “draft” switches don’t have much of an impact, because the wrestlers are just pawns being randomly shifted around. In contrast, JBL arrived on Raw by his own choice, and with goals in mind. That makes his arrival feel much more important, and will give his character greater momentum.

Beth Phoenix retained the women’s title, winning a triple threat match over Mickie James and Melina. It was sloppy early, but picked up. They did the typical spots with two women working together and then turning on each other. Mickie and Melina threw Beth to the outside together, and knocked her off the apron with a double drop kick. Mickie then hit an implant DDT on Melina and went for the cover. Beth broke up the pin, threw Mickie out of the ring, gave Melina the fisherwoman buster, and scored the pin.

William Regal was set to have a match with Hornswoggle. It reminded me of Hong Man Choi vs. Fedor, but apparently Hornswoggle hasn’t been working on his arm bars. Regal manhandled Hornswoggle and was going to nail him, but he hesitated. Vince yelled at Regal to do it, and even gave him brass knuckles, but Regal let Hornswoggle go. Vince slapped Regal, and said Regal failed his test. Vince wanted to know what happened to Regal, and ordered him out of the ring.

Jeff Hardy and Santino Marella were set to have a match, but it went nowhere. Early in the match Jeff was going for the swanton, when Randy Orton appeared on the screen. Orton said he kicked Matt Hardy where his appendix used to be, and then Orton kicked Matt in the head. Jeff ran to the back. This was a good angle.

HHH spoke with Ric Flair backstage. HHH said he didn’t know how Flair would deal with HHH ending his career. Flair said it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. HHH said he will win in a matter of fact manner. Flair said he used to be like that, and that HHH has to beat him first. Flair said he would bring it. HHH concluded, “You be the man, and I’ll beat the man.”

Ric Flair beat HHH via DQ. Flair got the better of the wrestling early. They traded blows. HHH hit a face buster, neck breaker and spine buster, receiving boos in the process. HHH went for the pedigree, but Flair reversed into a back slide. Flair responded with a back suplex, chops, a butterfly suplex, and 2 chop blocks. He applied the figure four, but HHH got to the ropes. HHH hit the pedigree and went for the pin, at which point Regal hit Flair with the brass knuckles for the DQ.

I have mixed feelings on the finish. From a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense. I strongly doubt that they can come up with an explanation that doesn’t feel contrived. It just felt like they didn’t want to provide a finish, and came up with this angle to get around it. Wrestling shouldn’t feel like that.

On the other hand, I think there is a hell of a story to be told with William Regal going soft over the years and going back to his roots wrestling at carnivals. I think that’s a fun and powerful story, and a feud with HHH could work great.

Final Thoughts:

This was another good show. Raw has been solid, which bodes well for the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Happy new year!