Date: 03/10/08 from Milwaukee, WI.
The Big News: With the outlook for WrestleMania looking grim, WWE delivered an excellent edition of Raw, increasing interest in just about every Mania match and producing a very entertaining self-contained show to boot.
The show started with Ric Flair. He said that Shawn Michaels had some nerve in saying that he would end Flair’s career, and called out Michaels. Flair said that when he started the business had no sympathy, and that he has no sympathy today. However, he sensed that Michaels had sympathy last week.
Flair said he’s still the Nature Boy and he doesn’t want his career to continue if he can’t beat the best. Flair said that he wants respect, not pity. He argued that if he wins it will be because he is the man and if Michaels wins he will have beaten the man. Flair added that if he has a good day he can catch Michaels and continue his career. He asked for Michaels’ best.
Michaels said he’s Mr. WrestleMania, and at that event he is the man. He said that they will steal the show, and they shook hands. Michaels then said he will be at Smackdown to assist Flair against Edge and his cohorts. Randy Orton then came out, and said that he was in charge. He made HHH vs. Kane and John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels in WrestleMania rematches. This was a great start to the show, particularly the Flair promo.
Undertaker beat Mark Henry in a casket match. Undertaker used some punches and went for the old school rope walk but was caught in a bear hug. Henry and Taker brawled on the floor, where Taker sent Henry into the post and casket. Henry came back with a power slam and 2 big splashes, and tried to drag Taker to the casket. Taker instead caught Henry in a ridiculously sloppy gogoplata (which is not the same as a triangle choke). Henry bled from the mouth and Taker pushed Henry into the casket. There is still no reaction to the gogoplata.
They aired the first of three backstage promos from the WrestleMania main eventers. This was basically an attempt to make clear the motivations of each wrestler, a very good idea. HHH’s promo was the best of the three. HHH said he lives for the title, and he’s getting his chance to get it back. He said he will fight for the title as if his life depends on it, because as far as he’s concerned it does.
Mr. Kennedy beat Finlay via disqualification. The “all WrestleMania rematches” concept died the second match in. It’s not a big deal at all that they advertised that and didn’t deliver. It’s not like anybody is going to feel ripped off. Still, it is disconcerting that they don’t have episodes of Raw mapped out even a week in advance going into Mania. Pro wrestling is not meant to be booked week to week.
Prior to the match, JBL appeared on the screen and said that he is amenable to a Belfast brawl at Mania. That should be fun. He said that he will put Finlay next to his son in the hospital. This enraged Finlay, who laid out Kennedy with repeated shillelagh shots. He kept attacking Kennedy even as referees tried to stop him. Eventually he knocked Kennedy unconscious with a shillelagh shot to the head. This was an effective angle.
Chris Jericho defeated Jeff Hardy to win the Intercontinental Title in an excellent match. They locked up early, but quickly began trading blows. Jericho clotheslined Hardy over the top rope. Jericho then missed a clothesline into the corner and flew to the outside himself. Hardy followed with a baseball slide and went for a clothesline off the barricade. Jericho caught him and sent him crashing into the announcers’ table, which looked really impressive. Jericho then hit a splash off the apron into the ring, and followed with a back breaker.
Hardy retaliated with a forearm and the whisper in the wind for two. Jericho hit a Northern lights suplex for two, and the two wrestlers traded pinfall attempts. Jericho hit a crossbody off the top, but Hardy rolled through for two. Hardy went for the twist of fate, but Jericho escaped and hit a lionsault for two.
Jericho then went for the Walls, but Hardy reversed into a pinning attempt for another two. Jericho missed the enzuigiri and Hardy gave him the twist of fate. That looked to be it as Hardy went to the top, but Hardy missed the swanton. Jericho then nailed the code breaker for the pin. These two were really on and the match was tremendous.
Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were to have a rematch from the first WrestleMania against Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. However, it turned out just to be angle, which is probably for the best. Jillian Hall came out and said that Windham and Rotundo can’t afford the rights to Made in the U.S.A., so she would sing it for them. Her singing made Nikolai cover his ears, Rotundo gave her an airplane spin, and that was that. As an aside, Windham has really become a forgotten man to the current generation of wrestling fans. A DVD of his best stuff would really be quite good, even if it wouldn’t sell.
They announced Jack and Jerry Brisco for the Hall of Fame. They acted like the two were practically interchangeable and best known as a tag team. I suppose that was to be expected given Jerry has worked for the company for decades, but it still served as kind of an insult to Jack Brisco’s stature in the business.
HHH beat Kane. Prior to the match, Randy Orton tried to remind Kane of all the times HHH has screwed him over. Kane grabbed Orton by the throat and said he didn’t need to be reminded. Kane was in control early with punches and kicks. He sent HHH out of the ring, but HHH sent Kane into one of the posts. Kane regained control with a big boot, body slam and clotheslines into the corner.
HHH hit a face buster and went for the pedigree, but Kane reversed. Kane went for the choke slam, but HHH escaped and set up again for the pedigree. Orton distracted HHH, allowing Kane to escape and hit a side slam. Kane came off the top with a clothesline attempt, but HHH caught him and hit the pedigree for the pin. This was an okay match.
John Cena did his backstage promo. He said he wasn’t supposed to be back in action until October, but he risked his health and career for the chance to be on the WrestleMania card. He said that he isn’t angry at Orton and that he thanks him because he was getting complacent. Cena said that Orton made him hungry to come back for Mania, and that he respects Orton. He said that at Mania his time will come again.
Delivery was good but this was one hell of a crappy script to give Cena. He’s not angry at the guy who in storyline nearly ended his career? And if his big goal is to compete at Mania rather than to win back his championship, why does he even care about the match result? And if the big issue is Mania and not the title or gaining revenge, why exactly should fans care about the pay-per-view events that occur after Mania?
Melina beat Maria. Candice and Beth were in the respective corners. Santino came out and distracted Maria. That allowed Melina to come from behind with a kick and her leg drop neck breaker for the pin. The heels laid out Candice as well and Santino left with Beth and Melina. I understand that they want to have Maria in a serious angle, but I hope after Mania she goes back to generally being happy and smiling. She’s much more likable and attractive with that demeanor, as opposed to being angry and serious.
Next up was the big Floyd Mayweather/Big Show angle. It worked very well, because they played off audience reactions and let Mayweather be more of a heel. That’s the role he plays best, and he was fantastic here. In recent weeks, Mayweather seemed out of place. Playing the heel now, he looks like a complete natural for pro wrestling.
Prior to the angle, they showed a vignette reminiscent of the 24/7 shows. Mayweather showed off his money and toys in his home. Shane McMahon then came out to preside over the weigh-in. Having a weigh-in three weeks prior to a match is exceedingly silly, but we’ll let that one go. Mayweather came to the ring with shades, bling and an entourage.
Mayweather was now carrying himself as a heel, and he has great natural arrogance. He looked genuinely pissed off at the fans chanting “let’s go Big Show.” They got the weights, with Mayweather coming in at 159 (bring on B.J. Penn!) and Big Show weighing 441.
Show pointed out that Mayweather had a crew of eight guys. Show said that he had his own posse, and all the wrestlers surrounded the ring. Mayweather vigorously protested this to Shane. Show suggested PBF throw some of his money to the crowd so they wouldn’t hate him so much, or throw some money at his crew so they will continue to pretend to be his friends.
Show said that he will either embarrass Floyd at Mania, or guarantee that Floyd never boxes again. The crowd cheered that. PBF took the microphone, and took out a wad of hundred dollar bills. Mayweather said he respects what Show has done in WWE but doesn’t respect him as a human being. He said to beat him, Show will have to catch him. He again vowed to break Show’s jaw at Mania.
As Floyd was leaving the ring, Show press slammed Mayweather over the top rope onto wrestlers on the floor. Mayweather left selling his elbow. Mayweather was great here, but Mania will be tricky to book. Maybe you have Shane and some heel wrestlers turn on Show, and then Mayweather makes the save and knocks out Shane.
Randy Orton said that he’s the perfect champion because he is an amalgam of HHH and Cena’s best character traits. He said he will retain his title at Mania. This was short and non-descript.
Edge beat CM Punk. The crowd was behind Punk. Edge worked over Punk’s back, but Punk blocked Edge suplex attempts with knees. Punk then went on offense with a leg lariat, high kick, springboard clothesline and high knee. He went for a bulldog, but Edge countered with a DDT. Edge went for the spear, but Punk leap frogged over it. He then went for go 2 sleep, but was distracted by Ox Wheeler and Del Hawkins. That allowed Edge to hit the spear for the pin. This was a good short match.
William Regal said that Umaga vs. Batista will be a one-sided slaughter. Umaga and Batista came to the ring and fought. Umaga went for the Samoan spike, but he walked into a Batista spine buster. They then announced that Vince McMahon will get his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Friday. They also said that Mayweather suffered an elbow injury.
Shawn Michaels and John Cena fought to a no contest. This wasn’t bad, but it was a disappointment given the matches Michaels and Cena have had in the past. They mat wrestled early. Michaels worked over Cena’s leg, and Cena couldn’t get Michaels up for the FU because of that. Cena came back with the Cena slam and five knuckle shuffle. Michaels got out of a pin attempt, and came back with a belly to back suplex, inverted atomic drop, body slam and elbow off the top.
Michaels went for sweet chin music but missed. After a very sloppy 10 seconds of botchery, Michaels applied his inverted figure four. Cena got to the ropes. Michaels hit a baseball slide and Asai moonsault. Michaels sent Cena into the post, but then Orton sent Michaels into the post to end the match. Orton set up Cena for an RKO on a chair, but Cena escaped. Cena then hit the FU. At the close of the show, HHH announced that next week it will be Cena and Orton vs. the entire Raw roster.
Raw needed to deliver, and it did. This was a much better show than recent weeks, and with two more weeks of good build WrestleMania should do well.
I’ll be on Fight Network Radio tomorrow (Tuesday) discussing this show as well as other subjects in wrestling and MMA at 3:10PM Eastern/12:10PM Pacific. You can listen at http://www.hardcoresportsradio.com/