Monday, March 29, 2010

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/29/10 from Phoenix, AZ.

The Big News: Shawn Michaels gave a touching speech following his loss at WrestleMania 26.

Show Analysis:

Batista came out to start the show. He said that he wouldn’t give the people the satisfaction of watching him complain. He claimed WrestleMania was a fluke, and the crowd chanted “you tapped out.” Batista said he has a rematch, which brought out John Cena.

Cena obnoxiously bragged about beating Batista, leading to loud “Cena sucks” chants. Cena of course suggested they have a title rematch on Raw, like they do every single month. Batista of course declined, like they do every single month. Cena and Batista then fought. They blew it big time by having Cena win at Mania. They had a cool story with Cena unable to beat Batista and now it’s just two of the same main eventers trading wins like always. And it furthers resentment towards Cena as well.

Things got worse. Jack Swagger jumped John Cena from behind. He hit Cena over and over and over again with the Money in the Bank briefcase. He said he was cashing in Money in the Bank. Then as the referee came to the ring Cena immediately countered Swagger with the STF. Swagger desperately escaped to the outside and said he wasn’t using his shot after all as Cena laughed at him.

Why even have Swagger win Money in the Bank if you’re just going to treat him as an incompetent, worthless buffoon who can’t gain a second’s advantage after hitting someone with a briefcase a half dozen times? Don’t you have enough ways to comically bury the midcard without using what has previously been an effective elevation tool in the process?

Christian beat Ted DiBiase Jr. in a legends lumberjack match. Guest hosts Clark Duke and Rob Corddry (who I actually did recognize as a correspondent from the Daily Show) announced this match. Ted DiBiase Sr., IRS, Nick Bockwinkel, Pat Patterson, Arn Anderson, Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, Tony Garea, Ricky Steamboat and Jerry Lawler were the lumberjacks.

DiBiase used a kick and chin lock. He set up for Dream Street but Christian escaped and hit an elbow off the ropes. Christian went for the kill switch but DiBiase avoided it and they tumbled to the floor. The legends threw them back in the ring and in the process a brawl broke out amongst the legends. Christian hit the kill switch in the ring for the pin. Afterwards, Ted Jr. shoved Ted Sr. This was a fun segment.

Backstage, Tiffany, Rosa Mendes and the Bella twins were in a hot tub. The guest hosts said there would be a contest where the woman to stay in the hot tub the longest with them would win something, perhaps a women’s title shot. Later the Bellas were deemed the winners when Tiffany and Rosa were creeped out and left. The Bellas left too and Mark Henry and Hornswoggle came into the hot tub for “comedy.”

HHH came out to speak. He said that he didn’t think it would end this way for Shawn Michaels. He labeled it the end of an era. He added that it seemed like just yesterday that he entered WWE and met Michaels the first time. HHH said they took on the world. He got choked up and said there was something he always wanted to say to Shawn, but at that point Sheamus jumped him from behind with a pipe. HHH was very good here and the segment worked well.

Kelly, Mickie, Eve, Gail and Beth beat Alicia, Vickie, Layla, Michelle and Maryse. Eve just pinned Maryse immediately. And I mean literally immediately. They didn’t even bother with any moves; Eve just pinned her and that was that. There was a brawl afterwards. What a waste of a segment this was.

Bret Hart came out. He congratulated Shawn Michaels on his career. He said that it was a great feeling to beat the hell out of Vince McMahon at WrestleMania. He said he could feel high fives from Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart and Stu Hart. Invoking Davey Boy there kind of rubbed me the wrong way given the horrible things Bret said about Davey Boy working for Vince after Owen’s death when Davey Boy needed the money a lot more than Bret does now. Bret said this is a great time for the Hart family, thanked the fans, waived and started to leave. This was a nice send off.

Show Miz interrupted, and they nicely tied Bret’s angle into a new tag title program. Miz called Bret a thief for robbing Miz of his time and his shine. Miz said he won at Mania and now he is 17 wins away from tying the Undertaker. He called Bret overrated and told Bret to leave. Bret told Miz to make him. Show and Miz were closing in when Hart Dynasty came out to make the save. Bret challenged Show Miz to take them on.

Hart Dynasty beat Show Miz via count out in a non title match. David Hart Smith hit a delayed vertical suplex on Miz and flipped Tyson Kidd into a somersault plancha on Miz. The heels took over on Kidd for a bit, before Kidd got the tag back to Smith. Smith hit a shoulder block and power slam on Miz and Hart Dynasty teamed for the Hart Attack. Kidd applied the sharpshooter but Show pulled Miz out of the ring and they left. Hart Dynasty worked well here as faces for the first time and I really liked this little angle from start to finish.

John Cena and Randy Orton beat Jack Swagger and Batista. Swagger posited before the match that he was just messing with Cena earlier and that when he cashes in the MITB he’ll be the favorite to take the title. Orton got a nice pop when introduced as Cena’s partner. I’ve always liked the spot in pro wrestling where the face turns to a longtime heel for help against other heels.

Cena hit a fisherman buster on Swagger and tagged Orton to use the Garvin stomp. The heels gained control on Cena with Swagger hitting a Vader bomb and Batista using an Irish whip, punches and kicks and a spine buster. Batista shook them ropes but Cena avoided the offense and tagged Orton. Orton gave Swagger a power slam and back breaker, gave Batista an RKO, and hit the RKO on Swagger for the pin. This furthered the “Jack Swagger is a total joke” theme for the evening. On the plus side, they do recognize they need to heat Orton up.

Shawn Michaels came out for the close of the show. If you’re one of the people that reads these reports but doesn’t usually watch the show, you should definitely make sure to watch this segment. It was one of the most memorable in Raw history.

Undertaker’s music interrupted Michaels before he could speak and Undertaker started to make his way to the ring. However, Undertaker then turned around and left. The crowd chanted “please don’t go” at Michaels. Michaels said he has been doing this since his early 20s and not doing it any more in his 40s will be tough to get used to. The crowd chanted “thank you Shawn.”

Michaels thanked the fans and said there was a time when the ring and the fans were all he had, the only time he felt good about himself. Michaels cried and said that the fans were the only people who ever made Shawn like himself. He thanked HHH for being his friend at a time when a lot of people didn’t want to be around him. He thanked the guys in the truck, the camera men, the announcers (he put over Jim Ross as the greatest announcer of all time), and the production and video guys.

The crowd chanted “one more match,” and this led to an all too rare occurrence in WWE these days of a performer genuinely interacting with the crowd on the microphone. He said that he knows how people feel about career ending match. He noted that he doesn’t want to go back on his word. He added that he wants to honor his word and will do everything in his power to make sure that one more match doesn’t happen.

Shawn thanked Bret Hart. He said that he drove Bret crazy in the 90s and Bret had every right to say the bad things he did about Shawn. He thanked Bret for accepting and believing that he had changed and giving Shawn the opportunity to show friendship. Shawn thanked Vince McMahon. He said he couldn’t work for anyone else and that he drove Vince crazy too. He said that Vince gave him the opportunity to do what he loves to do and kept him from making even bigger mistakes.

Shawn thanked the fans again. He said that he spent more time with the fans than with his family. He thanked Jesus Christ. He thanked his wife and children and said that daddy’s coming home. He concluded, “Shawn Michaels has left the building,” which was something they’d have the ring announcer say ala Elvis when he first turned heel. Michaels left to the back and hugged HHH on the stage.

Okay, so I came into this segment not expecting to be moved. I don’t believe for a minute Shawn Michaels has wrestled his last match and I’ve seen 8,000 fake retirements in pro wrestling. I remember Shawn Michaels delivering a tearful retirement speech way back in 1997 and was genuinely moved by it as a teenager only to see him return to wrestling a few months later. With that said, I ended up very touched by Shawn’s poignant speech.

Whether or not Michaels comes back, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing people who have brought you a lot of joy over the years. There’s more skepticism in pro wrestling because that sentiment is often exploited for financial gain, but ultimately this evening was more about remembrance of and appreciation for Michaels’ career than about a streak vs. career match.

The speech clearly meant a lot to Michaels. It felt honest and real, and even addressed the skepticism about wrestling retirements in a way that showed respect for the audience. I don’t know Michaels, but it seems like he really has grown up a lot over the years and is in a lot better place that he once was on a personal level.

I don’t know if there’s a wrestler I’ve ever enjoyed watching perform as much as Shawn Michaels. From the wrestling to the interviews to the charisma, he has always been such a dynamic performer. I will fondly remember countless matches and angles he did over the years, from television shows to PPVs to house shows at the Baltimore Arena and Capital Center where Michaels delivered PPV caliber matches and then danced all over the building celebrating with the fans.

Thanks, Shawn, for all the memories, regardless of whether or not you come back to provide a few more. And more importantly, I’m glad you seem to be moving away from the business in a good place personally and spiritually.

Final Thoughts:

This was a great and very memorable show. There were a few things I didn’t like but plenty more that I did even putting aside the tremendous conclusion with Shawn Michaels.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Favorite Movies of 2009

I've been meaning to do this for a while but hadn't had a chance. Of course I haven't seen all the best movies of the year, but I do see a lot of movies. The movies that I haven't seen but that I think might crack the list are Precious, Zombieland, 500 Days of Summer, Christmas Carol, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Invictus and Julie & Julia.

10. The Hangover

Fun zany comedy with all sorts of chaos in Las Vegas. I might have enjoyed it even more had I not seen Dr. Ken on Raw relatively recently before seeing this. Whenever I see the key guy characters in this now I think of their characters in this movie.

9. Avatar

Yes, the story wasn't much. But man, it deserved all the credit it received for the visuals. It created the most breathtaking original universe I've ever seen in a theater.

8. Paranormal Activity

I love a good scary movie and I really liked the premise and execution of this one. People compared it to Blair Witch Project because of the low budget, guerrilla advertising and success, but I thought this was much better at creating atmosphere and terror.

7. District 9

They did a great job creating a unique and fun sci-fi movie on a relatively small budget. It had a lot of cool themes to go with the action and while I had some logic issues with the premise, I thought it succeeded really well overall.

6. Princess and the Frog

Like with horror movies, I'm a sucker for a good Disney animated film: innocent, sweet, heartwarming, musical, a little backward minded in its attitudes but very forgivable. And I thought this was the best Disney animated film in quite a while. For all the talk about the first African-American princess, the film was actually extremely conventional but I loved the characters and the music.

5. Up in the Air

This oddly reminded me a lot of A Beautiful Mind in that I absolutely loved the beginning (Beautiful Mind - question as to what's going on, what's real and what's not in this guy's mind; Up in the Air - exploration of this self-focused Clooney character and his interactions with his co-worker and new lover) but wasn't very pleased with where the story went (Beautiful Mind - feel good sentimentality; Up in the Air - sitcomy implausible wedding hijinx in Milwaukee). Still, I liked the good stuff enough that it's one of my favorites. Great character study.

4. An Education

This kind of snuck under the radar despite the Best Picture nomination. I don't know many people that have seen it but I definitely recommend it. Very touching story of an intelligent young girl torn between an older suitor and her education. That plot reads like something a lot of guys would dismiss, but it works very well.

3. Up

Pixar always delivers. Just the opening of the film was so powerful and then a fun, entertaining ride followed. Not as ambitious as many of Pixar's film, but a very rewarding film nonetheless.

2. The Hurt Locker

What a taut, exciting film. The scenes where they are trying to defuse bombs are so incredibly thrilling. This is really at its heart a summer blockbuster movie, not an arthouse movie. It's about jolting the audience with a world the audience isn't familiar with. But it was achieved without tricks and without a lot of money. This is one of those movies I'd expect just about everyone to enjoy.

1. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has such fantastic instincts as a filmmaker, both in terms of dialogue and in terms of visuals. This is a World War II movie that's not a World War II movie at all. It has one really memorable scene after another, mixing comedy with suspense with drama. I think this one is going to go down as a real masterpiece.

Monday, March 22, 2010

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/22/10 from San Jose, CA.

The Big News: Raw was squarely focused on WrestleMania 26.

Show Analysis:

I want to thank everyone who e-mailed with kind thoughts and wishes about my mom’s passing. It was much appreciated during a tough period. It feels silly discussing the subject in the context of pro wrestling, but I have some thoughts on my blog.

This show wasn’t so much a self-contained wrestling show as a 2 hour WrestleMania hype special. There were constant video packages throughout the show along with discussion of the matches and final promos by the wrestlers. It was very effective in driving home the importance of Mania.

Shawn Michaels came out to start the show. He said that he was feeling like he did before he threw Marty Jannetty through the window, before he won the title at WrestleMania XII and last week before he superkicked Undertaker. He had the feeling that he could do anything. Michaels said he is just getting started and that he will be remembered as the guy who ended the streak.

Michaels was interrupted by a video on his career which finished with Undertaker saying Michaels will rest in peace. Michaels told Taker to say that to his face. That brought out guest host Pete Rose, who made Shawn Michaels vs. Kane for later in the show. He wanted Michaels to get revenge on Kane, since Kane attacked Rose at WrestleMania three straight years.

John Morrison beat Miz. R. Truth and Big Show did commentary. Morrison hit an Asai moonsault early. Miz took over and worked over Morrison. Morrison retaliated with a running knee, somersault flip power bomb off the ropes and starship pain for the pin. Truth and Morrison celebrated after the match. They have the most awkward chemistry ever.

Kofi Kingston beat Vladimir Kozlov to qualify for Money in the Bank. Jack Swagger for some reason was on commentary. This was a very short match that Kingston finished with trouble in paradise. Kingston is a good addition to Money in the Bank so he can throw in a few cool spots.

They mentioned Stu Hart going into the Hall of Fame but didn’t have a video for him. They did have a video for fellow inductee Bob Uecker. Also, they announced next week the guest hosts will be the cast of the movie Hot Tub Time Machine.

Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase cut a promo before their match. Rhodes said that after 18 months of oppression they were finally free. He said that they never needed Orton and that Orton needed them instead. DiBiase added that they don’t care who wins as long as Orton loses. DiBiase said that people are jealous of them. Rhodes and DiBiase teased dissension with a few subtle jabs at each other during this to suggest they aren’t actually on the same page.

Sheamus, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase beat Randy Orton and HHH. Orton and HHH met backstage earlier in the show but didn’t get along. HHH was successful early but the heels took over following a disagreement between Orton and HHH over a tag. HHH eventually hit a spine buster and made the tag to Orton.

Orton hit power slams on Sheamus and Rhodes and gave Sheamus a back breaker. Watching Orton firing up like a face is just bizarre. Orton was going for the RKO on Sheamus but went after Rhodes with a DDT attempt instead. Sheamus hit the big boot on Orton and covered for the pin. After the match HHH attacked Sheamus and they played HHH’s music.

Bret Hart came out for a promo. He said that he never thought he would return to Mania but that now he could leave on the right note after beating Vince in a no holds barred match. Bret says he is tired of “Bret screwed Bret” and next week it will be “Bret beat Vince.” He alluded to Vince’s comment about the dysfunctional Harts and said they will be all over Phoenix for Stu’s Hall of Fame induction.

Bret said Vince managed to drive half his own family out of WWE but the Harts will be in full force to see Bret give Vince the beating of his life. Bret mentioned that he has some great memories at Mania of his matches with Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Roddy Piper and his brother Owen. He vowed to be the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be at this year’s Mania. Vince then came out and said that at Mania Bret is screwed. Bret was great here.

Shawn Michaels beat Kane in a no-DQ match. Kane hit a vertical suplex, but Michaels took over with chops and applied a crossface and an ankle lock. Kane got to the ropes. Michaels hit an elbow off the top and went for sweet chin music but the lights went out and Undertaker gave him a choke slam. Kane covered but Michaels kicked out. Michaels then hit sweet chin music for the pin. This was exactly what it needed to be.

Christian was backstage with Pete Rose. Rose felt that his luck was changing and was talking himself up. He even took a shot at San Francisco, which of course was a harbinger of trouble. Kane emerged to pull Rose into his dressing room and comedic violent noises ensued.

Michelle McCool. Layla and Maryse beat Beth Phoenix, Gail Kim and Eve Torres in an exceedingly brief match. Gail and Michelle did a little chain wrestling and Michelle caught her in the faith breaker for the pin.

Batista came out with security. He said that people have to get used to the fact he is the champion and Cena is losing at Mania. Batista said Cena has never beaten him and will never beat him. I hope Batista wins at Mania because this is a story they could revisit every 10 months or so and make really mean something, ala Raven and Tommy Dreamer. Batista basically reiterated his promo from a few weeks ago about not caring about fans and only about money.

John Cena joined Batista and was serenaded by “you can’t wrestle” chants. He said he had lost confidence in himself because he keeps failing to stop Batista. Batista said Cena is a loser just like all the people, and this somehow brought about a 180 in Cena’s attitude. He said he is like the people and they all realize what a jerk Batista is. Cena said Batista hasn’t take him out and that Dave Batista can and will be beat. Batista called Cena a corporate creation and they got into a pull apart brawl to end the show.

This was an effective segment, but Cena has a huge problem at least with me in that I’m at the point where literally everything he says seems scripted, phony and insincere. It’s not really his fault. His biggest fault is trying really hard to sell cheesy serious material and stupid comedy, but he has done it so often that he no longer seems like a person but rather a performer delivering bad lines at all times.

This basically never happens in pro wrestling, but it reminds me of Chris Rock. I thought he was probably the funniest man alive years ago delivering his own standup material but he kept doing these awful movies and by the end I no longer found him nearly as funny even when he was doing good stuff.

Final Thoughts:

This has been WWE’s best year of WrestleMania hype in a while, and the final Raw was very effective in getting over the top matches on the show. I hope the show does very well and that in turn teaches WWE to invest further in more long term planning and serious, concentrated build.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kristen Williams 1950-2010

This is a eulogy I wrote for my mother, who passed away Monday morning March 8 between 5 and 7 AM. I thought I would share it to let other people know what a wonderful and amazing person she was. I seem to miss her more with each passing day.

From the time I first found out that my Mom was suffering from stage four lung cancer nearly three years ago to the aftermath of her passing on Monday morning, I’ve spoken with a lot of people about my Mom. It’s an easier process with friends who have met her. They’ll recall having had dinner with us, and how kind my Mom was to them and how she was interested in knowing how they were doing and what they were up to. It’s when I have to describe her to people who don’t know her that I have trouble. I feel like simple descriptions that I provide don’t do her justice, and it’s upsetting to me that they might not fully appreciate just how special a person she was.

There’s an expectation from people who send their condolences that all children love their mothers, and that all mothers care for their children. They appreciate the sadness of her passing in that sense, but they don’t appreciate just what a wonderful person the world has lost, and I wish there was a way to communicate that in short order.

First and foremost, my mother was a loving, caring and giving person. She was the sort of person who I just can’t imagine anyone having a negative word to say about. She had a very strong moral code that she imparted in a gentle manner, and the core of that code was that all people should treat all other people with kindness and respect. That’s an easy principle to endorse, but often a difficult principle to fully embrace.

Luckily, over time human beings are tearing down artificial causes for dispute like race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. My Mom was a strongly progressive woman who embraced all people for who they are. But beyond those petty differences, there are still a lot of reasons for people to get annoyed with one another. People are rude and mean and insensitive to the feelings of others. Good people get into petty disputes. But my Mom was so good at dealing with those flaws. She was the slowest person to anger and the quickest person to forgive. That you should treat other people the right way was implicit in everything she did.

My Mom took care of everyone around her. She took care of me. She took care of my sister Whitney. She took care of our father while she was married to him. She took care of her husband Andy over the past fifteen or so years. And she provided support and love to her extended family and friends. She was the sort of person who put others first. She sacrificed at times her career. She sacrificed at times praise and credit. She sacrificed practically constantly her time. And she did it out of love. I knew that she was always on my side, so I knew to trust her advice and suggestions at all times. I wish I were a stronger, kinder, wiser person because I don’t think I as a person remotely reflect just what a wonderful mother she was to me.

But my Mom was so much more than just a caring and nurturing person. She was so brilliant. She had a gift for math and science, with quantitative solutions coming naturally to her. She had a gift for music and I suspect would have for art too if she had devoted herself to it like her mother did. And she had a keen understanding of psychology and sociology. She understood how to lead and motivate people, and how different types of people operate differently. She had a real intuitive sense for those things.

Perhaps most impressively, my Mom carried those intellectual gifts without ever making other people feel bad about themselves. This was a woman with degrees from Stanford and Penn and Johns Hopkins and yet she never flaunted her intellect. I could ask her the dumbest question in the world, and she would find a way to answer me without making me feel stupid or insecure in the slightest. That’s an enormous gift for a parent to provide a child, and over the past decade I’ve come to feel really guilty that even as my Mom provided that example to me I so often would then turn around and try to make my sister feel stupid for not knowing things that as a child she shouldn’t have been expected to know in the first place. Some messages take a while to sink in, I guess.

Beyond her kindness and her intelligence, my Mom was also the strongest person I’ve ever known. I’m a big sports fan, and I spend a lot of time watching enormous, physically powerful men crash into each other in the spirit of competition. But when it comes to true strength, they so often fall short. She let down their families, friends and communities and struggle to deal with the challenges that life sends their way. I think the truest form of strength is to conquer the emotional, psychological and spiritual challenges that life throws at you – the stuff that hits you in the heart. And no matter what, my Mom always faced life’s challenges with an unyielding positive outlook.

She had her fair share of challenges in life, from a divorce, to my sister unexpectedly moving to another country for four years, to a not altogether happy childhood. But she never let you know that anything was getting her down, I think as much for the people around her as for herself. Staying strong and maintaining a positive outlook has such a powerful effect on the people around you.

And she carried that attitude through to her battle with cancer. She eventually succumbed to the disease, but she fought it long and hard and stayed strong throughout. I don’t think that came as a surprise to anyone who knew her. Even as she fought the cancer, she was more concerned with other people than with herself. The only time I saw her break down discussing it, she wasn’t talking about herself but rather was thinking about how Andy, who she carried about so much, would be able to cope with her death.

Last week, I stayed up a few nights with my Mom to look after her because she was having trouble sleeping. Andy and Whitney had been doing the same other nights to make sure she was alright. I stayed on a couch by her bed throughout the night, and occasionally she would let out a sound of pain and suffering as the cancer ate away at her body. I would go over to her, hold her hand, give her a kiss, and ask if there was anything I could get her.

When I came over, she would look up, she would stop making the pained noises, and she would smile gently at me like she had so many times as I was growing up. She looked happy, peaceful and serene. I’d like to think that her reaction was because she was happy to see me and knowing that I was there for her made her feel better. And maybe that was the case. But honestly, I don’t think it was. I think that, even in her final moments on Earth, she was determined to maintain a positive outlook for my sake. I think she was smiling mostly because she didn’t want me to think that she was suffering, and because she wanted to put on a strong and happy face even to the end. It was an awe-inspiring strength that she carried to the very end.

I loved my mother so deeply, so completely, so unconditionally. But I did not simply love my mother because she took care of me and protected me and loved me. I admired her. I admired her wonderful nature. I admired her wisdom and her intelligence. I admired her strength. She was, in the most genuine sense, my hero. Right now, I find it hard to imagine how I’m going to go on without having her there to give advice, offer support and provide love. But the strongest reason I have to do so is the knowledge that she would have wanted that more than anything else, for me and for all her closest family and friends. She would have wanted us to carry on, be happy, and treat other people with kindness. That’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

Mom, I love you with all my heart. I always will. I’m going to try to fight on and do good in your memory. But I miss you immeasurably.

Monday, March 01, 2010

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/01/10 from Oklahoma City, OK.

The Big News: Raw was again heavily focused on building WrestleMania, and that focus again led to a quality show.

Show Analysis:

Shawn Michaels came to the ring and said that the locker room thinks he’s crazy and doesn’t believe he can beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Michaels said that he knows he is Mr. WrestleMania and that he can end the streak. He invited anyone to come out and tell him that he can’t win.

HHH joined Michaels. He said that he doesn’t think Michaels can win, but then quickly added that he knows Michaels can. HHH pointed out he has wrestled all the top stars of the past 15 years (North American, certainly) and that Michaels is the best he has been in the ring with. HHH said that he invoked DX’s tag title rematch clause against Big Show and Miz for Raw. He said they wouldn’t have to defend for 30 days and that they could celebrate together after WrestleMania. He told Michaels that he believes Shawn will win. Michaels agreed to the tag title rematch.

This was a great start to the show. Both Michaels and HHH were tremendous in their roles, particularly HHH. Their long time real life affiliation also added to the effectiveness of the segment.

They did a series of backstage “comedy” vignettes involving Hornswoggle giving Cheech and Chong Lucky Charms with hallucinogenic properties. They made a diva pajama pillow fight. One of them was rubbing what he thought was Eve’s hair but it was actually William Regal. The other thought Chris Masters was Kelly Kelly.

Later, Cheech and Chong dressed up Chavo Guerrero, Primo Colon and Carlito Colon in stereotypical Mexican attire and fake moustaches. None of them were feeling this. Katie Lea and Yoshi Tatsu were also dressed up with fake moustaches and then a rooster came into the room with Santino Marella’s voice. This was your typical poorly written WWE comedy. It reads dumb but they’ve done much worse.

Randy Orton beat Ted DiBiase via DQ. Orton was booked seemingly like a face here but the crowd wasn’t with him at all. DiBiase worked over Orton with a million dollar dream. Orton came back with a power slam and Garvin stomp. He went for the RKO but Cody Rhodes ran out and Orton went after him. DiBiase rolled up Orton for two. Orton reversed for two.

At that point Rhodes attacked Orton for the DQ. The two on one beatdown by Rhodes and DiBiase on Orton received a decided mixed reaction with some fans cheering and some fans booing. Orton fought back with a dropkick on DiBiase and back breaker on Rhodes. Orton went for the DDT on Rhodes but DiBiase saved Rhodes.

While WWE has done a great job building the main programs for WrestleMania, they have really dropped the ball on this Legacy feud. I outlined what I thought were the problems with the program a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t apparent until this week just how dire the situation has gotten. Orton is seemingly supposed to be a face, but he is so ice cold that the only comparable recent WWE face turn I can come up with is Chris Masters.

That’s even more remarkable given that Orton is a top star and there were points in the past year when a face Orton would have been the hottest wrestler in the company. The goal originally should have been to get over Rhodes and DiBiase but at this point they just need to find a way to salvage Orton. And I’m not exactly sure what you do. It’s a big problem with no easy answers.

Jack Swagger beat Santino Marella in a Money in the Bank qualifier. Swagger hit the gut wrench power bomb immediately and scored the pin. Hopefully they have decided to get behind Swagger again.

Next up was the best segment of the show. John Cena came out and said that what happened with him and Batista at Elimination Chamber was just business. However, the next night on Raw it became personal. I would have thought it was already personal when Batista beat the hell out of Cena two weeks prior, but that’s okay. Cena said that he never had a problem with Batista but that now Batista has trouble with him. He vowed payback.

Batista came out with a bunch of security. Cena made a comment about the security, and Batista told him that the security was there to protect Cena from Batista. God I love heel Batista. Cena responded by calling Batista a “pansy.” Maybe next week Cena will call Batista a chicken and go “cluck cluck cluck.”

Batista said that he wants to wrestle Cena at WrestleMania, and that’s why he did what he did last week. Batista noted that he started at the same time as Cena, and that they are the biggest stars since the Attitude era. However, Cena is the guy that is the name and face of WWE. Batista said that at Mania he needs to prove he is better than Cena, and added that he can’t stand Cena.

Cena responded that Batista needs to be focused because Cena is coming for his title. Cena said that he has worked his butt off for the company and given his life for the business, while Batista shows up late and expects to be handed everything. He called Batista selfish and said that’s real talk.

Batista agreed with Cena. He said that he is out for the money and the titles and doesn’t care about the people. He added that when he is in the ring with Cena bad things happen to Cena. The last time he broke Cena’s neck. Batista said Cena is all talk while Batista is good at the physicality. Batista said Cena can’t beat him and deep down Cena knows it.

This was a phenomenal segment. Batista vs. Cena to me has always had more drawing potential than just about any other combination of the current top stars, and they did a great job of showing why here. There’s a symmetry between their careers. They started together. They became champions at the same time. Cena was legitimately the guy who was pushed a little harder and went a little farther. They’ve got contrasting personalities and styles. That makes them natural rivals, and unlike so many other matches, WWE recognized this a while ago and has tried to keep them apart as much as possible.

This segment was old school pro wrestling in all the right ways. You had two wrestlers (particularly Batista) explaining very clearly why they wanted to fight and why it was important that they win. This segment could serve as a basic template in a lot of ways for every championship program. You need to switch up the specifics, but the reality and gravity of it all was so effective. It was one of my favorite Raw segments in quite a while.

MVP beat Zack Ryder to qualify for Money in the Bank. This was a total squash that treated Ryder like a complete joke. MVP just hit balling and the playmaker for the pin in no time flat. This was your typical WWE of the last five years segment, where rather than giving a new act a chance you just bury them at the very beginning and make it clear to everyone that they aren’t to be taken seriously. It’s so stupid and counterproductive.

On another note, I don’t understand what they are doing with this year’s Money in the Bank. Usually Money in the Bank is a showcase for a bunch of hot midcard acts so they can push someone to the next level. This year, the field is a bunch of guys who have been repeatedly buried (MVP, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger) or are moving in place (Christian, Kane, Shelton Benjamin). Hopefully they have two strong additions to the match in mind.

Eve Torres won a diva pajama pillow fight over Gail Kim, Kelly Kelly, Jillian Hall, Maryse and Alicia Fox. They were all wearing little girl outfits and hitting each other with pillows. It’s strange that they consider women wearing skimpy attire to be problematic family programming but that they consider the fetishizing and infantilizing of women to be fine. If I were a parent I’d be more concerned with the latter. In any event, everyone went after each other. Gail hit eat defeat on Alicia but Eve knocked Gail from the ring and hit a somersault leg drop on Alicia for the pin. Eve is apparently the next challenger for Maryse’s title.

They announced Mad Dog Vachon for the Hall of Fame and aired a good video package on his career. It’s a little strange they would do his induction in Phoenix, but he’s certainly deserving of the honor.

Vince McMahon introduced Bret Hart. Bret came out walking with a crutch and a cast on one leg. It looked kind of comical, actually. He angrily told Vince to leave the ring so he could say goodbye. Vince said he didn’t invite Bret back to say goodbye and challenged Bret to a fight. Bret pointed out his leg is broken. Vince said that Bret has no heart and is a coward. He kept yelling at Bret like a total cartoon character and kicked out Bret’s leg. Bret finally accepted the match. Vince then said that next week he will show what kind of shape he is in when he takes on John Cena.

This leg injury isn’t helping the Bret/Vince program at all, but equally as problematic here in my opinion was Vince’s acting. Again he was way, way over the top with his goofy, hammy acting. That stuff worked with Steve Austin because the program there was in general more over the top. But with Bret being more subdued and natural in a program with serious real life issues, this segment came across like an argument between Ricky Steamboat and Daffy Duck.

I’m sure this segment worked for some people, but to me the program is moving in the wrong direction. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker and John Cena vs. Batista felt more “real” on this show than Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon. Vince needs to start working with Bret rather than trying to outperform him. They announced Criss Angel as the guest host next week as well as Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase.

Big Show and Miz beat Shawn Michaels and HHH. Show Miz worked over Michaels. HHH tagged in and hit punches, a face buster and a spine buster on Show. He went for the pedigree but Miz ran in and was caught with a spine buster. Show used the distraction to hit a choke slam on HHH but Michaels then nailed Show with sweet chin music. Michaels got the tag and hit a flying forearm, inverted atomic drop, slam and elbow off the top on Miz.

Michaels set up for sweet chin music, but Undertaker appeared the screen. The idiot Michaels rather than just going for sweet chin music stopped what he was doing to stare intently at the screen. And not content to just stare at the screen from where he was, he proceeded to walk across the ring past the Miz so he could watch the screen from a slightly closer position. Miz of course was now behind Michaels and rolled up the moron from behind for the pin. I really wish they would retire the distraction spot. It’s so unbelievably stupid and unrealistic, and they use it incessantly. Used sparingly it could help to build programs but used so often it makes matches look fake and wrestlers’ actions look like contrivances.

After the match, Sheamus attacked HHH. He laid out HHH with a clothesline and ax handle. He kicked HHH into the announce table and kicked him again over it. This was just a brief little angle, but it was smart to stick it at the end of the show to try to give it a little extra resonance when there were so many big angles at other parts of the show.

Final Thoughts:

WWE is at its best when it is focused on building specific matches on a major PPV, and it is honed in on building this WrestleMania the right way. While I didn’t like this edition of Raw as much as some other recent weeks, it was still a good program highlighted by a great segment building the John Cena vs. Batista match.