Saturday, October 08, 2005

No Mercy 2005

Because you demanded it... more wrestling. There's another WWE pay per view on Sunday, and this time we do have to pay for it in Britain, so let's run down the card.

No Mercy is a Smackdown show, and boy, they've made a complete mess of promoting this one. Partly that's because they've had their minds on other things - the other WWE weekly show, Raw, jumped networks last Monday, and they've spent most of their effort promoting that. On top of that, they seem to be starting a Raw versus Smackdown inter-show feud, presumably with a view to doing a match at Survivor Series, the next dual-show PPV. But that's in three shows time.

In the meantime, No Mercy is still going out on Sunday, offering a range of dismally uninspiring matches which, for the most part, the writers have either forgotten about entirely, or utterly screwed up with ill-advised attempts to do something "different."

I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that I will not be buying this dreary show.

This time round, I'll link to the wrestlers' entrance videos, which tell you a lot in their own right. There was a time when only the really top guys had big entrances. Nowadays everyone has a personalised entrance video, and the giveaway is how much effort has been put into it. Broadly speaking, the generic WWE entrance video will feature an animated graphic of the wrestler's name, some typical action shots, and possibly some exciting footage of them walking down a ramp, to the accompaniment of some rock music. The more elaborate the video, the more they care. This doesn't always hold true - every so often the production team fall in love with a minor character who happens to have an unusual gimmick - but it's usually a pretty good indication.

If they've bothered to write a song for you rather than just pick something off Generic Radio Soundtrack Beds vol 9, they like you. If they've commissioned an actual band to play it, they adore you. On the other hand, if your video loops in ten seconds, they really can't be arsed. And in all fairness, bear in mind this stuff was intended to be projected on a back wall, and talked over by the ring announcer and the commentators. And there's only so many lyrical variations on "I'm going to win the next match."

Right - the card.

1. World Heavyweight Title: Batista -v- Eddie Guerrero. Dave Batista's entrance video is actually a hangover from a previous interpretation of the character, when he was just sort of angry and violent. These days, they're playing him as an unflappably cool alpha male, mildly amused by the strange little people who think they can beat him. This works much better with his natural charisma, and also solves the problem of the character being a little too dark and angry for a hero champion. As a power wrestler, he's not bad at all, and should have a perfectly good match with Eddie Guerrero, a world class performer who can bring the best out of any opponent. And no, I've no idea why his entrance music opens with a ringtone.

In theory this is a good match, but the writing is little short of bizarre. Eddie, the bad guy, is announced as number one contender, and then promptly declares that he has had a change of heart. He's going to be Batista's friend, and there will be no feud or bad blood between them. And, indeed, there hasn't been. Yes, the build-up for this match is that they aren't fighting. In theory we're meant to be wondering whether Eddie's faking or not, but ultimately, does it matter?

Despite being a dreadful piece of writing - Eddie's resorted to playing it for comedy, which is always a bad sign in your headline match - these two should have a good match, and at least it's not a story that'll drag them down.

2. United States Title: Chris Benoit v Booker T v Christian v Orlando Jordan. Despite what you might think from his entrance video, defending champion Chris Benoit is the good guy, doing a sort of "worryingly intense but ultimately noble warrior" bit. Love the little screaming boy near the end of that clip. Benoit is another of the WWE's world class wrestlers, and really, a secondary championship like the US Title ought to be beneath him, but it desperately needs somebody to restore its credibility after several months around the waist of Orlando Jordan. Jordan is the sidekick of JBL (who we'll come to in a bit) and only won the title in the first place to further a storyline between JBL and John Cena. He's crap, and utterly out of his league in this company. He's spent most of the last month losing to Benoit in embarrassingly short matches, which rather suggests he's on his way down the card for the foreseeable future.

Benoit is defending the title against three people at once, because he's so hard that he accepted all their challenges at the same time. Presumably this is sudden death rules, since we'll be there all night if it's an elimination match (although admittedly, Orlando wouldn't last long). The other two challengers are Booker T, the other good guy, who still won't shut up about the fact that he held the WCW Title five times. Five years ago. He's still capable of having a good match, though. His current storyline is that his over-eager wife keeps helping him win matches even though he doesn't want her to. That might suggest he's going to win. Finally, Christian is there to make up the numbers. He's the nearly man of the WWE, somebody the audience persistently loves and cheers for (particularly impressive considering that he's a bad guy), and yet never gets rewarded with a push up the card. He's got the talent, he's got the charisma, he's got the fans on his side, but somehow the promotion never seems to see it, and poor Christian is stuck in a holding pattern forever. Just look at that horrific entrance video, a classic example of why you should lock up the edit suite on Take Your Daughter To Work Day. Mind you, I suppose at least somebody tried to make it stand out. Somewhere in a parallel universe, he's a champion.

Should be a reasonably decent match - Benoit is excellent, Christian and Booker are very good, and Orlando... well, Orlando can't fuck it up too badly when he's outnumbered three to one by good workers. Logically, Booker ought to win, since that would further his storyline.

3. WWE Cruiserweight Title: Nunzio v Juventud Guerrera. Some of you who watch wrestling will now be asking yourselves: hold on, when was that announced? Well, that's the WWE Cruiserweight Title for you. The WWE simply doesn't understand cruiserweight wrestling, and hates the crazy acrobatic displays that made it successful in Mexico, WCW and TNA - even though history has always shown that audiences like that sort of thing. Basically, they want the cruiserweights to do the same matches as the heavyweights, only smaller. This never works, but the WWE's reaction to that is to blame the cruiserweights, rather than change their philosophy. So the cruiserweights languish at the bottom of the card, either wondering why they bother, or thanking god for the regular pay cheque. Not surprisingly, this has led a lot of extremely good smaller wrestlers to avoid the WWE altogether and take the gamble of signing with TNA, the number two company - it's a big step down, but at least you can have better matches and be appreciated.

Anyhow, the defending champion is Nunzio, who won the title from Paul London simply because London annoyed WWE management by complaining to them about everything in the previous paragraph. He's okay. His challenger Juventud Guerrera has been around for years and is currently one of the Mexicools, a faintly ludicrous band of Mexican wrestlers who are nominally parodying Mexican stereotypes by riding around on lawnmowers. Uh-huh. Oh, and it's a match between two bad guys, which guarantees the crowd won't care.

Juventud got this title shot by winning a battle royal on Velocity, a show which was cancelled in America two weeks, but is still filmed for international distribution. You can watch it on the WWE website, if you're really so inclined. This is the level of importance that the WWE place on the Cruiserweight division, and should tell you how much time they're likely to give the match. On paper it could be decent, but in practice it'll probably be five minutes at most, and no better than anything you can see on Smackdown or Velocity every week.

4. Handicap casket match: The Undertaker v Randy & Bob Orton. Yes, the Undertaker's still going. Actually, he's only 40, and he's had the good fortune to spend the last decade doing a gimmick that doesn't require him to take much punishment. He was never exactly a fantastic wrestler, but at least he's still in shape. Randy Orton is a rising second-generation wrestler whose gimmick is that he beats legendary wrestlers - most of whom, of course, are entirely past the point of being able to defend themselves. He's a bit hit and miss, but he has his moments. He's a natural heel - it says a lot that he's still using the entrance video prepared during his abortive run as a hero, in which he still looks like a smarmy prick. As a bad guy, of course, this is a positive boon.

The Undertaker/Randy Orton feud has been droning on for most of the year, despite the fact that the Undertaker has won convincingly several times now, and there's nothing left to fight about. It genuinely doesn't seem to have occurred to the writers that the bad guys need to win sometimes, so that the Undertaker has something to seek revenge for.

This time the Undertaker will be fighting young upstart Randy and his father, retired wrestler Bob Orton, in his signature "casket match", where the object is to put your opponent in a coffin and close the lid. This is usually no more interesting than it sounds. Some dreary low-rent SFX will probably be wheeled out for mystical purposes. Hopefully Undertaker wins, because then the story might end. If he loses, a rematch is guaranteed. In fairness, Undertaker and Orton had a surprisingly good match on pay per view earlier in the year, so this might well be better than I'm expecting, but I still have no desire whatsoever to see it.

5. Rey Mysterio v JBL. A holding pattern match for two of the major Smackdown wrestlers who don't have anything else to do right now. Mysterio is a tiny Mexican underdog who's been around for years, and has succeeded in the WWE despite (a) being small, (b) being foreign, and (c) coming from WCW, any one of which is enough to kill a normal man's career in this company. Crowds love him, and rightly so. JBL used to be the hard-drinking, poker-playing Bradshaw, but was drastically repackaged after he started turning up on talk shows discussing (in fairly lucid terms) his thoughts on the Stock Exchange. Now he's John Bradshaw Layfield, evil Republican from Texas via New York. This is actually quite entertaining, albeit that they really shouldn't have made him world champion for ten months, because it's still a comedy character, and his matches aren't that good. They're fighting because... er, because Mysterio's a Mexican, and JBL is an evil Republican. Well, it's better motivation than most of the matches on this card, I suppose. This will probably be good but not great.

Mysterio's new entrance video, incidentally, represents the WWE's first faltering stab at reggaeton. This is unusually ahead of the curve for them.

6. MNM v Christy Hemme & The Legion of Doom. God help us. This is a six-person intergender tag team match, a prospect to strike fear into the hearts of wrestling fans everywhere. MNM are Joey Mercury, Johnny Nitro and Melina, and they're pretty good. They're one of a cluster of acts who were brought up from the training league, OVW, with their gimmicks intact a few months ago. Basically, they're obnoxious Hollywood types, and they have the best-staged entrance in the WWE (complete with red carpet, paparazzi photographers, and Melina's ridiculously flexible "under the bottom rope" schtick). Please ignore Jillian Hall in their entrance video, since she was moved on to work with JBL a month or so back and is no longer dragging them down. Jillian's gimmick is that she's facially disfigured, as symbolised by a godawful prosthetic which live audiences still can't see. No audience has ever reacted to this gimmick, save to lament its dreadfulness, but the WWE haven't got the hint yet. Supposedly she can actually wrestle, in which case she's utterly wasted in that role. It's one of those gimmicks that proves that even in wrestling, it is possible to underestimate the intelligence of the audience.

Anyhow, MNM have been feuding fore-e-e-e-e-ver with the Legion of Doom, who retired years ago, but are currently the tag team champions because they have a nostalgia DVD to promote. Or rather, Road Warrior Animal is currently back promoting the DVD - his partner Hawk died a couple of years ago. John Heidenreich, a well-meaning but ultimately useless clod of a wrestler, has been plugged into the missing role, and the result is one old fat guy, and one young crap guy. Everyone then has to react as if they were really impressive. It sucks. Making up the team is Christy Hemme, the winner of last year's Diva Search competition who, unusually, has actually earned her keep because she has real charisma and connects with the crowds. You'd have thought the WWE might learn something from the fact that, presented with a parade of interchangeable women, the audience voted to give a job to the one with a personality. But apparently not. Her entrance video has recently been retooled to remove all her personality-driven antics and replace them with bikini shots, making her look like a poor man's Geri Halliwell. And no, you're not imagining it, her entrance music really is "Walk Idiot Walk" by the Hives. Don't ask me.

The match will be abysmal, and it can only serve to kill off MNM's act even further, if that's possible by this stage. And since it's not even a title match, there's at least one further LOD match to come, god help us. I'd fast-forward past this even if it was on Smackdown.

7. Bobby Lashley v Simon Dean. Bobby Lashley is a big strong guy who was just called up to the roster a couple of weeks ago. He's yet to do anything particularly impressive. Simon Dean is a comedy loser with a bizarre "evil fitness guru" gimmick. He's spectacularly underused, and will be spectacularly underused again on Sunday, when he bounces all over the ring in an attempt to make the newbie look at good as possible. They already did this match for free on Smackdown two weeks ago, and I have no idea why I'm supposed to want to pay to see it again. Incidentally, Lashley does have a proper entrance video now, but hasn't updated it yet, so you can admire his flashing graphic instead. Dean's entrance is an example of the production team getting very excited about a trivial wrestler with an odd gimmick.

8. Ken Kennedy v Hardcore Holly. And finally, another relative newcomer, Ken Kennedy, will (hopefully) continue his winning streak by beating long-serving midcarder Bob Holly. (If you think "Hardcore Holly"'s a bad name, bear in mind that before that, he was Sparky Plugg, an evil NASCAR driver. It was a step up.) Kennedy's gimmick is that he insists on doing his own ring introductions, in the most over the top fashion imaginable. On paper this sounds dreadful, but it actually works, because it gives him an opportunity to get his character over. Take a guy with charisma and give him a live mike, and that's half the job done. As a wrestler, he's... okay to decent, with a spectacular finishing move. (Those who know about such things claim, however, that it's also an insanely dangerous finishing move that nobody in their right mind would be performing on a regular basis due to the risk of serious neck injury.) He probably won't have a great match with Holly, who has an unfortunate track record of trying to teach newcomers their place. Again, this is nothing you wouldn't expect to see for free on Smackdown itself.

Overall... there's precisely one match here that genuinely intrigues me, which is the Batista/Eddie match, and that's solely because I'm interested to see what they can do together. The US title match has potential to be decent. Everything else is likely to be either terrible, or the same standard as Smackdown matches. Am I spending fifteen quid on this? Am I hell.

Next pay per view - and trust me, wrestling fans find this name every bit as stupid as you do - is Taboo Tuesday on Tuesday November 1. Nominally it's an "interactive" show where the matches (or, more commonly, irrelevant stipulations) are chosen by online vote. They did this last year, and it bombed, so naturally they're doing it again because they refuse to accept that it was a bad idea. That's how the WWE works.