Saturday, December 17, 2005

Armageddon 2005

PPV time again. I really ought to be writing this week's Article 10, actually, but I think I'll leave that for tomorrow morning when I'm sober.

Armageddon is an utterly meaningless PPV from the Smackdown roster. Literally nothing of importance will transpire therein. In fact, the WWE already seem to be caught up in promoting the next show, a Raw PPV called New Year's Revolution. (To be fair, though, they're going to lose the next couple of weeks of Raw to holiday specials, so they don't have much choice.)

Smackdown, on the other hand, is in trouble. Their champion, Dave Batista, is still nursing a serious back injury, which is why they're hiding him in a tag match on this show. Eddie Guerrero, one of their leading stars, died of heart failure last month. This leaves a real gap at the top of the card, which is why we're getting a very odd main event with an utterly ridiculous build-up. Meanwhile, the rest of the card is padded out with undercard wrestlers in largely pointless matches.

(Incidentally, for those of us in the UK, they're also airing TNA's Genesis show on Sunday night on the Wrestling Channel - one of the last ultra-delayed PPVs before we finally catch up to a one-week delay in the new year. Unfortunately, Genesis is the show that was recorded the night Eddie Guerrero died, so by all accounts it's a bit subdued.)

1. Hell in the Cell: Randy Orton -v- The Undertaker. No titles on the line here, but in the absence of anything better, it's going to be the main event anyway. The Undertaker has been doing his mystical undead gimmick for over a decade now, and it's always been ludicrous to one degree of another. He's a wrestler who tends to divide the hardcore fans from the casual audience. Technically, most Undertaker matches are bloody awful - they're slow, they're repetitive, and they tend to involve him completely shrugging off his opponent's offence and making him look like an idiot. Despite the catchphrase he was using a couple of years ago, damned few people have truly come out of a feud with the Undertaker looking better than they did going in.

One noticeable exception to that is the notorious Undertaker/Mankind Hell in the Cell match from the mid 1990s. Hell in a Cell is a glorified cage match, the main difference being that there's a gap between the ring and the cage wall, and the cage has a roof. The WWE have carefully promoted the match over the years as a Big Deal, and viewers have generally bought into this idea despite the erratic quality of the actual matches. In fairness, many have been very good.

Undertaker/Mankind was, basically, a horrendous trainwreck which was widely regarded as a great match (especially by more casual viewers) simply on the strength of the "I can't believe Mick Foley was insane enough to do that" factor. For those who haven't seen it, the match involved both guys climbing the cage and fighting on the roof, with Foley being thrown off - a good 20 feet or so - and crashing through the announcer's table. This is an undeniably memorable spot, but it's worth stressing that it looks insane because it actually is insane. They then fight on the roof of the cage again, leading to a spot where the cage gives way and Foley falls to the ring below. This was not planned. The cage just gave way. They didn't tell the props department they were planning to fight on the roof, so it wasn't reinforced for that. The whole mess has to be seen to be believed. You'll gather that I don't actually think that much of it as a match.

Nonetheless, it means that there are certain expectations of Undertaker HitC matches, which they'll find difficult to deliver. The back story for this is a demented and absurd storyline of the sort which, bizarrely, has always tended to do good business for Undertaker. Orton has been trying to defeat the Undertaker to cement his "legend killer" status for over a year. Recently, thanks to the idiocy of head writer Stephanie McMahon, he's been trying to kill the Undertaker. Yes, kill him. Dead. Strangely, on Earth-WWE, televised attempted murder does not get you arrested. Meanwhile, the Undertaker has tormented Orton with idiotic special effects. It's best not to think about it.

Amongst all this, in recent weeks, was an utterly indefensible show in which Orton tried to murder the Undertaker by running him down with - and I quote - "the Eddie Guerrero Memorial Low Rider." Yes, they hijacked a supposed tribute match to Eddie Guerrero to try and get Orton over a heel. They tried to exploit Guerrero's death for storyline purposes. And he was two weeks in the ground at that point. It would be fair to say that this was very badly received in wrestling fandom, and didn't exactly go down that well within the WWE itself. But Stephanie McMahon thought it was a good idea, and would not be dissuaded.

(Some take the view that this shows Stephanie and her father Vince were insincere in their public comments about Eddie's death. I'm not so sure. To book a storyline like this suggests a degree of detachment from reality where they genuinely didn't recognise this as something likely to offend fans. This in itself is a serious problem for the WWE - it's plainly in the hands of people who are every bit as removed from the real world as the characters on screen.)

But what about the actual match? Despite the horrendous, and largely embarrassing, build-up, nonetheless there's a realistic chance that this could be decent. Previous Undertaker/Orton matches have surpassed expectations, and they seem to have some chemistry going. Orton's had some good brawl matches in the past, and this could end up a lot better it looks on paper.

As for the winner, conventional wisdom says that this is the match where Undertaker gets his revenge for months of attacks by Orton. But, with the upper card decimated, the conventional wisdom is that Orton is being groomed to win the Royal Rumble in January, feud with Batista, and win the World Title in an unconventional heel victory at Wrestlemania in March. If so, it would be madness for him to lose here - the correct ending is for him to win conclusively, vanquish the Undertaker in his signature match, and go on to challenge for the World Title as a strong villain. I suspect a mixture of the two - Orton will win, but not as conclusively as he should, because internal politics will lead to Undertaker being "protected" even though the character is indestructible.

2. Batista & Rey Mysterio -v- Kane & The Big Show. Batista is still Smackdown's World Champion, but he's effectively crippled by a legitimate back injury at the moment, and unable to wrestle in singles matches. So instead, here he is in a tag match with Rey Mysterio. Plucky underdog Mysterio will have to work the majority of the match - that's just the way it is.

Kane and the Big Show are the Raw Tag Team Champions. They're on this show to try and add some star power to the decimated Smackdown roster, and that's about as far as the reasoning goes. Ludicrously, they've been working as faces on Raw and heels on Smackdown, so apparently they suffer from multiple personality disorder determined by the channel they're appearing on at any given time. They're giants, so poor Mysterio is going to spend the match getting the shit kicked out of him and trying to make the hot tag to Batista.

The vague storyline justification for this is that Raw is out for some measure of revenge after Survivor Series, when they lost two out of three interpromotional matches. And the match they won was for the Women's Title, a belt nobody takes seriously, least of all the WWE. Nonetheless, there's no mileage in taking this storyline any further, so all logic says Batista should get the hot tag, destroy the bad guys, and win for Smackdown once again.

In a baffling last-minute move, Batista and Mysterio won the Smackdown Tag Team Titles on this week's show, making this champions versus champions - although neither title is actually on the line. Presumably they think this adds to the match in some way, but the thinking is horribly muddled. Neither show has a sufficiently developed tag team division for their tag titles to mean anything, and hot-shotting the titles around just to add spurious heat to an inconsequential tag match certainly won't help that. Both belts need urgent rehab, and this is not the way to go about it.

Match quality is likely to be middling at best. It isn't the first time Mysterio has had to carry a gorilla twice his size to a good match, and the Raw champs aren't exactly dead weight, certainly by the standards of wrestling giants. They've got a fair number of good matches under their belt. But their average match is merely okay, and having to structure the match to disguise Batista's injury will cause them problems.

3. Chris Benoit -v- Booker T. This is the fourth match in a Best of 7 series for the vacant United States Title, which started at the last PPV. Benoit is the good guy and, in the manner of such storylines, he's down three-nil. Can you guess who's going to win? Can you? Can you?

Actually, there's a slight complication here. There's a rumour doing the rounds that Benoit's contract is about to expire and he's planning to jump ship, in which case he'll lose on Sunday and that'll be the last we see of him. The more reliable wrestling rumour mill sources, however, are pretty confident that there's nothing to this story. It can't absolutely be ruled out, but nobody in the know is buying into it. So if it's true, they're keeping it very, very quiet.

More likely, this is simply the turning point match where Benoit finally starts his fight back and goes on to win the title. The matches so far have been surprisingly good. Both guys are talented, so the real question has always been whether they've got enough fresh ideas to make the match worth seeing so many times. Thus far, the answer is yes. Benoit will win a good match here.

4. MNM -v- Super Crazy & Psicosis. This was booked a couple of weeks back, when it was supposed to be for MNM's tag team titles. Super Crazy and Psicosis of the Mexicools won a battle royal for a shot at the tag titles on this show. But, whoops, the writers decided at the last moment to put the Smackdown tag belts on Batista and Mysterio instead. So now the Mexicools are going to fight MNM for, er, no reason at all. Nominally this is some sort of grudge match, but functionally, there's no story here.

That said, this has some potential. Both teams are good workers, and they could certainly put on a strong match given the opportunity. If the booking crew have the sense to just give them some time and let them get on with it, this could surprise people. Winner doesn't really matter, but since MNM's momentum is stalled at the moment anyway, they might as well give the win to the Mexicools to try and build on their unexpected fan support.

5. WWE Cruiserweight Title: Juventud Guerrera -v- Kid Kash. The only title actually being defended on this show, surprisingly enough. This was originally conceived as a sister match to the tag team contest - Juvi is the third member of the Mexicools, while Kid Kash seems to have started hanging around with MNM. The winner only really matters if the WWE is about to embark on one of its periodic attempts to push the Cruiserweight division, but let's assume for the moment that the winner will at least stay on TV and not be banished straight back to web-only show Velocity (which is where Juventud has spent most of his title reign). ECW veteran Kid Kash could well win here, because it's his first major WWE match and evidently he's managed to catch somebody's eye to be here at all. He had a rather awkward match on Smackdown against Super Crazy this week, and both guys can be a touch erratic. But on paper this is a good one.

6. JBL -v- Matt Hardy. Thrown-together match to get two guys on the show without a storyline. Despite his continual fan support, the WWE show no signs of giving Hardy the good-faith push he clearly deserves, so chances are he's just being fed to JBL as an opponent. Mind you, at least it's a fresh pairing, and both guys are capable of good matches. Again, this has got some possibilities.

7. Handicap match: Bobby Lashley -v- William Regal & Paul Burchill. The latest stage in the attempt to convince us that Bobby Lashley is a dominating monster hero - even though, since the steroid testing policy was announced a few weeks ago, he's been looking decidedly less remarkable. In fact, he looked about the same size as Burchill on Smackdown this week. But Burchill will bump like a pinball for anyone, no matter how implausible it may be.

Incidentally, the WWE could do a lot more with Regal and Burchill. They're actually an extremely good tag team, but because they only ever get to do competitive matches on Velocity, nobody knows about it. Also, Burchill is being hobbled in a team where he's required to wrestle in Regal's style - as anyone who's seen his FWA matches can confirm, he can do way more than he's being allowed to show. This is a guy who used to use a standing shooting star press as his finisher, for god's sake.

Anyhow, Lashley will annihilate both of them in order to prove how great he is. But Regal and Burchill might at least get a decent show out of him.

Worth buying? Hmm. This is a pay per view in the UK, and there certainly aren't any feuds of any importance paying off here. But on paper it's not a bad show. The worst match will be the handicap match, but that's just a five minute squash. The tag champions' match could be ropey. Otherwise, everything looks good to promising, at least if you can look past the idiocy of the Undertaker/Orton feud - and to be fair, that sort of drivel has traditionally sold tickets for Undertaker matches. Despite the best efforts (or lack of efforts) of the booking crew, this looks solid on paper. I'm wavering, but leaning towards a buy here.