Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Year's Revolution

Pay per view time again, and this time it's a Raw show. And boy, it's a miserable one.

This show is actually airing on Sky Sports 1 in the UK, so it's not a PPV over here. But even then, the line-up is so grim that I'm not sure I can be bothered watching it. Especially considering that, thanks to the miracle of multi-week delays, TNA's Turning Point show is airing on the Wrestling Channel tonight, and by all accounts it's a much better show. So I'm recording this one and I might watch some of it if the reviews are good. Which they probably won't be.

1. WWE Championship, Elimination Chamber match: John Cena -v- Kurt Angle -v- Shawn Michaels -v- Kane -v- Chris Masters -v- Carlito. This is the third time they've done an Elimination Chamber match, and the second time they've done it at New Year's Revolution. They seem to be trying to make it into this show's gimmick, although the jury is still out as to whether the audience cares sufficiently. NYR usually needs all the help it can get, because it's the first of two January shows, and the other one is the Royal Rumble, one of the big four shows of the year. So all the storylines are really working towards that show, and this is a bit of an afterthought. In a more sensible world, they wouldn't bother with this show at all.

The Elimination Chamber is a glorified steel cage. Six men compete, but only two start the match and another one enters every five minutes. Elimination by pinfall or submission, last man in the match wins. Smarter readers will note that this immediately guarantees a match of at least 20 minutes and probably half an hour, which means you need some damn good wrestlers to keep up interest for that long. This match has two such wrestlers - Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle. It also has four other guys. So the real question here is, can two very good wrestlers carry four rather average ones to a compelling main event match? It's not impossible - both guys are able to work around very limited opponents are still produce above average matches. But they've got a real uphill struggle here, and I'm betting that the match will be decent but not great.

John Cena goes into this match as the WWE Champion, still holding the belt that he won back in March. The plan, supposedly, is that he's going to lose to HHH at Wrestlemania 2006 after a mighty one year title reign. (And that's a big deal - nobody's held the title for a whole year since Randy Savage in 1988/9.) The problem is that, despite the WWE's best efforts, crowds are continuing to turn viciously on Cena. But it's not as straightforward as that, because it's really only the men who can't stand him - he continues to get a lot of noticeably high-pitched cheers from the women and kids. And he's still their top merchandise seller. It's a difficult position. I'm coming round to the view that instead of taking the belt off Cena, they should run with what they've got - they've blundered into a tweener champ who splits the crowd passionately. Cena's matches normally have more crowd heat than anything else on the card. It's just a question of harnessing it. Unfortunately, they don't seem to know how.

Anyhow, Cena will almost certainly retain here. Shawn Michaels is just starting a storyline where he's feuding, ludicrously, with company owner Vince McMahon. Vince apparently wants one more match at Wrestlemania, despite being 60 now. He's in good condition for 60, but still, he's 60. And mad. (Not just in character, either - I mean, look at some of the nonsense the company's been broadcasting lately.) Presumably Shawn gets screwed by Vince somehow to further that storyline. He can't possibly win because he's got to go on and feud with Vince, who's far too old to be in a title match.

Everyone else is just there to make up the numbers. Chris Masters and Carlito are baffling inclusions, because they're not credible champions (so everyone knows they won't win), and they're not particularly good wrestlers once the bell rings. Kane is at least semi-credible, but he's not a great wrestler either. And that leaves Angle, who could conceivably win if there's been a major change of plan, but is really just there to help carry the bozo squad. Not much tension here, really.

NYR is a one match show, and this was the one match. And now, the filler...

2. WWE Intercontinental Title: Ric Flair -v- Edge. Remarkaby, Ric Flair has still got the IC Title - because even though he lost his feud with HHH, they did it as a non-title match to avoid saddling HHH with the belt. There is a lot to be said for getting the belt off the elderly Flair at this stage - except Edge is supposed to be nursing World Title ambitions and so it's really beneath him too. Nonetheless, Edge can't possibly afford a loss to Ric Flair at this point in his career, so logic says he ought to win the title here. The storyline, loosely, is that Edge is taunting Flair over his (real life) road rage incident, and Flair can't answer back for legal reasons because of the pending court case. Hence, match. Despite Flair's age, he still puts a decent match together, and on paper this could be okay.

3. WWE Women's Title: Trish Stratus -v- Mickie James. Ah. This, at least, has a reasonably well-developed storyline to it. Nominally, this is a face/face match (two good guys). Trish is the defending champion. Mickie James showed up on Raw a couple of months back and declared herself to be Trish's biggest fan. She's spent most of the time since then puppyishly bouncing around after Trish, who varies between tolerant and slightly unnerved. The story, of course, is that Mickie is gay and has catastrophically misread the signs, leading to the Christmas episode where Mickie turns up with mistletoe and a hopeful expression. Surprisingly, given that it's the WWE, they actually haven't hammered the lesbian angle too much. Presumably somebody is going to turn heel in this match, and chances are it'll be Mickie, who'll develop into a full-blown stalker (which was being strongly hinted at from the word go, before they made any sexual angle explicit). But it's not impossible that they'll go the other route and have Trish go nuts and beat the hell out of her poor, devoted puppydog. Either could work.

The good news is that for once, this is a women's title match with two actual wrestlers involved. The bad news is that one of them is Mickie James, and her matches since joining the main WWE roster have been largely unimpressive. She previously wrestled as Alexis Laree on the indie circuit and in the WWE's feeder league (Ohio Valley Wrestling, which as the name would suggest, is in Kentucky). Her matches in those days were said to be much better. In any event, she desperately needs a good match here to prove that she's just hit a speedbump, because she's certainly not delivered on her reputed potential so far. I'm not optimistic that this is going to be the turnaround for her.

4. Triple H -v- The Big Show. Since Triple H is set to face John Cena at Wrestlemania, he can't exactly lose to him in the main event here. So instead he's fighting one half of the tag champions in a "something to do for the January show" match. Given that there's no real story to this beside the fact that they don't like one another, audiences have been surprisingly receptive, so they might actually get something out of it. The big angle is that HHH has broken the Big Show's hand with a sledgehammer, but the Big Show can now use his massive plastercast as a weapon instead. (In wrestling logic, it apparently doesn't hurt to punch people with your broken hand as long as it's in a plastercast.) On the other hand, it means he can't do his usual finishing move, because he needs his right hand for that.

Such storylines did big business 25 years ago, but it's desperately old-school for 2006. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, since the WWE could do with remembering some of the fundamentals. Obviously, HHH is winning here - he can't lose when he's about to challenge for the title, besides which he's the boss's son-in-law and almost never loses anyway. The injury angle is just to protect Big Show and leave the way clear for a later rematch after he's "healed" - it gives Triple H a natural title defence for the spring. Probably an above average match but I suspect it'll go 5-10 minutes too long (Triple H does like to have very long matches) and end up a bit boring. Besides which, I don't really like either of these guys and have no desire to see them anyway.

5. Gregory Helms -v- Jerry Lawler. Bizarre filler match. Gregory Helms used to be the Hurricane until he disavowed the gimmick a few months ago. They then did literally nothing with him, not even establishing a new character. In fact, he barely even appeared on the show. This match was set up with Helms doing a video promo on the WWE website complaining, for no immediately obvious reason, that Jerry Lawler was scheming against him to keep him off the show. Since Lawler is the colour commentator, it's less than obvious why he would care, let alone be able to effect such a result. Lawler's prime is way in the past - that would be the time he was feuding with Andy Kaufman - but he's not actually retired and still wrestles regularly in his home town of Memphis. Given time these two might have an okay match, since Helms is actually a very talented wrestler, and Lawler still knows his stuff. But I suspect it'll be too short for that. The only sane result is for Helms to win - if he loses to a commentator then it's a total burial - but that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen, because with the way he's being booked, Helms is clearly out of favour for some reason.

6. Ahem... "Bra and panties gauntlet match" (dear god): Ashley -v- Maria -v- Torrie Wilson -v- Victoria -v- Candice Michelle. Last woman not stripped to her underwear is the winner. Obviously, this is the sort of embarrassingly misogynist T&A segment that gives wrestling a bad name, and given that the average male viewer is considerably older than 13, you have to wonder who they think is going to buy a PPV to see this. You could buy a lot of copies of Zoo for the price of this show, after all. On top of that, the WWE might want to reflect that their biggest merchandise seller is John Cena, and his fanbase would appear to be women and kids.

It's basically the bimbo squadron, although poor Victoria will be in there to try and hold it together in some form. It'll be awful, and the best to be said for it is that they'll probably stick it on before the main event to provide a break between two very long matches. It doesn't matter in the slightest who wins, barring a real upset (such as backstage interviewer Maria suddenly kicking everyone's ass). For what it's worth, either Victoria or Ashley ought to win here, since they're at least being portrayed as semi-credible wrestlers - Ashley isn't, but that's how they're trying to portay her.

Overall, not a very enthralling card. The main event will have to be sold on the gimmick, since there's only two good workers out of six, and I don't see them being able to get a great match out of the situation. The two women's matches will probably be bad. The other three matches are above average on paper, but ultimately pretty missable. If this was a PPV in the UK, I certainly wouldn't be buying it - since it isn't, I might give it a look, but I don't expect to sit down and watch the whole thing.