Thursday, July 20, 2006

Great American Bash 2006

Another PPV, and this time it's a Smackdown show. The Great American Bash is arguably the single worst title the WWE currently use for a show - bizarrely, it's the one WCW trademark that they kept using after buying out the company. Perhaps it sounds better to Americans, due to the warm glow that fills their hearts when they see the name of their country.

This is the third GAB show promoted by the WWE, and the last two were terrible. This year will be even worse. All the second-tier pay-per-views are basically indistinguishable from one another, but for some bizarre reason, GAB seems to be jinxed. The show doesn't even start for another 24 hours, and it's already a trainwreck, with half the card being rewritten at the last moment. We'll get to that in a minute.

There's no way in hell I'd pay money to see this card. Luckily for me I don't have to, because the show is airing on Sky Sports 1 in the UK. It has the potential to be so disastrous that I'll certainly watch it for free.

1. World Heavyweight Title: Rey Mysterio -v- King Booker. But first, a match that's actually taking place as advertised. Unfortunately, it's only nominally the main event. The big deal for this show was meant to be Dave Batista's return match, which we'll come to momentarily.

The tiny Rey Mysterio has held the title since March, and they haven't written him very well. He's meant to come across as the underdog champion who gets beaten up time and again but always comes through when it counts. That's the theory. The reality is that he usually loses, but clings onto the title through a series of freak wins. That's probably not what they were aiming for, but it's the way things have worked out.

King Booker is the artist formerly known as Booker T, who won the King of the Ring tournament a couple of months ago and started taking the whole deal absurdly seriously. He's effectively the top bad guy on Smackdown, and all logic says he's going to win here, so that Batista can move on to challenge him for the title next month. There's a school of thought that says Batista/Rey would be a bigger money match, but I think it's just too much of a mismatch to work when they're both meant to be heroes. Besides, Smackdown is desperately short of main event villains, and they might as well protect Booker now that he's on a roll.

Booker's return to the main event, some five years after he last held the WCW World Title, is a bit of a surprise, since he'd been languishing in the midcard for years. But he's a great character, and his ridiculous "medieval king" gimmick, complete with loyal servants, is working unexpectedly well. His new entrance - in which he heads very, very slowly to the ring while incredibly dull and repetitive music plays and William Regal yells "All Hail King Booker" over and over again - is so insanely tedious that it approaches Kaufmanesque genius.

The match will be above average, and Booker will probably win, although anything is possible.

2. World Heavyweight Title, #1 Contender Match: Batista -v- Mark Henry Ken Kennedy. And now, here come the problems. Former champion Dave Batista has only just returned to the show after spending several months rehabbing a shoulder injury. This is his return match, unless you count a six-man tag from Saturday Night's Main Event last week. At the time of his injury, Batista was feuding with Mark Henry, and so Henry was given the credit for putting him out of action. Naturally, on his return, Batista wants to fight Mark Henry. And so we end up with the originally scheduled match: Batista v Henry in a number one contender's match. The obvious plan is that Batista wins and goes on to face Booker for the world title at the next show.

But unfortunately, in that same six-man tag match last week, Mark Henry charged into the corner, hit the turnbuckle awkwardly, and broke his kneecap. He'll be back in a few months. Uh-oh.

So Batista's got to fight somebody, and into the breach steps midcard villain Ken Kennedy. Kennedy was undefeated until last week when he was pinned by Matt Hardy, obviously with a view to setting up a feud between the two. That's out the window now, because Hardy isn't on the show at all, and Batista will be demolishing this upstart in about five minutes max. There is no way on earth they'll use this match to elevate Ken Kennedy to the main event mix. He's just the biggest name bad guy on the show who wasn't already committed to another match, simple as that.

3. Punjabi Prison Match: The Undertaker -v- The Great Khali The Big Show. The Undertaker/Great Khali feud has been meandering along for a couple of months now. In their last match, Khali demolished the Undertaker and was generally presented as an awesome, unstoppable force. Well, that's how he's written, at least. His actual wrestling ability is poor to abysmal.

This is the rematch. For reasons nobody seems quite able to explain, it's Khali challenging the Undertaker again, and not the Undertaker looking for revenge, which would have made more sense. Since there's no earthly way they can send them out there to have a competitive match without a ton of gimmickry, this is (ahem) a "Punjabi Prison Match", Khali's signature gimmick match.

But what is a Punjabi Prison Match, I hear you cry? Ah, well they haven't actually explained that. Hilariously, that's the hook - buy the show, and you can find out what the match is. Normally when a villain invents a gimmick match that nobody has ever heard of, it means that he screws the hero by making up the rules as he goes along, but since Khali is an unstoppable juggernaut, that's unlikely to be the plan here. The promotional video used on Smackdown suggests that it's actually a steel cage match, except with the cage made of bamboo instead. The mind boggles.

Unfortunately, the Great Khali will be unable to participate on Sunday due to, and I quote, "elevated liver enzymes." I wonder what could possibly be the cause of that.

So, even though this is a gimmick match designed specially for the Great Khali, and the whole point is to do a Khali/Undertaker rematch, the match will be proceeding on Sunday without the involvement of the Great Khali. Instead, the Big Show - now the ECW Champion - will be wrestling the match, for no terribly good reason. The WWE book Big Show/Undertaker from time to time, because they like large men. It's never any good. They did the match on free TV on Tuesday, and by all accounts it wasn't any good then either.

Still, at least you get to find out what a Punjabi Prison Match is.

4. WWE United States Title: Finlay -v- William Regal -v- Bobby Lashley. Well, this should be interesting. The original hook here was a three-way match between Bobby Lashley (the former US champion) and Finlay and Regal (both henchmen of King Booker). In other words, it's a three-way match in name only, and the plan was to do a 2-on-1. Finlay won the title from Lashley on free TV a couple of weeks ago, which seemed very odd at the time, since this threeway was already booked.

When last I wrote about Finlay, the WWE were about to saddle him with a leprechaun, an idea that seemed utterly wrongheaded and was rumoured to be the result of internal politics trying to sabotage him. In fact, the leprechaun has turned out unexpectedly well. Instead of just having a cheerful green midget at ringside - which would be appalling - the idea is that Finlay keeps a psychotic leprechaun under the ring, who emerges occasionally to attack opponents. Finlay refuses to acknowledge that the leprechaun exists. It's actually working.

Unfortunately - you guessed it - Mr Lashley will be unable to compete on Sunday, as he too is suffering from elevated liver enzymes. It must be going round.

That leave us with the odd prospect of two villains from the same stable fighting one another for the US title. And curiously, the WWE have announced that this is exactly what we're going to get. Technically it should be an excellent match, since Finlay and Regal are two of the best wrestlers on the roster, but villain/villain matches tend to get no crowd reaction and rarely work. Finlay should probably retain.

5. WWE Tag Team Titles: Paul London & Brian Kendrick -v- The Pitbulls (Jamie Noble & Kid Kash). At last we come to a match which is going ahead as planned. Although the WWE are keeping awfully quiet about it, this is an all-Cruiserweight match. On paper, it should be good. Noble and Kash have two wins over the champions in singles matches, so conventional wisdom says the champions will probably retain. Doesn't really matter either way - it's only the tag belts. The back story is largely token, but the match has the potential to be good.

6. WWE Cruiserweight Title: Gregory Helms -v- mystery opponent. Yes, the WWE have announced a Cruiserweight Title match, but haven't actually said who's in it. Gregory Helms is the current champion, and he's had this largely ignored title for six months now. For the challenger, you're looking for a cruiserweight who's one of the good guys, and that pretty much narrows it down to Super Crazy. Should be alright, but the crowd won't care because there's no story. They really should have done the Super Crazy/Psicosis match on this show, to further the Mexicools' break-up angle, but for some reason they're not.

7. Ashley Massaro -v- Kristal Marshall -v- Michelle McCool -v- Jillian Hall. The seemingly obligatory five-minute T&A match. Ideal for tea-making. I'm not even going to pretend that I care or that the outcome matters. (Although it's worth mentioning that Kristal and Jillian aren't actually that bad, by the admittedly low standards of the WWE's women's division, and would be much better off on Raw where they could provide some more challengers for the Women's Title.)

Worth buying? Well, let's see... Finlay/Regal should be a great technical match, but it'll probably die because it's absurd in storyline terms. The main event should be alright. The tag match could be good, but the crowd probably won't care. The Cruiserweight match is an unknown quantity and the audience definitely won't care. The whole card is plagued with last-minute revisals, and there are three matches that look downright horrid. No, of course it's not worth buying. But it's enough of a trainwreck to be worth watching for free.