Thursday, October 05, 2006

No Mercy 2006

Another PPV preview. This is a Smackdown show, and Smackdown has been struggling a bit over the last few months. In the dying days of UPN, it's been pre-empted all over the place, and ratings have pretty much gone through the floor. Oh, and the main writer has just quit because one of his screenplays has been picked up. So it's all a bit chaotic, and the show really needs to get its act together on the CW. In the meantime, we have a show with some very odd booking at the top of the card, and some more promising undercard matches.

Rather than maintain the fiction that the secondary title matches are significant to anyone other than the participants, let's run with the WWE's batting order. There are only six announced matches on the card, which is on the light side. They might add something at the last minute; the obvious bet would be Sylvan v Jimmy Wang Yang (don't ask), since that's clearly building to a rematch and neither man is on the card already.

1. World Heavyweight Title: King Booker -v- Bobby Lashley -v- Batista -v- Finlay. An obvious sign of the chaos is the last-minute rewriting of the main event. Originally this show was going to be headlined with King Booker defending his World Heavyweight Title against the up-and-coming Bobby Lashley. At the last moment, the WWE seems to have panicked and, from the look of things, decided that Lashley isn't yet ready to headline a show on his own. So after weeks of build-up to that match, it's suddenly a four-way match with the former champion Dave Batista added (along with Finlay to balance out the numbers).

Then again, Batista didn't have any other programme in the pipeline, and they would have had to get him on the show. So perhaps something like this was planned all along. If so, they're crazy - why wait until days before the show to announce that your top star is wrestling after all? I suppose they must have had him in a throwaway match with Finlay, which would have been an awful waste.

Anyhow, this match was set up in a hurry on Friday's show with no less than three matches featuring the four participants. Admittedly, they were pretty good matches, and I'm cautiously optimistic about the first show under Smackdown's new writer - a lot more wrestling, no dreary 15-minute interviews. Good move. On paper this is potentially decent; Batista's been below par recently, but Lashley's okay, Booker's good, and Finlay is excellent. They also have the opportunity to tell a good story. Lashley is getting elbowed out of the way by the more senior man; Finlay is meant to be one of Booker's own henchmen, but has made it abundantly clear that he won't lie down for his boss. You can do something with that.

It's tough to call the winner here, because storylines are clearly being rewritten on the fly. Lashley's presumably out of the running, because if he wins then he'll have to headline the show, and they clearly don't trust him in that position yet. Batista would be a relatively safe bet, but it'd be a terrible waste to give him the title out of the blue like this, when you could get a few months out of him chasing it. Finlay would be an outside bet but he's full of possibilities; the show desperately needs a shot in the arm, and I wouldn't totally rule him out. To be honest, that's the finish I'd like to see.

But my money is on Booker to retain. They really need to get the belt off him, because he's a comedy character right now and he's damaging the credibility of their world title. Even so, unless they're putting the belt on Finlay, it's too early to make the change. Heroes need to chase the title for longer. Hopefully, if Booker wins, he does so in a suitably unconvincing fashion to set up rematches for the future.

2. United States Title: Ken Kennedy -v- The Undertaker. Hmm. Interesting. Brash, obnoxious upstart versus wily veteran. It's certainly a classic format. Kennedy may not be the greatest wrestler in the world, but he's got some cool moves in his repertoire, and he's got some charisma to him. He's actually built some sort of character for himself instead of just relying on a one-dimensional gimmick.

Kennedy is being pushed at the moment, and won the US Title out of the blue a few weeks ago. Programming him against the Undertaker is a curious move; the Undertaker has been carefully protected over the years as a virtually invincible opponent. So for a newcomer to beat him is a Very Big Deal Indeed. If Kennedy wins decisively, then they're really serious about making him a major star. I'm not convinced he's ready for that. On the other hand, if he loses cleanly, I think it'll damage him badly.

I can't believe they'd put the secondary title on the Undertaker at this stage in his career, and come to think of it, the WWE website is being slightly cagey about whether this is actually a US Title match. Please god don't let them do something stupid like have Undertaker win in a non-title match, unless the idea is to give Kennedy a convincing win in a rematch. All told, though, my money is on a screwjob finish with the match ending on a DQ (which means the title doesn't change hands). I think they've booked themselves into a corner and they'll take the cheap way out.

Match should be.... well, if Undertaker just annihilates the guy, which happens a lot, then it'll suck. If they have a competitive match, it's touch and go, but it could be okay.

3. Falls Count Anywhere: Rey Mysterio -v- Chavo Guerrero. Apparently the final pay-off to this deeply, deeply unpleasant storyline in which the WWE continue to exploit the real-life death of Eddie Guerrero last year. The idea is that Rey had a whole title run where he held himself out as paying tribute to Eddie, and Chavo is now annoyed at what he sees as the cynical exploitaiton of Eddie's name. This would be slightly easier to take if Chavo wasn't right; Rey's title reign, and this storyline, are indeed cynically exploiting Eddie's death for cheap drama. The inclusion of Eddie's widow Vicky, and the fact that they thought scenes of her in tears over the disintegration of her family would be in any way entertaining, is simply beyond belief.

Anyhow, the match will probably be very good, but the whole thing leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Interestingly, this match was heavily de-emphasised on TV this week, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Rey win and draw a line under the feud. I'm certainly hoping that'll happen.

4. Montel Vontavious Porter -v- mystery opponent. The in-ring debut of the much-hyped Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP, geddit?). Bizarrely, that's his gimmick - he's much hyped, and they're kind of hinting that there may be no substance to back it up. I'm not sure how you translate that into an interesting in-ring character. But if they write him as living up to the hype then he just becomes another generic arrogant bad guy. In any event, live crowds don't seem to care about him, and they haven't done a terribly good job of explaining the concept.

MVP will be fighting an unannounced opponent; the obvious choice would be Vito, since he's a very minor good guy and MVP has at least interacted with him before. If not him, it'll be one of the usual bottom-run jobbers - Funaki or Scotty 2 Hotty. MVP should win; they've already got Jimmy Wang Yang doing a "lost his first two matches" angle, so they can't do it again with this guy.

According to those who've seen him in the WWE's training leagues, Porter is absolutely dreadful. Not only is he not ready for primetime, he's not ready for an overnight shift on a quiz show channel. We'll find out on Sunday, but unless he's an awful lot better than reports suggest, this guy could be another shortlived disaster.

5. Gregory Helms -v- Matt Hardy. Curious old-school throwback storyline in which Helms and Hardy both think they're the better wrestler, and want to have a match to decide the point. How quaint. It makes slightly more sense when you know that both guys are from North Carolina, which is where the show is taking place. Presumably the idea is that they'll both get a rapturous hometown welcome, tear the house down with an excellent match, and both guys will come out enhanced. They certainly have the ability, so it might work.

Helms is the Cruiserweight Champion, but his title isn't on the line because Hardy is too heavy. Helms has held his belt for ages and seems to have no credible challengers; they've resorted to having him plough through bigger guys to try and establish him as serious. The irony is that Smackdown has a ton of cruiserweights for Helms to fight - Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero, Jamie Noble, Paul London and Brian Kendrick would all qualify. But the first two are in the main event scene, and the other three are in the tag team division, and WWE thinking is that this means the Cruiserweight Title is beneath them. The idea that the Cruiserweight Title might mean something if top lightweight wrestlers actually wanted the bloody belt, and that they could make it a real asset to the show, never seems to have occurred to them.

Ideally Helms wins, to continue his steady rehabilitation as a credible champion. (Matt Hardy loses all the time, and it never seems to do him any harm.) But as long as they have a really good match, it doesn't really matter.

6. WWE Tag Team Titles: Paul London & Brian Kendrick -v- KC James & Idol Stevens. Finally, right at the bottom of the card, we have this thrown-together defence of the tag team titles. London and Kendrick are very good; James and Stevens, fresh from the training league OVW, are okay at best. This may be a last-minute replacement for another defence against the Pitbulls, one of whom was sacked a couple of weeks ago. That would have been a much better match, but needs must. Idol and Stevens are generic bad guys, and the unspoken gimmick seems to be that they're eighties throwbacks. It'll be okay, but it's unlikely to be anything special.

Worth buying? Hmm. There's only one guaranteed clunker here - the MVP match - and even that has a certain trainwreck curiosity value. Everything else has the potential to be okay or better, and I'm genuinely intrigued by a couple of angles here. I sat down to write this expecting to say that I wasn't going to buy this one in a million years, but the more I think about it, the more I'm talking myself into it. I think I'll pick this one up, actually.