Sunday, November 26, 2006

Survivor Series 2006

More wrestling, as we head into a ridiculously packed period. Tonight we have Survivor Series, one of the big WWE pay-per-views of the year. This one dates from way back in the early days when they only did two major shows a year. It even has a halfway sensible name. Traditionally the gimmick is 10-man elimination tag team matches, and although they've moved away from that in recent years, they've made more of an effort this time round.

Next week, on the other hand, sees the first pay-per-view from the ECW brand since its weekly TV show started. This show has "disaster" written all over it. They've announced precisely one match for the show, and it's not immediately obvious what the other matches could be. Presumably we'll see some desperate last-minute storylines on tonight's show, since all three rosters are involved. But they've left it far, far too late - and an ECW show needs all the help it can get, since they've got the lowest audience to start with.

But we'll get back to ECW next week. This time round, we have an oddball mix of singles matches advancing the regular storylines, and slightly arbitrary elimination tag matches. Overall, it looks like it could be fun.

1. World Heavyweight Title: King Booker v. Batista. Logically this ought to be the main event, since it's the Smackdown world title. The Raw and ECW title belts aren't being defended, since the champions are tied up in an elimination tag match. But with the WWE's mentality, you never know. Smackdown is actually often the most-watched of the three shows (since it's on network television while the others are on cable), but it's still treated internally as a B-show behind Raw. And the WWE's website seems to be treating DX's tag match as the main event, simply because, well, DX are in it. Hmm.

Anyway, this is presumably the point where Booker finally drops the belt after a surprisingly long run as champ, considering that he's basically playing a comedy character these days. Batista has been notionally chasing the title ever since he returned from injury, although it's all been a bit lacklustre. The stipulation here is that if Booker wins, he doesn't have to defend against Batista again. That virtually guarantees that Batista is winning (unless he's jumping to another show). I'm assuming that Batista wins in an adequate match, he goes into a storyline defending against Finlay, and Booker quietly drifts back to the midcard where his absurd "thinks he's a medieval king" gimmick belongs.

2. WWE US Title: Chris Benoit v. Chavo Guerrero. A year after Eddie Guerrero's death, we're still doing storylines about him. This time the angle is that Eddie's widow Vicky - now written into the show fulltime - is doing something dodgy with his estate, and Eddie's friend Chris Benoit is trying to find out what it is. Since this somehow or other has to lead to a match, Benoit will be defending his US title against Eddie's nephew Chavo.

The storyline is horrendous, and rumour has it that Benoit isn't exactly overjoyed about it. But on paper this is a promising match; Benoit can have good matches with almost anyone, and Chavo is substantially above average to start with. He's also got momentum from winning his recent feud with Rey Mysterio (since Mysterio needed several months off to recover from knee surgery). The storyline has only just got started, so logic says Chavo wins the title here, and Benoit can spend the next few shows looking for revenge.

As long as they keep the storyline stuff to a minimum, this should be very good.

3. WWE Women's Title: Lita v. Mickie James. This is Lita's retirement match, something that they only bothered to mention at the very last moment. In theory, Lita - the dastardly heel - wants to achieve the same farewell as the previous title holder, Trish Stratus, who won her final match and retired as champion. (Lita won the belt in a desultory knockout tournament to fill the vacancy.) Mickie James gets to be the opponent because... well, she's around, and at least she's a wrestler. Frankly, the options for babyface women are very limited at the moment; most of them can't wrestle at all, and Beth Phoenix is still on the injured list, so it's either Mickie or nobody. Even Mickie had to inexplicably turn babyface and drop her "psycho" gimmick in order to take the role - I suppose we're just meant to assume that she started taking the meds.

I'm sure they'll be motivated and it'll probably be an above average match for them, although neither is exactly brilliant to start with. Since Lita is the villain, she probably doesn't get to go out on top, so I expect Mickie wins clean and then spends the next few weeks gazing around looking for somebody to fight.

4. First Blood match: The Undertaker v. Mr Kennedy. The Ken Kennedy push continues, as they attempt to present him as somebody who can take on the Undertaker, without quite biting the bullet and writing him as a strong enough character. Kennedy presently holds a victory over the Undertaker... by disqualification. Normally that's fine for a bad guy at the start of a storyline, but Kennedy is supposed to be moving up the card here, and they need to do better than that to establish him as a true threat to main event guys like Undertaker.

A First Blood match - first guy to bleed loses - is very often used as a way of compromise booking. It allows somebody to lose without actually getting pinned or submitted, and I strongly suspect that's the thinking here. It's a way of giving Kennedy a clean win without making Undertaker look vulnerable, and they'll have to be very careful to pull it off. The match will probably be okay but not great.

5. Elimination match: D-Generation X, the Hardy Boyz & CM Punk v. Rated RKO, Johnny Nitro, Gregory Helms & Mike Knox. Basically the latest chapter in the DX v Rated RKO feud, with six random guys from other shows added on. Rated RKO is, god help us, the official team name for Edge and Randy Orton. Because Edge is the "Rated R Superstar", you see, while Randy Orton's finishing move is the RKO. Clearly hours of work have gone into that. Their new entrance music - which simply fades randomly back and forth between their individual theme tunes, regardless of logic, key or speed - is even more of an atrocity.

On DX's side, we have the reunited Hardy Boyz, who were a big tag team in the nineties and now have solo careers on separate shows. Matt is stuck in a going-nowhere feud with Gregory Helms, the Cruiserweight Champion. It consists entirely of them wrestling one another, again and again, with no apparent direction or purpose. But the matches tend to be very good indeed, so it's not all bad. Jeff, meanwhile, is the current Intercontinental Champion and he's feuding with Johnny Nitro. So Nitro and Helms have been added to the heel side as obvious opponents.

Rounding out the teams are the two representatives of ECW - CM Punk and his current nemesis Mike Knox. Knox really doesn't belong in this company. He's been described as a man who "brings absolutely nothing to the table besides above average height", and it's tough to disagree with that assessment. He's competent at best. CM Punk, on the other hand, is an indie darling who built a devoted fanbase during his years wrestling for promotions like Ring of Honor. Success with ROH doesn't necessarily translate to success in a more mainstream promotion like the WWE, though - ROH is tailored unashamedly to the very serious hardcore fan, and its fans include a lot of chin-stroking purists who genuinely enjoy watching somebody reverse headlocks repeatedly for ten minutes. Top wrestlers in that style don't necessarily translate to the showbiz absurdity of the WWE. CM Punk has done better than expected, and he's ended up in ECW with his "straight edge" gimmick intact. Thus far, he's undefeated in ECW, so it'll be very interested to see how he's treated here. He really can't afford to get pinned clean in this match, which would be a waste of his first proper loss - either he has to survive to the end, or he has to get mugged. I have a nagging feeling it'll be neither. As for Knox, if there's any justice he'll run into the ring and get pinned in the first ten seconds.

Recent history suggests that the story here will be that DX's partners all get eliminated but the heroic duo fight back against overwhelming odds and either win, or at least go down fighting after nearly pulling it off. Hopefully it's the latter, since this storyline has a way to go yet, and DX have been written as so dominant that it's vital to establish that Edge and Orton can beat them, and do it repeatedly. Should be a fun match, anyway, since aside from Knox, these guys are all good.

6. Elimination match: John Cena, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Bobby Lashley & Kane v. The Big Show, Test, MVP, Finlay & Umaga. Raw champion Cena versus ECW champion Big Show, in other words. But the rest of the teams seem to have been filled out drawing names from a hat. The story now makes a little more sense since Lashley has jumped to the ECW roster at the last moment. The main event of next week's ECW show is a six-man elimination match for their title, featuring Big Show, RVD, Sabu, Lashley and Test. The sixth guy is CM Punk, but he's already in another match. Anyway, this must be the match where they do the ECW angles, since the only obvious story here is the fact that half the participants will be fighting their own teammates next week in a match that probably means rather more to them.

As for Cena, he's basically between opponents at the moment, and he's been caught up in a ridiculous, but perversely entertaining, mini-feud against Kevin Federline. Yes, that Kevin Federline. Yes, they're really going to fight. Federline's desperation for publicity knows no bounds, although it must be said that he's a natural villain and turns out to be surprisingly good in the role. He'd actually be quite good as a manager, and given that he's probably in the market for a new line of work, he might want to seriously consider it. They're supposed to be fighting at New Year, so it wouldn't be a shock to see Federline turn up at this show.

Cena's next proper opponent is probably Umaga, which is most likely the reason why the big Samoan stereotype has been added to this match. Finlay seems to have been chucked in just to make the numbers, and finally we have Kane and MVP (it stands for "Montel Vontavious Porter"), who are stuck in an ill-conceived storyline on Smackdown. The big idea was that MVP would be given this huge build-up and then turn out to be rubbish. After doing this, of course, they realised the fundamental flaw in the plan: a character that high-profile needs to actually fight other wrestlers, and if he's going to do that, he has to be at least passable. So MVP has been clawing his way up the ladder over the last few weeks, to the point where it's no longer entirely clear what his gimmick is meant to be. Arrogance, I suppose. He also comes equipped with the stupidest entrance in wrestling, a giant inflatable doorway that they set up especially for him. Naturally, it takes an age to set up, and it causes real problems when he appears on a show that isn't pre-taped. Such as this one.

This match could go either way, since there isn't much storyline, but my instinct says Lashley and Cena win for their team, with Lashley eliminating the Big Show to establish him as a threat to the belt. It's all a bit random but it should be quite good fun.

7. Elimination Match: Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Sgt Slaughter & Ron Simmons v. Kenny, Johnny, Nicky & Mikey. A bunch of old guys versus four of the Spirit Squad, in other words. This is the nostalgia match, and since the Squad are in the throes of a break-up angle with Johnny turning on the others, I imagine the legends win, to make the crowd happy and further the Squad's storyline. It won't be much good as a technical wrestling match but it should still be decent from a charisma standpoint. And yes, there are only eight guys in this one - Arn Anderson is in the corner of Flair's team, but given his accumulated injuries, they're not even pretending that he's going to wrestle. (Poor Nick Mitchell gets to sit on the sidelines for the Spirit Squad, to balance it out.)

Worth buying? Yes - most of these matches look like fun. Lita/Mickie is probably as bad as it gets, and that won't be too bad. The elimination matches have plenty of possibilities, and everything else should be decent or better. They'll have to work hard to botch this one.