Sunday, January 07, 2007

New Year's Revolution 2007

The first wrestling pay-per-view of the year used to be the Royal Rumble, which is at the end of January and tends to do very well. But with the recent proliferation in PPVs, we now have this oddity as well - New Year's Revolution, a Raw show which tends to continue the build for the bigger show at the end of the month, rather than actually resolving any stories.

Fortunately for me, it's a good card, and it's also airing on Sky Sports in the UK, which means I don't have to pay extra for it. Hurrah. So, let's

1. WWE Championship: John Cena v Umaga. Let's get the obvious point out of the way first: Umaga, the savage islander from Samoa, is an astounding throwback to the sort of thing that every other form of entertainment stopped doing 20 years ago. It's a sign of how far wrestling has retreated into its insular world that they see this sort of thing as part of the proud tradition of cartoon wrestling characters, without grasping that in those days, it was part of the proud tradition of everyone else as well. Still, I suppose it could be worse. At least Umaga is genuinely ethnically Samoan (although by birth he's actually from California), and "Umaga" is a proper Samoan name.

Leaving that aside, this is a rare example of a feud that's been built up rather well, over a period of months. It's old-school booking of a sort of that promoters tend to shy away from these days beause they think it's too obvious. In fact, it's just a classic format that works. Take one heroic champion and ensure that he always wins for months on end. Introduce a powerful new villain and ensure that he demolishes opponents for months on end without ever losing a match, all the while steadily climbing his way up the card. Finally, the seemingly unstoppable villain demands his shot at the title, and the honourable hero has to accept, because clearly the guy is good enough to deserve his title shot. So... beloved champion, undefeated challenger. It's really that simple.

Cena and Umaga seem to work well together, and Umaga's come a long way since his early days as a member of the midcard tag team Three Minute Warning. (He was Jamal, if you didn't know.) This should be a good match, and I'm genuinely intrigued to know who wins. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Cena wins because they can't have Umaga as champion... but I think there's more mileage in this feud, so they can't have Cena break the undefeated streak just yet. It'd be a waste. My money's on a screwjob finish - a DQ or something - to set up a rematch at the Royal Rumble in a few weeks time. Umaga winning, and Cena chasing him for the next couple of months before regaining the title at Wrestlemania, is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

2. World Tag Team Titles: D-Generation X v Rated RKO. The formula for this feud seems to run as follows: Randy Orton and Edge occasionally get some sort of advantage on DX outside a match, but whenever they actually wrestle, DX destroy them, because that's what they do. They've made it look a little more even in the last few weeks, but really, I think they need to give Edge and Orton a lot more credibility if this storyline is going to be worthwhile. They've finally put the tag titles into this feud, which should have happened long ago (because the tag titles were being defended by minor midcard wrestlers while DX were clearly the dominant tag team on the show), but nobody really seems to care about them, and Rated RKO have yet to actually defend them against anyone terribly meaningful.

All four of these guys are good - well, three are always good, and Orton's more hit than miss. The match should be fine as long as they don't succumb to the temptation to just have DX destroy the bad guys utterly, which happens far too often. The correct booking is that Edge and Orton defeat DX and retain their titles, to legitimate themselves as tag champions and, again, set up a rematch down the line. I believe this is the first time the teams have actually fought in a straight tag match on PPV, so we've got plenty more scope to develop this story. I'm bracing myself for some tenuously justified DX win, though - a lot of the matches on this show should logically end up with a heel win, so it's easy to see somebody arguing that DX should win this one to balance it out.

3. Intercontinental Title, Steel Cage Match: Jeff Hardy v Johnny Nitro. Although Jeff Hardy is notionally a singles wrestler, which is why he holds the IC Title, in practice he's spent the last couple of months doing reunion matches with his brother Matt as the Hardy Boys. Last month, they were inexplicably (and with no promotion whatsoever) put on PPV in a four-way ladder match against, among others, MNM - Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury. During that match, they did the old standard see-saw spot where Jeff jumps onto one end of a ladder, and the other side smashes into the bad guys' faces. Johnny Nitro, who isn't a fool, got his hands up. Joey Mercury, who may have felt he had something to prove careerwise, thought it would be a terribly good idea to just let a ladder smash him right in the face without making any effort to protect himself. Thirty-odd stitches later, he worked out why this is generally considered a poor idea.

In most walks of life, being whacked in the face with a metal bar and taken to hospital would be considered a bad thing. In the world of professional wrestling, however, it means that you have a terribly good excuse to do a rematch, which should be great for Mercury's career. He's tentatively scheduled to be back in time for Wrestlemania, the biggest show of the year, and so common sense says they do a Hardys/MNM ladder match at that show. It should be great.

In the meantime, they have to keep the feud simmering over, and fortunately Johnny Nitro was chasing Jeff Hardy's intercontinental title already. So here they are in a steel cage match, to continue not only their own storyline, but the serendipitous new tag team storyline. Nitro is widely considered one of the most improved wrestlers of the last few years, and he works well with Jeff, so this should be a winner. Because they're theoretically building to further Hardys/MNM matches down the line, my instinct would be for Nitro to win here, although there's an argument for having Hardy retain. (The Hardys and MNM ought to be feuding over one of the tag titles; they don't need the IC belt; somebody else could be using it more effectively; Jeff should hold onto it so that he can lose it to a rising heel following interference from MNM.)

4. Women's Title: Mickie James v Victoria. Ladies and gentlemen, the women's division. With Trish Stratus and Lita retired, Beth Phoenix still on the shelf, and the rest of the division made up of swimsuit models and valets, Mickie James will defend her title against the only full time female wrestler still under contract. (Well, that's not entirely true - Jazz is under contract as well, but she never appears on TV.) This will probably be fairly bad, and mercifully short. My instinct here would be for Mickie to retain, since Victoria's a fairly minor character, and the highest-profile woman on the roster these days is probably Melina. Since Melina is a heel, they need Mickie to retain the title and fight her at Wrestlemania as babyface champion. With Victoria, there's nowhere to go but a rematch, which isn't a very interesting direction.

5. Ric Flair v Kenny Dykstra. That would be Kenny out of the Spirit Squad, inexplicably lumbered with a surname that's apparently some sort of American sports reference. (His real name is Ken Doane.) With the Spirit Squad disbanded and most of the members sent back off the OVW training league, they're giving Kenny what seems to be a good faith push as a rising solo star. Again, this has been surprisingly old-school stuff, as he repeatedly pins the respected veteran Flair, but refuses to show him any respect. If they're serious about this push, then Kenny should be winning here to clearly defeat Flair, and move on to another opponent. A Flair win is... acceptable, as far as an end to this story goes, but it kills Kenny's momentum. That's a bad thing, especially when his other storyline involves him petitioning for membership in Rated RKO and trying to prove himself to them. Flair has credibility to spare, and he'll make Kenny look good. As for Kenny, he's got a ton of talent even if he's a little lacking in experience. (After all, he's only 20.) This should be fine.

6. Carlito v Chris Masters. Inexplicable last-minute rehash of a feud we all thought was over, possibly introduced because they need a pointless match where the good guy can win. Chris Masters, originally introduced with a bodybuilder gimmick, has quite coincidentally dropped an awful lot of weight ever since steroid testing came in, something so noticeable that even the commentators have had to acknowledge it. Since he doesn't have a great deal else going for him, he seems to be clearly on the way out - the real alarm bell coming at the annual troops show in Iraq where his signature Masterlock was finally broken, after a couple of years, by some plant from the crowd in a feelgood moment. There's apparently been talk of sending him to ECW along with the underused (in the sense that he dutifully shows up at the arena every week but never gets to do anything) Gene Snitsky.

Carlito and Masters have fought several times before, and it's invariably mediocre. Conventional wisdom says that when there's no point to a match, the babyface should win, and that's even stronger when the bad guy is clearly in decline.

Worth buying? Yes. Six matches announced, of which four should be good and the other two should be short. I wouldn't be surprised to see some last-minute addition to the card, but overall this seems a fairly safe bet.