Saturday, February 17, 2007

No Way Out 2007

Back to wrestling.

No Way Out is a weird show, stuck in the schedules between January's Royal Rumble (major show) and April's Wrestlemania 23 (biggest show of the year). It's notionally a Smackdown-only show, but in practice it ends up being hijacked to continue the Wrestlemania build. The result is a show with a very, very odd line-up. The selling point is the main event, which is meant to be part of the storyline for the Raw and Smackdown title matches in April. The rest of the card is a strange mixture of filler.

Luckily for me, this is airing on Sky Sports 1 in the UK, so the question of paying for it doesn't arise.

1. Batista & The Undertaker v. John Cena & Shawn Michaels. Here's the high concept. Batista is the Smackdown champion; the Undertaker is challenging for his belt at Wrestlemania. Cena is the Raw champion; Michaels is challenging for that belt at Wrestlemania. So it's the champion and challenger from each show, fighting one another. There was some angle or other to justify this a few weeks ago, but basically it's just a Matter Of Pride with nothing much at stake. A happy side effect is that it's not obvious who will win.

All four wrestlers are supposed to be the good guys, but since the teams are fighting one another in a much more important match in a month's time, the obvious tease is that they'll turn on one another and the whole thing will be entertaining chaos. Cena, the most conventional babyface of the four, certainly won't turn on anyone. The other three plausibly could, since Michaels and Undertaker have always been much closer to antiheroes.

For some reason, Michaels and Cena are also the Raw tag team champions at the moment, but those belts aren't on the line here. Presumably. In theory the midcard comedy act Cryme Tyme are supposed to be the number one contenders for those titles, but that idea seems to have fallen by the wayside. It's not a match they can do at the moment, because the champs would have to demolish poor little Cryme Tyme, and kill their momentum stone dead. Normally this sort of angle, where a makeshift team of rivals wins the tag belts, leads to all sorts of internal tension, but I'm not sure it's really adding anything in this story. If anything, it just makes the tag belts look like afterthoughts to the main plot, which is a bad thing.

Batista hasn't been much good lately, but with the other three there, they should have a great match. This should be a strong main event, whatever actually happens. I'm not even going to guess at who wins, but presumably it's not going to be a decisive win either way.

2. Smackdown Tag Team Titles: Paul London & Brian Kendrick v. Deuce & Domino. London and Kendrick have held the Smackdown tag belts for over eight months, which says more about the level of competition in that division than anything else. They're good, but it's not as if they've got many people to fight. The original plan here was to do a rematch of the four-way ladder match from Armageddon with MNM, the Hardys and Regal/Taylor. But that was pulled at the last moment, apparently because the WWE are still vacillating back and forth about whether to keep the Hardys and MNM together permanently. This week the answer is "no." Last week it was "yes." Next week it might be "yes" again.

In the meantime, London and Kendrick will defend their title against 50s throwbacks Deuce and Domino, a team so retro that their hometown is announced as "the Other Side of the Tracks." According to those who know about these things, D&D really aren't very good at this whole wrestling thing, and they've basically been covering to some extent by using a classic technique for making your moves look better: just hit the guy for real. They don't actually look as horrible as all that on TV, and London and Kendrick have already managed to get some acceptable (but not great) matches out of them.

Deuce and Domino have already beaten the champions twice on TV more or less cleanly (despite being the bad guys), and arguably that gives them enough credibility that they can afford to lose this match. I don't really want London and Kendrick's titles to pass to these bozos just before the biggest show of the year; as with Cruiserweight champion Gregory Helms, the very fact that they've held the belts for so long is becoming a minor virtue in itself.

3. ECW World Title: Bobby Lashley v. Mr Kennedy. Don't ask me. Inexplicably thrown onto the card at the very last moment, ECW's world champion Bobby Lashley will defend his minor-league title against Ken Kennedy because, er, just because. ECW, the WWE's C-level show, seems to be mainly a project to build up Lashley these days. But throwing him, and his supposed world title, into a match on two days' build hardly makes him look like a big deal. ECW generally has a major credibility problem right now; nobody seriously regards the ECW belt as remotely equivalent to the Raw or Smackdown ones (even by wrestling standards), and it makes the characters look stupid when they pretend otherwise. Urgent remedial work is needed.

Amusingly, they've been running "early years of Bobby Lashley" films on ECW recently. Quite why somebody thought this was a good idea is a mystery. Since the WWE publicly insists that it has a strictly enforced anti-steroid policy, it seems deeply unwise to show footage of Lashley during his amateur wrestling days and his time in the US Army, when he was, shall we say, not quite so well defined. He must be working out really hard.

Lashley will win this match, obviously - unless they've decided to parachute Kennedy over to ECW permanently, and admittedly, it's lacking in star power. Both guys are relatively inexperienced, and I'm not expecting much from the match.

4. Kane v King Booker. This month's obligatory match featuring two guys on the fringes of the main event who don't have anything better to do. These two are feuding over the fact that they eliminated one another from the Royal Rumble match in January. Also, Kane's movie is out on DVD, so they need to get him on TV. Neither character really interests me, and I expect the match to be slow and plodding. Kane probably wins, while the announcers remind us that his movie is out on DVD.

5. "Diva Talent Invitational." The various anonymous women - whom the WWE insists on hiring even though they haven't meant a thing for ratings in years - do talent stuff, and the production crew hope that they can race through the segment before the live crowd turns on it. That's usually how it works. The political back story here is that Vince McMahon is angry that he couldn't strike a deal with Hulk Hogan for a big Wrestlemania match, and so he's taking out his sulkiness by getting Jillian Hall to do a new "really bad singer" gimmick. The joke is meant to be that she's impersonating Hogan's daughter Brooke, but it's flying over most people's heads, because the similarity isn't that close. Also, it's not funny.

This will be agony, and I will be fast forwarding through it.

6. Finlay & Little Bastard v Boogeyman & Little Boogeyman. We may have a first for professional wrestling: a match actually improved by the addition of midgets. The Boogeyman has been around for a while now doing his "mad bloke who eats worms" gimmick, and the blunt reality is that he's absolutely diabolical at wrestling. That's why his matches usually last about thirty seconds and consist of the other guy acting afraid while he does some dancing before hitting his one move.

Pairing him with Finlay is a last ditch attempt to see if anyone can get a good match out of the guy. As a veteran wrestler who actually managed to improve the quality of the women's division immeasurably during his time as a road agent, Finlay has a better chance than anyone else. They've now done two proper matches on TV and, well, even Finlay has his limits. But they've also turned it into a tag match with Finlay's leprechaun companion (don't ask), and a newly-introduced midget Boogeyman. I can say with some confidence that the Boogeyman will probably still be the worst wrestler in the match by a long way.

It'll be a comedy segment and hopefully it'll be kept short. And then maybe they'll resign themselves to the fact that the Boogeyman is simply too bad to put in the ring in any major way, making him essentially useless as anything more than an occasional novelty act.

7. WWE Cruiserweight Title: Gregory Helms v. Scotty 2 Hotty v. Jamie Noble v. Daivari v. Jimmy Wang Yang v. Funaki v. Shannon Moore. Bizarre thrown-together mess of a match in which Gregory Helms seems to be defending against the entire Cruiserweight division for no discernible reason. They've done this before, and the point still doesn't seem to have dawned on them: Helms is meant to be the bad guy, and if you put him in a match where he's massively outnumbered, he starts getting sympathy. That's not good. The fact that they've had to bring in Scotty, who was reassigned to the Raw roster only a couple of weeks ago, plus Shannon Moore, a jobber from ECW, says it all. (London and Kendrick are cruiserweights, but they're already being used elsewhere on the card.)

Helms has held the title for over a year, largely because there's nobody around to challenge him seriously. But there's absolutely no mileage in having him lose the belt here, so hopefully they have him retain, and set up some kind of challenger out of this mess.

Worth buying? Er... depends how badly you want to see the main event, really, because the rest of it looks pretty damn ropey. Main event does look good, though.