Saturday, May 19, 2007

Judgment Day 2007

It's time for another PPV already. Judgment Day is one of the generic regular shows which would formerly have been brand-specific, but the WWE is sticking to its new format of featuring matches from Raw, Smackdown and ECW on every show. This is good news if you're a member of the ECW crew, since at least you now have a remote chance of getting a PPV pay-off. But it also means that we have the increasingly ludicrous spectacle of three "world titles" being defended on the same show promoted by the same company.

The WWE doesn't quite seem to appreciate how silly this is - they're in love with their own titles and seem to think that more titles must, by definition, be a good thing. But you don't want to be too blatant about the fact that your world champion is, in fact, even in storyline, just the champion of the twenty-odd healthy guys on the Smackdown roster.

It also means that a lot of the secondary titles are getting lost in the shuffle. Neither of the tag belts is being defended on this show. (And if we're going to have all three rosters appearing on every PPV, why on earth do we need two sets of tag titles in the first place?) There's nothing with the Women's Title, or the Cruiserweight Title, or even Raw's secondary singles belt, the Intercontinental Title. Most of these titles even have obvious challengers in place, but there's just no room for them on the show.

Judgment Day is a PPV in the UK, so if I want to watch this, I'll have to pay for it. And it's an odd card.

1. Raw World Title: John Cena v The Great Khali. The website lists this as the top match on the show, but it was downplayed on Monday night, and it's hard to believe they can seriously be intending to put it on as the main event. The Great Khali is a giant from India. He's arguably the single worst professional wrestler in North America today. Shawn Michaels managed to get a semi-passable match out of him a few weeks back, but he did it by getting Khali to stand still while Shawn bounced off him for several minutes. Actually asking Khali to do anything is a terrible risk - the most rudimentary wrestling moves appear to challenge him enormously. For a while, his finisher was a judo chop to the forehead, apparently selected on the basis that even Khali couldn't screw that up.

Now, there's a place in wrestling for people like Khali, as big freaks of nature to wow the live crowd. It doesn't work as well on television, where the sense of scale is largely lost. And if you push him as unstoppable for long enough, at some point you've got to address the question of why he isn't the champion. (Actually making him the champion is out of the question, because he doesn't have the talent.)

So poor John Cena will have to wrestle the Great Khali and try to make sure it isn't entirely horrible. Now, Cena's fine, but ultimately he's only as good as his opponent. With a really good opponent, he can have great matches. With the Great Khali... many people are bracing themselves for a train wreck. But the WWE are well aware of Khali's limitations - one of the reasons they had him fighting Cena backstage on Monday night was so that they could pre-tape it - so they'll have put some thought into this. They'll be doing everything in their power to distract from the big lug's fundamental lack of talent.

But it won't be any good. The best hope is that it could be an entertaining catastrophe, but I wouldn't even put money on that. I think they'll manage to get it to the level of "dull but not embarrassing", and everyone will be very disappointed.

Cena is obviously retaining - there's simply no way they could put the belt on Khali and expect him to headline the show. Khali's been built strongly enough that he could take a clean defeat without any real damage, so hopefully Cena just pins him and we can move on to a proper match at the next show.

2. Smackdown World Title: Edge v Batista. Now this gets a little complicated. The Undertaker won the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania and defended it successfully against Batista at Backlash. Then he hurt his arm, so he'll be out for a good few months. The original plan was to have Mr Kennedy cash in his "money in the bank" title shot and win the title. But then Mr Kennedy also hurt his arm, and he'll be out for a good few months too. So Edge got to beat Kennedy in a short, contrived match to win his title shot, and then cashed it in to beat the Undertaker (immediately after a half-hour cage match and a Mark Henry run-in) and win the title. Clear?

So Edge is the undeserving champion, and since he's got to fight somebody on this show, he's going to fight Undertaker's opponent Batista. There's no real storyline to this, but they should be able to get a months out of this pairing, since it's a fresh match-up. Edge has been on Raw for years, and all his potential opponents on Smackdown are new. Edge will undoubtedly retain, no doubt using some dastardly cheating to set up a rematch on the next show. Edge is very talented, so the match will probably be quite good.

3. ECW World Title: Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon & Umaga v. Bobby Lashley. Vince McMahon won the ECW title by pinning Bobby Lashley in a three-on-one handicap match at Backlash, which is a ridiculous piece of hubris since he's really getting on in years. The angle is meant to be that it's a travesty - his partners did all the work, he hopped in at the end for the pin, and he never actually defends the title. It's a little unclear how the rules work for this rematch - in order to win the title back, is it good enough for Lashley to pin any of his opponents, or does he have to pin Vince?

The ECW title is a bit of a joke, but if we're going to pretend that the third show has any value at all, they really can't afford to treat it like this for too long. Lashley ought to get his revenge and reclaim his title here, in what should be an over-plotted piece of absurdity. Sometimes these matches work, but the feud hasn't quite clicked, and I'm not expecting much.

With the ECW roster looking decidedly shaky, the future looks bleak for Bobby Lashley - his only obvious opponent is Gene Snitsky, and really, who wants to see that?

4. United States Title, best of 3 falls: Chris Benoit v MVP. Benoit and MVP have been feuding over Smackdown's secondary title for a while now, and the basic format is established - MVP puts up a surprisingly good showing against the technical expertise of Benoit, but always loses in the end. Surely he's got to win the title in the end, since he's meant to be one of the rising stars on the show. And this has got to be the time. Mind you, I said that last month.

It's a weird storyline, since MVP is meant to be the bad guy, and they're almost presenting him as a doggedly persistent fighter. Perhaps the pay-off is that MVP finally wins with good old-fashioned cheating, after failing with the straight wrestling over the last couple of months. In any event, the previous matches have been pretty good, and this one should be no different.

5. Elijah Burke v CM Punk. This is ECW's second-tier storyline. CM Punk, formerly a darling of the indie scene, has been reasonably successful in his role as a rookie star. Elijah Burke is the leader of the New Breed, a faction composed of random ECW villains arbitrarily grouped together. The weirdly-plotted storyline involves CM Punk agreeing to join the New Breed, screwing about wth them for a couple of weeks, and then just turning on them. They could have got months out of this material, but they rushed through it in double quick time.

Punk still looks a little like an indie wrestler who hasn't quite adjusted to the WWE house style. A lot of purists will tell you that the WWE house style is needlessly limiting and oppressive, and that they'd be better advised to let everyone work in their own style and get on with it. Maybe so, but that's not the style CM Punk is being paid to wrestle in, and he's trying his best to perform in a style that doesn't really play to his strengths.

Still, he's got talent, and Elijah Burke has had some good matches as well, when you consider the sort of opponents he's generally been lumbered with. They have a real opportunity to try and shine on a major show (by ECW standards) and I'm sure they'll be pulling out all the stops. This should be a good midcard match.

6. Shawn Michaels v Randy Orton. A weird last-minute addition to the card, as if they suddenly realised they'd left two of the major Raw characters off the show, and paired them up without giving much more thought to it. There is essentially no storyline to this, although they went through the motions of a set-up on Monday night's Raw. Orton is still in the doghouse after being kicked off the European tour, so chances are Michaels is winning. It should be a good, if pointless, match - Michaels is always very good, and Orton can be great when he's motivated. And when he's trying to get back in favour with the company, he's very motivated.

7. Carlito v Ric Flair. A mid-card Raw storyline. The idea is that the veteran Ric Flair took Carlito under his wing for a while, but Carlito has finally turned on him and gone back to his old ways. Apparently Carlito thinks his character works better as a villain. This story has been dawdling along quite happily for quite some time, and the live crowds don't seem especially interested. Don't be surprised if this is shoved in between two of the headline matches - the WWE quite often sandwiches a weak match between the main and semi-main events, on the logic that it gives the crowd a break between the important stuff. Normally it's the women's match (and rightly so), but there's no women's match on this PPV, and that makes Carlito the obvious candidate.

Since this is the first match after Carlito turned heel, he ought to win. It won't be too bad, with Flair in the ring.

Worth buying? Erm... it's a bit underheated in terms of story build, isn't it? Only one of the three world title matches really holds any promise of being good, but it's the one with no plot. The ECW thing isn't really working, and Cena/Khali will be somewhere between mediocre and catastrophic. On the other hand, Michaels/Orton and the US Title match should be good, and Burke/Punk has some possibilities.

But... yeah, it's not a surefire winner, is it? I'll wait to see the reports on this show before I shell out any money on it.