Saturday, June 02, 2007

One Night Stand 2007

A mere two weeks after Judgment Day comes the bizarre scheduling anomaly of One Night Stand. Those of you not familiar with the world of wrestling may wonder what on earth is going on here.

This is the third annual One Night Stand show. In 2005, it was meant to be a one-off tribute to ECW, a highly influential indie promotion that never quite got a proper send-off when it went bust. The WWE was well-placed to put on that show. They had already bought the rights to ECW from its liquidators in order to use them in the Invasion storyline a couple of years earlier. Many of the ECW wrestlers were already under contract. And they employed ECW's former owner Paul Heyman.

The show went rather well, and in 2006 Heyman and Rob Van Dam managed to persuade the WWE to bring back ECW as a full-time third brand. So that year, One Night Stand was the launch for the new ECW. Again, the show did quite well. But the new ECW, marooned in a one-hour weekly slot on the Sci-Fi Network, was almost universally regarded as a terrible show. The big name wrestlers parachuted in to prop up the aging ECW roster quickly disappeared, and it began to look like a decidedly third-rate affair compared to Raw or Smackdown.

The writing was dreary, and the point of no return was reached with last December's December to Dismember PPV, a show so abysmal that the crowd was chanting for a refund during the main event. The show was so incontrovertibly terrible that the WWE removed Paul Heyman from television the next day and gave the in-story explanation that he had resigned in despair because his show was so bad.

By this stage, nobody would seriously suggest that ECW could carry its own pay-per-view. And in any event, the WWE is going through its annual post-Wrestlemania panic phase, where it looks at the decline in business after the biggest show of the year, and decides to throw random stuff out there to boost the ratings, instead of taking a long-term view. This year, among other things, they've decided that all three brands should appear on every PPV, in the belief that this will boost ratings. So an ECW-only PPV is doubly unacceptable to the company right now.

In fact, the company seems generally rather confused about the status of the three brands. They've announced a reshuffle of the rosters in a couple of weeks time, but it's hard to see why anyone should care when the rosters haven't been kept separate in months. Matt Hardy, nominally a Smackdown wrestler, still holds one of the Raw tag team titles. Bobby Lashley, the ECW Champion, appears on Raw all the time. Randy Orton, from the Raw roster, was in ECW's main event last week. So really, who cares if there's a reshuffle? Unfortunately, when the WWE - read, Vince McMahon - is in this sort of mood, they tend not to think things through logically.

And so, we come to One Night Stand 2007 - a show that was entered onto the schedule many months ago when they expected it to be an all-ECW show, and which now has no particularly good reason to exist. The WWE's latest big idea, however, is that PPVs should have themes. So, in an echo of its ECW origins, ONS 2007 will feature matches contested under "extreme rules." This is the WWE's pet term for the original ECW rules, in which there were no count-outs and no disqualifications. In effect, this meant that there were no rules aside from the winning stipulations (since the referee still had to verify that a pinfall had occurred).

This might have worked as a theme, if they'd actually done it. Instead, they've produced a show where virtually every match has a gimmick attached as well, and where the "extreme rules" theme has been lost as a result.

So - One Night Stand 2007. A completely superfluous show which they've probably rather not be doing, and with a notional theme that isn't properly implemented. And just to make matters worse, the WWE is also contractually obliged to produce an episode of Saturday Night's Main Event this Saturday for NBC. Previous episodes have been ratings disasters and so the show is going out at 11.30pm on the east coast. It was taped on Monday night after Raw, and suffice to say that nothing of importance will be taking place.

1. WWE Title, Falls Count Anywhere: John Cena v. The Great Khali. The Raw title, in other words. This is a rematch from Judgment Day, where John Cena defeated Khali by submission, using his finisher, in a match that wasn't anywhere near as bad as some people were predicting. It was watchable, largely because it was short. The booking, however, was bizarre. They were always planning to do a rematch at One Night Stand, but instead Cena just defeated the big guy. Notionally, the excuse for the rematch is that Khali's foot was under the bottom rope, and therefore the submission didn't count. But that's not the point. That's a story that you do with a cowardly villain who relies on technicalities. Khali's schtick is that he's an indestructible monster who powers through all his opponents. That's not really consistent with Cena getting him to submit, whatever the technicalities might be. If they wanted Cena to win inconclusively, they would have been better off just having him pin Khali with a roll-up. Then, you can at least say that Khali was outwrestled for three seconds, but wasn't actually beaten up.

But this is the position they're in, and so we're having the rematch anyway, with an arbitrary "falls count anywhere" stipulation. That should at least allow them to do plenty of gimmickry with the set, to further disguise Khali's huge limitations. In an attempt to rebuild Khali, by the way, he'll be pinning John Cena tonight on Saturday Night's Main Event. Nobody will be watching, so it won't make any difference.

Cena will win, and the match will be short and watchable.

2. World Heavyweight Title, Steel Cage Match: Edge v. Batista. The Smackdown title, and another rematch from Judgment Day. The previous match was perfectly good, and ended with Edge pinning Batista with a roll-up after his leg gave out. That's a more effective way of protecting the challenger. There's not a great deal of story here - Edge was parachuted onto Smackdown at the last moment because of a spate of injuries, and they haven't had much time to get a proper feud under way. But at least it's likely to be a good match.

The steel cage stipulation is completely arbitrary. Traditionally, the point of a steel cage match was supposed to be to ensure that there was no outside interference in the match, but there's been no history of outside interference in this feud. So it's just there to add a bit of drama.

Edge will retain, probably by escaping the cage rather than by decisively defeating his opponent.

3. ECW World Title, street fight: Vince McMahon v. Bobby Lashley. The latest instalment of Bobby Lashley's attempt to regain the ECW Title from company chairman Vince McMahon. Vince, you'll recall, won the title at Backlash by pinning Lashley in a three-on-one handicap match where his partners Shane and Umaga did all the work. At Judgment Day, Lashley won a rematch, but pinned Shane instead of Vince, which Vince used as an excuse to hold on to the title. Now, for extremely shaky plot reasons, Vince has finally decided to fight Lashley himself - although with the rules on this show, there's nothing to prevent a thousand hangers-on from running in. Which is undoubtedly what will happen. There's no way on earth Lashley is really going to have a match with Vince, who is in late middle age. It will be a cartoon story segment.

The story hasn't exactly been setting the world alight, so it's probably time for Lashley to finally overcome the odds and regain his title.

This is being billed as a "street fight", even though every match on the show is already being contested under "extreme rules." I have absolutely no idea what the difference is meant to be. I'd always understood them to be the same thing in the WWE.

4. World Tag Team Title, ladder match: Matt & Jeff Hardy v. Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas. Another rather arbitrary match, since Shelton & Charlie have been on the margins for ages, and haven't done much to earn themselves a title shot. Still, it's the Hardys defending their tag titles in a ladder match, which is usually good. And while the challengers may be minor characters, they're great wrestlers. This should be a fine match.

The main storyline with the tag titles at the moment is that Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch are trying to buddy up to the Hardys, but since we all know they're villains, they're bound to turn on them at the end. There's been some attempt to suggest that Cade and Murdoch are unhappy that they aren't getting the title shot (even though they've already fought the Hardys and lost twice). There are two logical finishes to this match - either the Hardys win clean, or Cade and Murdoch interfere and cost them the match. I could live with either. A clean win for the challengers would just be bizarre.

5. Melina v Candice Michelle. In custard. Er... really? This illustrates just how wildly erratic the behaviour of WWE management is, since it's only a couple of weeks ago that they were reportedly insisting that the women should be more classy from now on. These two have actually been feuding over Melina's Women's Title (which, mercifully, is not on the line in this T&A segment), and I can't for the life of me figure out why somebody thought this was a good idea. I mean, if you really want to do this sort of thing, why not do it with Smackdown's Jillian Hall and Michelle McCool? They're already feuding, and their storyline is ridiculous to start with.

It is what it is. Candice will win.

6. Tables match: The New Breed (Elijah Burke, Matt Striker & Marcus Cor Von) v. CM Punk, Tommy Dreamer & the Sandman. In other words, it's ECW's main heel faction, the New Breed, against three random ECW midcarders. CM Punk is meant to be a rising star, and so are the New Breed. They've been feuding for a while. Dreamer and Sandman are veterans from the original ECW and are only there to fill out the roster. The match was announced in passing on Tuesday's ECW show, and so it's not the pay-off to anything. It doesn't take a genius to figure out who's winning.

I'm not sure the New Breed are really cut out for this sort of match - where, basically, the winners are the first team to do some ludicrously contrived spot that involves throwing an opponent through a cheap plywood table. Wrestlers who are into insane stunts love cheap plywood tables, because they absorb the impact while looking as though they ought to hurt a lot more than they do. They were massively overused in the late 1990s, which was the heyday of this particular gimmick match.

The New Breed will win. The match will probably be undercard filler.

7. Stretcher match: Randy Orton v Rob Van Dam. I forget the details of how you win one of these things, but it's something along the lines of "strap your opponent to a stretcher and wheel him out of the arena." It's an attempt to capitalise on the awkward "match" that they did with Orton and Shawn Michaels at Judgment Day. Shawn was too badly injured to do a proper match, so they did an angle where Orton simply annihilated him and kicked him repeatedly in the head. Then, this week, they did something similar with Orton and Van Dam.

Orton was meant to be in the doghouse after getting himself kicked off the European tour for unprofessional behaviour, but with the number of recent injuries to high-profile wrestlers, his stock has risen again. Van Dam, on the other hand, is still far and away the most popular wrestler on the ECW roster. But, according to the usual news sources, he has decided to leave when his contract expires, and this is due to be his final match. So he's losing, then.

It should be okay, and I suspect Van Dam may want to make an impression on his way out. There's every chance that he'll sign with TNA and work a couple of days a month at their TV tapings.

8. Lumberjack match: Kane v Mark Henry. Another random last-minute addition from the Smackdown brand, as the returning strongman Mark Henry takes on Kane in a rematch from, er, Friday. That match ended in a count-out when Kane was knocked out and couldn't return to the ring. This suggests that somebody on the writing crew hasn't understood the point of a lumberjack match. A lumberjack match, traditionally, involved surrounding the ring with other wrestlers who prevented people from leaving. It's what you did as the pay-off to a story where the bad guy kept getting himself counted out in order to retain his title, in the days before steel cages became commonplace. Nowadays, it's usually just an excuse for an incoherent brawl around the ringside area. This won't be very good, but it's far enough down the card that it ought to be short. Henry will win, since he's only just back from a long absence, and Kane will always have credibility with the fans.

Worth buying? Well, it's airing on Sky Sports 1 in the UK, so it's an academic question. There are actually some matches on this that could be decent - Edge/Batista and the ladder match - but otherwise I'd probably give it a miss if I had to pay for it.