Saturday, September 15, 2007

Unforgiven 2007

You might not have noticed, if you've been watching the TV shows, but the WWE has another PPV on this weekend.

Unforgiven has turned out to be something of an afterthought, for two reasons. Firstly, everything has been thrown out of whack by the Signature Pharmacy case.

Signature was an online pharmacy which supplied various wrestlers with drugs that blatantly violated the company drug policy (not to mention, the law). Signature is currently being prosecuted, and the cops showed up at WWE headquarters with evidence clearly listing the wrestlers involved. Since the WWE is just about to attend congressional hearings on the subject of its drug policy, they had little alternative but to follow it to the letter, leading to a raft of 30-day suspensions. The company hasn't released the names of the wrestlers involved, but since the evidence itself was leaked to the press, and a bunch of guys were written off the show at the very next taping, it's pretty easy to figure out who they are.

Secondly, the WWE has devoted most of the last month to the "Who is Mr McMahon's long-lost illegitimate son?" storyline, which has precisely nothing to do with this pay-per-view. To be fair, it's leading to other matches down the line. By all accounts, the original plan was for Mr Kennedy to be revealed as the son on last week's Raw, which was taped in his home town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. This would have led to him becoming a main event wrestler, and fighting for control of the company against Triple H (Vince's son-in-law).

Unfortunately, Mr Kennedy has suddenly vanished from television for some strange reason. This is all desperately embarrassing, because Kennedy has spent the last couple of months doing the media rounds telling everyone who'll listen that there is no drug problem in wrestling, and that he personally has never, ever broken the WWE drug policy. More to the point, he's made some rather personal attacks on those journalists who had the temerity to suggest otherwise. He doesn't come out of this looking very good. Although as he's a villain, that won't necessarily cause him any problems.

With Kennedy out of the way, the WWE rather surprisingly ploughed ahead and revealed that Vince's son was Hornswoggle, the Irish midget from Smackdown. This means one of two things. Option one, they're going to do a few weeks of filler until Hornswoggle is exposed as a fake, and then we go back to the original story as planned. Option two, they've given up on the whole thing and they're turning it into a comedy angle. I'd be stunned if they weren't going for option one, but a lot of people do seem to think that this is genuinely the end of the plot, and winning them round to take it seriously again is going to be tricky.

But none of this has anything to do with Sunday's show. Instead, behold filler.

1. WWE Championship: John Cena v Randy Orton. A rematch from last month, when Cena retained his title to general surprise. They had a good match last month, but the storyline hasn't quite worked in the intervening weeks. The big idea is that Cena is out for revenge because Orton kicked his dad in the head. John Cena Sr works occasionally for an indie promotion up in Massachusetts, which is why he was so enthusiastic about getting involved in that storyline. But the follow-up was a bit half-hearted, and I don't think it's really worked.

So it's Cena and Orton in a straight match again. It should be good, and at this stage, I suspect Orton isn't winning the belt. If they were going to make him champion, he would probably have won last month. My guess would be that Cena retains on Sunday and goes on to lose to Vince's "real" son in due course.

What's more, Cena won the title at last year's Unforgiven, on 17 September 2006. So if he retains on Sunday, he gets to celebrate a year as champion on Monday night's episode of Raw. Having come this far, I can't see why you'd pass that up.

2. World Heavyweight Championship: The Great Khali v. Batista v. Rey Mysterio. Appallingly, the Great Khali is still Smackdown's champion, despite the minor handicap of being arguably the worst full-time professional wrestler on the planet. But he's big, you see. The story here is that Khali has already destroyed both of his challengers as individuals, but hey, maybe on Sunday they'll be able to take him down together. This is an awful idea. Khali is meant to be the bad guy. If the good guys are going to beat him, they ought to do it fair and square. It's no good for the babyfaces to beat him by double-teaming him, and if they actually lose, they look like total morons. What's more, I can't imagine what little Rey Mysterio is possibly going to do in a match against Khali.

This will be dreadful. I strongly suspect Khali is retaining, so that the returning Undertaker can win the belt next month.

3. ECW Championship: CM Punk v. Elijah Burke. Shameless filler. The previous ECW Champion was John Morrison, but he's on the "mysteriously vanished" list. More to the point, the WWE had already announced that his next defence would be against CM Punk, for the umpteenth time. So, with no other options really on the table, they just did that match on free television, and CM Punk won the title - more by accident than by plotting design.

Punk will now defend against Elijah Burke, because... well, just because, really. It's been weeks since Burke did anything significant on ECW television, but at least he's not caught up in another storyline. Punk and Burke had a long-running feud several months ago and we've seen them fight many times before. It'll be okay, it'll be buried near the bottom of the card, and CM Punk will win cleanly with his finisher.

4. World Tag Team Championships: Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch v. Paul London & Brian Kendrick. These are the Raw tag team titles, for those of you keeping track. Cade & Murdoch, the evil rednecks, were originally going to defend their titles against Cryme Tyme, who won a title shot on Raw. But Cryme Tyme have been fired after a bizarre altercation in an untelevised show. The details are a little vague, but by most accounts, they lost a match in an unscripted count-out, decided that it was some sort of joke to make them look bad (which might be true), and took their revenge by hitting their finishing move on the referee without his consent. This did not go down well, and the lovable criminals are now available for indie bookings.

So London and Kendrick are getting the title shot instead. They were tag champions on Smackdown for months, and they're actually very good. This should be a fine match. The teams actually traded the tag titles back and forth on last week's South African tour, which is a classic way of making the fans at obscure shows think they're seeing something "important." Those title changes were acknowledged on Raw this week, and I'd be very surprised to see the tag belts change hands for the third time in a fortnight. You never know, but my money is on Cade and Murdoch retaining to set up a rematch.

5. WWE Tag Team Championship: Matt Hardy & MVP v. Deuce & Domino. The Smackdown tag titles, and this is actually a neat little storyline. MVP is the heel United States Champion, and Matt Hardy has been chasing that title for months. Unfortunately for both of them, MVP made the mistake of betting that he could win the tag titles partnered by the next person to enter the room, and so they're now saddled with each other as an odd-couple tag team. They already won the titles from Deuce & Domino, the fifties throwbacks, on Smackdown; this is the rematch.

It's an odd dynamic, because Matt Hardy is the only babyface in the match, and he's teamed with a bad guy. But they've played this relatively well. The idea is that Hardy and MVP can't stand one another, and can't work as a team, but both of them take the tag titles seriously enough that they're at least trying to make a go of it. I can't see any point putting the titles back on Deuce and Domino, who really aren't that great, so I'm assuming that the mismatched champions retain in a fairly entertaining story-driven match.

6. WWE Women's Championship: Candice Michelle v Beth Phoenix. Beth Phoenix is one of the few women on the Raw roster who hasn't had a shot with the women's championship yet. She's okay, but the character hasn't really got over yet. If you're going to have Candice lose her title to a heel, it might as well be Jillian Hall, who people actually care about enough to boo. Then again, Candice is probably better as an underdog chasing the title than she is pretending to be a credible champion, so a win for Phoenix wouldn't be a terrible idea. And with six titles defended, one of them really needs to change hands. It'll be short, and I suspect Phoenix is winning.

7. The Undertaker v Mark Henry. The Undertaker returns from a lengthy absence due to injury, and naturally goes after the guy who beat him up in his last appearance. Well, the second-last guy who beat him up in his last appearance. The last guy would be Edge, but he's at home recovering from surgery. As with Mysterio and Triple H last month, they've promoted this match without Undertaker appearing on television. Instead, Mark Henry has been squashing local wrestlers and then getting angry about druids.

Henry is billed as the World's Strongest Man, and actually has a fairly legitimate claim to that title. He's never been a particularly good wrestler, but he's a huge, scary-looking guy, which can be enough in small doses. And he's supposed to be coming up for the end of his contract. It's a virtual foregone conclusion that Undertaker will win his return match; if it's kept fairly short, I suspect they can make the match passable.

8. Triple H v Carlito. More filler. Triple H made his triumphant return last month by annihilating King Booker. I have no idea what the original plan was for this month, but I find it hard to believe that it involved Triple H fighting a mid-card villain without much storyline, halfway down the card. In an attempt to put the outcome in some sort of doubt, the oddball stipulation for this match is that Carlito can't be disqualified, but Triple H has to follow the rules. But we all know what this means in practice: Carlito will throw everything but the kitchen sink at the guy, and then he'll heroically pin him cleanly with his finisher. And then the commentators will tell us all how wonderful Triple H is again, because he's Vince's son-in-law, and he has a hand in writing the show. (Last month, the commentary team were scripted to give him a standing ovation.)

Worth buying? Well, it's on Sky Sports 1, so that's not my problem. But no, it's not really worth buying. Cena/Orton and the Raw tag match should be good. The Smackdown tag match could be good if they can work around the limitations of Deuce and Domino. Everything else is filler, really. Only the Khali match looks utterly wretched, but it doesn't have the feel of a must-watch show.