Saturday, October 06, 2007

No Mercy 2007

PPV time again, and this should be an interesting one - though not necessarily for the right reasons. Let's recap.

To judge from their TV shows, the WWE mentally gave up on No Mercy a while ago. A whole load of planned storylines were severely disrupted when the WWE was forced to suspend a whole load of guys for buying drugs online. Those suspensions only ended last week (and that's after the WWE fudged the dates to shorten them), leaving no time to meaningfully programme the missing wrestlers into matches for No Mercy.

Meanwhile, they haven't been able to make any progress with the supposed major storyline about Vince McMahon's long-lost son. Instead, we've had three weeks of mediocre comedy based on the revelation that Vince's son is the midget wrestler Hornswoggle. This seems to have been designed as a stalling device to keep the plot ticking over until Mr Kennedy returned to television, but a lot of viewers seem to have regarded it as the actual end - and, not surprisingly, they think it's a lousy pay-off to weeks of build. Returning to the original storyline could be an uphill struggle.

Anyway, everyone returned to TV this week, and the rumour mill says that the threat of congressional hearings seems to have receded - apparently Washington has figure out that they really have better things to do with their time than regulate, at the highest possible level, an industry consisting of one company. (Not that the industry isn't in dire need of regulation - but at the end of the day, it's a relative handful of employees and there are certainly better things that congressional committees could and should be doing with their time.) So things seemed to be back on track.

The main event of Monday night's Raw saw the WWE Champion John Cena fighting Mr Kennedy in a non-title match. About a minute in, Cena tore his right pectoral and, in keeping with the wrestling industry's ever-disturbing "show must go on" mentality, continued to wrestle the rest of the match despite being blatantly unable to use his right arm. After winning as planned, Cena went on to do the scripted post-match angle where Randy Orton came out and laid him out to promote their WWE Championship match on Sunday.

Unfortunately, after the show, it quickly became clear that there was not the slightest possibility of Cena participating in any sort of match on Sunday, even in a token role to lose his title in the ring. He had surgery on Tuesday and he'll be out until next summer.

So ends John Cena's 380-day title reign, during which time he has toured and wrestled continuously without a break, all while performing an extensive promotional schedule - the longest reign as champion since Hulk Hogan, who held the title from 1984 to 1988. At least Cena will be getting a well-deserved break.

To their credit, the WWE did run news stories about Cena's injury on their website, and on Tuesday's ECW show, they announced clearly and unequivocally that Cena was injured and that he would not be wrestling in the advertised match on Sunday. The video was edited so as to imply that the injury was inflicted by Orton, which isn't true. But that's just them making the best they can of the situation to try and put some heat on the bad guy.

To judge from the crowd reaction, I'm not sure they believed it. It's entirely possible some people will be buying Sunday's show in the confident expectation of seeing a match which they know full well the WWE has cancelled. That's wrestling for you. But this is where we now find ourselves - and the following mesmerising main event.

1. WWE Championship: ????? v ?????. Yes, that's right, the official announcement on the WWE Championship Match for Sunday is that... there will be one. Who's in it? Nobody knows. The WWE still hadn't decided by Thursday, by which time Smackdown had already been taped. They seem to have taken the view that if there's no time to promote the match properly, they might as well leave it a mystery and try to turn that to their advantage. After all, they are promising a new champion, for the first time in over a year, and that means a major storyline development on any view.

If you want to nitpick, strictly speaking the WWE shouldn't actually be promising a new champion, because the match could always end in a draw. But the WWE are understandably confident that that won't happen.

Common sense says that Randy Orton will be in this match, because they've advertised him as half of the main event, and he's got nothing else to do. Besides, rumour has it that they were planning to make him the champion anyway, so they might as well go ahead. If they can sell audiences on the idea that Orton won the title in dubious circumstances after injuring the legitimate champion in an assault, well, there are worse starting points for a heel title run.

Who does Orton fight? The only other major wrestler on Raw who isn't doing anything is Mr Kennedy, but that would be a heel/heel match. Jeff Hardy, the Intercontinental Champion, isn't on the show either, but I don't think anyone would buy him as a world title contender. They need somebody who, in the eyes of the casual fans, could plausibly win the title.

Triple H is now the number one babyface on Raw, but he's already wrestling against Umaga. They could roll the two matches into one, by adding Orton and making it a three-way. Then again, that may not be egotistical enough for Triple H. As the boss's son-in-law (and the head writer's husband), he has enormous influence over the way the shows are written, which he seems to use primarily to present himself as God. This has reached laughably absurd levels in recent weeks - behold as Hunter mightily defeats five men at once, including the tag team champions!

So the idea of Hunter pinning Umaga clean and then going on later in the night to beat Orton as well... well, I could very much see that happening. It's a godawful idea, but it would stroke his ego, and therefore it's a real possibility.

Another outside possibility is to bring in somebody completely new. The TV shows over the last couple of weeks have featured enigmatic videos - known as Save_Us.222 and Savior.Self - in which numbers and file names flash across the screen. Both videos include the text "Oct 7", which is Sunday's date, so at the very least, most people are expecting some sort of significant development. This is apparently a plot originally pitched a few months back (and shelved during the post-Benoit fall-out) as a way of promoting the return of Chris Jericho or the arrival of the New Hart Foundation. Both acts are genuinely signed. The video also includes some obvious hints to suggest that it could be neither of them - notably, Savior.Self has three numbers which, going by their position in the alphabet, would translate as HBK.

Conventional wisdom, though, still holds that Save_Us.222 is the return of Chris Jericho. He could show up on Sunday, out of the blue, to win the title. That would be a stupid move. Jericho's return, properly promoted, would be a respectable draw. But if they're panicking, they might do it.

2. World Heavyweight Title, Punjabi Prison Match: Batista v. The Great Khali. Over on Smackdown, their title match is going ahead as scheduled. Which is not a good thing. Batista won the belt last month in a fairly mediocre match, and now he has to try and extract a watchable rematch from Khali under this absurd stipulation.

The Punjabi Prison is an outrageously convoluted bells-and-whistles cage, designed to be the Great Khali's signature gimmick match. The rules are TNAriffic. Repeat after me: "It's really very simple..."

There are two bamboo cages, one immediately surrounding the ring apron, and one further out. To win, you have to escape from both cages. Unlike a normal WWE cage match, pinfalls and submissions don't count. (So, logically, the "match" ought to consist of both wrestlers racing for the exit at full speed.) The inner cage has four doors, each of which is manned by a referee. On the request of either wrestler, a door will be opened for sixty seconds, after which it will be closed and locked for the remainder of the match. Again, nobody really seems to have thought this through. If you escape during the first, second or third door, then that means that your opponent can get out simply by... asking the referee to open the remaining door. Whoo.

They've only done this match once before, and it was a disaster. It was originally booked as a match between the Undertaker and Khali, but Khali was suspended for health reasons shortly before the show (due to, ahem, "elevated liver enzymes"), and his place was taken by the Big Show. So, yes, the Great Khali did not participate in the only previous instance of his own signature match. The match itself was fairly mediocre, but it did establish one more major failure in the set design: bamboo is quite thick, and if you surround the ring with two bamboo cages, the audience can't see in properly. Genius.

Then again, since it's a Great Khali match, the less we see of it, the better.

This will be fucking awful. I can't wait. Oh, and Batista will win, obviously - they're not stupid enough to put the belt back on Khali.

3. ECW Championship: CM Punk v. Big Daddy V. In another absolutely bizarre piece of booking, ECW ran a three-week tournament to win a title shot at No Mercy, and then ended up giving the match to the giant Big Daddy V, who wasn't even in the tournament. There's nothing like completely ignoring your stipulations to piss off the audience, and not in a good way. If the audience stops believing that the advertised stipulations will be delivered, then you've got a serious problem.

Big Daddy V is the guy who used to be known as Viscera. He's big, he's fat, and he's not very good. I don't see CM Punk having a good match with him. Frankly, I don't see anyone having a good match with him.

The winner is difficult to predict. If they put the ECW Title on long-time jobber Viscera, they've completely lost their minds. Yes, I know it's only the ECW title, but Viscera has been a nobody for years. At least with CM Punk you've got a champion who hasn't been clearly marked out as a loser, and at least John Morrison was somebody you could pitch with some plausibility as a rising star. But Viscera? Come off it.

On the other hand, his bizarre last-minute addition to the storyline smacks of a change of plan, and he's been written as such a dominant character that it would be downright weird for CM Punk to beat him cleanly here. Especially because Punk has foolishly adopted a finishing move where he puts his opponent in a fireman's carry and then throws him into the air - a move he certainly won't be performing on Big Daddy V.

I'm guessing that Punk retains on some sort of fluke win, perhaps after interference from V's manager Matt Striker backfires. Something like that. Big Daddy V as a world champion is just too silly to contemplate.

4. WWE Women's Title: Candice Michelle v. Beth Phoenix. Is this storyline still going? Meh. Last month, Candice just managed to retain her title with a roll-up. This time, I suspect Beth wins. Can't say I care particularly either way. They both work hard, and heaven knows we've seen far worse women's matches than this, but it's just going to be a break between more important matches on the card.

5. Triple H v Umaga. Inexplicably booked with only a week's proper build, this ought to be a much bigger match. Triple H is booked as virtually unstoppable. Umaga is the same - as long as you politely overlook the fact that he lost to Jeff Hardy a few weeks ago before his drug suspension. And if you put two wrestlers who hardly ever lose in a ring together, that usually sells tickets.

So if they've got any sense, they'll do a DQ finish and build to a rematch. Or, better yet, Umaga will win, thus giving the supposed babyface Triple H an excuse to seek revenge. He's decisively won every match since his return (aside from a couple of silly gimmick handicap matches) and it's now time for a heel to get the upper hand for a longer-term storyline.

The stupidest possible ending would be a clean win for Triple H, which would throw away months of possible rematches, do nothing to strengthen Triple H's image (already positioned unequivocally as "god"), and critically damage Umaga as a villain. Only a total moron would book that finish, but given the way Triple H has been written in recent weeks, I have a sinking feeling that a total moron will book that finish.

If they do a proper competitive match to build to an ongoing storyline - in other words, if Triple H sets aside his ego for the moment to concentrate on having a good match and telling a good long-term story - then this could be decent. If Triple H just massacres him, well, don't say I didn't warn you.

6. Rey Mysterio v. Finlay. Filler match, spinning vaguely off a half-formed Smackdown storyline which seems to be building towards a comeback for commentator JBL. In the meantime, this is the obligatory match where a prominent babyface (Mysterio) is paired up with an upper midcard heel (Finlay) so that they can get him on the show. They're both excellent wrestlers, and since Finlay doesn't seem to be the main focus of the storyline, I expect Mysterio to win in a strong undercard match.

Worth buying? Er... on merit? Heavens, no. Of the three main title matches, the Smackdown and ECW offerings are almost guaranteed to be dreadful, while the Raw one is just a blank. But some fans will buy it for the new champion, and others will just be enthralled by the trainwreck possibilities of the show.