Saturday, December 15, 2007

Armageddon 2007

Rounding off the PPV year is Armageddon, one of the various generic events that has been around since the late 90s without ever really standing out from the pack. As New Year's Revolution has mercifully been dropped from the schedule, there's a long break after this show until the 2008 Royal Rumble on 27th January. Traditionally, that one is a major show, and they evidently want to build it up properly.

For those of you who don't follow wrestling, it's perhaps worth laying out the way things work over the next few months. Wrestlemania is treated as the biggest show of the year and will be booked accordingly (even though it's really just a particularly long PPV). That's at the end of March, and it's usually the point where major storylines pay off. The Royal Rumble in January is always headlined by the eponymous 30-man battle royale, in which the winner gets to challenge for the world title at Wrestlemania. So it's around this time that they start the build for the Royal Rumble, which in turn locks in the main event for March. You tend to get an unusually high level of forward planning at this time of year.

But that's forward planning for the spring, not forward planning for Sunday. This is a weird card, although on the whole, it looks like a better than average one.

1. WWE Championship: Randy Orton v. Chris Jericho. This hasn't quite worked in the way that the WWE might have hoped. Chris Jericho has been away from wrestling for two years, which he's spent touring with his band, writing his memoirs, and hosting the occasional show on VH1. But he's a great in-ring wrestler and a charismatic performer, and he does hold the distinction of unifying the WWF and WCW World Titles (even if his subsequent title reign largely saw him tailing around forlornly after Stephanie McMahon) so he's a welcome addition to the top tier of the roster.

Jericho's return was plugged for weeks on end with the random-looking "Save_us.222" videos, which consisted of old-fashioned computer text interrupting the show in 15-second bursts. It didn't take the audience long to figure out (mainly from the rumour mill) that these were promoting a Jericho comeback, and they started chanting for Jericho during segments that had absolutely nothing to do with him. This was a good sign. Except the WWE dragged the whole thing out long beyond the point of maximum interest, and kind of blew it.

So, Jericho finally shows up a good three weeks after the optimum time, equipped with a frankly baffling new entrance video based on the Save Us videos, which just doesn't feel right for his flamboyant character at all. Compare and contrast: here's his entrance video from immediately before he disappeared. (By the way, both of these loop after around thirty seconds, so for heaven's sake don't watch them the whole way through, unless you're particularly desperate to hear "Break the Walls" in full.)

See, colourful. Now, here's the new version. This stuff was fine for teasers... but it's NOT JERICHO. (The gap after the countdown is for the pyro, if you haven't seen the show.)

It didn't help that Jericho immediately went into a feud with Randy Orton despite them having no personal issue whatsoever. And then they gave away Jericho's first match for free on television, with no advance promotion - which might have been okay if it wasn't for the fact that it was a competitive match with Santino Marella, a character who hasn't otherwise been treated as a serious threat in months. (Immediately before, Marella had lost two straight matches to the semi-retired commentator Jerry Lawler. This week, he lost to the semi-retired RVD in thirty seconds. Jericho, the supposed big star and number one contender, took about five minutes of back-and-forth action to put him away. Not smart booking.)

All of this means that the Jericho/Orton segments just haven't been getting quite the reaction you'd expect. Still, I'm sure they'll have a great match.

Common sense says that Jericho can't win, because it hasn't been built up properly. Besides, as we'll see below, the challenger for January is either Triple H or Jeff Hardy, and neither of them makes sense as an opponent for Jericho. But common sense also says that Jericho can't lose, because this is his big return. I suspect Orton retains on a DQ, to avoid a title change while protecting Jericho as much as possible.

2. World Heavyweight Title: Batista v. The Undertaker v. Edge. Edge has just returned from injury, with a storyline where he's sucking up to Smackdown's general manager Vickie Guerrero in order to get himself a title shot. Quite why he needs to do that is hard to say, given that he already held this title when he was injured, and that would seem to give him a strong moral case for getting a title shot. But then Edge is a bad guy, so he has to get his title match nefariously, even when it isn't strictly necessary for him to do so.

Batista is still the defending champion, and the story is supposed to be that he's arrogantly confident of defeating both guys. Rumour has it that the plan is to headline Wrestlemania with Triple H and Batista for the Raw title, which would suggest that Batista loses here, turns heel, and jumps to Raw after winning the Royal Rumble - all perfectly plausible. Undertaker doesn't work a full schedule any more, so chances are that Edge is winning the title. These guys are usually good together, so I'm expecting a solid match.

3. Triple H vs. Jeff Hardy. Winner gets the WWE Title match at the Royal Rumble. Jeff is the Intercontinental Champion, but this is a non-title match, which is the equivalent of putting up a neon sign saying "Triple H is going to win." Loosely, the story is supposed to be that the evil management has given up on throwing bad guys at Triple H and has come up with a new tack: make him fight one of the midcard babyfaces who he actually quite likes. Of course, this makes no sense whatsoever, and it's resulted in some vague and baffled interviews from the wrestlers to the effect that although they have no personal issue with the other guy at all, hey, at least there's a title shot at stake.

Quite why they're using Jeff Hardy in this role is a mystery, and personally, I wouldn't have booked it. The match will probably be decent if it's allowed to be competitive, but I have a nasty feeling Jeff might just get squashed. Remember, Triple H effectively writes his own stories, and they tend to involve him being spectacularly wonderful.

4. United States title: MVP v Rey Mysterio. This is a fill-in feud, while MVP waits for his long-term opponent, Matt Hardy, to return from an appendectomy. As it happens, that may be for the best, because it means that Matt and MVP might get to do their big finale at Wrestlemania, where it belongs after so much build-up.

In the meantime, Rey Mysterio will challenge for the United States title, on the grounds that he's got nothing better to do this month. This should be another strong match, and MVP will retain if they have an ounce of sense. (If he loses the title, then they undermine the whole basis of the Matt/MVP feud, and why would they want to do that?)

5. Women's Title: Beth Phoenix v. Mickie James. Another obvious fill-in match. The number one babyface in the women's division is Candice Michelle, who is presently at home recovering from a very nasty landing during a match on Raw. In her place, we have Mickie James, who seems to have mercifully dropped a shortlived new gimmick where she distracted her opponents with displays of mild lesbianism. The less said about that the better.

In fact, Mickie is probably as good as it gets right now in terms of potential challengers for Beth - all the other half-decent female wrestlers are heels. But the only match in this division that anyone might genuinely care about is Candice returning to win back her title, so the only sensible result is for Beth to retain. As for the match, it'll be short and passable.

6. Shawn Michaels v Mr Kennedy. Veteran babyface versus rising-star heel. Logic says that Kennedy, as the rising star, ought to win - this is the sort of match that could actually elevate him, whereas if he gets pinned, it marks him down as a midcarder. But we shall see. Perhaps that's how they see him.

According to those who know about these things, Kennedy can be somewhat difficult to work with in the ring. The thrust of the criticism is that he seems to be so concerned about looking realistic that he's effectively not co-operating with his opponents (without really achieving much more in the way of realism). His matches can certainly be hit and miss. Michaels can carry almost anyone to a good match, though, and I'm sure Kennedy will be working his hardest. I think this should be fine.

7. The Great Khali v. Finlay. This is loosely connected to the neverending storyline in which Vince McMahon's estranged illegitimate son turned out to be Finlay's pet leprechaun Hornswoggle. (Don't ask. Really, don't ask.) Broadly, they've been hinting at some sort of deal on the side between Vince and Finlay, presumably as the first step towards finally undoing this nonsense somewhere down the line. For no adequately explained reason - although at least it's meant to be a mystery - Vince has started booking the midget in ridiculous mismatches, and despite being a bad guy, Finlay has started coming to the little guy's aid.

This match is supposed to be Vince's revenge on Finlay, and it's clearly the first step in Finlay switching sides. The Great Khali is the virtually useless seven-foot giant who has had almost uniformly awful matches with everyone under the sun. Only John Cena has actually had a good match with Khali on PPV. But Finlay is one of the best all-rounders in the business, with decades of experience, and he can make almost anything work. I'm not getting my hopes up, but I'll be interested to see what he can do with the big lug.

As for the winner, I'd be inclined to have Finlay win with some sort of screwjob involving the leprechaun. Why not?

8. CM Punk & Kane v. Mark Henry & Big Daddy V. Punk is still the ECW Champion, but this is just a random tag match in which he's stuck with three huge wrestlers. Only one of them is even approaching decent, and that's Kane, who's on his side. Henry is enormous but not much good, and Big Daddy V is just a very fat man. This sounds like a surefire disaster. I suspect the plan is for Punk to get pinned in order to set up a rematch for his title, which would be an even worse match.

Hopefully it will be short, but there's almost zero chance of this being any good.

Worth buying? Actually, yes, most of these matches have a strong chance of being entertaining or better. A good end to the year.