Saturday, September 06, 2008

Unforgiven 2008

(Written before I left, and autoposted by Blogger. Which means it's a week out of date and could be entirely wrong by the time you read this.)

Unforgiven is usually one of the lesser PPVs, but this time the WWE have come up with a new concept: the Championship Scramble Match. Roughly half the show will be given over to these oddities, and one of the other matches is the next stage in a major feud. So the WWE is putting in more of an effort than usual.

The rules of a Championship Scramble Match keep changing, but at the time of writing, they are as follows. It's a five-way match, with the champion defending against four challengers. There's a 20-minute time limit. Two guys, chosen at "random", start the match. The other three enter in five minute intervals, in "random" order. Anyone who scores a pin or submission on anyone else becomes the "interim champion". Whoever has the title at the end of the twenty minutes is the "official champion." (Or, if you prefer, "the last guy to score a pin before time expires wins the match.")

It's all a bit convoluted, and the fact that they've kept changing the rules hasn't helped. On Raw, commentator Michael Cole even began his explanation of the rules with "It's really very simple..." - a phrase which has become a running joke in wrestling circles, because it invariably signifies that the commentator is about to explain something ridiculously complicated.

Now, in fairness, the Championship Scramble can't compare to the heights of incoherent silliness scaled by rival promotion TNA's annual King of the Mountain match (a six-man reverse ladder match, with convoluted stipulations about eligibility and penalty boxes). But it's still a bit cumbersome, let's be honest.

1. Raw Championship Scramble: C.M. Punk v. Batista v. JBL v. Rey Mysterio v. Kane. Basically, C.M. Punk versus all the main eventers at once. Punk is still the World Heavyweight Champion, and still doing the underdog gimmick. In fairness, at least he got a decisive win over JBL on the last PPV. But because they need to round up four challengers for this concept (and Jericho and Michaels are otherwise engaged - see below), he's back again.

Mysterio is a last-minute substitution for John Cena, who's out with an injury. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Cena was feuding with Batista, who is now left without a storyline for this match. Kane, meanwhile, has just turned heel with a convoluted and deeply silly story in which he claims to have beaten and tortured Mysterio. Mysterio, in turn, hasn't been seen on TV in several weeks, because he's been rehabbing an injury. (He appeared in a very brief match when he was drafted to Raw, to remind people of the switch, but that was it.) His sudden and, at time of writing, unexplained appearance in this match doesn't make a great deal of sense for the Kane story, besides which he's being brought back from rehab ahead of schedule - never a good sign.

Now, they're doing three of these matches on this show, and since it's obviously a concept they're very proud of, I expect to see title changes - permanent title changes - in at least one of them. But it seems too early to take the belt off Punk. I suspect that, in keeping with the WWE's wonky understanding of an underdog gimmick, he retains the belt - either by spending the whole match darting in to break up pinfalls, or by stealing a pin in the closing seconds. Kane and JBL aren't winning in a million years, and Mysterio's only just back from injury. Batista is a possibility, but doesn't make much storyline sense. So... Punk, unless they're really keen to stress the importance of Championship Scramble matches by having a title change for the hell of it.

2. Smackdown Championship Scramble match: Triple H v. Jeff Hardy v. Montel Vontavious Porter v. Shelton Benjamin v. Brian Kendrick. Very strange. Triple H is the defending champion here, but the storyline has been set up to have him defending against four midcard wrestlers, all of whom more or less fluked their way into winning the title shots. Jeff Hardy has been around for years and is knocking on the door of the main event - frankly, his first title match should be a bigger deal than this. MVP is a newer heel, but also ready to be elevated to main event status. Benjamin is the current US champion, an athletic wrestler with charisma problems, and he's here to make up the numbers.

Brian Kendrick is a thoroughly unexpected inclusion. He spent the last couple of years in a babyface tag team with Paul London, and their main role of late was to get ignored on Raw. With the last draft, the team were split up, and Kendrick has been repackaged on Smackdown as an arrogant heel, "The" Brian Kendrick, complete with hefty bodyguard. It's supposed to echo the early days of Shawn Michaels and Brian Pillman.

Kendrick is very strangely cast as a heel. He's a small guy and a literal babyface. In his last solo run, he was an underdog babyface with library ska music. He's only just taken up this new gimmick, and it seems far too early to have him challenging for a midcard belt, let alone the WWE Title. I mean, he's a great wrestler, best of luck to him. But he needs more momentum.

Triple H is always the favourite in any of his matches, and the grim prospect exists that he's just going to trash some rising stars for twenty minutes. But I wouldn't be totally shocked to see a title change here; it can be easily done to protect Triple H, since he doesn't have to get pinned. MVP as surprise WWE Champion isn't a completely ridiculous suggestion. If Kendrick wins, I'll be absolutely stunned, but his very inclusion in the match is bizarre enough to make it a long-shot possibility.

3. ECW Championship Scramble: Mark Henry v. Matt Hardy v. Mike Mizanin v. Finlay v. Chavo Guerrero. Henry is still the champion, and you can bet he won't be entering first. (The champions were going to enter first at one point, but that rule mysteriously changed a day or so before they announced that ECW was doing the match.) I expect to see a title change here, if only because the ECW title doesn't really matter, and they'll want at least one. The choice of opponents is uninspiring, but it's as good as ECW gets. I can't see Miz or Finlay as champion, and Chavo's already been done; so Matt's probably winning here.

4. No-DQ: Shawn Michaels v. Chris Jericho. The latest stage in a slow-paced feud between these two guys, which has at least succeeded in turning Jericho heel in the face of significant resistance from the crowd. This is an old-school storyline in which Jericho, as heel, torments Shawn and then blames everyone else for making him do it. They're teasing Shawn's retirement, which is a plausible threat at this stage in his career, and worth putting in the audience's mind as something that's on the horizon. The latest step in this feud was a segment at Summerslam where Shawn came out to announce his retirement and Jericho interrupted, leading to sequence where Jericho was supposed to take a swing at Shawn and accidentally deck his wife. Given that she ended up with a fat lip, she's either particularly keen to get this storyline over, or Jericho misjudged a tad. Worked, though. (In an interesting clue as to the WWE's current feelings on these things, they were pretty clear that Jericho's character did not intend to hit Rebecca. The heel aspect was showing no remorse.)

This should be an excellent match, and it's got the strongest storyline on the show. I'm looking forward to it. Given that it's Shawn's comeback from a feigned retirement angle, I'd guess that he wins.

5. World Tag Team Titles: Ted DiBiase & Cody Rhodes v. Cryme Tyme. Oh look, an undercard match. DiBiase and Rhodes are the current tag team champions, doing an "arrogant rookie" gimmick. Their reign was interrupted for a week so that Cena and Batista could briefly hold the belts, but otherwise they've been floating around the undercard doing not a great deal. They're quite good in the role, though. Cryme Tyme are the current lead babyface tag team on Raw, and get the match almost by default. They're two loveable criminals from Brooklyn more notable for their comedy skits than their wrestling. I'd expect the heels to retain here.

And that's all they've announced at the time of writing, so...

Worth buying? Hmm. The Jericho/Michaels match is likely to be excellent, and if you're into that sort of thing, there's probably going to be at least one title change. On the other hand, there's a fair chance that this Championship Scramble thing could be a train wreck, and three of them in one show seems like overkill. Fortunately for me, this show is apparently running on Sky Sports 1 rather than as a PPV, so I can just record it to watch when I get back...