Saturday, December 13, 2008

Armageddon 2008

The final pay-per-view of the year is usually fairly minor. It's just before Christmas; the January show is traditionally a major one; let's fill the time and head home for the holidays. In the event, they've put some effort into promoting the top two matches, and not a great deal into the rest of the card. The best you can hope for with these shows, usually, is a decent evening of in-ring wrestling. Will we get it?

1. World Heavyweight Title: John Cena v. Chris Jericho. This is the first of three matches from the Raw roster. Cena won the Raw world title from Jericho last month, and this is the obligatory rematch. The title has changed hands several times in the last few months, so it's really time to calm things down. I'd be surprised to see it switch back again; I'm expecting a decent match with Cena winning, to draw a line under this story for now.

There's only one problem with that: by this point, the company should be building towards Wrestlemania 2009 in the spring, and traditionally that's the point where the conquering babyface wins the title from the heel champion. If Cena's already got the belt, then you can't do that story. But then, maybe they don't need to; it looks like they're already doing that story with the Smackdown title. For Raw, their biggest match is probably Cena defending against Orton, which could work well - even though he's meant to be a psychotic heel, a lot of fans will cheer an Orton title win.

2. WWE Championship: Edge v. Jeff Hardy v. Triple H. This is more complicated. Last month, Triple H was meant to be defending the title against Jeff Hardy and Vladimir Kozlov. On the morning of the show, the WWE ran a story on its website saying that Hardy had been found unconscious in a hotel, which turned out to be a storyline about a mystery attacker, but was rather tackily presented so as to make gullible readers think he might have overdosed. Anyhow, they ran Triple H versus Kozlov as the title match, and by god it was awful - ten minutes of tedious mat wrestling to the evident boredom of the crowd. And then Edge came out, continued his "ultimate opportunist" gimmick, to "save the day" by joining the match as the third man, and pinning Triple H for the title after Kozlov had done all the work.

Obviously fans weren't supposed to be thrilled with a Triple H/Kozlov match instead of getting Jeff Hardy, but even allowing for that, Kozlov really wasn't too impressive in there. So he's been shunted off to feud with Jeff's brother Matt, and instead, through a convoluted storyline involving qualifying matches and time limit draws, we have Edge defending against Triple H and Jeff Hardy.

The storyline here is that Edge, as a heel, doesn't fancy his chances taking on both babyfaces at once, but he's managed to get them to turn on one another, so hopefully they'll tear themselves apart and he can sneak in to get the pin. Simple. Oh, and there's an unresolved question about who actually attacked Jeff last month: everyone agrees Edge is the obvious suspect, but he insists it wasn't him, and he might have a point - after all, his character is to screw people over by seizing opportunities when they arise.

We certainly seem to be in a long-term build to Jeff winning the title. He could do it on Sunday, but I suspect he's more likely to win the Royal Rumble in January, allowing a build-up to a match with Edge at Wrestlemania in the spring. My guess is that Edge retains here by pinning Triple H after Jeff does all the work, and it'll probably be a good match.

Unusually, those are the only two title matches on the card (despite the company having a total of nine titles in circulaiton at the moment). And now, your filler...

3. Batista v. Randy Orton. A match for two of the big names on Raw who have else to do at the moment. Orton is arguably the hottest heel on the show, has a ton of momentum behind him, and is on something of a roll. Batista is a top-level babyface who's just come off an abortive one-week title reign, has lost a lot recently, and generally seems a bit directionless right now. He might be turning heel in the not too distant future, in which case the smart thing is to cash in some of his remaining babyface heat before he does so, and have Orton win convincingly. I expect a good match from these two.

4. Matt Hardy v. Vladimir Kozlov. Matt is the ECW Champion, but the title is not on the line here. It's very unusual for a champion to have a non-title match at a pay-per-view, and it usually means he's going to lose. This seems to be a case of the company writing itself into a corner and then changing their minds rather too late in the day: the match was apparently billed as a title match at the TV tapings earlier in the week.

Kozlov presents something of a conundrum for the company. His match last month was not good at all, and strongly indicates that he shouldn't be headlining shows any time soon. On the other hand, most of the audience won't have seen it, he didn't get pinned, and he's still got an aura of strength which they need to use somehow - though his appearance on ECW this week, in a shockingly inept sequence with Tommy Dreamer, won't have done him any favours.

I suspect that when they booked this match, they'd given up on Kozlov as a main eventer, and the original plan was to feed him to Matt Hardy, who's short of credible challengers, before banishing him back to the midcard. Now they've changed their minds and want to keep him in the Smackdown top tier for a little longer (perhaps so that Jeff Hardy can be the one to pin him for the first time). On that basis, Kozlov can't lose to the champion of the C-show, but nor can he win the title, because then he'd have to defend the bloody thing against the dork squad on Tuesday nights. So, non-title match it is.

Best hope it's short, because Hardy is good, but Kozlov... well, they've been working on Kozlov for a long while now, and he still needs more work.

5. Rey Mysterio v. CM Punk. This is the final of an eight-man tournament to win a shot at the Intercontinental Title, presently held by William Regal. The IC Title is Raw's secondary belt, and in recent years, it hasn't normally merited this sort of attention. However, there's a History of the Intercontinental Title DVD out, and this tournament was supposed to help promote it.

It's not altogether clear when the winner gets his title shot. Regal apparently went down with some sort of bug during November's tour of Europe, which is why he was eliminated almost immediately in his Survivor Series match last month, and why we haven't seen him much in recent weeks. He might well still not be ready to defend the title, which is why we're getting a number one contender's match instead.

Mysterio and Punk are both babyfaces, and they have no issue with one another, so this will probably be a straight wrestling match, and chances are it'll be pretty decent. Either could have a decent feud with Regal for the IC title, but my money would be on Punk, who's a more obvious foil for Regal's evil Daily Mail reader.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention that Punk is also co-holder of Raw's tag titles, along with Kofi Kingston... except that they lost the titles to Miz & Morrison on Saturday night at a house show in Hamilton, Ontario. Title changes at untelevised shows are very rare, so there's probably a story to this.

6. "Belfast Brawl": Finlay v. Mark Henry. A second match from ECW, and if that's not desperation, I don't know what is. The veteran Irish wrestler has been feuding with Henry for a while now in a thoroughly tedious story which mainly involves Henry threatening Finlay's midget leprechaun son. (Don't ask.) They had a tag match on ECW on Tuesday, which was bloody awful, and I can't imagine this is going to be any better. Pray that it's short, and pray that Finlay wins, because he's the babyface, so the story can't end until he does.

"Belfast Brawl", by the way, is one of the company's many, many ways of trying to make the same old no-disqualification match sound slightly different. It means they will hit each other with stuff.

7. "Santa's Little Helper Match": Maria, Kelly Kelly, Mickie James & Michelle McCool v. Maryse, Jilian Hall, Victoria & Natalya. Eight-woman tag team match, drawing on both the Raw and Smackdown rosters. They haven't announced what a "Santa's Little Helper Match" actually is, but chances are it's some sort of low-rent T&A segment.

This stuff doesn't draw ratings or money these days; there was a time when it did, but the audience seems to have grown out of it. The company employs a ton of interchangeable bimbos and can't grasp that the audience isn't interested in them. If you consider the women who do get a reaction from the audience, it's the likes of Vicky Guerrero and Beth Phoenix, and that's because they're clearly defined characters - in other words, for the same reason that male characters get a reaction. The company seems unable to take this simple lesson on board. Vicky doesn't get booed because she's plain, she gets booed because she's Eric Bischoff.

Anyway, the match... the only potential storyline here is that Michelle McCool, the Smackdown women's champion, is on the babyface team, even though she's clearly in the process of turning heel. Look for the heels to win and McCool to throw another strop afterwards, if not to turn on her cohorts altogether.

Worth buying? I'm not expecting any major storyline news, so it really depends on the quality of the wrestling. The two title matches, Punk/Mysterio and Batista/Orton should all be good. Hardy/Kozlov is unpromising to put it mildly. The other two matches should be dire, but they're also likely to be short. Depends whether four decent matches is enough for you, really.