Sunday, May 17, 2009

Judgment Day 2009

Time for another pay-per-view. They're coming in three-week gaps at the moment - the WWE probably know that's too many, but they're committed to the schedule for the rest of the year, so that's the way it goes.

For once, it's a surprisingly gimmick-free show - all seven announced matches are straight one-on-one wrestling matches. This probably isn't because the WWE has had a sudden revelation about the drawing power of conventional wrestling. It's because the next show, in three weeks time, is Extreme Rules 2009 - the show that used to be ECW One Night Stand. And that's an entire show of gimmickry. So presumably we're getting a dead straight show in May in order that the June show will stand out more. By the WWE's standards, this is practically a purists' showcase.

1. WWE Title: Randy Orton v. Batista. That's the Raw world title, in other words. Orton won the title from Triple H at the April show, in an unnecessarily complicated six-man tag. The rules were that Orton would win the title if his team won in any way at all. But in the end, he did actually pin the previous champion himself, and they did a storyline injury to get Triple H off TV for a while. (Judging from the apathetic crowd reaction, the character really does need a rest.)

So, Monday Night Raw now has a heel champion. Triple H is on hiatus, and John Cena is supposed to be shooting another film over the summer. Shawn Michaels is taking a break as well. Working out way down the list of possible challengers, we come to Dave Batista, recently returned from (genuine) injury, and looking as though he might have been well advised to give it another month or so. Batista has started to talk about retiring next year when his contract runs out; it would probably be a smart time to do so, both from the point of view of his health and quitting while he's ahead. Of course, raising the possibility is also a smart move for negotiating purposes, so I wouldn't read too much into it.

It's way too early for Orton to lose the title, which has changed hands too frequently of late anyway. Batista, on the other hand, is getting a bit stale as a babyface, and they've been subtly laying the groundwork for a heel turn so that he can feud with Triple H down the line. It's fairly common to lose matches in the run-up to a heel turn. So I'm thinking Orton wins tonight thanks to interference from his lackeys, setting up a rematch in June which Orton also wins. (An outside possibility, continuing the theme that Batista can't control himself, is that he gets DQ'd, setting up a no-DQ rematch in June. If they come out halfway down the card, that's probably what they're doing.)

Batista hasn't looked great since his return, but he usually has good main events, and Orton's a strong heel champion. This should be fine.

2. World Heavyweight Title: Edge v. Jeff Hardy. This is Smackdown's version of the world title. Hardy's contract is also up for renewal in a few months, and there has been talk that he might really decided to take a few months' break. If so, a title change is unlikely - though the WWE might do it anyway, just to confuse the hardcore fans. Actually, it wouldn't be the worst move in the world; you could always have Hardy as champion up until his hiatus, when he gets annihilated by a heel challenger. But again, this title has changed hands rather a lot lately, and Edge has other challengers in the wings. They're already building up CM Punk as a credible opponent, for example.

So Edge probably retains here. He's wrestled Jeff Hardy many times before and the matches have usually been very good.

3. ECW Title: Christian v. Jack Swagger. And here's the C-show's version of the world title. Christian is a veteran midcarder recently returned to the WWE roster. He's very popular with the fans right now, and he's having good matches. Swagger is a relative rookie doing the arrogant amateur wrestler routine. He's very good for his level of experience, and the company has understandably high hopes for him. (Which means at some point they'll regret saddling him with that awful name. His real name is Jack Hager.)

Again, Christian's only had the title for a few weeks, so it's too early for a change. Given the shortage of other credible challengers, I'd imagine that they do an inconclusive finish here, to keep Swagger strong. There's also an unresolved subplot to take into account: Tommy Dreamer, a veteran of the original ECW, has promised to retire if he doesn't manage to win the title by the time his contract expires. That date was originally given as June 6, but they've been a bit quiet about it lately, so it's always possible they'll give him some sort of send-off at the Extreme Rules show later in June. If so, he probably has to get involved here.

Christian and Swagger had a very good match last month, so this has a lot of promise.

4. WWE Intercontinental Title: Rey Mysterio v. Chris Jericho. Both these guys were recently drafted to Smackdown from Raw. Mysterio won the IC title from John Bradshaw Layfield at Wrestlemania in a "match" that went about nine seconds (apparently because they'd mistimed the show and needed to cut some stuff). He had a successful run on Smackdown in he past, when he appeared to be a big draw with Hispanic viewers. The theory in drafting him to Raw was that they'd follow him to the A-show. They didn't. So he's back on Smackdown, which is probably better for him anyway - he was lost in the shuffle on Raw.

Mysterio and Jericho are excellent wrestlers who are apparently set for a lengthy feud. On that basis, chances are Jericho wins here, and Mysterio gets to chase to win his title back. They should have an excellent match. The only caveat is that Mysterio injured his knee taping a match for WGN Superstars on Tuesday night (causing Friday night's Smackdown to be rewritten on the fly, hence the odd heel/heel main event). However, everyone seems to think he'll be okay for tonight.

5. John Cena v. The Big Show. Basically, this is something for John Cena to do while he's out of the main event picture. April's show had Cena losing a Last Man Standing match to Edge with a faintly ridiculous sequence in which he got thrown through an exploding spotlight. This has led to an embarrassingly garbled story in which Cena shuffles around very slowly, to demonstrate his apparently extensive, yet utterly non-specific, injuries. How will he survive etc etc. Who cares? I don't expect much from this. Big Show probably wins to continue the storyline, since they've put so much effort into giving Cena the excuse.

6. CM Punk v. Umaga. Hmm, interesting. There's actually a story here: CM Punk won the 2009 Money in the Bank ladder match, which means he's got a briefcase containing a contract (evidently very wordy, if it needs a whole briefcase to carry it around) giving him the right to a world title match against any of the three champions at any time. They've had this device for several years now. Heels use it to ambush babyfaces when they've already been laid out. Babyfaces, in theory, would play by the spirit of the rules, as Rob Van Dam did a few years back. CM Punk, however, seems determined to just win by ambush, even though he's supposed to be a hardworking babyfaces. The loose cover for this is that Edge, Smackdown's heel champion, has himself won the title in the same way twice, so he isn't really in a position to complain. Still, it's not very heroic, is it?

The story here is that Punk keeps trying to ambush Edge after matches, and keeps getting inexplicably attacked by Umaga, the Stereotype That Walks Like A Man, before he can do so. We haven't established why yet. Umaga, a savage islander from Samoa, is the sort of character that every other form of entertainment stopped doing in 1983, but who inexplicably continues to crop up in wrestling. At least Umaga is actually Samoan, which is more than can be said for some of the WWE's foreigners.

I'm not quite sure what to expect from this. There's the potential for a rather nasty style clash, but it's also a fresh match. Apparently they're also in Punk's home town. The WWE has a tendency to try and cash in on that by having the hometown wrestler lose (which they think makes for a good audience reaction that should spill over to the viewers at home - the evidence for this theory is rather shaky, to say the least). But it's a tricky one. Both could use the credibility of a clean win, and both would be damaged by a loss. My instinct would be to let Punk win, to build him up for his presumably-upcoming title run; I think he needs it more. Then again, Umaga hasn't wrestled for so long that you can make a credible case the other way.

I really don't know what to expect from this, either in terms of match result or match quality. Which kind of has me interested in this one.

7. John Morrison v. Shelton Benjamin. John Morrison has been doing his Jim Morrison rip-off gimmick, as a heel, for quite some time. Now he's been moved to Smackdown as a singles wrestler, and somewhat out of the blue, the company has decided to turn him babyface. They're doing that by feuding him with Shelton Benjamin, a technically admirable but charisma-deficient midcard wrestler who (sing along with the commentators, now) has never quite fulfilled his potential.

It's hard to know quite what to make of this. Morrison has been a heel wrestler for years, in an assortment of gimmicks. He had brief runs as a babyface in the developmental territories in the very early stages of his career, where he was reportedly diabolical. But then, his wrestling has come on in leaps and bounds since then; he does have star quality; and he has the sort of flashy moves that work well for a babyface wrestler. His problem is that, like John Cena but more so, he's saddled with a gimmick that was designed to be ridiculous. This is fine when he's a pretentious heel, not so good when he's a babyface. They haven't quite figured out how to address this problem yet. Purely from a scriptwriting perspective, I suspect the answer is to play down the pretentious poetry and play up the witty, laid-back bohemian stuff - but of course, all this is contingent on whether Morrison can actually play such a character.

Since Morrison has only just turned, and he's already lost matches in this feud, he should probably win here. The match has the potential to be very good.

Worth buying? Actually, yes, if straight wrestling is your thing. No gimmicks, and a pretty respectable card of good wrestlers in promising matches.