Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Bash 2009

The WWE is an increasingly eccentric and erratic place these days, seemingly unable to hold to an idea for more than a day or two before losing in faith in it, or becoming captivated by another passing fancy. Hence "The Bash."

This show used to be called "The Great American Bash." It's an old trademark that they picked up when they bought out WCW, and which they dusted off when they were adding pay-per-views to the calendar. And then, earlier this year, they apparently decided they didn't like it after all. Can't say I blame them, really. It's a dreadful name. Still, apparently they'd already started the local promotion by this point, so we end up with this weirdly truncated name. "The Bash"? Who thought that sounded any good?

It's been only three weeks since the last pay-per-view. That's too short anyway - but this time round, the company has been derailed by the USA network requesting two special episodes of Monday Night Raw - one with a three hour running time, one with no commercials. Since those had to be attractions in their own right, Raw only got around to promoting its pay-per-view matches at the last minute.

And making matters even worse, the company spent those weeks on Raw introducing, and then almost immediately dropping, a bizarre and garbled story about Donald Trump buying the show, which was borderline gibberish even by the low standards of professional wrestling.

It has been said that the writers are a bit demoralised at the moment. It's certainly easy to believe. In fact, ironically enough, most of the actual matches on this show make reasonable sense in terms of long-term planning (particularly those involving wrestlers from Smackdown, the B-show, which tends to escape the worst of the company's changing whims). But the build-up over the last few weeks has been a mess.

1. WWE Championship, "Three Stages of Hell" match: Randy Orton v. Triple H. Quite a few of these matches make reasonable sense - but not this one. The WWE Title has been bouncing around like a pinball lately, which does nobody any favours. Orton won the title from Triple H in a six-man tag match in April. Triple H was then written out for a few weeks with an injury angle so that the character (undeniably overexposed) could be rested for a bit. Orton then went on to feud with Dave Batista, who promptly went down with a genuine arm injury requiring surgery. But the WWE apparently felt Batista's credibility couldn't withstand another unsuccessful challenge for the title. So he won it at the last pay-per-view three weeks ago. Then, the next day, they did an injury storyline; Batista vacated the title; and Orton won it back a week late.

This is all a bit chaotic. But it could have been worse; at least Orton, the heel champion, got his title back quickly, and got credit for injuring two of his main challengers. That keeps him suitably strong.

Now we're back to Orton and Triple H, a match we've seen many times before, and which is usually not that memorable. They already did a title match on Monday night's Raw. That ended in a draw (which means Orton retained the title). Now, at the last minute, we have a rematch which is not merely gimmicky but positively bloated. Basically, it's a best-of-3 series. First match is a straight wrestling match, second match is falls-count-anywhere, and the third ("if needed", cough cough) will be a stretcher match.

I'm fairly bored of this pairing already. I don't want to see them wrestle three times in one night. And I certainly don't want to see them in a stretcher match, where the aim is to put your opponent on a stretcher and roll it over a white line. They're almost invariably crap, mostly because you can't use near falls to build tension. In fact, I have so little interest in seeing these two wrestle yet again that this match is probably the decisive factor that makes me not want to buy this show. One match, on an otherwise interesting card... maybe. Three? Spare me.

Orton should win. It's far too soon to switch the title again, and there are ways of doing screwjob endings with his lackeys to give Triple H an excuse.

2. World Heavyweight Title: CM Punk v. Jeff Hardy. The Smackdown title. On the last show, Jeff Hardy won the title from Edge in a ladder match, only for CM Punk to bounce down the ramp and claim the any-time-any-place title shot he won at Wrestlemania. So, for the second year running, Punk ambushed a weakened champion and won the title.

Except last year, Punk did it to Edge, a dastardly villain who had done the same thing twice before to other champions, and had no business complaining about it. This year, he did it to the beloved Jeff Hardy. Cue heel turn. And it's a well-judged heel turn, since Punk is well placed to make the argument that, hey, nobody complained last year, so what's the problem? His "straight edge" gimmick, which he's been doing since his days on the indie scene, works well as a self-righteous, condescending heel convinced that he's in the right. The slight downside is that Chris Jericho is already doing a very similar heel character on the same show, but so be it.

So far, Punk hasn't officially turned heel. He's still wrestling like a babyface, he's not cheating, he's saying the right things in interviews - but he's just being slightly more smug and condescending about it. And, of course, he's being paired up against Jeff Hardy, who is bound to be cheered against him.

This could go either way. On the one hand, Jeff Hardy is still meant to be taking a break in the not-too-distant future; on the other, the show is short of top babyfaces at the moment, so Punk would quickly run out of challengers. My instinct would be to extend this storyline a little longer, which would mean Punk winning in slightly dubious fashion.

CM Punk doesn't always mesh with all his opponents, but I suspect he'll be fine with Hardy. This could be a good match.

3. ECW Championship, Scramble Match: Tommy Dreamer v. Jack Swagger v. Christian v. Mark Henry v. Finlay. Meet the top tier of wrestlers from the C-show. Dreamer, a veteran of the original indie promotion ECW, won the title from Christian on the last show. On paper this was obviously meant to be a terribly emotional moment, but it suffers from the usual problem that nobody cares about ECW storylines. The show is taped on the same night as Smackdown, before an audience who largely don't watch it. To make people care about Dreamer finally winning the ECW title that he was chasing for much of the 1990s, they'd have had to show a lot more footage from the original shows - something they understandably don't want to do, as the production values weren't fantastic, and it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the current show. WWE fans know Dreamer, if at all, as a low-ranking jobber from five years ago. Many of them would probably be quite surprised to learn that he was still under contract at all.

What this means is that we have a lame duck champion, who will probably be losing the title tonight. The likely winner is probably Jack Swagger, the rookie heel, to set up further matches down the line. The company apparently has high hopes for Swagger, and understandably so.

The scramble match was an idea that the WWE first tried last year, when they did three of them on one show. It didn't really work. Basically, it's a match with a 20-minute time limit, and whoever gets the last pinfall wins. I say "basically", because last year they explained the rules in a staggeringly elaborate and confusing way, with nonsense about "interim champions". All you need to know is that the aim is to pin someone, and then stop anyone else from scoring a pinfall until time runs out. Last year's matches were reportedly a bit of a mess, and this is unlikely to be much of an improvement - but hell, it's only the ECW title, and they've already given up on pretending that it's an equal world title.

4. Intercontinental Title, mask vs title: Chris Jericho v. Rey Mysterio. The storyline here is that Jericho has beaten Mysterio twice (and won his IC title), by taking advantage of Mysterio's mask - for example, tearing it off and then pinning him while he's covering his face. Now, Mysterio is putting his mask on the line in order to get another title shot. If Jericho wins, Mysterio removes the mask for good.

We're not supposed to mention this, but Mysterio already unmasked back in 1999 when he was in WCW. The WWE simply ignored that when they brought him into the company a few years later. (This apparently causes some controversy when they tour Mexico, since the authorities down there, believe it or not, actually enforce unmasking stipulations. I suppose the get-out must be that Mysterio unmasked after a WCW match, which the Mexicans don't necessarily have to recognise. But still...)

Mysterio without the mask isn't a very good idea, as we found out a decade ago. He just doesn't have the same presence without it. So the chances of him losing here are minimal. And in theory, this is a good next step for the storyline. The problem is that it's all running a bit too quickly - they haven't done nearly enough to build up this match. My instinct would be to do a DQ finish and set up for a properly promoted rematch down the road. If they do have a proper finish, then Mysterio has to win. As for the match quality, with these two it should be excellent.

5. WWE Unified Tag Team Titles: Carlito & Primo Colon v. Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase. The Colons (that's pronounced "cologne", if you're wondering) are the "unified" tag team champions, having won the Smackdown tag titles earlier in the year, and picked up the Raw tag titles in a Wrestlemania match which didn't even make it onto the show. Such is the prestige of the tag division. As unified champions, they're theoretically the only wrestlers entitled to appear and defend their titles on all three shows, although in practice they were sent to Raw in the last draft, and they've stayed there. For some reason, even though the titles are supposed to have been unified, they're still carting around all four belts.

Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase are Randy Orton's henchmen from the Legacy stable, and a tag team feud is a very good move for them. In theory, they're supposed to gain credibility from being involved with a main event wrestler like Orton. In practice, they end up being the guys who get beaten up while Orton escapes - so they spend most of their time losing matches to main event babyfaces. None of which helps their credibility much.

So a tag title reign would be a smart move. The Colons haven't been doing much since they won the belts, and it's probably time to move on. If Rhodes and DiBiase win (and Orton retains) then the whole Legacy group will have titles, which is always a good visual. You could even do a storyline with Rhodes or DiBiase trying to give the group a clean sweep of the Raw titles by picking up Kofi Kingston's US title as well. Or, more plausibly, you could send Rhodes and DiBiase to Smackdown or ECW to defend their tag titles against other teams, away from the shadow of Randy Orton and the main eventers. This too would be good for them.

I'm rooting for a heel win, then. It has many upsides, and not much downside. As for the match... well, it'll probably be okay, but I doubt they'll get the time to do anything particularly memorable, and the live crowds don't seem to care all that much.

6. WWE Women's Title: Melina v. Michelle McCool. I'm trying very hard to think of anything to say about this. It'll probably be short. It probably won't be very good. And there isn't that much to get excited about.

7. John Cena v. The Miz. This, on the other hand, is more interesting. Mike Mizanin was a reality show contestant who the WWE initially signed more as a gimmick. As it turned out, he's not bad - he's got decent heel charisma, which is to say that he's the right sort of annoying, and he's come a long way in the ring. His tag team with John Morrison was a big success, but with the spring draft, the WWE has taken the questionable decision to try and make them both solo stars.

This remains a debatable strategy. Miz is good enough to carry his end in a tag team, but has yet to prove himself as a singles wrestler. Still, they're trying. The story here is that former world champions John Cena and the Big Show are trying to get on with their own feud, while Miz has been hovering around the sidelines repeatedly challenging Cena to matches, and getting ignored. Since Miz chooses to regard each unanswered challenge as a win by forfeit, he claims to be on a remarkable winning streak against Cena. For his part, Cena regards the midcard heel as beneath his notice.

Now, Cena has finally turned his attention to the Miz, and this is where we find out how serious they are about him. If Cena just squashes him, then we've been wasting our time. Here's what will probably happen, though: Cena dominates the match, Big Show interferes, and Miz picks up a technical win. This might be okay, depending on how much credibility Miz is given. If Big Show does all the work, that's bad. If Cena just gets distracted and Miz capitalises, that's fine - it means you can do a rematch down the road, and Miz can brag about a highly questionable win, but at least he'll have achieved the upset largely through his own efforts.

This could be a great storyline match. It probably won't be, since they've botched plenty of opportunities during the build-up on Raw, and generally erred on the side of making Miz look like a harmless nuisance. It probably won't be a technical classic, either. I'd bet on a frustrating missed opportunity... but you never know.

8. No count-out, no-DQ: Dolph Ziggler v. The Great Khali. Dolph Ziggler is an undercard wrestler who has been given something of a push since jumping to Smackdown in the draft. You're not supposed to recognise this, but he's actually Nick Nemeth of the Spirit Squad, the male cheerleader group who were floating around Raw as comedy heels a couple of years ago. When they first repackaged him as Dolph Ziggler, he was given the bizarre gimmick of persistently introducing himself to people. Now there's a belated attempt to give him some credibility.

The Great Khali is a virtually immobile seven-foot giant now cast in the awkward role of fun-loving monster babyface. Ziggler has beaten him twice on technicalities (count-out and DQ, by tricking the referee), so this is the rematch where, in theory, Ziggler can't do that. This is logically the point where Khali gets his win back, and Ziggler's probably already got as much credibility from this storyline as he's going to get, so fair enough.

The match, of course, will be god-awful. It's the Great Khali, for heaven's sake, the man can barely walk.

Worth buying? Well, Jericho/Mysterio will be good. Punk/Hardy and Cena/Miz have some genuine interest. But there's quite a bit of filler on this card... and three Orton/HHH matches? I don't think so.