Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bragging Rights 2009

The WWE's over-packed pay-per-view schedule means that we've got another show this weekend, only three weeks after the last one. A three week build is absurdly short for any show, and I'm pretty sure they'd be better off dumping some shows altogether, leaving time to promote the remaining ones properly. Fortunately, after this point, things calm down a bit - it's a monthly schedule through to at least Wrestlemania 26 in March.

But in the meantime, we have another three week build to another gimmick show which hasn't been thought out very clearly. And it doesn't help when the company keeps changing its mind from week to week about what they want to do.

As I mentioned last time, the WWE's current big idea is that all the secondary PPVs should have a theme. As it happens, the late October show used to be Cyber Sunday, where the gimmick was that fans picked the matches (well, up to a point) through online voting. A passable idea in theory, it never did well in practice, and so they've dumped that in favour of a loosely-themed Raw versus Smackdown show. The third brand, ECW, once again doesn't get a look-in. In practice, this means we get the two obligatory world title defences, and some "Raw versus Smackdown" matches. It's a very odd card.

It's also airing on Sky Sports 3 in the UK, so I don't have to pay extra for it. Which is good, because I wouldn't be too thrilled about paying for this one.

1. WWE Championship, 60 Minute no-DQ Iron Man Match: Randy Orton v. John Cena. This is the Raw title, and it's Orton versus Cena again. They've traded the title back and forth over the last few shows, but Orton currently holds the belt. This is supposed to be the end of the feud. If Cena doesn't win, he leaves the Raw roster - presumably to go to Smackdown.

Now, in itself, this pretty much gives away the ending. Sending Cena to Smackdown would be a very strange move. For all that he divides the audience, he's one of their biggest merchandise draws. Smackdown, on the other hand, is unquestionably the B-show. It's marooned on MyNetworkTV, an organisation on the verge of collapse which no longer even counts as a network for ratings purposes. The whole enterprise looks rather shaky. So while they want to keep Smackdown strong enough to be a viable second touring brand, it's not somewhere you'd naturally put your biggest star.

There is, in fact, a decent case to be made for abolishing the brand division altogether. Aside from avoiding the embarrassment of having to formally re-integrate the brands after the inevitable collapse of MyNetworkTV, it would go a long way to help the company's depth problems. Having the main eventers split between two brands limits the number of matches you can do. You can still have two de facto separate shows without formally limiting your options in that way.

I digress. Moving Cena to Smackdown seems a very unlikely move - but then, the WWE does a lot of very unlikely things these days.

Such as booking Randy Orton versus John Cena in a 60-minute Iron Man match. Basically, an Iron Man match means that whoever gets the most pins or submissions during the time limit is the winner. So, yes, they're promising that Orton and Cena are going to wrestle for an hour. And honestly, who wants to see that? Iron Man matches are popular with a certain type of wrestler that wants to prove he can do it. But the gimmick has never been much of a commercial draw. With particularly gifted wrestlers, such as Kurt Angle in his prime, you might be able to sell it to the connoisseur audience, but that's a very limited market. And Orton/Cena is not a match for that audience, anyway. Cena is more of a personality wrestler than a technician.

I have no intention of sitting through this - I honestly can't begin to imagine how it could be anything other than cripplingly tedious. Cena probably wins, because removing him from Raw is silly, and Orton presumably moves on to the next phase of a slow-burning storyline where his sidekicks are starting to show signs of worrying independence.

Naturally, giving this an hour (plus entrances) means that it eats up the vast majority of the show. Hence the five-match card.

2. World Heavyweight Championship: The Undertaker v. Batista v. CM Punk v. Rey Mysterio. This is the Smackdown title. The Undertaker won the title from CM Punk at the last show in the opening match, reportedly because Punk had managed to annoy the wrong people again, and the WWE decided to send him a message even at the expense of shooting their own product in the foot. This happens a lot, unfortunately. Punk probably doesn't care; he must know that the Smackdown roster is so lacking in depth that they can scarcely afford to move him back down the card.

Undertaker as champion has problems. He's nearing the end of his career. He's in failing health. He doesn't work on non-televised shows. He can't really be expected to do long main event matches. But he's also not the sort of wrestler who can be allowed to lose often, because it's (legitimately) extremely important to preserve his mystique. So this has all the hallmarks of a match designed to get the title off him without pinning him. The question is who gets the title. My inclination would be to put it back on Punk, the only heel in the match, who would then have three credible babyfaces pursuing him. Failing that, I suppose they could always give Batista another run. I don't see Mysterio winning; they've never had that much faith in him as a champion.

It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Undertaker could retain. But he's got to lose the belt fairly soon, since they're doing a ladder match show in December, and there's no way on earth the Undertaker is doing a ladder match at his age.

Having three babyfaces and one heel makes for a weirdly lopsided match. But there's the possibility to do an entertaining match here, with Punk as the scheming heel picking his spots. Might work.

3. Bragging Rights match: Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Big Show, Mark Henry, Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger & Cody Rhodes v. Chris Jericho, Kane, Matt Hardy, Finlay, R-Truth, David Hart Smith & Tyson Kidd. Where do we begin? This is a 10-man tag team match, Team Raw versus Team Smackdown. Absolutely nothing is at stake beyond pride. Both teams contain an unlikely mixture of faces and heels, so the idea is that everyone takes great pride in their show and is willing to set aside their differences. Of course, the idea is also that both teams are hugely unstable and likely to tear themselves apart.

On Team Raw, we've got D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels) as co-captains. Now, the company seems to be building towards DX versus Chris Jericho and the Big Show for the tag titles, presumably at the next show. Jericho is the captain of team Smackdown, while the Big Show is on DX's team. So one obvious possibility here is that Big Show turns on his stablemates and costs Raw the match. That's a pretty decent finish, actually - it builds to something down the road, and to the extent that it matters, the win is more valuable to Smackdown than to Raw.

Mark Henry, Kofi Kingston and Jack Swagger are midcarders who are basically there to make up the numbers. Kingston and Swagger were feuding over the US Title not so long ago, but this seems to have been forgotten already. Cody Rhodes is more interesting; he's one of Randy Orton's sidekicks, he's showing increasing signs of insubordination, and he's generally unlikely to play nicely with the rest of the team. He doesn't get on with DX at all, so they've got to do something with that.

The Smackdown team is utter chaos. It doesn't help that four of the show's main eventers are caught up in the world title match, leaving Chris Jericho and Kane to serve as the heel team captains. Kane is really a long-serving midcarder, but still has just enough star aura to work in the role.

Originally, they did a bunch of qualifying matches on Smackdown, with the winners advancing to form the rest of Jericho's team. And those winners were... midcard comedy tag team Cryme Tyme, midcard nearly man Dolph Ziggler, pushed-but-not-there-yet rookie Drew McIntyre, and a guy who had only debuted that week, Eric Escobar. This was mystifying. Aside from the fact that the team had five heels on it, the inclusion of not one but two little known rookies was frankly bizarre. Nonetheless, the company was apparently deadly serious about this up until Monday, when the penny finally dropped that Team Smackdown was a bit on the weak side. And so, at the next night's TV tapings, they swapped out all five qualifiers and replaced them with the guys they'd beaten in the first place. Truly weird booking.

In fact, this results in a much stronger team. Matt Hardy and Finlay haven't had much to do in a while, but they are Smackdown mainstays, they're consistently popular, and they're pretty good. R-Truth, who does a rapper gimmick, is better than his uneventful WWE run might suggest. But the big winners out of this are the Hart Dynasty, the undercard heel tag team who lost to Cryme Tyme in their qualifying match. DH Smith and Tyson Kidd are actually great (Kidd especially), but they've been marooned on Smackdown with nothing much to do. Hopefully their unexpected elevation to a PPV match will give them something to work with.

The match will be utter chaos, but there are enough good wrestlers in here that I can see it being fun. Smackdown should probably win - by cheating, obviously. They need the help.

4. John Morrison v. The Miz. Miz and Morrison were a long-running heel tag team before they broke up and Morrison turned babyface. Now Morrison is on Smackdown and holds the Intercontinental Title, while Miz is on Raw and has the US Title. So it's the battle of the secondary champions, and an opportunity to tie up the loose ends from that break-up angle that didn't go anywhere.

They've left it awfully late to do this match, but both guys are starting to get somewhere as singles wrestlers. Morrison is excellent, Miz continues to improve, so the match has a lot of potential.

With the wrestlers on different shows, there's no real possibility of doing follow-up stories - so common sense says the babyface should win. That's Morrison, which would give Smackdown a second much-needed win.

5. Melina, Kelly Kelly & Gail Kim v. Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix & Natalya Neidhart. Raw versus Smackdown again. At one point they seemed to be planning a singles match between the two women's champions. But that wouldn't really have worked. Raw's women's title is currently held by Melina, who only jumped brands a few weeks ago, and we've seen her against Michelle McCool several times before.

Instead, we're getting a 6-man tag... which, to be honest, isn't much of an improvement. They've only just reshuffled the women's roster, so it's doubtful that most fans could even remember who's on which show right now. It's the wrong time to be doing this match.

As it happens, it's a team of Raw babyfaces versus Smackdown heels, which pretty much tells you who's winning. Women's matches in the WWE are rarely much good; the genuinely skilled workers are marooned in a sea of bikini models. But Kim, Phoenix and Neidhart are solid wrestlers, and the others are actually passable by WWE standards, so this should be okay. Raw should win, thus avoiding a clean sweep for Smackdown in the interbrand matches.

Worth buying? Not unless the prospect of an hour-long Cena/Orton match thrills you to the core, because that's going to be more than a third of the show right there.