Saturday, July 10, 2004

#83. State of Raw, John Cena, JBL, Big Brother

I believe I went on at some length last time about Smackdown, so how about something about the state of Raw? Sounds great.

The first item is pretty obvious. He did it with the title itself for over a year, and now Triple H seems to be suffocating the contender scene with the World heavyweight championship. Sure, Chris Benoit has also wrestled Shawn Michaels and Kane on a high profile basis in the five months he's held the title (five months already??), but Hunter was a part of each of those feuds. Is he still "establishing" his successor? On the upside, I'd read on the Internet that he wasn't interested in an extended feud with Benoit, so maybe in some strange way this development could be seen as a sign of respect for the Rabid Wolverine.

The other upside is of course Eugene, who has "become" a member of Evolution. At the very least this has given Hunter a chance to once again truly be seen as the Cerebral Assassin. Just reading what's been going on on Mondays makes me realize this is the most interest Triple H has been since that sham wedding with Stephanie MacMahon. Does the fact that he recently married her for real have anything to do with it? Batista, meanwhile, is having his first real chance to be pushed as a singles star, and the man he's doing it against is the hardest working and best sport in the industry today, Chris Jericho. That make-or-break match happens this Sunday (tomorrow) at Vengeance, the only WWE pay-per-view this month (as opposed to last month's double shot), and the last before Summer Slam, one promo for which features D-Von's former deacon. Who wins that? It's hard to say. Y2J has recently put Christian and Tyson Tomko behind him. On paper, I don't see a huge difference, beyond momentum, between Tomko and Batista. Then again astute critics like Pro Wrestling Illustrated were saying two years ago that there wasn't that much difference between Batista and Brock Lesnar (or Rico) and look where that's gone.

And speaking of results, can the Crippler defeat Triple H again? It depends what WWE sees in their futures. As in, does Benoit really have one without the title?

Last time I wondered if I'd left anyone out, and I had, Matt Hardy. He's got a feud with Kane going on, the first time he's been relevant on Raw, since he made what at the time seemed like an ill-advised jump from Thursdays, where he was succeeded by Chavo Guerrero in the cruiserweight scene. Lita, of course, is in the middle, leading me to wonder if the Monday team has as much confidence in Hardy as Smackdown as it comes to building Hardy's character. (I also remember wondering if he was ever going to make it big, or if he was going to sink to the level of glorified jobber, a part he looks ripe for, especially lately.) Where can he go on Raw? And did I dream it, or is Jeff back in the ring and tearing it up in NWA-TNA? Nah, must be a dream.

Batista, Randy Orton, even Tomko are all rising talents Monday has embraced, due in no small part to plush positions the likes of which Luther Reigns on the brand rival (is that what they are?) also enjoy. Shelton Benjamin, meanwhile, is still in exile. He may be working Heat for all I know. And that would be a damn shame, and a damn waste of talent. Much like poor Charlie Haas is experiencing on Smackdown since his partnership with Rico apparently belly-flopped.

Why these individual stars, nonaligned as they are, are held back and cliques like Evolution make such ready prominence for wrestlers is another matter to consider. Last night (on tape) watching Smackdown I saw Paul London finally gain WWE signifance when he and Billy Kidman capture tag team gold from the Dudleys. Other cruiserweights saw some action in a six-man tag team match, involving Chavo, Akio (whatever happened to Sakoda?), Jamie Noble, Rey Misterio (who has been on quite a roll in recent weeks), Spike Dudley, and Scotty Too Hotty (who finished his first Worm in years!), which was nice. It just seems as if the creative teams are forced to work in some of the lesser known talent in cycles, as well as the smaller championships, because there isn't enough time in two hours to cover everything. WCW expanded Nitro to three hours, and that wasn't too hard, and too bad, since it resulted in Raw to go to two. With a portion on the viewing audience not receiving the cable shows and the results not being covered as widely, two hours of WWE wrestling is being lost, along with the impact the talent therein could be making.

Instead, there's squandered potential (yes, I realize you could say these guys are obviously not worth following if they haven't made their impacts already, but plenty of wrestlers take time to build, and need to air time to do it in) and wrestlers like Orlando Jordon who fall right through the cracks. In what was probably his last appearance on Smackdown, Jordon was finally given the benefit of entrance music, and an actual entrance to boot. Or he might have had to job to Dupree after that. A little too little, too late. All I know is, the man who made his biggest impact as a backstage prop name wrestlers walked past is no longer even doing that. Was he not worth the investment? John Cena didn't look it, not even after he got the gimmick that would make him a star, but more on that a little later.

Is Edge going to go anywhere after this Intercontinental title push, or is he becoming the next Booker T, the Next RVD? And speaking of cycles, there was so much push in the women's division earlier in the year, and Trish Stratus became the most dynamic star there, and now what? Okay, so Nidia is finally wrestling, but is that really an indication that the division is finally being taken seriously? The Thursday cruiserweights get more respect. Heck, Rodney Dangerfield gets more respect!

Then we come to last night's Smackdown. Kurt Angle, GM, has finally done it. He's ended The Doctor of Thuganomics' US title reign, thanks in no small part to Mr. Reigns himself. Kenzo Suzuki is the other up-and-comer benefiting from Cena's generosity (it wasn't a year ago he was still fighting to establish himself, which he finally did at WrestleMania XX, as a serious presence and true WWE superstar). Who will benefit from Angle's maniacal bent? Booker T? Reigns? Suzuki? Dupree is apparently ready to start a feud with Rob Van Dam (who took care of the "Reflection of Perfection," draft drainer Mark Jindrak, minus counterpart Theodore "Player" Long, early in the night), so his feud with Cena is apparently over and done with. Good to see both of those still have something to do, RVD especially if only to satiate his many fans. He might still be growing on me, but he still needs to tighten his skills. His match tactics on Thursday suited him well, letting Jindrak dominate early and then taking advantage of the fatigue he waited for.

The other current Smackdown saga continued as well, as JBL, still WWE champion (at least until next week) looked to look impressive again by crushing the generic Mexican wrestler El Gran Luchadore, who this time seemed to split in two (a la Eric Angle), becoming not unlike Mr. America when he started moving like Eddy Guerrero. Great show. The steel cage match is highly anticipated, and it looks to be fitting the bill of the Thursday counterpunch to the Monday PPV as was the habit last year. Smackdown is definitely finding its grrove, and it's thanks to guys like Rey Misterio, Eddy Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero Rene Dupree, John Cena, Booker T, RVD, the Dudleys, and JBL. Oh wait, did I just name all the regulars? The good thing about that is that those who aren't stars right now have the chance to be in the future.

Just look at Cena, or Randy Orton. Both were given their chances early on and neither was looking all that impressive, but the years rolled on and they eventually found themselves, and once they did that they were able to get comfortable enough to really break out. Cena at the Royal Rumble in 2003 (which I recently got on DVD so as to watch the much-hyped and deservably so Kurt Angle-Chris Benoit match that gave the creative team incentive enough for what the Crippler is experiencing this year) was a joke. Yes, Cena at the Royal Rumble in 2003 was a joke. It was the worst kind of rapping imaginable, the kind that had people rightfully hoping he'd soon get over whatever Vanilla Ice he'd had for a late night snack. But you'll notice as he's matured, both in the ring and in character, that not only is his rapping improving but he's growing less dependent on it to establish a rapport with the (increasing becoming his) fans. Cena in 2003, when he was Lesnar's first post WM XIX challenge, was nothing to write home about. Cena in 2004 is like the Rattlesnake of 1996 post-King of the Ring.

Other notes from that night included Lesnar's less-than-enthusiastic reception upon winning the rumble. He took care of Undertaker and then only got the crowd on its feet when Taker came back into the ring. I guess it's true. The guy was pushed too far too fast. He might have deserved it, earned it, in the creative team's eyes, but not in the fans'. And his chance to do that was at WM XIX, and his missed that moonsault. He just was never going to get it after that.

During the rumble itself it was apparent that Test was practically someone at the time. But that went nowhere once he got tangled in with Scott Steiner, who earlier in the night laid a brutal fight on Triple H. It was vintage Big Poppa Pump, but it was also the beginning of the end for the Genetic Freak in WWE. Maybe it was a reaction to Triple H more than it was to Steiner, but the two PPV matches seemed to only work against him. I haven't seen the other one, mind you, but when I hear things like Steiner is past his prime and that's reason enough, then I begin to wonder. Maybe he wasn't taken seriously because he was WCW's last dominant star. Those guys from the waning days get very little respect, and that's unjustified. Hogan, who made an ass of himself, still gets the biggest love when he returns to WWE, but anyone else, forget it. Even Jeff Jarrett and his efforts with NWA-TNA get little respect. It's always about the other wrestlers making waves there, like the X division or A.J. Styles or Raven's post-WWE revival. It's a WCW curse.

And then I read in one of the sub-division PWI rags a debate as to whether or not WM XX was one of the all-time greats. Call me a fool (and if anyone at all reads the Monk, they probably do), but it was. I don't even need to have seen all the other 19 to make that call. But what do I know?

Here's something, maybe. I tuned in to the premiere of the new Big Brother, and then quickly tuned out. That's the worst casting job for that show yet, and I've watched it from the beginning. What were they thinking?

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