Monday, August 23, 2004

#88. Reaction to Summer Slam

Ian Goldsworthy's Fish Tank review of SummerSlam at I've got to take issues with...

The columnist provides his analysis of the backstories and matches on the card and at the PPV, relying heavily on textbook definititions of what stories, and apparently wrestling matches, are supposed to do. He's a classic example of a smark mark too big for his britches. He admits that he doesn't watch Smackdown regularly, yet feels perfectly qualified to put a value on developments from the show, which is one of the biggest warning flags I've ever seen. And that's just one example. To wit:

For the opening London-Kidman-Misterio/Dudleys match, he rightfully notes that the specific feud between the six men has been left largely undefined, yet he ignores the momentum the Dudleys themselves receive from the match. Loyal Smackdown viewers will note how Spike has accomplished what Paul Heyman failed to do, and that is fire up Bubba and D'Von into legitimate threats again, and underlying presence not unlike the APA was for years. Last Thursday we began to see some of the fruits of this development when John Cena confronted Spike, only to receive a beating from Spike's half-brothers, which led to a match between Cena and D-Von, which led to an after-match Dudley beatdown, during which Michael Cole wisely noted how Spike's new role can be interpreted a number of ways. That the angle is actually progressing means whatever steps along the way are actually significant, if not so much for what they are but for what they represent. The Dudleys are a force on Smackdown. That's the point, Goldsworthy, tag team titles or not, cruiserweight title ("minor") or not.

If I have to suffer through Paul London for most of a match to get to that point, then I'm looking to redefine "suffering."

For Kane/Matt Hardy, Goldsworthy berates the writers for missing the dramatic opportunity to reveal the paternity in a test onscreen. What difference does this make? Isn't Matt Hardy's reaction, regardless of the circumstances, the whole point? That Kane wins a mediocre match, pushes the stakes that much higher. Kane is going to marry Lita! Is Hardy just supposed to roll over and play dead now? In fct, we should find out tonight what becomes of it, at the wedding. This is the first time a Kane story arc has made any sense in years. Not since the early feuds with Undertaker, in fact, has his character been so richly exploited. What's Goldsworthy's idea of a good Kane feud? The pointless one he had with Shane-o-Mac last year, which had the "raising stakes" he favors so much in moments like the flaming dumpster bump?

Goldsworthy also misses the boat completely with Cena/Booker T. This best of five series has been building for months now, if not explicitely through a feud between these two but generally between Cena and his efforts to remain United States champion, which had been hamperered by bad blood with then-GM Kurt Angle. How long had Angle tried to strip Cena of the title? And how many mid-carders were thrown into the mix and into Cena's way? Booker was arguably the highest calibur opponent (though maybe Goldsworthy prefers RVD, and that's his real beef), and certainly the one with the highest profile. To top it off, he stole victory and title to officially set this feud up. He became Cena's main obstacle not through personal animosity but rival ambition, and not to mention ego. In fact, ego might be the key motivating factor here, something Goldsworthy didn't seem interested (or capable, depending on how little he's seen concerning the storyline and of Smackdown the past five months). How to get past ego? Diminish it by creating victory not one but five matches away. This has been a matter of endurance for Cena for months. This is just another endurance test, and Booker T's made himself the course.

Did something dramatic have to happen Sunday to enroll interest into this series? Not if those already interested were watching...

I don't have any criticisms for Goldsworthy's interpretation of Edge/Batista/Jericho. I voiced similar spirits myself.

KurtAngle/Eddie Guerrero, however, is another story, and another blatant example of how out of touch Goldsworthy is with Smackdown. No, the writers did not forget about this feud five months ago. Angle threw his chips in with the untested John Bradshaw Layfield those months ago rather than give his hated foe Guerrero any credit or slack. His used his powers as GM to antagonize those stars he didn't like, and as it happened the two main stars he didn't like were Guerrero and John Cena, the two main title holders at the time. So he directed his full energies to deposing both, in different ways. He set his full attention to Cena, or so it seemed, while allowing the unleashed JBL to take care of his own business. Bradshaw had enough sense of entitlement for that. And so as Guerrero battled the Texan, it became increasingly obvious that the advantage would not be won fairly, so Angle gave JBL the benefit of the doubt at the first opportunity, at the bullrope match. JBL became champion, and Guerrero vowed revenge. At the steel cage match, Angle phsyically re-inserted himself when he gave Bradshaw the opportunity to crawl out first. How much more dramatic does a turn have to be before Goldsworthy notices it? Guerrero now realized he'd been paying attention to the wizard while ignoring the man behind the curtain. That's your backstory. The writers were even wise enough to reshape the motivation to one of personal competition, drawing on each character to give it all definition.

And the match wasn't bad either...

Goldsworthy also misses the boat with Triple H-Eugene. He provides a very inciteful reiteration of the early developments in the feud, yet misinterprets Eugene's motivations. He never wanted to be popular. He wanted to wrestle! Acceptance from the crowd is a biproduct of this. Acceptance from Triple H, his personal favorite wrestler, represented acceptance from the wrestling community to the tallest order, and the betrayal represented a challenge to his undying trust. When his mentor William Regal (who provided a poignant undertone for the whole arc to that point when he could have cared less to have Eric retarded nephew as a charge until an emotional attachment was formed, which he did not fail to defend, and pay the price for) was then used by Triple H to send a further message, Eugene snapped. The base reaction for anyone when faced with a personal attack is to respond in kind, and that's exactly what Eugene did. In his naive way, he even thought the match might settle things.

Well, it didn't. But we were still given a top-rate match for Triple H outside of championship concerns, and the whole thing has only established Eugene as a serious presence on Raw. He not only can compete in the ring, but can help carry an extended story. Maybe whatever follows for him will never carry the same weight, but then again these feuds should always have their own character. This is the year's second biggest card, Goldsworthy loves pointing out. How fitting to have three matches of real importance to them. And that's not all...

JBL as Smackdown champion has lacked credibility since the day he became the number one contender, let alone champion. He hardly ever defends the title, and he loves to talk, about himself, and against his opponents. He loves to belittle them, and exaggerate things. So what does a feud with Undertaker accomplish. Even if the build-up to last Sunday was lackluster, the payoff as seen on Thursday was more than worth it. Bradshaw, having been chokeslammed through his own limo, comes out in an elaborate neck brace, and still feels in an instigating mood. Out comes Undertaker, and out scrambles JBL and Orlando Jordan. Maybe nobody cares about this feud. Maybe nobody cares to see more of it. But maybe some do, and can appreciate the continued story's worth. It's not establishing JBL as a dominant champion. He's about as vulnerable a one as they come. He's all bluster, and he's constantly needing to hide from this fact. That's the whole point. And that's entertainment.

Goldsworthy gives more credit to Randy Orton than I do, and less to Chris Benoit than I do, which makes his review of the main event one last unsatisfying note. The point of the match was always to make Orton the youngest champion ever. And I'm beginning to think to also make it obvious subsequently that he was not as ready for the burden as he'd thought. He didn't give a thought to the consequences at all, in fact, and that's what last Monday signified. If Goldsworthy can't sit through a Chris Benoit match to reach that point, then perhaps it's time to re-evaluate what kind of mark ends his smart mark sentence.

And that, as they say, is that. I was able to pick up 2001's No Mercy yesterday, which should make for interesting viewing. It's still weird to think Triple H and Benoit both missed most of the Invasion arc. It makes you wonder how that would have gone done if one or both hadn't...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

#87. Marvel Comics, Geoff Johns, Wrestling

Gave some equal time to Marvel Comics recently (not entirely for unselfish reasons), picking up two Bendis books (the big Avengers #500 and Daredevil), and Iron Man (a title I swear I have a good story that's just waitin' to be pitched to the House of Ideas, possibly after an initial Multiple Man attempt). This rebirth of interest for me in DC's chief rival comes off the heels of some digital comics I purchased earlier this year which didn't turn out to suck too much (Joe Straczynski's got a Spider-Man storyline I've got to track down), followed by taking the bait for a Wizard Magazine-packaged Best of X-Men set, which conveniently enough brings together a bunch of 80's stories (Wizard thinks Marvel's best years were the 80's; if you care to despite give me a reply). There was "The Powers of Proteus," "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of the Future Past," among other stories, included. The first one I don't understand the hype for, but the other two hold up quite well. Chris Claremont as a writer did more for me in the undervaluded DC effort Sovereign Seven, however. John Byrne is always neat, though my favorite from him is another DC work, Jack Kirby's Fourth World. David Cokrum I don't find all that exciting, but I'm sure I didn't catch him at his best.

I haven't really been into comics in five years, when I was forced to break the addiction (I had been spending more than I probably could afford on them for the few years I was a regular collector, spanning most of the 90's, and mostly DC at that), but I've been attempting to keep up on things. Geoff Johns has been working wonders, or so I've been told, as Mark Waid's permanent replacement on The Flash, which at the beginning of 2004 saw the first instance of my collecting a complete storyline in five years. Wally West has been granted by Spectre Hal Jordan (soon to be the object of his cult's fulfillment in the next great chapter of the Green Lantern saga) anonymity once again, something he'd given up years ago as the Scarlet Speedster. It had cost him and bouncing bride Linda Park their baby at te hands of the new Zoom, Hunter Zolomon, and he couldn't handle the pain. But as it turned out, not only did the world forget Wally was Flash, so did Wally! As the story goes, Wally is a low-key mechanic scraping by, and Captain Cold is apparently back to his old antics. Wally's emerging awareness about his true identity and revelations about who is really running amok converge into a fairly satisfying noirish tale. My first Johns was #200, my copy of which had some publishing issues (one whole sheet was left out of the binding and tucked in elsewhere, creating a disjointed flow, funny for a man known for his swiftness), which capped "Blitz," the story recently collected into trade paperback form chronicling the Zoom crisis. Among other recent DC books I've read is JLA #100, a Joe Kelley yarn about the Elite which did not impress me, being as convolutely written as it was.

But this isn't really a comics blog, is it? As you might have noticed, SummerSlam was this past Sunday, an event I going to work and missing it while a friend got it for some other friends. But he taped it, and so I watched it last night, all except for the Heat match between RVD and Rene Dupree. Paul London got the lion's share of action in the Dudley massacre of the tag team champions and Rey Mysterio. Yay for London! And hopefully this Dudley story is actually going somewhere...Matt Hardy and Kane's Till Death Do Us Part match over the hand of Lita in marriage is mostly significant because of the chokeslam from the ropes (was it top or middle rope? oh who cares...). I've said before and I'll say it again, Hardy should never have left Smackdown. And did I hear right or is he being billed as Version 1 still?...John Cena and Booker T gave a good showing in the first of five series. I'll get back to my feelings on where this should be going a little later...The Intercontinental triple threat title match seemed to have been booked just so champion Edge and Chris Jericho could build some heat (and so Y2J's separate feuds with the members of the bygone...Edge & Christian...could continue). Why was Batista neeeded, just to build the feud more slowly?...Diva Dodgeball was poorly filmed, and my friend rightly commented that it was probably done just so the end result could put some heat between Trish and Victoria, which might kickstart the women's division again. The Diva hopefuls, meanwhile, continued to prove they look good is skimpy ensembles...

New paragraph so I can make a point not to be overlooked. Eddie Guerrero-Kurt Angle: the Rematch was an instant classic. Not since Bret Hart-Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13) has WWE seen such a display of submission prowess. No matter the real reasons for keeping Eddie grounded for so long, the two superstars were easily able to pull off a dramatic and momentous match that should be remembered as one of the best encounters of the year, topping the XX bout. Angle could not have had a better PPV return (and his television return against Charlie Haas was the same). Welcome back, Kurt. You're WWE's MVP...Triple H, meanwhile, defeated Eugene in another fine match. Nick Dinsmore should not be confined to this character forever. He clearly has the mat skills to make a fine showing in WWE, Raw or Smackdown (as the exchange between Bischoff and Long indicated). I keep waiting for the moment Eugene is exposed as a ruse by Dinsmore to gain an advantage for himself, his way of becoming the new Cerebral Assassin, which would be perfect in an ongoing feud with Hunter. But that probably will never happen...JBL-Undertaker was actually a fine match. We hardly see Bradshaw wrestle anymore, and when he did wrestle more often it was in the APA. More on Bradshaw later...The closing match of the night saw Randy Orton defeat Chris Benoit for the World heavywweight championship. Whatsupwitdat? Orton is clearly still developing, still green, still learning the ropes, if you will. No, he's not such a pup as your basic OVW fodder, but he's got no business being handed the World title so soon, setting a mark as youngest champion or not. Benoit carried him all the way. What's Randy got besides the RKO and a few nondescript submission maneuvers? Not much to mark him as his own wrestler, that's what. It's not that I don't like him; he just hasn't come into his own yet. He's been operating on a very generic vibe, and he hasn't been very convincing about it. He isn't an undeniable monster, like his former (see later, again) ally Batista, or Brock Lesnar, and he doesn't electrify like The Rock (who someone seems to want him to be the second coming of), and he doesn't command like Triple H, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, or Kurt Angle. He's got absolutely no aura. Even JBL has some kind of aura (some would call that "stink"). Too much too soon. He's the anti-John Cena (though Cena has taken his time, developed himself, and maybe has exactly what he needs right now).

So the next night Triple H and the rest of Evolution turned on him. Does this mark yet another PPV main event challenge for Hunter? Perhaps so. And this brings up the point of recent disappointing returns in the ratings for both Raw and Smackdown. Raw has been stagnant for months. It's been one Evolution conquest after another. Benoit has been champion, and has been a wrestling machine, but he hasn't been able to escape from the shadow of the man who has run the brand since its inception, Triple H. Raw's biggest problem is that there is't anyone big enough to challenge Hunter on a long-term basis. He's a big dog surrounded by smaller ones yelping up at him. Chris Jericho could be his rival, but Jericho has been condemned (a happy sentence though it is for fans of wrestling) to the prop of the midcard. He keeps it nice and shiny. Benoit would be the savior of the upper tier, but as Sunday proved the head writers have other ideas. They want to elevate Orton, at the expense of Benoit, and so we continue the Triple H cycle. We've just spent five months trying to establish the Rabid Wolverine as the new champion, giving him the credentials he'd need to overcome the shadow of Triple H. Unless the Orton Saga is going to do something to help this along somehow, we've just seen the undoing of this effort, because now Raw has to start the process all over again. Orton needs to be established, and he needs a whole lot more work than Benoit ever did. Is Hunter game for this? Or is he thinking only of waiting to add more championship belts to his collection? Yes, he's a tremendous character, but he's only as interesting a character as he allows himself to be. Eugene has brought out the best in him. He can't ignore or forget that.

Is there anyone Raw could add to reenergize itself with in liea of Triple H getting his head straight? Yes, and he's right in WWE's coffers lready. His name is Rey Mysterio. He's living powderkeg, and right now he seems to have run his course in Smackdown's cruiserweight ranks, depending on how essential he is to Spike and his brothers' continuing rampage. Mysterio could do what Matt Hardy and Tajiri couldn't, bring small man credibility to Raw (if you aren't counting the small heavyweights that are Benoit and Jericho, who is dwarfed by the human beanpole that is Edge), and in return giving Smackdown's other cruiserweights some more opportunities. What was Chavo doing the other week? And what has he been doing since his lost the title to Rey-Rey anyway? There's always Jamie Noble, and Paul London can't remain a tag team champion forever. Who wouldn't love to see him strap on the cruiserweight title? In exchange for Mysterio, Smackdown could reclaim A-Train, whose profile has exponentially lowered on Raw. Maybe there're plans ahead for Baldo, maybe not. But Mysterio is a surefire solution for Raw's rustiness, not even to mention Shelton Benjamin, who hopefully will not have lost much in terms of build-up during the time he's been forced on the shelf.

Then on Smackdown there's JBL, who endures as champin, with new chief of staff Orlando Jordan. Undertaker, who alternately looked like Kevin Nash-as-Diesel and Brian Lee Sunday, needs to bring something more to the table if this feud is to carry over to another PPV (didn't Raw get the last brand PPV, anyway? so why's it getting the next one again?). I don't care to see Taker win the title, but Bradshaw can lose it soon and not lose face. If ever being world champion has improved a wrestler's post-title prospects in the aftermath of losing it, JBL stands to benefit the most. He's gained a singles profile from the deal. What more can you ask for? And he's a powerhouse, meaning that even if Smackdown doesn't reacquire A-Train and none of its other big man prospects work out, Bradshaw is a lock to thrive in this capacity for years. And he hasn't been that bad as champion, either. Heck, if Sid could be given multiple world championships, in WWE and WCW, then I think we can lay off JBL already. He has in-ring goods and one of the best gimmicks going today. Which if either ever applied to Sid?

The three men who deserve lengthy runs in Smackdown's future are these: Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, and John Cena. You can plug in others, but these are the essentials. Angle is priceless. He can carry all of Smackdown if he needs to. Guerrero's first reign was probably cut short due to injuries limiting his in-ring time, but his momentum has dulled. If Benoit on Raw was hampered as champion by the shadow of Triple H, then Eddie was overshadowed by uncertain acceptance of his primary foe, JBL, and by a number of other things, not the least of which being Kurt Angle's in-ring absence for five months and the aforementioned health issues. Then there's Cena, the Doctor of Thuganomics, or as I like to call him the first new sensation, wholly embraced by the fans, since The Rock. He's only biding his time now. This Franchise will be WWE champion before long, make no mistake, and this could elevate popularity of the product, if he builds memorably enough. He can win or lose this best of five series with Booker T, it doesn't matter. The hunt for the US title has only proven the depth of the Smackdown roster, which inarguably surpasses that of Raw. Five months ago even I was saying the sky is falling, but here we are in August as Smackdown has not only survived but thrived. Now all it needs is for the audience to catch up. It has the tools to reel 'em in.

But is Theodore R. Long the general manager to oversee it? I don't know. That's what makes the Eric Bischoff spot so troubling. How deep is the backstage faith in Long? He does have a catchphrase, though. Holla, holla, holla! Is that enough? He still needs to time to establish that. And heck, if he doesn't work out, bring in Ernest "The Cat" Miller, refrain him from wrestling and too much dancing, and he's got the personality to pull it off. I don't know why Smackdown tried to make him a wrestler who hardly wrestles at the beginning of the year. He's highly obnoxious. And as a result, the perfect successor to Paul Heyman...

The last item on the agenda involves the covers of two recent video-DVD releases. The first belongs to the Viggo Mortenson flick Hidalgo, which consciously apes the packaging of Viggo's biggest hit to date, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. For shame! Such a shameless ploy? Whatever happened to the film's namesake, the horse? Then there's WWE's own blunder, the mischaracterization of Chris Benoit on his Hard Knocks release. When has he ever looked like that??? It was nice, however, in finding the Own Hart tribute match between Benoit and Bret Hart included in the set. That was a heck of a match. Unfortunately, both of the WWE era matches included I already own, this year's WrestleMania XX wonder and the 2003 Royal Rumble classic with Kurt Angle. The XX DVD itself referenced one other Angle match-up from X-8 from a ranking of the ten best Mania matches. There was a match against Steve Austin and a TLC match (involving the standard Hardyz-Dudleyz-E&C, plus Benoit's one-time partner Chris Jericho) included in Smackdown's fifth anniverary magazine commemorative listing what the editors considered the show's best matches. The magazine I highly recommend, unlike the Mania one put out earlier this year involing 3-D images, 3-D glasses...and nothing else. I was glad it was so comprehensive, which in this case includes a section chronicling memorable incidents and a full listing of results for the past five years! If you don't have it already, there're collectible posters included, and one of them features Torrie Wilson.

...Back so soon?

Friday, August 06, 2004

#86. Nomar Garciaparra, Wrestling, Amish in the City, Books, Moxie

Recently I found myself thinking about Mark Jindrak's latest gimmick, or more specifically the moniker "Reflection of Perfection." Do you think the estate of Curt Hennig is rearing to sue? or Shawn Stasiak? or if Lex Luger is wishing he'd thought of it (the mirror he could also sue over, I guess)? That's all, really, besides wondering why Smackdown needs to bring in John Heidenreich to play a role Kenzo Suzuki is already sort of playing, Nathan Jones and Sean O'Haire kind of failed at, and Ref to the Perf himself is also bungling over. The only guy doing good with it these days on Thursdays is Luther Reigns. I love that guy. Still struggling with issues over his not-quite-legendary-sounding name, but love the guy. He was quite good last week in that eight-man US title decider (unlike Suzuki, who has now been disqualified from two of these kinds of matches, which only justifies the rumors that the backstage doesn't know if he can cut it in WWE, but who is still a better story than Mordecai, who was sent back to OVW to, um, stew). I'd give ten Tyson Tomkos for one Reigns.

I wouldn't give up Nomar (No-mah to Jimmy Fallon, No-mar to George Wendt, and both should appear in SNL's season premiere to battle it out) Garciaparra, whom the Red Sox wronged and then dumped for players who will not help them better themselves but rather remain in the holding pattern of despair the team has been mired in for decades now. Can Red Sox Nation suffer for an entire century? I fear we'll find out...

Brock Lesnar, a.ka. The Next Big Viking, is proving the naysayers wrong (which I suppose is easy, since some form of naysayer is proved wrong every time something happens) and keeping up with the pre-season blitz. No, he hasn't made the team yet. Yes, he still has a pretty good chance. Coach Tice seems to like him...

Yah, I watched the premiere of Amish in the City. Not so different from your basic Real World or Road Rules. Except half the housemates are Amish, indulging their inner Rumspringa. The city kids wer pretty pathetic early on, but they decided to play nice, until the end of the two-hour episode it seemed. But I didn't catch the second episode, and probably won't catch the repeat tonight, and am on track to miss next week's third episode, too. Sometimes it's enough to know you'd more or less enjoy a thing and miss it than to more or less know you wouldn't and fiendishly enjoy not missing it. Then again, that last half doesn't sound too bad either...

I splurged and bought some more books the other day, including "Great White Fathers," which is sort of necessary for a project I'm working on (saying it's a book makes me sound exactly like the struggling writer I am), "Tales From the City," the Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda novel "Destruction of Illusions" (I'm of a handful remaining enthusiasts of that series, which seemed to get a good deal with Sci Fi until it turned out Sci Fi would still rely on hours and hours of Stargate, the quality of which to me is the same quality to which Andromeda is to most other people, instead of actually airing Andromeda), plus two additional books. I'm stockpiling books! Really, I keep buying them, knowing full well I won't be getting to them terribly soon. The last splurge was early last month at the Moxie Festival my hometown has made its reputation on. Moxie is a soft drink. If you haven't heard of it, know that if and when you do, and you manage to have a taste, there are two directions you can go from there: 1) you love the stuff or 2) you hate it. We don't abide those who merely tolerate it. Grrrr!

Theodore R. Long, I now write, getting back to the business of WWE wrestling. So he's the new Smackdown general manager. What's with Thursdays, anyway? Monday does perfectly fine retaining Eric Bischoff. So why has Thursday run through Stephanie McMahon, Paul Heyman, and Kurt Angle in the same timespan? Does it have something to do with the day? Or a general failure to find a stable personality? Personally, I'd love for Heyman to stick around full-time (though he's now behind Johnny H, it seems, the botched Undertaker arc seemingly put all the way behind the show) as GM. But he's about as unstable as you can get, past Psycho Sid ("Don' me...Psycho!" I think he said, while he spelled psycho wrong). Stephanie was grating at times, but not too bad. Angle was only biding his time. Long, meanwhile, now appears to have been traded from show to show to fill this eventual void. Or is he just another stopgate measure, like JBL (or was JBL planned all along?)? One thing's for sure, he's got his own style, and for now I'm not making a judgment as to whether this is to the detriment of the general manager role. Has Smackdown really been working toward the elimination of this element? Or does it just seem that way?

The one thing Thursdays have that Mondays don't is genuine heat for the secondary title. Edge is Intercontinental champion, and is headed toward Summer Slam ("summer games," Olympics apparently being a taboo word) with Batista and Chris Jericho (now working on the second half of...Edge and Christian, who should really have worked on a name for the tandem, at least for the benefit of those with flash photography, so they could, y'know, have a splashy label). Batista continues to have his day in the sun, finally (I look forward to the day Luther can similarly be unleashed, but he still looks too imposing in those suits for me to care). I wouldn't mind him winning. But the point is, there is not a lot going for the match, as compared to the United States championship.

Kurt Angle, former GM, had set his sights on two offending champions in his tenure, Eddie Guerrero and John Cena. He managed to unseat both, arguably fairly with Eddie and unarguably unfairly with Cena. The Doctor has made a number of enemies, in fact most of the Smackdown roster, during his first reign as US champion, and none greater than Booker T and RVD (though Rene Dupree comes close, and Suzuki for comic value next). So recently (last week) Booker T had the chance to steal the spotlight and the title, not to mention Rob Van Dam's thunder. Last night Cena beat Mr. Thursday Night to win his easily-foreseen right to challenge Booker at Summer Slam, which will be the first of a best of five series of matches which will hopefully cap one of Cena's feuds, arguably the fiercest one. Cena is already arguably Thursday's MVP, but now he's elevated the US title to the point where you could argue his feuds are more compelling than the heavyweight champion's.

And this is not even considering how lacklaster Undertaker is continuing to be in his newest feud, against champion John Bradshaw Layfield (when his book "Make More Money Now," was first published, he wrote under this name, and I had a hard time remembering the last name, since he'd never used it before in WWE, but as you can see I don't have that problem anymore). This gulf has nothing to do with Bradshaw. He's bringing the same as champion as he did while contender to the table. He's become a dependable presence. It's Undertaker who is making things worse than they need to be. For those who complained about Goldberg and his lapses in presence, Marky's being much worse about it. If he's getting too old, just step aside already and let others grab the opportunity, like he did more than a decade ago. (Though I suppose that rumored feud with Mordecai would have been more entertaining than it had any right to be as a result, as fans tried to decide who had less business being in the ring.) It's not that he can't wrestle anymore. Taker has been using innovative submission maneuvers lately, and that's a welcome development for the usual power player (in both respects). I'd love to see more of this new approach, but it appears more and more that he's taking his profile for granted. For all those who've complained about the Clique in the past, they made their moves invisibly. This guy's being as deliberate in his apathy as possible while flexing his sway. And please don't tell me he'll be making out with the WWE title after SS is done and over. Not with his work ethic of late will I put up with another reign of darkness (or dead reign).

Am I being hypocritical here, condemning Undertaker while cheering Goldberg for essentially the same behavior? The matters seem different enough. Goldberg (who fell victim to Eric Bischoff's transformation into Vince McMahon back in WCW and lost his career momentum; maybe the Thursday GM dilemma has an explanation somewhere in there) signed a very specific, very public contract with WWE that limited his in-ring performance schedule (to the detriment of his reputation with smart marks) and was still in a form of his wrestling prime when he took such a path, while Undertaker has, despite many false deaths leading endless rebirths, been on the decline for years now. His decision comes as but a symptom of the end, which looks all the more necessarily apparent than ever before...

In similar concerns there's Kurt Angle's in-ring return. Last night's match against Charlie Haas (hurt by team-up with Rico, helped by Rico's ailment) suggested a more deliberate style, if not quite what we'd be told to expect. He didn't change it, only modified it. Hopefully this works. If it doesn't Haas is ready and willing to replace him as Thursday's wrestling savant. So Charlie doesn't have Kurt's vocal personality. Neither did Chris Benoit, and look where that's gone. (Randy Orton as his challenger at SS looks either like another month in the bucket or Orton's premature ascension; Eugene's posh match, meanwhile, is great, while Hardy-Kane II, whatever the stipulation, sounds like Shane-Kane II to me). All we really need to enjoy Angle is Angle. His stint as GM proved that. His wrestling is icing on the cake now. He's Jesse Ventura 2.0. However longer he has as a competitor will be the writing, which will probably spell out either "Oh itt's true, it's damn true" or "What?" Or "Your Olympic hero." Or "Intensity, integrity, and intelligence." With the last one hopefully factored in wisely. In fact, all three.

Spike has deviously reunited with his brothers Bubba and D-Von Dudley, who have now officially completely departed from the last storyline they were in, as have Heyman and Undertaker (and poor Paul Bearer, from this life, too!), making that possibly the most meaningless storyline of 2004. Rey Misterio better have lost the cruiserweight title to a story that'll be going somewhere! Paul London and Billy Kidman have also graduated from Dudley University, and have beaten the Bashams to prove it! I'll bet Spanky is really smacking himself upside the head, seeing London's success after sticking it out.

Finally, there's OJ, Orlando Jordan. I know, I know, I recently said I'd lay off him for a while, but he made his Smackdown return last night, defeating Rene Dupree and showing up at the end of the show to lend a hand to JBL! You couldn't ask for a better night, especially if your name is Orlando Jordan. Tazz and Michael Cole even acknowledged the reason for his recent absence, and he got to have his entrance music played, too! The only problem would be the botched nature of the program finale. You could tell someone had screwed up, with all the time that needed to be eaten up. I think the chokeslam the midget (PC?) received was a compensation to this effect, and even that didn't take care of it. I'm tending to blame this awkwardness on the Undertaker, who without his voice can't carry a lot of time (and maybe that's the reason his return has been such a letdown, not that he was ever known for his words, in any form he's held). Maybe Bradshaw could have stumped up on the ramp with Jordan. Maybe Jordan came out too soon. I don't know. But next week still looks interesting.

That about covers it for this edition of the Scouring Monk. (Hopefully I have someone reading this nonsense...)


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