John Laurinaitis Brought J.R. Back to RAW to Wrestle In the Main Event
On his own, speaking in the ring, Johnny Ace is a charisma vacuum; he could barely even get heat by joking about Rey Mysterio’s injury, in Mexico. But when J.R. joined him in the ring, he was the most affecting he’s been since his
triumphant return to TV. As soon as J.R. enteres the ring, Laurinaitis enveloped Ross with a hug. Given the disingenuousness of Laurinaitis’s character, it was a beautiful display of cynical corporate bureaucracy, making an over the top show for the cameras (y’know, like WWE supporting ‘Be a Star’ despite widespread knowledge about backstage ribs and hazing (for the record, i’m a big fan of Be a Star and it’s motto)). Despite this rare success from the Laurinaitis character, after waxing emptily apologetic, he went and made what is surely one of the worst main events in RAW history: John Cena & J.R. vs Alberto Del Rio & Cole. It’s even more of a shame, however, that J.R. wont be on commentary for the forseable future. One last point I have relates to Del Rio’s response to this. He protested to Johnny Ace about the match being below him (it is), but was placated when Funkhauser told him that the winner would choose the stipulation for his match at Vengeance. This struck me as weird; the only reason Del Rio would be pleased at this is if he was sure he would win, which in turn (bear with me) means that he, and Ace, were genuinely sure that Cole was tougher than J.R. Ross too wasn’t sure about his ability, voicing concerns to Cena in a backstage pretape. What i’m getting at is that there was a mini-story here, of J.R. not overcoming adversity, but overcoming the sort of negativity that surrounds his character by beating Cole; making him submit in fact! Intentional or not, its a nice touch.
Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes & Christian def. John Morrison, Sheamus & Randy Orton
This was a nice match with some inventive booking. There was some nice chemistry between all six in this match, but the real plaudits should go to the agents as it was their structure which made it so unique. Rhodes, in control against Sheamus, hit Orton with a big cheap shot before tagging out. An infuriated Viper (infamous for his anger ‘issues’) ran around the ring to meet Rhodes with a thunderous clothesline, leading to a brawl out of the arena. This left us with a two-on-two match, and again, the heels were performing excellently. Veteran heel Christian gave us a great classic heel spot in frustrating the formulaic ‘hot tag’ by pulling Sheamus from the apron before he could tag in. Again, this led to the heel being chased off, leaving us with Mark Henry against John Morrison, leaving no one in any doubt about the result of the match. HOWEVER, JoMo looked better than he has of late against Henry, taking it to the World’s Strongest Champion quite well. Him not winning doesn’t reflect badly on him. The only people who could beat him clean would be the top, top guys, so JoMo failing failing to do that is no poke in the eye. The end of the match was another amazing strong-man spot where Henry threw him in to the air with a press, and caught him for the World’s Strongest Slam. So good to see Henry looking purely dominant again going in to Sunday.
Eve Torres def. Natalya
Usually, I would have not been too pleased with Natalya losing right now, but I am a fan of Eve Torres getting a title shot, so I had little problem with it other than the quickness of the match and victory. My problem with the whole thing was that Eve was announced as #1 contender before the match, at a time when she hadn’t really done much to earn the spot, and then she went on to earn her spot by beating Natalya. I would have preferred Eve to win the match, and then either after the match, via Johnny Ace, or in the next segment, announce that Eve is the #1 contender.
CM Punk w/ HHH def. The Miz w/ R-Truth
Out came Punk to an amazing reaction, only to be met with the Miz/Truth rap w/ sprinkling of Spanish insults, which was awesome. Miz and Truth berated and even threatened Punk, using their actions at Hell in a Cell as currency, and this led to HHH coming out to back Punk up. I thought this was good, dramatic way to draw the lines for Vengeance, showing the pragmatic, respectful relationship the two have developed. The match was ok, and Punk was really displaying some fine wrestling and unique wrestling holds in the match. The match was good, but it was interrupted by Johnny Ace, who wanted to remove HHH from ringside, and did so with a spurious immigration issue, meaning Triple H had to leave the arena, and Punk on his own. The match managed to re-start though, and while it was enjoyable, it was missing a magic. Punker has clear form of 5-star matches, but whether it was Funkhauser’s fault or Miz’s, it was not that memorable. I’m a big fan of Miz, and he’s certainly always improving in the ring, but if there’s one thing he’s lacking, it’s a back-catalogue of memorable matches – one of the few weaknesses of Miz’s game. Without backup, Punk had to fight off Truth as well as Miz, and the Best in the World was successful by throwing Miz in to the interfering Truth before rolling Miz up for the win. A nice finish, keeping Punk looking strong, but soon, Punk’s celebrations were cut short by the beat-down of the Awesome Truth, and a brutal one it was too, with sustained mounted punches to the face, and either man’s finisher in between ‘cooperating’ with security, using their distraction to harm Punk more – a variation of the heel move behind the ref’s back. This obviously builds more of an ‘issue’ between the two groups, but I don’t think anything distinct enough happened to really make it complete build. As for the whole immigration angle, I guess you can file it in the same place as ‘Who sent the text?’, ‘Who raised the Cell?’ and ‘Who messed with HHH’s immigration papers?’ – it’s looking increasingly not like it’s Johnny Ace, or at least that he’s not the ‘higher power’ behind it all. If we get closure on all of this, then they may be able to make a great storyline out of it. FINALLY, a quick word on CM Punk needing a CM Punk of his own (i.e. a voice of the voiceless, because he didn’t talk, you see). There has been a bit of criticism i’ve seen about Punker not talking this week (and last week too, really), and I noticed it too, and wasn’t too happy about it. But then I thought, what would Punk really have to say? Some stuff about Johnny Ace perhaps? Maybe, but the fact is that the current story is kinda in the middle of nowhere, and there’s no solid foundation for Punk to drop pipebombs from. It would be counter-productive for him to talk too much at the minute; because it’s about some pretty unclear stuff, it might just come across as whiny. You don’t want to overdo it, and it’s unfair to expect really explosive pipebombs every time he even appears. Punk, however, is as popular as ever, and I do believe that in the lead up to Survivor Series, the stories will be simplified and energised by the insertion of The Rock. I think in the wake of this, we could well see a dynamic voice for the voiceless return. I will say more about this in my Vengeance preview …
Team Vickie Give a Class in Promo (even Swagger)
Next up, out came Team Vickie, with Vickie dressed in some kind of traditional Mexican dress, to show us quite a broad spectrum of promo excellence. Guerrero never ceases to amaze me. Well known as the widow of legendary Mexican Icon Eddie Guerrero (and co-Mexican herself of course), she managed to come out and not only get heat, but arguably more heat than she does in the States, and all she has to do is come out and tell the fans to excuse her while she brags, often incoherently (she claimed this week that she is lucha royalty and the Angelina Jolie of Mexico City). I guess the heat was to do with her perfectly timed shrill voice, as it often is, mixed with an apparent (WWE-esque) paying of mere lip-service to the rich wrestling culture in Mexico and Mexican culture generally with her unwarranted use of the word lucha, and decision to wear the dress without explaining anything about it. Guerrero’s ability, mixed with the fact that she’s one of the very few strong and successful female managers in wrestling history, I think makes her a candidate for the Hall of Fame in the future. Next up was Dolph Ziggler, who performed one of the best promos of his career, if not the best. He has recently been part of a segment on Z: True Long Island Story called ‘Ask the Heel’, and in that format, has been delivering amazing, unique promos. For the first time, he replicated this style on WWETV and smashed it out the park. Ryder may be the ‘Internet Champion’ because he uses the internet so well, but Ziggler is the wrestler in the world who is most in-tune with the internet. Just look at his promos (at least his one from RAW); watching him is like being on the internet. He spits out opinions at mechanical speed, they include smarky memes (as with his Titus O’Neill comment), yet at the same time, show a cavalier inattentiveness to the subjects he’s speaking of, like he’s casually browsing different sites without much interest – one minute he’s burying O’Neill, the next, he’s talking about ‘scarves on men’, and you hate him for it. He even uses the cathphrase (on Ryder’s show at least) ‘#Heel’! This is all delivered in a quick-fire, clinical, and highly-polished manner that is indicative of ‘perfection’. He is like a promo machine. I think he has legitimately innovated a new, modern type of promo, and it’s just another string to his bow. Complimenting this was a more classic my-country-is-better-than-your-country promo from Jack Swagger, which saw him sing the US national anthem, and sing it so badly that it almost rubbed in the arrogance of the sentiment. And indeed, Swagger got some nuclear heat for it (and even trended on twitter). Then, frustrated at the crowd’s boos interrupting him, Swagger, like a patronising parent, said he was going to start over. This was some of Swagger’s best work, but before he could continue, out came Zack Ryder, the interventionist hero.
Zack Ryder def. Jack Swagger
Well this was strange to see. I was tweeting something at the start of the match, and before i’d finished, Zack Ryder had won. This wasn’t a squash to Swagger though (if anything, he’s been receiving himself a push again of late), it was all about Ryder getting over as a credible face, deadly at any given moment, Orton-style. As Orton can hit that RKO at any time, Ryder is being booked to be able to hit his Rough Ryder at any time. This is what happened here. Ryder continues to be on his way to the US Title.
Dolph Ziggler def. Mason Ryan via DQ
Mason Ryan is a neanderthal. Dolph Ziggler is near-perfection. Nonetheless, Ryan is a babyface, and bigger than Ziggler, and so he is being booked strongly against him. Ryan still can’t move very well, but Ziggler is a modern day Shawn Michaels in the sense that he can bump with exaggerated brilliance. While HBK used this for almost comic quality, Ziggler reigns it in a little, and just makes people like Ryan look like monsters. This match was, therefore, ok, and showcased both well. After Vickie slapped Ryan on the outside, that is precisely what the Welshman became (does he have a nickname? ‘The Welsh Wizard’? ‘The Welsh MAN!’?) and he entered the ring, obliterating the cowardly Ziggler. So far so good – the bad guy getting his comeuppance, but wait, Ryan didn’t stop. Not only is it kinda outdated to attack a man for the trespasses of his woman (so to speak), but to then behave categorically as a heel by displaying brutal, unsportsmanlike conduct, seemed very misguided. Vickie slapping him doesn’t merit it, and it certainly isn’t enough for the basis of a ‘personal issue’, as J.R. would term it. Given that Ryan has only just turned face, and isn’t over as one, his behaving like a heel is just a confusing way to use him. Save the nuance for characters interesting enough to hold our attention.
John Cena & J.R. def. Alberto Del Rio & Michael Cole
Apart from the absurdity of announcers being in the main event with the WWE Champion and #1 Contender, there was another big problem with this main event. Because J.R. and Cole, with the best will in the world, don’t really know how to wrestle, this match was basically Cena vs Del Rio (with some Ross-Cole spots thrown in), but hang on, isn’t this the main event people are going to have to pay for on Sunday?! Tag matches often provide textbook good build for PPV’s, but only because the two main combatants don’t have to appear in the ring together and spoil any anticipation (in fact, the heel will often tag out to frustrate this need (hopefully) to see them fight, and thus create even more anticipation for seeing the good guy get his hands on him). Here, this dynamic wasn’t in play. Cena came out to one of the biggest pops he’s ever had; it really was amazing, but then something interesting happened, as soon as Del Rio arrived and the match got underway, all this support dissipated and reverted to support for Del Rio. Nothing surprising about that, but the apparent fickleness of support for Cena is interesting. I have a theory actually that Cena’s pops are empty-cheering. His music almost demands a cheer as he bursts out a crescendo, but that noise is rarely, if ever, sustained. It’s like kids being excited at Christmas before just playing with the packaging. Brandon Stroud also has an interesting and , depressingly, probably accurate theory about this: that a collection of modern WWE fans are there to see wrestlers, not wrestling. Don’t get me wrong, i’m there for wrestlers, but wrestlers that wrestle! The match was ok. Both are very good workers (though obviously in very different ways), but does seeing them have an ok match really build for another match between them? I did, however, like J.R. getting the win over Cole with the ankle lock, a nice bit of circularity from Cole’s various humiliations of the Sooner legend. It went some way to allowing Ross a bit of dignity back after last week.
John Cena Beats Down Alberto Del Rio and Announces The Stipulation for Their Match at Vengeance
After the match, we saw a brutal beat-down from Cena to Del Rio. An important caveat is that Del Rio instigated the violence, but Cena definitely finished it. He gave Del Rio an AA on the outside and started counting. At this point, it was clear what the stipulation is that he’s chosen. More about the Last Man Standing match in the Vengeance preview. When Del Rio got back up, Cena again attacked him, but this time upped the ante by charging him with the ring steps, obliterating him with them. This time, as Cena dispassionately counted, Del Rio didn’t get up, and as the chorus of boos continued, I realised that this is what life would have been like if Cena ever does turn heel. In fact, he was behaving exactly like a heel; attacking someone after a match and using it as a metaphor for how he will definitely win is practically out of the heel textbook. I suppose WWE agents thought that, as long as Del Rio initiated it, any actions from Cena would be justified, but they were wrong. Cena’s actions were obviously pre-meditated – he had clearly thought of how he could dramatically show the fans what stipulation he had chosen. It was overly-violent, and if anything, may have developed some sympathy for Del Rio. All in all then, a pretty poor attempt at building the Vengeance main event; the only upside being that a Lasy Man Standing match promises some good old-fashioned brutality.
To again quote Brandon Stroud, he sums up the short-sightedness of this booking (also talking about Mason ‘Ugg’ Ryan’s behaviour) in his latest blog http://withleather.uproxx.com/2011/10/the-best-and-worst-of-wwe-raw-1017-el-mejor-y-peor:
“Speaking of cheering and chanting, I need to present a list of facts and have you accept and consider them.
1. Beth Phoenix tries to attack Eve after the match because she’s a heel. We should boo her.
2. Miz and R-Truth viciously beat down CM Punk after the match because they’re heels. We should boo them.
3. Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger go after Zack Ryder after the match, because they’re heels. We should boo them.
4. Mason Ryan won’t stop attacking Ziggler during and after the match because…. Ziggler was a heel? We should cheer him.
5. John Cena absolutely will. not. stop. attacking Alberto Del Rio until he literally cannot stand up, because Cena wants to let us know about his match stipulation. We should cheer for him.”