I am so amped up. Judge if you will, but with arguably the best Wrestlemania in history a mere six days away, it's hard not to be excited. Before Sunday though, there was and is still the matter of final hype, as Raw and Smackdown have their final chance to convince the 4 and a half people left who are still not sold on this fantastic event. Although the excitement is built in, critics such as myself still have to be fair when looking at Raw in a vacuum, but it was not easy. With that said, I believe I have done my best to fairly judge this episode, but cut me some slack if I'm not as critical as usual.
No matter what week, month, or year, if Raw opens up with HBK, it is never a bad thing. On this night, the thought that had to enter the minds of wrestling fans though was "could this be Shawn Michaels' last Raw?" Given the fickle nature of the wrestling business, it is probably untrue even if Shawn gets beat, but as an active competitor hyping a match he will be in (which undoubtedly will steal the show), this is truly a special event. Unfortunately, the San Jose crowd didn't understand the significance of the moment as they booked The Heartbreak Kid throughout most of his promo. I can understand being a pro-Undertaker crowd, but booing HBK was a bad idea. This is history in front of your eyes, and you booed one of the greatest performers of all time. Not smart, San Jose, not smart. As for the promo itself, Shawn talked about having the same feeling as all the other big events in his career and talked about this not being the end for him, but only the beginning. As he was about to end his promo and steal the Undertaker's catchphrase, the lights go out! Of course, we all expected Undertaker to appear in the ring and tombstone Shawn or something of the like, but instead, we get a video package. On paper, that sounds like a disappointment, but if you haven't seen this video package, I highly recommend it. It started as a recollection of Shawn's career, until it got to his match with Undertaker last year. At that point, Undertaker's voice kicked it to utter "Shawn Michaels' career will REST IN PEACE", followed by an ominous graphic reading "Shawn Michaels Career: 1985-2010". Although meant as scare tactic, Shawn was not intimidated and said the only way to intimidate him is to get in his face. This led to music and out comes...........Pete Rose? Of course, Rose is the guest host, and instead of Undertaker, Rose wants HBK to take on Rose's nemesis and Undertaker's brother, Kane later. Shawn accepts with no sign of Undertaker...........yet. The truth is, the HBK/Taker match didn't need much more hype, and even though this segemnt was probably subpar in typical Raw standards, it was more hype to the most anticipated rematch perhaps ever, so getting glossed over, it is above average.
I'm going to mention it now, but not every time it happens, but throughout the night, promo videos are shown chronicling the Cena/Batista feud, leading to their final confrontation at the end of hte night. Every one of the videos has been seen before, but obviously, this is the title match for the show, so the hype machine is in full force, and the constant reminders of it help grow the anticipation for the confrontation and obviously the match at Wrestlemania.
Usually, this is the part of the broadcast for a meaningless Diva match, but not on this night. Instead, we get two former partners in singles competition to hype their impending tag titles match. With The Miz and John Morrison facing off in the ring, their partners Big Show and R-Truth respectively head to the broadcast table to offer up their words of wisdom. As that part goes, Big Show might have a career behind the table when he hangs up the boots while R-Truth's best opportunity might be doing a commercial as an example of why kids should stay in school. Crowds are always behind the guy, but it has to be because no fan has even had a full conversation with the man, mostly because it would be damn near impossible to do so. I'd rather hear Vladimir Koslov on commentary. On the contrary, Big Show was both funny and informative and I loved how he kept accusing Morrison of cheating. He was right, of course, and pointing out that fans will support cheaters was certainly a funny way to go. As for the match itself, pretty good 10 minute affair with some really innovative stuff between former partners. I didn't like the ending though, as Morrison beat Miz clean. Miz had beaten Morrison previously in the fall, so to have Morrison all of a sudden win clean seemed odd, especially with his hard to execute finisher. I would have preferred a counter and roll up to show that no matter what the heels try, the faces are able to counter. The post match was great though, as Big Show tossed R-Truth to put a scare into the team. I love how Big Show is the proverbial X-factor, as his size is something Truth and Morrison will have a tough time overcoming. It's a great story to tell.
A major pet peeve of mine in the wrestling business is when writers have short term memories. Sometimes we will see former enemies on the same side and writers or performers will forget that they don't like each other and it bothers me to not end! Thankfully, top performers don't make that mistake, as the short backstage segment between Triple H and Randy Orton was done absolutely perfectly. Triple H, the longtime face, was understandably skeptical about teaming with Orton and told him that he'll team with him, but he hasn't forgotten what Orton did to him last year. I like that he acknowledged that, as Orton has gotten over with the crowd while still be keniving and basically evil. Despite fan reaction, Triple H the wrestler cannot and should not trust a man who systematically took out his family about a year ago.
Before the odd couple teaming, a Money in the Bank qualifying match occured. It seems a little late, but if you reference my "snub" article, the guy who won this match and a spot in the MITB was someone that would have easily topped that list. Kofi Kingston is that man and he won in a squash over........does it really matter? You knew that once Kofi came out he would win no matter who the opponent. It happened to be Vladimir Koslov, who I guess is a heel again, but boy has he fallen far. Last year he had a match against Shawn Michaels to face Undertaker and was in a title match a few months before that. Now, he's jobbing out in a Money in the Bank qualifier. On a side note, Jack Swagger did guest commentary for this bout and um, he shouldn't. This guy doesn't have the verbal skills to spat with a first grader. He might be a good wrestler, but talker he is not. He is the classic case of needing a manager and mouthpiece to truly get over. There's a reason Miz got the push over him starting in the summer and it's purely mic skills, or lack thereof in Swagger's case. It is for this reason that I do not support him winning Money in the Bank as he has a lot of work to do in order to well main event feuds.
The hour one main event would be the advertised match featuring Legacy and Sheamus against Triple H and Randy Orton, but before it started, Legacy came to the ring to cut a promo. It's pretty obvious that Cody is more trusted on the mic, as he started and ended the promo with Dibiase only chiming in a few lines in the middle. Aside from that, Cody has gotten ripped! Dude has clearly been hitting more crunches than usual, as his abs are getting close to Morrison status. The promo itself was pretty good as they put over the fact that they both want Orton to lose, but took tiny shots at each other. What you needed to grasp out of it is that they both are heels and both are friends, but they both think they are better than the other (a typical heel characteristic). Thus, you can expect the two to break up each other's pinfalls on the big night as they both will want to gain the victory.
As for last night's match, pretty good contest for a TV match, but the most surprising thing about it was how over with the crowd Orton was. I found the crowd smarky and annoying last night, but the cheers Orton have been getting have been basically universal. He has somehow become one of the most popular wrestlers while still acting like a heel. The pop he got when entering the ring was insane! It'll be interesting to see how Orton is used once his feud with his proteges is over. The match ended after Orton's housecleaning did and confusion led to Orton being nailed by Sheamus' bicycle kick. That kick continues to look nasty! I'd rather he always finish with it and just get rid of the Razor's Edge powerbomb he does. After the match, Sheamus went for the same kick on Triple H, but he avoided it and threw Sheamus out of the ring. Even though it is subtle, I love the story between these two men. Even that little encounter showed that Sheamus is the young, hungry bad guy looking to take out the veteran to make a name for himself, but Triple H is the veteran who needs to show the rookie a lesson and along the way, he is doing so by outsmarting attacks and use veteran tactics as such. I love that they are playing their roles perfectly. This may not be a standout match on a loaded Wrestlemania card, but the storytelling is quite good, so don't sleep on it.
The next non-video segment was Bret's "last message to the chairman". Decent promo and I loved the line where he references how his sisters would rough Vince up! If you haven't read Bret's autobiography, read it! But for those who haven't, he mentioned how stubborn and tough his sisters are, especially Ellie (Jim Neidhart's ex-wife and current Diva Natalya's mother). I also like that he got to mention his favorite 'Mania matches that he was in, and it was great that he got to mention his brother's name on TV which got a great cheer. Overall, not an entirely necessary promo, but a fun one that hyped his match just a little bit more. What I loved most though, is that when Bret was done, Vince came out, said one line, and left. The line was so ominous and got me thinking. It was literally the best thing he could have said and gave the fans doubt that wasn't there previously. He said "this Sunday, one way or another, you're screwed!" After last week, it seemed that Bret had the upper hand being that he faked his injury and had Vince reeling, but that one line brought a lot of doubt back. That line could mean that Vince just plans to beat Bret, but it could also mean that the evil boss has a plan to screw Bret over if he can't get the job done normally. We know Vince isn't above anything as a character, and I'd be interested to see if Vince at least tries to screw Bret over whether he succeeds or not.
Next was the "main event" match between HBK and Kane. Obviously the real main event was going to be the confrontation between Batista and Cena, so this match went on before that. Not a bad match considering it was two proven veterans squaring off, but despite almost 10 minutes of HBK getting the most out of Kane in a singles match, you knew that this wouldn't have a typical finish and it didn't. They did the 'ole switcharoo, as the lights went out, Undertaker switched places with Kane, chokeslammed HBK, and when the lights went on, Kane appeared to pin Michaels. Unfortunately for Kane, HBK kicked out! After countering a tombstone from Kane, Michaels hits sweet chin music and pins Kane for the 3 count. Pete Rose got his revenge after all those years.............or so he thought.
After another video promos (I told you there were a lot and I haven't even mentioned most of them!) Rose is shown backstage joking around with Christian. Rose takes a shot at the home town Giants in saying how he has 3 world series rings and the Giants have none. This little banter ends when Rose tries to enter his dressing room but Kane is already inside! He pops out and says "your luck has changed? That's what you think!" and grabs Rose and brings him inside to beat him up! While Kane is shown, his music plays and I must say, it was quite cheesy. Howvever, it was most certainly meant to be cheesy. This was a nostalgic act and a throwback to 1998, so the cheesier, the better. Usually, I would knock cheesy segments, but this was so over the top that it was hilarious.
Almost as hilarious was the last "match" of the night. It's 10:40 and the divas have yet to be seen, so why not have them kill some time before the confrontation? Unfortunately, their segment still didn't put them on the Wrestlemania card and I'm highly doubting that any of them wiill be on the card at this point. The match itself was a 6 diva tag mixed with Raw and Smackdown Divas, but the only divas to actually wrestle were Gail Kim and Michelle McCool. The match was short and saw McCool pick up the win after a sloppy Styles Clash with NO INTERFERENCE!!! I emphasize this point as each team had 3 women and each team came out with two additional women, meaning 10 women were at ringside, so 4 were on the face side and no one tried to break up the count? Seemed odd to me. It truly is sad how the diva division is treated and I will continue to say it week after week if this is the crap I am subjugated to watching.
At least the main event made me forget all about the garbage Diva match. Out first was Batista who was truly firing on all cylinders. He pulled out all the cards on this night, starting with a Razor Ramon reference, uttering "say hello to the bad guy". He later mocks John Cena's catchphrases as his promo is aimed more at getting him heat than at selling the match on Sunday. Obviously, the match has plenty of hype, so the strategy isn't bad, especially since Cena gets those mixed reactions. I think they figure the more the crowd hates Batista, the more they might get behind Cena. Unfortunately, that woudln't happen with the horrible crowd in San Jose. After Cena made his way out to go face to face with Batista (which didn't exactly happen because Batista brought out security to separate them), the crowd decided to go smarky on us again and started a "you can't wrestle" chant directed at Cena. While I would love to debate this ridiculous premise in the minds of some stupid wrestling fans, I will save that for an article all to itself, but the fact that in one of the most heated feuds going on the last show they will be seen before Wrestlemania, the crowd was able to ruin the moment is absolutely pathetic and disgusting. If anyone gets a failing grade for this show, it is clearly the fans. Just an awful audience, and I know awful audiences as I have attended shows at the equally smarky Madison Square Garden. Anyway, the promos were pretty entertaining, but the best part was the fight at the end. The two men fought through security to brawl a little before getting broken up. Then Cena went nuts and took out all of the security team! Unfortunately, after doing so, he found Batista leaving the arena already. I thought that the way Cena culminated the war of words was a little cheesy, but the attack looked really good and I have no doubts that this match will fare very well on Sunday.
If this show wasn't hyping Wrestlemania, it would be a decent show, but one might question where some of the promos were going. Of course, most of the hype for the matches was already extremely high, so any segment was basically just adding hype to hype. Of course, intermingled in those promos were some decent wrestling matches (sans the Divas match) which is always something you like to see on a wrestling program. Considering the matches also hyped the Wrestlemania matches, it was a win/win. Normally, I'd probably rate this episode a little above average, but not much. However, since it was the go-home show before what should be an EPIC Wrestlemania, I have to give it a slightly higher score. WWE has done a wonderful job hyping this Sunday and I can't tell you how excited I truly am. I leave you tonight with the Batista/Cena confrontation as this is the best Batista has ever been. Enjoy and the countdown is now at 5 days until Wrestlemania!