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Sunday, April 03, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- It's WrestleMania Sunday, the biggest day of the year for the pro wrestling industry every year since 1985. Very briefly, here's what the line-up looks like:

-Vince McMahon's Son-in-Law vs. Batista for the World Heavyweight Title

-JBL vs. John Cena for That Other Title That Clearly Isn't As Important

-Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels in a dream match

-Undertaker vs. Randy Orton in this month's episode of "Undertaker Squashes the Young Talent"

-Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio in what could be a show-stealing match with the heel turn we've been waiting for

-A six-person ladder match with Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Edge, Christian, and Kane

-Trish "Beautiful and Talented" Stratus vs. Christy "Mildly Attractive and No Talent" Hemme

-The Big Show vs. Akebono in a "sumo rules" match that is sure to be as much of a train wreck as Akebono's one and only K-1 win (which was worked)

-The return of Piper's Pit with a barely coherent Roddy Piper interviewing Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is not wrestling on the show because of his permanent neck condition

-Also, look for Hulk Hogan to show his wrinkled, manipulative, cancer-to-any-locker-room-he's-in face at some point, perhaps in a segment with Mohammad Hassan that would be sure to garner cheap heat

I'm not sure at this point if I'll be writing a review for WrestleMania after it happens, but it looks like a good line-up on paper, and it damn well better be for fifty bucks. In the meantime, I think this is a good time to look back at the reviews I wrote for three of the previous four WWE pay-per-views. I wrote these reviews after each PPV took place and submitted them as reader feedback on the Pro Wrestling Torch web site.

These reviews offer an explanation as to how a line-up can look on paper (and in some cases actually turn out to be a very good wrestling show), and the company can still be doing all the wrong things and moving in the wrong direction creatively. Raw and Smackdown have been good shows recently, but their long-term potential is anchored to the ground as long as Stephanie McMahon is the head of creative despite all her faults, and as long as her husband Triple H continues to be pushed as the top star of the promotion by far, despite the fact that there are literally a dozen guys on the roster more deserving of his spot than he is.

The three PPV events reviewed below took place in December 2004, January 2005, and February 2005.

WWE Armageddon 2004 Review
Score (out of 10): 2.0
Best Match: Rob Van Dam & Rey Mysterio vs. Kenzo Suzuki & Renee Dupree
Worst Match: John Cena vs. Jesus Aguilera

Only the back-and-forth bantering of Tazz and Michael Cole kept me from slipping into a mild coma during one of the worst PPVs I can remember. Can someone please explain to me why everyone (including the ref) has to act completely terrified of a 45-year-old man who wears women's mascara? I would also like an explanation for why Undertaker, in order to "justify" not winning the match, had to A) Dominate offense for the majority of the match, B) Kick out of and no-sell Eddie Guerrero's double finishing move, C) Only lose because mean ole' Heidenreich interfered, and D) Even then, still not be the one to do the job.

After the match when he sat up and realized JBL had retained the title, the look on Undertaker's face was priceless and resembled the look of a newborn baby who has just woken up and realized that he has a dirty diaper. The announcers completely spoiled the fact that JBL was going to retain the title by constantly saying throughout the show that he was definitely going to lose the title. Great job by the director in completely missing the clothesline that JBL used to finish off Booker T.

I hope Charlie Haas gets over with the crowd after the twist in his story line, but why do I have the sinking feeling that the creative team has absolutely nothing else planned for the story line? Hmm, maybe it's because that's what creative always does, in much the same way that Paul London can go from being one of the hottest acts on one Smackdown-brand PPV, to then appearing on ONE of the next eight Smackdown shows, to then not even appearing on the next PPV.

Even though they picked the right man, why would you let the crowd decide who wins a boxing match instead of having judges? Why would you put on a match like Cena vs. Jesus with exactly the kind of tired stand-up brawling that the wrestling industry has seemingly moved past? Why would you reward Hardcore Holly with a PPV appearance (and thus a bonus check) just weeks after he physically assaulted one of his co-workers like a coward? Why would you expect anyone to take Funaki seriously as a champion after treating him like a joke for a half-decade? How is anyone supposed to take Team Angle seriously after they lose a three-on-one handicap match? These are the kinds of obvious questions that need to be asked at WWE creative meetings, and this PPV just serves as proof that there is no one willing to ask these kinds of questions.

WWE Royal Rumble 2005 Review
Score (out of 10): 6.0
Best Match: Royal Rumble match
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Heidenreich

First of all, how many times is Triple H going to be involved in borderline racist things before he is officially declared a borderline racist? How is Triple H calling Eddie Guerrero "a jumping bean" any different than if it was a black wrestler and he used the n word? That was just disgusting. The Royal Rumble match was good, but there were booking decisions all over this show that demonstrated why WWE is moving in the wrong direction.

The finish of the Royal Rumble match was either horribly botched by the wrestlers or just horribly booked. Assuming everything went as planned, how many times per year do we need to see the same stupid finish of, "Ref A thinks one guy was the winner, and Ref B thinks the other guy was the winner"? We have literally seen that in one form or another on WWE TV a half-dozen times over the past year. Why would you have John Cena get squashed and elminated 15 seconds after the match was re-started? Why would Batista and Cena be the final two in the first place if it's only going to build anticipation for the dream match you're NOT giving them at WrestleMania, and it's going to put fans into a position to cheer the elimination of one of the top two most over babyfaces in the company?

WWE sure showed how much faith they have in last year's WrestleMania main eventers, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Guerrero was eliminated midway through the match by Edge with no big deal made of it, and Benoit was stopped just short of making the final four. I don't think it was even mentioned that Benoit was in the ring from the time the match began to the time when the 30th entrant came out, and that achievement is no longer treated as a big deal in general because someone does it every year these days. Isn't there a way to build towards Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle without having yet another Rumble Rumble with an incredibly stupid "invalid elimination"? If Angle can re-enter the match and eliminate Michaels, does that mean if referee Jack Doan ran in and threw Jericho out that Jericho would be eliminated? Or if Edge ran back in after he was eliminated and threw out John Cena, does that mean Cena would eliminated?

Paul London continues to get crapped on by WWE, while Undertaker should get some kind of lifetime achievement award for being in more "Worst Matches of the PPV" than anyone in the modern era. I don't think it's possible to have a tag team match with less talent in it than Undertaker & Kane vs. Snitsky & Heidenreich, but at least they will get most of the "stink" compressed into one match at WrestleMania if that match happens. Seeing Orton get booed and Triple H get cheered was disheartening because that's exactly what has been set up to happen. Orton was turned babyface way too early had his legs intentionally cut out from him as a babyface almost immediately, while Triple H has been booked for months in what is traditionally the babyface role of being outnumbered and overcoming adversity. Then, not only does Triple H beat Orton clean, but Orton doesn't even get a visual pinfill while the ref is down.

If there's one positive thing coming out of this show, it's how it demonstrated the power of the brand split. When wrestlers from the two brands only have physical contact with each other twice per year (Rumble and Mania), it makes it seem like a big deal, as evidenced by the huge monster pop from the crowd when the four Raw wrestlers and the four Smackdown wrestlers stared each other down and then fought. Other than that one factor, the Royal Rumble was a three-hour capsule summary of WWE's problem: Talented wrestlers wasted and mis-used by an incompetent creative team.

Vince McMahon Injury Sidebar: I doubt I am the only one who is not feeling sorry for Vince McMahon in the least bit after his injury at the Royal Rumble. Putting aside the fact that certain lifestyle choices could very well make McMahon more likely to get injured than he otherwise would be, one has to remember that this is the same man who has released wrestlers right when they get their medical clearance after being out with an injury suffered on the job.

Not only that, but this is the same man who showed his appreciation for Andrew Martin (aka Test) putting his body on the line for the company and breaking his neck by releasing Martin just a couple months into his year-long recovery process from spinal surgery. This is the same man who continued the show when a wrestler died in his ring doing a stunt that he was pressured into doing, and has spent the last five years constantly revisiting that night by having many "The show must go on!" kind of moments on TV after worked injuries to various wrestlers. If ever someone was going to suffer a freak injury due to bad karma, wouldn't that person be Vince McMahon?

WWE No Way Out 2005 Review
Score (out of 10): 6.0
Best Match: Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio vs. Doug & Danny Basham
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Luther Reigns

I'm not a former writer for a crappy, cancelled TV show. I am merely a longtime fan of pro wrestling, so I'm sure WWE is not interested in my ideas, but here's one anyway. It would be great to have a "barbed wire steel cage match" and market an entire PPV around the concept that this match is so special that it makes the card worth buying all on its own. Then, just put barbed wire around the top of the cage. Then, don't have anyone ever touch the barbed wire at all, even for a second, under any circumstances. Then, book one of the most stupid finishes in the history of the steel cage. Add all up that, and it's pure gold! (Or something else that is four letters.) Oh, wait, they already did that tonight.

Paul London showed throughout the ridiculously short cruiserweight match why he is a great talent that deserves to get a big push, and WWE showed once again that they would rather say, "Screw you!" to their audience than make money on an idea or a talent that they didn't come up with. The opening tag match was very good and had a surprising finish. To me, the John Cena vs. Kurt Angle match wasn't as good as it could have been because there would be no drama in any near-falls; it would just be a matter of waiting for the ref bump and Shawn Michaels run-in. The entire crowd immediately started chanting "HBK" the minute the referee went down, but he never came out, leaving me to wonder how they're going to properly promote Angle vs. Michaels leading up to WrestleMania.

I do have to give props to Angle for helping to elevate Cena by doing a clean job, which is something that maybe he can explain to Undertaker. As I've said before, The Undertaker deserves some kind of Lifetime Achievement Award for being in the worst match on more PPVs than anyone in history. Month after month, through his determination, laziness, selfishness, and restrictions placed on him by his AARP membership, Undertaker goes out there and proves that he can stink it up just a little bit more than you thought he could. As for elevating young talent in any way, you can forget about that. The most you're going to get out of this guy is a brief facial expression after the match indicating that it was slightly more difficult than he anticipated to beat his opponent. We are now beyond the point of being "a little bit past the time" for Undertaker to retire. You could say that five years ago; now it's just ridiculous.

The bickering between Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie was one of the few funny moments on the show, but in general the three different "Rookie Diva" segments were destined for failure from the moment they were written, and the people who wrote those segments were well aware of that fact. That is the problem with WWE right now: It's not about putting on a good product, it's about making Vince McMahon happy with the product. Whether it's women in their underwear or jacked-up steroid freaks in their underwear, if it tickles Vince McMahon's fancy then apparently it doesn't matter what the fans think.