Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Greatest Superstars of the 21st Century

This may be the most puzzling WWE DVD I've gotten so far. Normally, I don't buy new DVD sets when they come out, preferring to wait until I can buy them cheaper used at some point, but I really wanted the Kurt Angle/Brock Lesnar Iron Man match. And I was in Detroit and spending American money, so it didn't seem like such an expense. Also, I already have the DVD sets for the '80s and '90s; there was an appeal in completing the set. Instead of doing a disc-by-disc review over three posts, I wanted to discuss the entire set, because never have I wondered more what the fuck they were thinking when putting together a DVD set.

There are 20 superstars chosen for the list (although, for the Divas, they spotlight them all even though it's Trish Status on the cover and in the sole Divas match included... still, they included a Divas match, which is suprising) and, for the most part, I agree with their choices. I tend not to get too bent out of shape over lists like this. The only change I would have made would have been to put CM Punk in Kane's spot. That's less a criticism of Kane and more about how much CM Punk did in the second half of the decade (Kane gets bumped because he's probably the weakest choice for the list; really, everyone else deserves the spot more). Now, the WWE could have kept Punk off the list to not ruin his 'Summer of Punk II' angle, but I doubt it.

The first disc contains a feature on the 20 superstars selected, mostly clips, old interviews, and some new comments from other wrestlers. It's not any different from the one they did for the '90s set and that's fine. It's a pleasant thing to watch. Not amazing, but fun, especially for a more casual fan like my girlfriend. It also gives a decent overview of the decade and some of the wrestlers that aren't in the company currently for whatever reason like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, JBL, and Booker T (who is in the company, but not as a wrestler). What the first disc is missing is any bonus features like promo/non-match segments like the first disc of the '90s set included. You get an hour and forty minutes of the main feature and that's it. The lack of that extra material is noticeable and detracts from the set.

From there, we go to the matches and the first thing I noticed was that everyone on the list is represented... except for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Jeff Hardy. Neither man is featured in any of the matches. That's got to be an oversight, especially in Austin's case. It's kind of funny: both of those guys were popular/good enough to make the top 20 superstars of the past decade, but neither were worth showing in a match? Wow.

The second thing I noticed was that the final match included is from 2007. What about the final two years of the decade? Nothing noteworthy happened there? That's one of the reasons I would have liked to see CM Punk included on the list: they could have put his TLC match with Jeff Hardy from SummerSlam 2009 at the last match. It's a great match and would have gotten Hardy in a match.

The third thing I noticed was that there are a lot of non-PPV matches and this is something I really like. I know the 'big' matches happen on PPV usually, but PPVs are also on DVD already, while a lot of the stuff from Raw and Smackdown is not. Skewing the match selection towards the television stuff is a smart move. Seven out of twelve matches are from TV and that seems like a good ratio, especially for a set like this where they don't NEED to show any specific match. They can choose random throwaway matches that show two of the guys on the list and that's fine, and they seemed to approach the set with that mentality.

Except, that also meant we get some very strange selections like the third disc starting with two JBL WWE Championship defences... from two straight Smackdown-inclusive pay-per-views. Now, there is some logic to that decision since one matches is a Fatal Fourway and the other is Triple Threat with only JBL as the constant, but there's also the fact that all four men from the Fatal Fourway appear in other matches on the set, so it's not NEEDED to show any of them. The third disc is strange like that. Those two JBL matches come from December 2004 and January 2005 and, then, we get a Triple H/Edge match from February 2005. Later, we get two matches from February 2007 followed by one from April 2007. It's weird grouping that really overrepresents some specific periods.

Not a complaint at all, but something I would have liked to see: since the second disc has the Angle/Lesnar Iron Man match from Smackdown, the third disc should have had the hour-long Shawn Michaels/John Cena match from Raw (that match needs to be put on DVD). Right there, including those two matches would have made this set a must buy... although just including one pretty much made it so. EDIT (10/20/11): I just received the first three-disc Shawn Michaels DVD set and it has this match on it. So... uh... ignore me.

So, there were some odd decisions made in putting this set together, but how were the matches? Let's get to them now...

Match #1: WCW Championship Match - Booker T (C) vs. The Rock (SummerSlam, 08.19.01)
This was part of the whole Invasion storyarc and was a decent little match. Even though Kurt Angle had already won the belt for the WWE, the Rock winning it here was meant as a 'big' moment in the story -- and I guess it would be since, from there, only he and Chris Jericho would hold the title before it was unified with the WWE Championship to become the WWE Undisputed Championship. This match kind of blurs together from big spots, brawling on the outside, and attempts at interference. It was overbooked... I think a bigger moment might have been Booker T/Kurt Angle on Smackdown where Angle won the title.
Winner and NEW WCW Champion: The Rock [**3/4]

Match #2: Intercontinental Championship Match - Rob Van Dam (C) vs. Chris Jericho (Raw, 09.16.02)
This match also suffers from interference, which becomes a common theme. It's like, in choosing the matches, simply representing as many people as possible in the matches themselves wasn't enough, you also need lots of interference to give some guys more screen time. Or, it's a sign that the WWE is more like TNA than any of us want to admit. As you'd expect, an RVD/Jericho match is pretty good. Very quickly-paced with some inventive spots. This was back when RVD was capable of doing things you hadn't seen him do before and working with Jericho basically made that a necessity. I swear to god, he must stand backstage and go "Yeah, but we've seen that already..." to half the spots guys come up with when they're going over their match ahead of time. Because RVD was feuding with Triple H over the world title, he had to get involved and help Jericho win. It's weird to see Triple H and Jericho working together since I tend to view them as natural enemies. (It also happened in the first Elimination Chamber match. The girlfriend and I are in the middle of that DVD set, so it just happened that I saw two examples of the two of them working together around the same time.) A somewhat nice twist here is that Triple H only costs RVD the title because he's a distraction -- RVD spends too much time and energy beating on Trips and Jericho sneaks in and gets the Walls of Jericho on him. After the match, Triple H beat the shit out of RVD.
Winner and NEW WWE Intercontinental Champion: Chris Jericho [***]

Match #3: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) vs. Kane (Raw, 06.23.03)
This was the match that led to Kane unmasking, so that's the reason it's included here. Lots of interference from Ric Flair and Randy Orton to help Triple H retain the belt. Nothing really stands out aside from the paradox of Triple H as a heel needing lots of help to win matches, while Triple H as a face can win while withstanding tons of interference. I know, I know, that's all faces/heels; it stands out to me more with Triple H, because he seems so fucking useless as a heel. I couldn't help but laugh when Eric Bischoff came out, commanded Kane to take off his mask, and Evolution decided to just kick the shit out of Kane some more instead of letting him unmask.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H [**]

Match #4: 60-Minute Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship - Kurt Angle (C) vs. Brock Lesnar (Smackdown, 09.18.03)
The reason for me buying this set -- and why you should as well. This is the entire match including everything that happened during commercial breaks. What I loved about watching this match was how it was so obviously geared towards the stipulation. The match that Angle and Lesnar have here couldn't have been had under ANY other stipulation. It was a story unique to the Iron Man match. Whenever a stipulation is used, I try to watch and see if the match could have been done as a regular match or under any other stipulation -- and, if it could, why bother with the stipulation? Lesnar ducking Angle until he just destroyed him with a chair was fantastic. He purposefully dropped one fall to make Angle so weak that he could pick up a few more. I liked how the first four falls were all won through different means: disqualification, pinfall, submission, and countout. That was a smart way to keep the match from not getting too boring/repetitive at the beginning as Lesnar picked up three quick falls on the completely wrecked Angle. Angle's comeback attempt fit the face/heel dynamic and played into Lesnar's arrogance. Once he got that first pin on the beaten Angle, he obviously assumed he'd won the match already. He assumed that simply destroying Angle with a chair would be enough for him to bank falls and win. That it did shows that the strategy paid off, but Angle put it in doubt. Because Angle had to come back from such a large deficit, the match was compelling throughout. I've heard people say that Iron Man matches drag because you can basically skip to the end where the falls matter more; by having Angle down so much, his comeback was spread out over a greater amount of time and kept the internet high. Simply waiting out the final minutes would mean you missed the insanity of him building momentum and making the comeback -- it wouldn't be nearly as sweet. Lesnar winning was the right call, because the comeback was TOO big to make... but Angle looked good in the process. It wasn't that Lesnar was a better wrestler, it was that he used a cheap (and brilliant) strategy to gain an 'unfair' advantage that even Kurt fucking Angle couldn't completely overcome. Fantastic match and well worth buying this set for.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****1/2]

Match #5: WWE Championship Match - Eddie Guerrero (C) vs. Rey Mysterio (Smackdown, 03.18.04)
The first disc ends with this nice little match. Guerrero had just won the belt, I guess, and this was a showcase match basically. Him and Rey just going out there and putting on an entertaining match where the crowd loved both of them. Because he's smart, Guerrero leaned into the heel role a bit, allowing Rey to be the babyface (even though Rey Mysterio is a heel and always has been a heel). Very good chemistry; nothing in this match blew me away, but it ran so smoothly that the entire thing just impresses. Post-match, Paul Heyman says racist things, hypes up the upcoming brand draft, and is fed to the Undertaker by Guerrerio and Mysterio. Good time for all.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Eddie Guerrero [***1/2]

Match #6: Fatal Fourway for the WWE Championship - JBL (C) vs. the Undertaker vs. Eddie Guerrero vs. Booker T (Armageddon, 12.12.04)
I liked the storytelling of this match. JBL didn't want the match to happen, because his Cabinet was banned from ringside and he figured there was no way he'd win. Guerrero and Booker T decided to work together to take out the other two. The Undertaker is unstoppable and the heavy favourite. Everyone taking turns punching JBL is always good fun as was the Guerrero/Booker alliance falling apart. The Undertaker was built as unstoppable and only lost because of interference from Heidenreich. That allowed JBL to sneak in and retain the title. Not an amazing match from a workrate perspective, but the storytelling was solid. The interference was kind of shitty, though. That's the big weakness in the construction of the match for me. It would have been better for Guerrero and Booker to work together again, take out 'Taker and, then, JBL picks up the pieces of their brawl to determine who will win. Interference is just lazy.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: JBL [**3/4]

Match #7: Triple Threat for the WWE Championship - JBL (C) vs. Kurt Angle vs. the Big Show (Royal Rumble, 01.30.05)
And now a match from the next PPV featuring Smackdown talent! Another JBL title defence where he sneaks out a victory! This match was less entertaining than the previous. The ending was even more stacked with interference and felt anticlimactic. It was weird to see Kurt Angle apparently afraid of the Big Show. I'm not sure I've seen bald Angle afraid of anyone before and it doesn't really work. Some decent spots with the Big Show, but a fairly uninteresting display all around.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: JBL [*1/2]

Match #8: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) vs. Edge (Raw 02.07.05)
This was the first Raw from Tokyo and the Japanese fans definitely give this a different feel. They're a lot quieter during matches -- but their appreciation of technical wrestling seemed to cause Trips and Edge to begin with a few minutes of chain wrestling and holds. It was unexpected and interesting to see (and a reminder that Triple H is better than a lot of people think he is). From there, it became a fairly typical match and ended with a ref bump and interference from Ric Flair and Batista. The post-match celebration continued to build the 'Batista/Triple H for the title at WrestleMania' story as he kept staring at the title until Triple H noticed and backed away.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H [***]

Match #9: Women's Championship Match - Lita (C) vs. Trish Stratus (Unforgiven, 09.17.06)
Trish Stratus's retirement match in Toronto and pretty decent. JR really sold the idea of the history behind this match with Stratus and Lita's past. Some of the spots were a little sloppy, but Lita eventualy gaining dominance and mocking Stratus worked really well. I'm not a fan of Stratus winning the title here since she was leaving. It was a crowd-pleasing moment, but it just meant that the belt was vacated and Lita won it back. Better to have Lita win via cheating and Stratus get the feel good moment after the match.
Winner and NEW WWE Women's Champion: Trish Stratus [**]

Match #10: Triple Threat to Determine WWE Champion John Cena's Opponent at WrestleManania 23 - Shawn Michaels vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton (Raw, 02.05.07)
The original plan for WrestleMania 23 was for Triple H to challenge Cena, but those plans got blown to hell along with Trips' quadricep. So, we're left with his DX partner and the tag team DX has been feuding with. The match had a basic story: Rated RKO doubleteam Michaels until eventually imploding and allowing Michaels to win. It was fine for what it wanted to do, but isn't anything special.
Winner: Shawn Michaels [**1/2]

Match #11: John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista & the Undertaker vs. Randy Orton, Edge, MVP & Mr. Kennedy (Raw, 02.15.07)
One of the more puzzling inclusions on the DVD since this isn't a good match. It's not bad either. It's exactly what you'd expect from an eight-man tag where one team are the four men in the two World title matches at WrestleMania. The heels dominate someone, he makes the hot tag, the faces come back, there are some big moves, the faces win. They did change it up a bit with the Undertaker and Batista turning on Michaels and Cena after the match was over. Whatever.
Winners: John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista & the Undertaker [**1/4]

Match #12: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Batista (C) vs. the Undertaker (WrestleMania 23, 04.01.07)
My second time seeing this match and it continues to underwhelm me. I just don't get why people like it so much. It seems like it's missing the final third for it to be really great. Batista takes it to the Undertaker, the Undertaker comes back, Batista regains control, the Undertaker makes a big counter and wins. Some spots felt forced and contrived and neither man seemed to get out of second gear. I like how there weren't any slow parts. It was constant action and energy... it still doesn't cohere for a great match.
Winner and NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion: The Undertaker [***1/2]

And then the DVD is over. Apparently the decade ends at 2007. It's a strange set. It's worth it for the Iron Man match alone and a few others that are a lot of fun -- or for the simple novelty of TV matches not available on DVD. Mostly just a confusing DVD set for some odd decisions by the WWE.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: SummerSlam 2009

It's been a long time since I posted anything here. No good reason for that other than laziness, I suppose. I've been tempted to write about some music, movies, DVDs, books, and so on... but haven't. Shit. Ah well. I'm back and, hopefully, this is something that will continue on beyond this one review of a two-year old WWE PPV that I watched for another purpose completely. However, I have been doing a lot of writing lately for 411mania, including new weekly reviews of Curb Your Enthusiasm season eight. The season premiered this past Sunday, so I've only had one review up. Still, check out my twitter feed for links to future reviews and other writings I do around the internet.


SummerSlam 2009. I got this on DVD for five bucks at Wal-Mart. I haven't seen any cheap PPVs on DVD there since I got this back in the winter, which sucks. Sure, when I have no money, they have many $5 DVDs; when I have money, they dry up. Bullshit. I hadn't actually seen this show before. It came after the local bar where I used to watch WWE PPVs stopped showing them and I realised that going to the movie theatre to watch them was too expensive to do on a regular basis (now, it's not so much a cost thing as a conflict with my work schedule -- though, I will be seeing Money in the Bank on Sunday, because I arranged for the person who works after me on Sunday nights to come in an hour early -- something I've done once before and would like to only do rarely if possible). So, this was all new to me.

Match #1: WWE Intercontinental Championship Match - Rey Mysterio (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler
A strong opening match that reminds me of how motivated Rey was in 2009. Hot off his feud with Chris Jericho and before his 411 'free TV match of the year' with John Morrison, he feuded with Dolph Ziggler over the IC belt and, surprisingly, didn't drop it at all. Here, Mysterio did some pretty cool things that he doesn't bust out all of the time and Ziggler was very responsive, lending himself to some inventive counters. Honestly, this is one of the best Ziggler matches I've seen (before or since). He looked in command and wasn't doing his usual routine as much. It's like, in the wake of the Jericho/Mysterio stuff, it wasn't possible to do the same ol' thing with Rey Rey. This has me curious to see their previous match at Night of Champions.
Winner and STILL WWE Intercontinental Champion: Rey Mysterio [***1/2]

Match #2: Jack Swagger vs. MVP
Remember this feud? It did absolutely nothing for either man and never delivered the sort of match you would expect from the two. This didn't get the necessary time, so it was like watching a highlight video of the full match.
Winner: MVP [**]

Match #3: WWE Unified Tag Team Championship Match - JeriShow (C) vs. Cryme Tyme
The pre-match promo by Jericho was arrogant heel at its best. I remember being so disappointed when Big Show was selected to replace Edge, but, in retrospect, it worked out quite well. Just standing in the ring, these two looked like a team that couldn't be beaten. Technical wrestling at its best and a motherfucking giant! The only thing I remember about the feud with Cryme Tyme was JTG beating Jericho on Smackdown in the run-up to SummerSlam. I didn't like that only because of the way it happened -- I think JTG got in a quick pin after Jericho went for a cover under the ropes and I didn't think that fit with Jericho's character who is far too ring savvy to do something that stupid. Otherwise, I didn't mind JTG getting the win. Jim Ross(!) mention how the Road Warriors won their first WWE Tag Titles at SummerSlam was a nice bit of info that fed into Cryme Tyme never winning any belts. The match itself was decent. Typical Cryme Tyme pattern: JTG gets beat down until making the hot tag to Shad, but they added in a bit with Shad getting beat down only to make the hot tag that changed things up enough. The combination of the Walls of Jericho and the Knockout Punch was a good finish.
Winners and STILL WWE Unified Tag Team Champions: JeriShow [**1/2]

Match #4: Kane vs. the Great Khali
You don't always notice how good Kane is in the ring, but stick him next to the Great Khali and you suddenly can't help but notice how agile and skilled he is. His style doesn't lend itself to impressing fans often, unfortunately. However, he carried this piece of shit of a match. It wasn't good, but it could have been a lot of worse. All of the good parts were because of Kane with Khali looking sluggish and awkward at even the simplest of moves. I must admit, though, that I always enjoy the 'big man tries to Chokeslam another big man only to be goozled by his opponent in return' exchange.
Winner: Kane [1/2*]

Match #5: Degeneration X vs. Legacy
I completely forgot that this was the beginning of the final DX reunion. I have a big soft spot for DX and rather enjoy goofy Shawn and Trips. A lot of people hated their previous reunion along with this one, but I found both entertaining. It's hard not to like two guys who are obviously just having fun goofing around with one another. This match had a really good story: DX hadn't teamed for a long time and Michaels had been out of the ring since WrestleMania, so they couldn't keep up with Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes who had been teaming for two years at that point. Most of the match was DX not getting on the same page, while Rhodes and DiBiase used the most basic of tag team tactics to destroy the veterans. It's surprising how dominant Legacy looked here, countering almost every effort at a comeback Michaels and Triple H could come up with until Trips managed to take out DiBiase on the outside, breaking the rhythm of the duo. There was one spot where Rhodes and DiBiase tag each other in and out every five seconds, just stomping on Trips (or Shawn... I forget) in the corner, making the tag, stomping, tag, stomping, tag, etc. Once the two weren't able to make frequent tags and take advantage of double-teams, things fell apart a little and, eventually, Michaels won the match with Sweet Chin Music that came as a last resort. DX needed to win in their first match back together, but it wasn't a victory that made Legacy look bad. If anything, Legacy came out of this looking great. That wouldn't last, but, right here, it was hard not to look at those two as the best tag team in the WWE.
Winners: Degeneration X [***3/4]

Match #6: ECW Championship Match - Christian (C) vs. William Regal
This wasn't a match with Christian immediately hitting the Killswitch and winning before Regal could take his robe off. Disappointing given how good a match between these two could have been. Why not drop Kane/Khali and give the people something halfway decent?
Winner and STILL ECW Champion: Christian [N/R]

Match #7: WWE Championship Match - Randy Orton (C) vs. John Cena
Watching this match, I couldn't help but admire Randy Orton's skill and concentration. People didn't like him a lot around this period, but are loving him now. How else would he get so good in the ring besides this long period of slow, methodical in-ring movement? I can't imagine how much extra effort it took to always be so slow, so expressive. When he finally turned face, he sped up considerably and you can see him mastering this style in matches like this. The match itself was good until the string of false finishes and restarts that were just plain fucking goofy. I am glad that Orton won in the end, because that's the way it needed to go down: Orton does everything he can to cheat his way to victory only to have it taken away and he still wins (albeit through a different type of cheating). The final five minutes or so of this match killed it, though. Absolutely killed it.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Randy Orton [**1/4]

Match #8: TLC Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship - Jeff Hardy (C) vs. CM Punk
Ah, the beginning of the Straight Edge Saviour character... is there a better foil for CM Punk when he's playing up his Straight Edge lifestyle than Jeff Hardy? The drugged out fuck up who is more loved than Punk? With Hardy on his way out, the ending to this match was easy to see, but the two men still brought it. Their early work on the outside was rather good with some smart counters and cool moves. The dive off the ladder was insane (though, I could have done without them trying to take Hardy out on a stretcher just so he could get off and prove how 'extreme' he is). The Superplex onto the ladder looked far more painful for CM Punk with Hardy placed to land dead centre, while Punk hit the edge. The finish was good with Punk using kicks to get the advantage on the top of the ladder. The lights flickering as a cue to Punk to make sure Hardy was in position for the Undertaker switch was interesting -- and Punk played that perfectly. A strong ending to the show.
Winner and NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion: CM Punk [****]

Overall thoughts: A lot of quality in this show. Take away the Kane/Khali and Christan/Regal matches and everything was, at the very least, okay. Three matches were very good, even approaching great, and the rest had their moments. Not a classic show, but one well worth checking out if you have the chance.

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: Brock Lesnar: Here Comes the Pain

I can't remember exactly when I stopped watching wrestling. Sometime in 2000/2001, I think. Nothing specific made me stop, just a general feeling that it was the same old shit over and over again, and I wasn't going to waste my time with that. I never stopped liking wrestling, but I had no interest in it either, if that makes sense. I'd sometimes check it out and enjoy it only to forget about it the next day. I could enjoy watching it when I watched it, I didn't have the desire to watch it. I didn't get back into it until late 2007. So, there's a nice gap there where I missed out on a few things: Evolution, the rise of John Cena, the Invasion storyline, the Smackdown Six, and Brock Lesnar. I have a pretty strong fascination with these things that I missed out on and that led me to getting a copy of the only Brock Lesnar DVD the WWE put out: Here Comes the Pain. It's still a little insane to me that I could miss out on someone like Lesnar, but he was only in the WWE a short time. Everything else I missed, I still had some reference points from either before or after my period of not watching wrestling. I saw the Smackdown Six before they turned that show into a weekly wrestling clinic. I knew Triple H and Ric Flair, and came to know Randy Orton and Batista. I missed the rise of John Cena, but have watched him on top for over three years now. For Lesnar, there's nothing like that. He came and left when I wasn't watching. His matches haven't shown up on many of the DVDs I've purchased (besides this one and the WrestleManias I have, I think he only shows up on The Best of Smackdown (and not wrestling) and The History of the WWE Championship). He's pretty much a mystery to me beyond stories I've heard or things I've read.

This DVD was released at the same time as a VHS version that contained only the hour-long documentary feature. Thankfully, the DVD contains some matches. But, this also only covers up until its release in 2003, so it's not exactly a great overview. For my purposes, it did its job and gave me a good glimpse of the Next Big Thing. I watched the matches first since I knew Michelle would want to want the documentary feature and she wasn't able to until the evening.

Match #1: #1 Contender for the WWE Undisputed Championship Match - Brock Lesnar vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (Smackdown, 08.08.02)
Not so much a match as a slaughter and a way to make Brock Lesnar seem unstoppable. Put him up against one of the biggest icons in the business and just kill him. Not that Hogan didn't get some shots in, hitting some boots to the face and a leg drop that Lesnar got to kick out of, but any offence by Hogan was there for the purpose of Lesnar overcoming it and, then, killing Hogan. There was also the story of Lesnar hurting himself with his overconfidence, his playing to the crowd, and taking too much time to gloat. It's a theme that crops up a little bit in the other matches. Given that he's only debuted five months previously, he was still a newcomer and that overconfidence after such dominance made sense. The finish of the F5 and, then, the Brock Lock bear hug was the capper. He could have won with the F5 but wanted to utterly destroy Hogan. He even want back and nailed him with a chair after the match. Like I said, not a technical masterpiece, but it does the job of making Lesnar look like an unstoppable monster.
Winner: Brock Lesnar [**]

Match #2: WWE Undisputed Championship Match - The Rock (C) vs Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam, 08.24.02
I watched this match a few months ago on The History of the WWE Championship DVD set, but rewatched it here with Michelle since she hadn't seen it, and I thought it would be a good intro to Lesnar -- and she's been digging the Rock lately because of his involvement with the WWE, so that's an added bonus. Like her, I love the beginning with the Rock laying the belt down, doing a little jogging on the spot to mimic Lesnar in the ring, and then sprinting to kick the crap out of this young punk. Some good storytelling here with the involvement of Paul Heyman. Lesnar was the monster heel that doesn't need to cheat to win... but does anyway. I love the dominant heel, because that gets better heat than the regular chickenshit variety. There's satisfcation in seeing a chickenshit coward heel get his comeuppance, but that pales in comparison to a face finally besting a heel that is legitimately better than everyone else. You hate that sort of heel not just because he's a heel, but because he's right when he says he's the best and you can't deny it. Heyman helping Lesnar isn't necessary for Lesnar to win, it gets him over even more. Here, the Rock kept coming back from whatever Lesnar gave him, even controlling a big part of the match. He made sure that Lesnar didn't just steamroll over him, Lesnar earned the win here by kicking out of a Rock Bottom, delivering his own (B)Rock Bottom, and an F5 to put the Rock away. Lesnar looked decent here, but the Rock carried this a bit for me. His mannerisms and selling made Lesnar look so much better. This is how a first-time WWE Champion should look when he wins.
Winner and NEW WWE Undisputed Champion: Brock Lesnar [***1/2]

Match #3: Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Championship - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Undertaker (No Mercy, 10.20.02)
There were some problems with this match like the on-and-off psychology surrounding the Undertaker's supposedly broken right hand. It came into play quite a bit, but was conveniently forgotten any time the Undertaker had to, you know, use his hands. Still, this match had a lot going for it and I couldn't help but get swept up in the spectacle and emotion of it. Lesnar getting nervous quickly about being trapped was a great touch to play on his inexperience and that panic a rookie might feel in the same situation, WWE Champion or not. Paul Heyman's involvement really helped here with his constant comments and shouting, the spot with the Undertaker ramming him into the cage by pulling his tie through an opening, and, then, him holding the belt that Lesnar tied around the Undertaker's hand while Lesnar hit it with a chair. Heyman added that extra flavour as a cheerleader. Between Lesnar and the Undertaker, they managed to craft a good match by playing into the psychology of the veteran/rookie confrontation. Any time Lesnar got the upperhand, he would make some stupid mistake like gloating too much and the Undertaker would take advantage. Still, Lesnar was quicker and stronger and wouldn't stay down. The blood was just... nasty. The Undertaker was gushing blood. I told Michelle she would have hated it since she's not a blood fan and seeing the Undertaker so covered is shocking. Honestly, this match is a good argument for the use of blood since it came at the right time (Lesnar split open early on but not too bad) to ramp the match up that extra bit. I'd never seen the Undertaker this bloody, this seemingly broken down, and that made Lesnar look that much better. He did that to the Undertaker and that's almost better than winning the match. Plenty of people have beat the Undertaker -- how many made him such a mess? How many left his face covered with blood? This match made Lesnar for me.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****]

Match #4: WWE Championship Match - Kurt Angle (C) vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX, 03.30.03
This match suffers from the finish. That's fucking brutal to watch and killed any enthusiasm/enjoyment I had until then. Up until the finish, this was the strongest wrestling match on the DVD so far. Angle and Lesnar trading amateur wrestling holds at first until Lesnar couldn't quite keep up and went to a more power-based game, something Angle couldn't best him at. That put over both men: no one can touch Kurt Angle on the mat, but even Angle can't stop the monster than is Brock fucking Lesnar. Angle used every fucking hold he could think of and Lesnar always got out, and planted Angle on the mat. Very good story that showcased both men excellently. The finish with Lesnar hitting a second F5 and victory just a pinfall away only for him to attempt a Shooting Star Press with Angle 2/3s of the way across the ring is awful to watch. Lesnar doesn't even come close to making it after his legs buckle a little bit. It was a stupid thing to try with Angle so far away. I'm not sure what the finish was meant to be (probably him winning after hitting that) and the announcers tried to play it off as Angle rolling out of the way. Anyway, Lesnar wound up winning and looked so fucking out of it. He and Angle shaking hands to end the show was a nice moment, not one that could overcome the Next Big Thing falling flat on his face, though.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****]

Match #5: Stretcher Match for the WWE Championship - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Big Show (Judgment Day, 05.18.03)
The first modern Stretcher Match apparently. I've only ever really liked one Stretcher Match and that was Batista/Shawn Michaels at Extreme Rules 2008. Chris Jericho's involvement helped make that match damned entertaining with Batista killing Michaels and Jericho not letting the Animal actually win until Michaels ate far more punishment. This one had the interesting story of the Big Show being too big for a stretcher. The spot with Lesnar using a lighting/tv cable to choke the Big Show out and, then, it preventing him from getting the Big Show across the line on the stretcher was good. The finish with the forklift was just ridiculous. Stupid and entertaining at the same time. This was more a fun/throwaway match than a good one.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [**1/2]

Match #6: WWE Championship Match - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Big Show (Smackdown, 06.12.03)
Included for the finishing spot of Lesnar Superplexing the Big Show off the top rope and the ring collapsing. That's pretty awesome to see no matter how many times you do. Everything before that was pretty average and forgettable.
Result: No contest [**]

The documentary provided some background on his life pre-WWE and, then, basically went into little rundowns of his big feuds/matches with some commentary from the likes of Paul Heyman, Michael Hayes, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Gerald Brisco, and others thrown in. It was kind of funny to watch since they kept shifting between discussing things in reality and kayfabe. It was a weird blending of the two. The matches they chose definitely complemented what we saw here, though I wish they'd given us the Lesnar/Cena match from Backlash. I would say that if I'd rated the matches above after watching this documentary stuff, I would have rated them all a little higher, that's how well they talked things up. Entertaining. What it really missed was Lesnar. After his pre-WWE time was covered, he didn't add anything, and that's a shame. I always like hearing what guys have to say about their matches.

We get, basically, the first year of Lesnar's career here and he shows a lot of skill and potential to be great. I don't know how much further he developed in his remaining time with the WWE, but he definitely could have progressed to be one of the greats. He had speed and strength, some solid mat-wrestling foundation, and a fantastic look. I hope the WWE eventually does a set that covers his entire career with them, because I'd like to see more of his work.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pearl Jam!


Well, I was just reading Chad's post and I figured that I had a bit of time to kill right now and what better way to spend it than to write a quick post on our blog (on which I have written so little!).

I am not one to purchase CDs in general. It's not that I download music either, it's just that I'm usually content to either listen to what music I already have or to just have the radio on (yes, among other things I am a top 40 kind of gal). For a long time now, I have enjoyed Pearl Jam and get really into their music whenever I hear it on the radio, but have never gotten around to buying any of their albums. We were at Best Buy the other day and I happened to see one for 9 bucks, so I bought it. After listening to it, I finally understood something that I could never truly comprehend before. I just simply wanted (and still want) to own every single Pearly Jam album in existence! Maybe I'm just weird, but I don't often get too excited about new things coming out by an author or artist or actor, etc. that I really like and I figure that at some point I may get it, but if I don't, I'm not going to be upset or probably think twice about it. But this Pearl Jam CD, Vs. (their second), I really just love it so much and it's not even just that the music itself is so good, but it reminds as to how much their other earlier music kicks ass and how much I want to listen to that, too. I don't know a lot of their music that hasn't been on the radio, but I'm excited to find out about it.

Would anyone have a suggestion on what they think is their best album/the one that I should pick up next?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Charm: The Samoa Joe/CM Punk Trilogy

It's been a while. Sorry about that.

I recently purchased a couple of Ring of Honor DVDs. The first was last year's "Death Before Dishonor VIII," largely considered the best wrestling show of 2010. The other was the "Allied Forces" release. From what I can tell, that's a pretty typical (I haven't watched it yet) and not one that would jump out as worth buying if you haven't bought any ROH DVDs before. Except, it's got a bonus disc featuring the 2004 trilogy of matches that Samoa Joe and CM Punk had for the Ring of Honor World Title. I've heard about this trilogy since I got back into wrestling and the chance to have it all was very hard to pass up. It's my first real experience with ROH aside from a few matches I've seen online... but I'm a sucker for great wrestling trilogies.

Match #1: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("World Title Classic" Dayton, OH 6/12/04)
I loved the early pacing of this match, the way that the two men would lock up, exchange some holds and strikes, and, then, break apart for a breather. The announce team talked a lot about Punk using a rope-a-dope style against Joe, taking a lot of punishment to wear the big man out, and it was clear that this was structured as a boxing match initially with the concept of rounds. It was an effective way to build the match. One thing I didn't like was, around halfway through, the announcers started talking about hour-long matches. Christ, talk about giving it away, gentlemen. I know we all know now that this was a one-hour broadway, but it really spoils the mood of the match. The way things progressed from round to Punk usually as the one taking the breather to Joe taking it to him on the outside was good. It felt organic; Joe recognised what Punk was doing and was having none of it. The second half of the match was start and stop, but in a different way: it became not so much rounds but fits of action followed by fits of exhaustion by both men. The effect was similar in pacing, not in impact and storytelling. It was like neither man had the energy to really finish the job after a certain point, hoping that each last-ditch strike would just knock the other guy down long enough to get the win. Punk hitting the Pepsi Plunge and falling out of the ring was a nice tease. I really loved the way they paced this.
Result: One-hour time-limit draw [****1/4]

Match #2: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("Joe vs. Punk II" Chicago Ridge, IL 10/16/04)
This match built on the first one with Punk using headlocks again to wear down Joe, but not taking the 'rounds' or 'rope-a-dope' approach, instead using the same offence he did in the first match with a lot more aggression. He didn't try to wear down Joe by taking punishment and tiring Joe out, he tried to wear him down by just kicking the shit out of him and cutting the blood flow off to his brain as much as possible. Punk owned the first half of this match with Joe unable to make any comeback stick. Punk used his speed and brains to counter everything Joe tried and stuck to his aggressive offence. And that didn't work. Joe took it all and, oddly, Punk was the one who was worn down. He just went too hard against Joe, allowing Joe to take over. What hurt Joe was his overconfidence. It's like after taking all of that punishment, he assumed that Punk would not win, that victory was guaranteed, and delivered a lot of slow, cocky offence. It was an entirely different type of match with Joe almost becoming a heel with his lazy covers and hamming it up as he beat down on Punk. Since this was in Punk's hometown, Joe leaning into a heel role made a lot of sense and he pulled it off. From there, it became a more traditional wrestling match that echoed the last part of their first match, except with more desperation. Each man tried whatever he could to take the other out, seemingly afraid of another draw. When it happened, both men looked defeated. Punk because he couldn't capture the title, Joe because he couldn't retain the title by defeating his opponent -- to this point, Joe had been a dominant champion, ROH's greatest champion, and a draw may have meant he kept the belt, but it wasn't a win.
Result: One-hour time-limit draw [*****]

Match #3: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("All Star Extravaganza II" Elizabeth, NJ 12/4/04)
This match was no time limit and Punk's final shot at the title. Again, this was as much about putting on a good match in and of itself as it was building on and responding to the previous matches. Punk went for the headlocks and Joe continually countered, leaving him a little stumped on what to do. So, he got in Joe's head with a fantastic bit surrounding chops to the chest where Punk delivered this weak little nothing of a chop and got in Joe's face, so, when Joe went for his chop, Punk ducked and was able to get the headlock on. Punk still wanted his regular strategy, but got there with head games. But, Joe splitting open Punk was a big point of divergence and allowed Joe to dominate a lot of the match, reversing things a bit. Punk tended to go for the headlocks and sleepers, hoping to wear down Joe. But, with Punk split open, Joe attacked the head and looked more for wins based around Punk losing consciousness. I loved Joe just headbutting Punk in the corner, leaving Joe with this bloody mark on his forehead from Punk's cut. It's not that Joe would never go for a choke hold, it's that this was more Punk's strategy and Joe took it over well, just beating down Punk, making him lose blood. A big sign that things were different in this match was the first attempt by Joe to go for the Ole Ole kick in the corner -- he hit it. Something that hadn't happened in the first two matches. In the second one, he eventually hit it, but not on the first try. It was a nice reversal with Punk looking like the guy trying to survive and stay on his feet after two matches where that was Joe. There was a spot where I thought the finish might have worked better as they exchanged quick pinfalls, but the finish of Joe choking Punk out, stopping his breathing, was a good one and played off Joe's different strategy here. While just over half the length of the previous two matches, this one held its own, creating a lot of spots that built on the first two to make a unique match.
Winner and STILL ROH World Champion: Samoa Joe [****]

Everyone was right. A trilogy of three amazing matches, each building on what came before. A good sign is when you know the result (and I did for all three) and the match still surprises you and draws you in. It's worth buying Allied Forces just for this disc.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: WWE The Bash 2009

One of the two more recent WWE PPVs that I got at Wal-Mart for five dollars each, the Bash also has the distinction of being the first PPV I didn't see at the time after a long string of seeing all of them. I think I'd seen every PPV since missing Armageddon in 2007. My former roommate, Adam, and I (and others) would go to a local bar that showed the PPVs, a tradition I continued after Adam left town. That was until certain circumstances prevented the bar from showing PPVs anymore. The last one Michelle and I saw there was Backlash '09 and, then, we saw Extreme Rules '09 at a local movie theatre. But, for the cost, it didn't seem worth it except for specific PPVs that looked like they would be worth it. So, that meant missing the Bash that year and, now, I've finally seen it. Was it worth the wait?

Match #1: Championship Scramble for the ECW Title - Tommy Dreamer (C) vs. Christian vs. Jack Swagger vs. Finlay vs. Mark Henry
I actually like the Championship Scramble match concept: you start with two guys and, then, every five minutes, another wrestler enters the match until the fifth one comes in. After that, a five-minute countdown starts until the end of the match. At the end of the match, whoever scored the last pinfall or submission is the champion. Technically, after you've scored a pinfall or submission, you're considered the current champion (but it's not an official reign). It's a cool idea and leads to some interesting moments like the WWE Championship Scramble match where The Brian Kendrick was the champ for a few minutes. But, it's also a bit of an oddball concept, so I can see why they haven't used it since this match. Christian and Jack Swagger started things off, and that was good. It's weird to see how far Swagger's come since this point in time. Less than a year later, he'd be the World Heavyweight Champion and is definitely better in the ring now. But, a lot of that talent was already there. When Finlay entered, he came running to the ring and I lamented the lack of his old entrance theme that began with his voice proclaiming "My name is Finlay and I love to fight!" It would have been much more appropriate. The action in this match was good. Swagger got two pinfalls, Henry one, and Dreamer the last one. Dreamer leaving with the belt was so surprising that even he looked shocked that it happened. As far as an opening match goes, this was a smart choice. Granted, the crowd felt a little different. The silence during the Swagger/Christian part of the match was noticeable.
Winner and STILL ECW Champion: Tommy Dreamer [***]

Match #2: Intercontinental Championship vs. Mask Match - Chris Jericho (C) vs. Rey Mysterio
I always lamented never seeing this match, the third one in their trilogy of bouts in 2009 and, according to everyone, the best of the three. And they were right. What impressed me most about their second match, at Extreme Rules, was how it built on their first. Spots and moves weren't repeated with success, they were countered. Both men looked like professionals at the top of their game, able to learn from what happened before, and adapt on the spot. The fact that certain guys are able to do the same spots in the same order with success much of the time is something that I've never liked about wrestling. I'm sorry, but if you don't know the Attitude Adjustment is coming after the Five-Knuckle Shuffle, where have you been? COUNTER THAT MOTHERFUCKER, IDIOT! I know that the routine is integral to some, but I'd always prefer to see a match where it looks like both men have actually watched a wrestling match before. This match was one of those where it wasn't just move-countermove, it was move-countermove-countermove. It was one of the smartest in-ring work I've ever seen. Even the seemingly gimmicky finish of Rey Rey having a second mask on didn't come off that way -- it was another counter since Jericho won their last match by unmasking Mysterio and completely throwing him off his game. My favourite spot, though, was Jericho faking that the 619 landed near the end so he could lull Mysterio into doing a jump off the ropes and catch him, putting him into the Walls of Jericho. Definitely the high point of this PPV and, from what happens later, I know why they put it on second, but, really, they expected people to follow this match? After the Undertaker/Michaels at WrestleMania, it was the second-best WWE match of the year, easily.
Winner and NEW Intercontinental Champion: Rey Mysterio [****3/4]

Match #3: No Disqualification Match - Dolph Ziggler vs. The Great Khali
Remember when Dolph Ziggler first showed up and did that "Hi, I'm Dolph Ziggler" gimmick? And now he's the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Did anyone see that coming then? This was the culmination of Ziggler's feud with Khali where Ziggler continued to outsmart the giant and walk away with victories (or, at least, leave the giant beaten and bruised). This match was shit. For the record, I'm pretty sure that being seven feet tall doesn't make punching a ringpost hurt any less. This was really the beginning of a Kane/Khali feud with Ziggler winning after Kane came down and beat the shit out of Khali with a chair. Whatever.
Winner: Dolph Ziggler [*]

Match #4: Unified Tag Team Championship Match - The Colons (C) vs. Priceless vs. Edge & Chris Jericho
This match became a triple threat match with Edge and Jericho added because of a story involving Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long being put on probation for not being innovative enough for Mr. McMahon's tastes. So, he threw in Edge and Jericho, which just pissed off the other four guys. So, the story of this match became the Colons and Priceless trying to have their match without ever allowing Edge and Jericho to enter (since tag matches with more than two teams still only have two men in the ring, leaving the extra teams on the apron, possibly never able to legally win the match). The couple of times where they managed to get in, they'd make the mistake of getting too close to one of the other corners and immediately tagged out. In the end, they managed to win after the match became a bit of a clusterfuck. Sadly, the Edge and Jericho team didn't last long once Edge suffered a torn Achilles heel. Still, a decent match with a cool story.
Winners and NEW Unified Tag Team Champions: Edge and Chris Jericho [**]

Match #5: Women's Championship Match - Melina (C) vs. Michelle McCool
We fast-forwarded through this.
Winner and NEW Women's Champion: Michelle McCool [N/A]

Match #6: World Heavyweight Championship Match - CM Punk (C) vs. Jeff Hardy
The beginning of Punk's heel turn after cashing in Money in the Bank on Hardy. This match wasn't as good as you'd expect given the two guys involved. Some nice spots, but not conhesive really. Neither guy seemed on the same page entirely. Maybe it was both men trying to wrestle as faces. Sometimes that dynamic doesn't work -- and Punk hadn't turned heel yet. I loved the false finish where Hardy thought he'd won, but the ref noticed Punk's leg was under the ropes after he'd counted the pin. It worked with the feud: Punk was technically in the right when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and, technically, Hardy didn't win here. Of course, I did enjoy the idea of Hardy, seemingly a face with lots of tenacity, being portrayed as a whiner for this entire storyline. The actual finish where Hardy went nuts on Punk, injuring his eye, so Punk kicked the ref was... meh. It was meant to be Punk couldn't see, so he didn't know who he was kicking -- but we see the small smile he gets as he walks away. The only thing is that the excuse that Punk couldn't see who he was kicking was just lame. It wasn't staged well. But, this is the beginnings of Punk turning heel, which was awesome. Also, the end of Hardy in the WWE.
Winner but NOT new World Heavyweight Champion: Jeff Hardy [**3/4]

Match #7: John Cena vs. the Miz
Like Ziggler and Swagger, the Miz has come a long way since this PPV. He's also become a lot more polished. What I noticed most from the recap video package was how calmer he is on the mic. The personality is the same, but he's slowed it down a little and is much more at ease. He's not trying so hard (or, more accurately, it doesn't look like he's trying so hard). This match was a squash. The Miz barely got in any offence and Cena just beat the shit out of him. Ah well.
Winner: John Cena [*1/2]

Match #8: Three Stages of Hell Match for the WWE Championship - Randy Orton (C) vs. Triple H
And we end things with an odd match. This is a two-out-of-three falls match where the first fall is a regular match, the second is a Falls Count Anywhere match, and the third is a Stretcher match. Now, I've only ever seen one Stretcher match that I'd want to see again and that was the one from Extreme Rules 2008 between Batista and Shawn Michaels -- and that's because of Chris Jericho's involvement, which was done in a way that only worked with a Stretcher match. Here, the Stretcher match doesn't follow any progression. A good progression for this sort of match: No DQ fall, Falls Count Anywhere fall, and, then, Last Man Standing to finish it off. See how that works? Here, it's disjointed. But, that was this storyline all over. It built to Orton winning the belt at WrestleMania... except Triple H retained and Orton won it at Backlash the following month. They just couldn't get things right here. I did like the way the first two falls ended: the first one had Triple H get disqualified when he attacked Orton with a chair, viciously beating him and, then, hitting a Pedigree on the floor to win the second fall. It was a good strategy, especially since Orton seemed so dead that rolling him past the line on a stretcher wouldn't be too difficult. From there, it was your standard hardcore match with a stretcher. Nothing too special. Rhodes and DiBiase helped Orton retain the belt. This would lead to Triple H finding Shawn Michaels to reunite DX since Trips couldn't handle the numbers game of fighting all of Legacy. A mediocre finish to a mediocre PPV.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Randy Orton [**1/2]

Overall Show Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: WWE New Year's Revolution 2007

We watched this on New Year's Eve. It seemed fitting. While out that day at Wal-Mart, I came across a few more five dollar WWE pay-per-view DVDs and how am I to resist such a deal? The other two are from 2009 surprisingly. Quicker and quicker to the discount bin? I'll take it. I was curious to see New Year's Revolution because I have The New and Improved DX DVD set, which showed us pretty much every moment of the 2006 reunion of Degeneration X... concluding with the Survivor Series from that year. Except, DX didn't break up there, they continued as a unit for another month or so, right up through New Year's Revolution where Triple H tore his quad, ending the duo's reunion. I can understand wanting to end the DVD on the high note of the Suvivor Series where DX, the Hardys, and CM Punk won their match without a single elimination. It's a much better ending than 'and then it all stopped because Triple H tore his quad doing a spinebuster.' That doesn't mean I don't want to see it, though. So, Michelle and I killed two and a half hours on New Year's Eve watching this.

Match #1: Steel Cage Match for the Intercontinental Championship -- Jeff Hardy (C) vs. Johnny Nitro
A great choice to open the show. The story going into this is that Nitro (now John Morrison for those who don't know) had been IC champ twice in the past, both reigns ended by Jeff Hardy. So, Nitro wants the belt, Hardy has it, and we get a steel cage match. Michelle said that this is the best steel cage match she's seen, but she hasn't seen a lot. It wasn't bad, it was energetic and had some cool spots. It also had some laboured parts where the match should have ended if you thought about it for more than few seconds. Oddly, none of the usual 'Jeff Hardy could win but decides to jump off the top of the cage instead' moments. Nitro was more mat-based than he is now and I couldn't help but wonder how much better this match would be now. Not a fair judgement, I know, but it's what I was thinking. Some of the parts I liked were Melina using her belt to whip Hardy's hands when he tried to climb the cage and a spot where Hardy tried to pull Nitro down, but Nitro hooked his feet in at the top of the cage and Hardy just fell hard to the mat. The finish was the best part of the match with Nitro trying to escape over the top and use his foot to keep the door shut after Melina failed until Hardy kicked it open and crotched Nitro in the process. It was different.
Winner and STILL Intercontinental Champion: Jeff Hardy [***]

Match #2: Tag-Team Turmoil -- The Highlanders vs. the World's Greatest Tag Team / The World's Greatest Tag Team vs. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan & Super Crazy / The World's Greatest Tag Team vs. Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch / Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch vs. Cryme Tyme
This is a gauntlet-style match where two teams begin and every time a team is defeated, another comes out until there are no more, and the final winning team would get a future title shot. This whole thing was fine and was billed as a 'bonus' match (aka added to the card to fill time the night of the show). It felt a little long in spots. The initial match between the Highlanders (remember them?) and the World's Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas) just kind of kept going. It made the Highlanders look stronger than they should have, but sold the idea of the WGTT being weaker as things went on since... come on, son, look at them and then look at the other teams here. There's a reason they had that name. Only Cade and Murdoch seemed to be in their league. The stuff with the WGTT followed a pattern: first match it was both, second match it was Haas, third match it was Benjamin. They also won the first two matches by cheating the same way, so losing when that didn't work/was countered made sense. It coming down to Cade & Murdoch and Cryme Tyme had me thinking Cade and Murdoch would win, but no. It was your typical Cryme Tyme match that they never outgrew or changed up aside from the result: JTG gets beat down, Shad makes hot tag and clears house. I would have rather saw the World's Greatest Tag Team go through everyone until Cade & Murdoch, and had that finish things. But, whatever. Nothing was too bad and I won't complain about seeing Benjamin, Haas, Cade, and Murdoch in the same ring... even if it's only for a part of a larger match.
Winners: Cryme Tyme [**]

Match #3: Ric Flair vs. Kenny Dykstra
When the Spirit Squad broke up, Kenny was the guy they decided to push and that made sense to a degree. He was athletic and could do some big jumps off the top rope. Why not him? This match was part of trying to get him over by having him feud with Ric Flair. Flair had done the same for a few other guys before this, so, again, why not? It didn't work and this match shows why. They had Dykstra try to gain heat by imitating Flair. He came out in a robe, he did the strut, he tried to use the Figure Four... except Dykstra had no charisma. Or, to be less nasty, he didn't have the 'Slick Ric' charisma. That wasn't him. It just looked kind of sad. To put things in perspective: AJ Styles was better at doing Ric Flair than Dykstra is. He wasn't suited to the role and the match suffered as a result. If they let Dykstra be himself a bit more, the storytelling could have been better. When he got to do his thing, the match was at its best. Seeing him jump to the top rope effortlessly is pretty cool. The finish where he nailed Flair with a ball shot was a play on Flair's own use of the move and just sort of ended the match out of nowhere. That would be a recurring theme.
Winner: Kenny Dykstra [*3/4]

Match #4: Women's Championship Match -- Mickie James (C) vs. Victoria
Prior to this, Victoria had been taking out Divas and checking their names off a list she was carrying. Before the match, she tried to get Melina to help her by promising her the first title shot if she made sure Victoria walked away champion. Weird to see this match given that this feud just happened again at TNA. Is TNA four years behind the times? Oh ho ho. This was a pretty decent women's match. James was more energetic here than I can remember seeing anytime recently. Not as polished, but more energetic. Melina did try to help, but, then, all of the face Divas came down and beat her up, siding with James. Mickie won and it was fine.
Winner and STILL Women's Champion: Mickie James [*1/2]

Match #5: World Tag Team Championship Match -- Rated RKO (C) vs. Degeneration X
Ah, the match I was waiting for. This one became a brutal, bloody mess by the end, and it's a really big shame that Trips got hurt, because I would have loved to see this followed up on immediately. The match was your standard tag match with a few bits of blood until it took a nasty turn. First, Trips tore his quad doing a spinebuster... and continued the match. It took a slightly downturn after the injury because no one knew what to do. Some people give guys props for continuing on when hurt like this. I tend to take the longview approach that continuing to work when injured is just stupid. End the match in a timely fashion and don't risk making things worse. I will give Triple H credit in that he noticeably did things to avoid doing further damage to his leg like basically twisting while doing the Pedigree so he landed on his other side. But, this match just sort of devolved by the end with Shawn Michaels taking out the ref and Edge and Orton both horribly bloodied. Orton especially. He was COVERED and openly spurting blood from his head. Nasty blade job. The whole thing ended with Triple H pedigreeing Edge on the announce desk, while Michaels delivered an elbow drop off the top rope onto the Spanish announce desk where Orton was. There was no bell, but it was clear that DX took the DQ. An odd match that is both impressive and a little hard to watch when you look at it in the larger context of its time.
Winners and STILL World Tag Team Champions (vis disqualification): Rated RKO [***]

Match #6: Chris Masters vs. Carlito
A little nothing feud and nothing match. Masters is better now, but Carlito didn't seem to care too much. He did do the two-rope springboard that always looks awesome, but otherwise? This was just a filler between the two big matches on the card. It suffered from a surprising out of nowhere win that just stopped the match and didn't feel organic in any way.
Winner: Chris Masters [*1/2]

Match #7: WWE Championship Match -- John Cena (C) vs. Umaga
Going into this, Umaga was basically unstoppable and had never been pinned or made to submit (not sure if he was undefeated entirely -- he may have suffered DQ losses). This match was John Cena getting the shit kicked out of him for 15 minutes with every attempt at offence either failing or doing almost nothing. Umaga would get knocked down and before Cena was up after hitting the move, Umaga was on his feet and charging. During the match, Jim Ross made a comparison between Umaga and Yokozuna that made my eyes roll, because Umaga was so quick and agile. I still hate that he was saddled with this gimmick -- if he had a more 'normal' character, he could have been a consistent main eventer. He had power and speed. I don't know... he was always a guy who really impressed me in the ring for his ability to do almost anything and do it well. You don't see many big guys with his speed and agility and it seemed wasted on a one-note monster sort of character. This match was pretty good. It was a long squash match in many ways with Cena barely holding on and, eventually, picking up the win by a quick roll-up that happened to work. He didn't so much win as get lucky that he survived. Apparently, their rematch at the Royal Rumble was even better. Since I knew that match happened, I expected Umaga to lose via disqualification here. The squeaker of a win was a better choice, because Cena got to walk away with some pride... but that empty kind where everyone (including him) knows that he didn't earn the win really. He got lucky.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: John Cena [**3/4]

This PPV shows off why the brand extension isn't taken too seriously by the WWE anymore. You think cards now are empty and mostly filler? Take a look at this one! It's nice to see midcarders get to work PPVs, but this was a two, maybe three, match show. The other matches were good for the most part, but, aside from the opener, the DX/Rated RKO, and WWE Championship matches, does anyone care? And no one in those other matches made us care here. A middling, mediocre show. But, hey, at five bucks, I'm not complaining.

Show Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)