The Mean: Unforgiven 2004

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “mark” enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smart” knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each pay-per-view I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The Mean” between the two.

Once upon a time, there was a column called The Mean”¦and it was good.

Then, the writer got lazy”¦not so good.

Eventually, the writer refocused his attention on comics”¦good for some, not for others.

Then, the writer made a miraculous one night return to recap Raw”¦and it was all good again.

Now, by the grace of Widro, you get your Mean fix each and every time there’s a wrestling pay-per-view”¦ain’t life grand?

Explanation

From my Raw recap”¦

In wrestling fandom, you’ve also got two extremes: the smart fan (excess) and the mark fan (deficient”¦though not in a derogatory way). The point of my column was to take a look at individual wrestlers and their careers, then look at them from each perspective, and ultimately find the mean.

“¦so I figured why not dust off the old format and see how it plays as a recap. With each match and segment, I’ll give the quick & dirty results, then look at it from the perspective of both the smart and the mark, and finally determine the mean.

Tonight (and if they let me keep doing this) will be somewhat different than that. You can get the play by play and/or the quick & dirty either in our live coverage or in Scott Keith’s rant. I’m going to look at each match, the players, the angle, the action, the finish, the long-term ramifications, etc. from three to four perspectives:

-The Mark (your average arena wrestling fan who doesn’t read the internet)

-The Smart (the internet savvy wrestling fan who knows all the behind the scenes dealings)

-The Mean (the halfway point between the first two, near as I can reconcile it, and probably the closest thing to the “truth”)

-Ben’s Take (pretty self explanatory”¦and I’ll only throw this one in if I feel I have anything left to say that I didn’t cover elsewhere)

Ok, with the preamble out of the way, let’s get down to business and see if this works”¦


Match #1: Chris Benoit & William Regal d. Ric Flair & Batista (Benoit submission on Flair via Crippler Crossface)

The Mark: Good choice for the opener as far as hooking casual fans. Benoit has finally crossed that bridge from being just a smart favorite to being a true superstar that the marks cheer regardless of who he’s wrestling and what belt he is or is not holding. Regal has gotten over by association, first to Eugene and now (moreso) to Benoit, and while he doesn’t elicit much of an initial pop from the marks, his intensity in both promo and ring work win over the crowd more often than not (impressively, he did warrant a very early “Regal” chant, so maybe he is getting over as a face faster than I think). Ric Flair is perpetually over; Batista is over with the marks by virtue of his physical appearance.

The combination of mic skills, name recognition and in-ring skills has gotten Evolution over huge as a heel group; regardless of how smarts may feel about the group and its purpose, the marks love to hate them. The crowd loves seeing the bad guys get theirs, and the early part of this match was primarily offense by Benoit & Regal, so it worked nicely. Keeping Flair in was also a good move since he’s more believable getting beat up than a monster like Batista, because he sells well, and because he can get the crowd riled.

The middle part of the match gave the crowd more of what they want in the form of Batista physically dominating the faces. Flair coming in for brief periods, cheating and doing his spots, adds a lot to the match for the crowd, but Batista as the primary offensive weapon and Flair as the target is what people want to see. I’m not calling for a face turn any time soon, but there is no doubt that marks enjoy watching Batista work.

Intense ending series and the right guy getting the submission on the right victim sent the crowd “home” happy, but in actuality it got them in a frenzy for the rest of the show; people are primed for a Benoit-Batista extended program.

The Smart: I wager the IWC will be hard-pressed to find fault with this match, other than that they would probably like to see Benoit back in the main event spot rather than jerking the curtain. The smarts also continue to get higher on Batista with each match and will happily embrace Flair and Regal as roleplayers in matches involving their favorites.

There was no real psychology as far as anybody working a body part, which might seem like it should be a given in a Benoit or Flair match, but this was a textbook tag match, not a singles one. The continuity was perfect with faces and heels playing their respective parts expertly, all four men putting each other over at the right times, and, most importantly, excellent pacing with very few slow portions.

Smarts will most likely use this match and its success with the crowd as reason to criticize the World title being taken off Benoit and point to the fact that he could have worked well with Batista in a World title program.

The Mean: Smarts may hate seeing Benoit and the others this early in the card, but in a pragmatic sense, it works very well. Rather than putting an uninteresting match first, filled with rookies, putting a match you know you can count on and letting it go as long as this one did will do wonders as far as hyping the live crowd for the rest of the show, which ultimately benefits every other match. Unfortunately, with a lack of real stand out pros who can get the crowd fired up from the get go on the Raw roster, the only solution at the moment is to use whatever World title contenders aren’t in the World title match. Ideally, Raw needs to get more mid-carders over and use tag matches involving them as hot openers. This match was one of the better opening matches from either perspective in quite some time, though.

Christian/Trish Stratus/Tyson Tomko backstage

Ben’s Take: Nice skit as Trish and Christian have excellent chemistry together. But did this bit mean they are splitting them up? And Christian gets Tomko? Bad move, Raw could use these three together as a nice secondary heel stable. Tomko has no discernible qualities resembling those of a human being capable of coherent thought and speech, but that’s what makes the big lug so endearing.

Match #2: Women’s champion Trish Stratus d. Victoria (pinfall via Stratusfaction)

The Mark: Victoria was the beneficiary of a hot crowd courtesy of the opening match, but I think the marks, who initially seemed fairly into face Victoria, have grown tired of the dancing cheerleader act. Trish is perhaps the only women’s wrestler who can lay claim to Eric S.’ “mount of perpetually over” (as both heel and face).

This is probably the best matchup the women’s division has to offer at the moment and the crowd seemed marginally into it at best. Trish’s heel tactics got more attention than anything else, proving once again why she is and should remain the lynchpin of this division.

The Smart: The net loves Trish, but has little time for the women’s division at this point. If Victoria had turned face but maintained her previous characterization, a smart favorite, I think the IWC would look much more favorably on the women’s division and an extended Trish-Victoria program. The women’s division needs a new credible babyface stat, because Stratus can’t do it all by herself.

The Mean: This match was essentially inoffensive and harmless, but nothing special. Trish was working her tail off, but the limitations of Victoria’s babyface character are really starting to exert themselves. The less the crowd reacts, the more enthusiastically she sells, and it all becomes a parody, the one thing the women’s division can’t afford to be.

Ben’s Take: I know Alexis Laree (formerly of TNA) is in OVW, any chance she’ll be ready for the call up soon? She’d be a perfect foil for Stratus.

Match #3: Tyson Tomko d. Steven Richards (pinfall via torture rack into a neckbreaker)

The Mark: What a bizarre curiosity this was to watch as far as crowd reactions; surprisingly, the crowd seems to really want to get behind Stevie Richards, but this match certainly didn’t deliver the opportunity for them to do so. The crowd was bored with Tomko, who is a boring character on a roster of guys like Batista, and they certainly had no love for this extended squash for him”¦but every time Stevie got in any offense, they went nuts! Who would have ever thought it? WWE may actually have a potential sleeper star on their hands here if they recognize it; Stevie could fill the spot that Eugene quickly burned out as WWE’s lovable loser.

The Smart: Ugh, I shudder to read what the IWC will have to say about this one. Tomko has done nothing to endear himself to the smarts and they’re apathetic when it comes to Stevie.

The Mean: If WWE is paying attention, they should do something with Stevie Richards that amounts to more than cross dressing; potentially he could reinvigorate himself and Victoria.

Ben’s Take: I’ve always been a Stevie fan and would love to see a decent mid-card face run for the guy, he’s a great talker.

Match #4: Chris Jericho d. Christian in a Ladder match to win the vacant Intercontinental title

The Mark: Two more wrestlers who have fought long and hard to gain the approval of the marks and both seem to have done so. Jericho of course already did awhile ago, but his face run has breathed new life into his career. I think Christian has shocked everybody by not being the Marty Jannetty of his team with Edge and emerging as one of the best upper mid-card heels of the last few years. Christian lacks the versatility to play a babyface, so he may never be a main eventer, but who cares? The crowd truly hates the guy, he knows how to work that and he plays a very valuable role in WWE; he provides an excellent hurdle for mid-card babyfaces looking to make the next level and the Raw roster is much better for having him back.

The ladder match is the perfect standby for WWE as far as working the mark crowd is concerned. No matter how many times a mark sees the same spot done with a ladder, they’ll still think its cool. It may not be as innovative as it was ten years ago and it probably reached its spot fest peak with the TLC matches, but the Ladder match is still a visually exciting concept for the live crowd; this was no exception.

Jericho and Christian are both master storytellers who work well together; they know how to make the crowd care about their every move; they go back and forth with each other very well and are good about spacing their spots.

The marks was very into this match and during the few periods in which it got slow, Jericho and Christian were able to maintain their interest by playing to them verbally. The crowd has wanted to see Y2J with any sort of gold for quite some time and is ready for him and Edge to keep their feud going with the IC title as a good fulcrum.

The Smart: I doubt the IWC will be nearly as satisfied with this match as the live crowd seemed to be. They’ll see the ladder spots as being gratuitous and nothing new and probably consider Jericho-Christian a dead issue. Both guys are performers that smarts have had nothing bad to say about any time recently, but neither are getting much positive attention either (Jericho was just a couple months ago, but he seems to have lost internet momentum since the excellent summer series with him and Edge against Evolution concluded). The smarts will likely view the IC title as a waste of time for Jericho and this match as having been forced and a cheap substitute for Edge being unavailable.

The Mean: If this match had any flaws it was certainly the fault of a tired and overused gimmick, not a lack of effort on the part of the participants. They did their jobs well and executed their spots fine, those spots just happened to be ones seasons fans have seen a hundred times at this point. Still, these are two guys WWE can always count on to deliver a quality match that will keep crowd happy and not actively offend the IWC and with Edge’s abrupt injury, that’s exactly what they needed.

Ben’s Take: I understand that Edge was injured and Christian-Jericho got plugged in probably somewhat last second and I also understand that given that their feud was already blown off in another gimmick match (Cage), this match needed a reliable gimmick. Still, given that the opening brawl was the best part of the match, I kind of wish they’d just gone with a street fight or something”¦but I understand.

Lita/Kane backstage

Ben’s Take: Alas poor Lita, just when I think you can’t fall any further”¦I am haunted by memories of just how good Lita was back before her neck injury and to see her where she is now, giving these awful parody interview is just sad. On the other hand, is anybody else pleasantly surprised with the creepy charisma that Kane is bringing to this ludicrous angle?

Match #5: Shawn Michaels d. Kane in a No Disqualification match (pinfall via Sweet Chin Music)

The Mark: It never ceases to amaze me that no matter what WWE creative puts him through, the crowd is still willing to buy Kane as the monster heel, a testament to the work of the man behind the mask/makeup.

Amazingly, despite his legend status and history as one of the best in the business both on the mic and in the ring, Shawn Michaels still has to earn the respect of crowds in many arenas due to his backstage reputation being one of the few that has bled over into the world of the casual fan. On this night, the crowd loved HBK, so this wasn’t a problem, but usually he’s still capable of bringing them to their feet anyhow once the match gets going.

The crowd seemed to enjoy this match in a very old school David vs Goliath way. Michaels bumped like a pinball, made the unlikely comeback and the crowd ate it up. Amazingly, marks seem to really love this Kane/Lita angle”¦a bad sign for the collective intelligence of wrestling fans or a nice reminder that some of us don’t feel a pretentious need to take ourselves too seriously?

The Smart: The IWC, which has little patience for either of these guys unless they’re over-performing, is undoubtedly going to label this match a disappointment. Michaels has had classic matches with big men far less talented than Kane and the smarts are going to harp on this. This match was very slow paced and involved no psychology. The Kane/Lita angle also serves as a tremendous taint for smart fans for any match than involves it in any way. Kane and HBK are two guys that smarts will turn on fast if they deliver anything less than perfection and this match, while not awful, was unspectacular and far from perfect.

The Mean: Yes, the match probably could have been better, especially given that a Kane-HBK feud had monster potential after the brutal set up that put HBK out of action. The match came off as a lot of sleepwalking, not nearly as intense as it should have been given the aforementioned set up, and part of this may have been the Lita angle overshadowing the proceedings. Still, the crowd never seemed unhappy, and that needs to count for something.

Ben’s Take: I’m a huge HBK fan and have always wanted to see him tangle with Kane, given his history of great matches with The Undertaker, Diesel, etc.; I’ll admit to being disappointed with the final outcome not delivering the classic I had hoped for. On second viewing, it’s not a bad match, but it could have been much more.

Triple H backstage

Ben’s Take: Good lord are these getting generic”¦

Match #6: World Tag Team champions La Resistance d. Rhyno & Tajiri (Sylvan Grenier pinfall on Rhyno via foreign object)

The Mark: The crowd pops for the Goar, but they simply don’t care about Rhyno, and it’s hard to fault him or WWE for this; he’s as intense as he can be and WWE has done everything from putting him in the ring as The Rock’s buddy to letting him Goar Coach to try and help. Tajiri’s popularity with the marks seems to go in cycles and Rhyno is dragging him down at the moment.

La Resistance are solid champs but they’re only as over as their competition; without a credible threat, they’re nothing.

The crowd didn’t hate this match, but they also didn’t care about it.

The Smart: The IWC will regard this match as filler, label it a waste of time, and quickly move on.

The Mean: Good effort by everybody involved, but all the factors I already mentioned coupled with the fact that the opening tag match was lightyears better killed this one out of the gate. But much like that opener was perfectly placed in the program, this match served well as the bathroom break match before the main event.

Match #7: Triple H d. World champion Randy Orton to win the title (pinfall via Pedigree on a chair)

The Mark: The crowd was more into the opening tag match, the IC title Ladder match and the Kane-HBK match than they were this one, and that does not bode well for a new World champion’s first pay per view title defense.

The crowd seems to have no idea how to regard Orton, popping for him, but with great caution. They want to embrace him, but don’t seem ready.

The marks seemed confused by the match, which was very disjointed and failed to tell a coherent story. They got into the final sequence, but it took multiple ref bumps and interference by the rest of Evolution to get the crowd excited.

The Smart: The smarts have been down on Orton since the minute he won the title and will see this match as proof that he is nowhere near ready for the big time. Orton was exhausted and unable to keep up with Triple H and the pace of this match was nowhere near the level of where a pay per view main event needs to be; Orton also failed to provide any sort of continuity in terms of selling a knee injury that could have provided a dramatic anchor for the match. Smarts will also come down hard on HHH for not being able to carry Orton as well as Benoit did (although they’ll most likely ignore the fact that Edge had a better match with him than either of them).

The IWC will likely decry this match as being a big step down from every WWE ppv main event since Wrestlemania and point to Benoit’s removal from the World title picture as the catalyst.

Given how long smarts have talked about this match as having big money potential, the failure here is going to have the IWC heavily questioning WWE’s long term planning.

The Mean: This was not a main event level match and Randy Orton is not ready to be a main event level player. The match was sloppy, poorly paced and didn’t go anywhere. Orton seemed comfortable one minute, but overwhelmed by pressure the next. Orton is going to be ready for the main event very very soon and the crowd will be right there with him, but this match was proof that the face turn and World title run came just a little too soon”¦and not by much, which will make it all the more upsetting if he can’t recover.

Ben’s Take: The circular booking here may have damaged the Raw World title scene from here until Wrestlemania. If the WWE bookers had just exercised a little more patience and creativity and had Benoit lose the title to HHH and found another reason to turn Orton face (failing to unseat Benoit?), they would have had an awesome Wrestlemania main event and a bonafide babyface superstar as well as good feuds between Orton and Batista before and after the event; they may still, but they may have blown it. The crowd may refuse to get behind Orton again and the next few months may be a waste.

And while I usually just ignore the logic leaps in the commentary, J.R.’s insane 180 embrace of Orton after doing a fabulous job building him as a heel for months has been hard to listen to.

Randy Orton’s legacy may very well be written with two words: too soon.


Ok”¦I may have just seized brilliance from thin air and placed it on the written page or I may have wasted three hours of my life, that’s all up to you.

I hope you enjoyed this and I hope you (and Widro) will let me come back and do it again for No Mercy.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.