The Mean: Taboo Tuesday

This Mean is dedicated to Widro’s first born, Murray.

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.

If ever a wrestling event were designed with this column in mind, Taboo Tuesday would be it. Not only does this give me a great chance to gauge where fans on both sides of mark/smart fence stand and who comprises the majority of the audience voting, my unique examination style may also give greater insight to the biggest question: was it rigged or not?

As always, I stress that I don’t do play-by-play, so if you want a recap of that, head on over to PK’s report if you haven’t already.


Opening Notes

-Is it just me or was this the first pay per view in quite a number of years that didn’t have its own custom theme by a real band as opposed to generic WWE music?
-Any time a wrestling show can stick “”¦or avenging the loss of an unborn child” into a pre-show package, you know something is either very right or very wrong”¦
-The keyboard ramp is cheesy as hell”¦and I love it for that reason.

Match #1: Shelton Benjamin d. Intercontinental champion Chris Jericho to win the title (pinfall via exploder suplex)

Ben’s Vote: Maven

The Voting: I was talking to Widro about how I thought Shelton Benjamin getting the nod after just winning that Elimination match on Raw aroused my suspicion that it was rigged, but he astutely pointed out that 1) the marks will pick a babyface, 2) they want to see a match they haven’t seen before and, most importantly, 3) they are more likely to pick somebody WWE has been pushing and exposing. I argued initially that I figured a true mark-dominated vote (which I think this was, and I’ll get to why more when we get to the World title voting) would lean towards somebody like The Hurricane, but Widro’s third point showed why this wouldn’t likely be. Also, the more I thought about it, the people (like me) who voted for a wacky choice like Maven or Chuck Palumbo probably all cancelled one another out because we all voted for different wacky choices. The fact that the live crowd also supported Shelton Benjamin (surprising pop for Rhyno of all people though) and that WWE showed the actual percentages more or less convinced me this one was legit; the question of course then is: would Jericho have lost the IC title to whoever he faced?

The Mark: The big news is that the voting indicates that Benjamin has gained mark support to go with the smart credibility he already had. While Benjamin’s greatest strength remains his wrestling ability, his promos exude a good charm and charisma even if he still needs to work on stuff like his timing. I give tremendous credit to Jericho for keeping the crowd in this match by quickly recognizing they wouldn’t get into a face vs face match and playing the subtle heel with little things like the return of the arrogant cover and being a bit more aggressive; Y2J is a real pro. At first, the match was competent but lacked flow and was in danger of losing the crowd, but Jericho improvised well and really picked things up for the latter half. I think Y2J may have just made Benjamin in the eyes of the marks.

The Smart: Benjamin had the internet on his side as he has been delivering quality matches among the best on Raw with many different opponents since going solo back in April. After a hot summer, talk about Jericho has more or less cooled down since he won the IC title; hopefully dropping it and maybe moving back into World title contention will get the smarts buzzing about him again. I have to think the smarts would have liked to have seen either Batista or William Regal in this match (given that marks are unlikely to vote for heels, I would guess smarts made for the former getting the second most votes; Coach was a fun curiosity), but were pleased enough that Benjamin got the nod and the belt.

The Mean: Shelton Benjamin is ready for the big time in the sense that he can get a decent but basic match out of most anybody, but he still doesn’t have the experience to do something like improvise a match; luckily, Chris Jericho can. This was a fun match to watch mostly because Jericho is so good at what he does and because he threw in so many little nuances. That said, the latest Jericho IC title reign was confusing to marks who see him as a main eventer and frustrating to smarts who feel the same way; Benjamin should be much more successful as champ.

Thoughts
-Jericho should grow his hair back out
-Isn’t Jericho a 7-time IC champ? Why did JR say he was only a 5-time champ?

Match #2: Women’s champion Trish Stratus won a School Girl battle royal

Ben’s Vote: French Maids

The Mark: Stacy Keibler is the short-term solution to get marks interested in the Women’s division again. She is easily the most over diva with the possible exception of Trish, who is doing so well in part because the heel turn revitalized her. The marks will never accept poor Molly Holly, at least the second best wrestler of the bunch, as Trish’s babyface nemesis because WWE has done too good a job building her as a heel and never letting the crowd like her even a little bit.

The Smart: If there’s two things smarts hate, it’s women’s wrestling and battle royals”¦

The Mean: WWE has itself in a real pickle right now as it has a fantastic and over heel women’s champion who can wrestle and no viable babyfaces to challenge her. Stacy is over with marks but can’t wrestle, Molly is too settled into her position as a heel, ditto Jazz, Gail Kim has no personality, Victoria is getting played out and Nidia has yet to prove herself. The way I see it they’ve got precious few options: get Lita motivated again (because she’s still over), bring up Ivory and pray she can get over as a babyface, or bring some fresh blood in from OVW (isn’t Alexis Laree down there at the moment?).

Thoughts
-Because I am but a man, my scoring of the hotness of the competitors would have to give Trish the easy first place, the surprisingly sexy Gail Kim second, Stacy third, Victoria fourth, then it pretty much drops off from there.
-Nidia always seems to get her top ripped off”¦is this extended hazing from her winning Tough Enough?

Match #3: Gene Snitsky d. Kane in a Chain match (pinfall via boot to the throat with a steel chair locked on it)

Ben’s Vote: Chain

The Mark: No matter how much the smarts may bitch and moan, the old adage remains true: marks love to watch two big guys beat each other up, and that was the case for the live crowd here as this was one of the hotter matches of the night. On the flip side, while fans are into the wrestling as far as Kane and Snitsky go, casual fans are either going to be outright turned off or take wrestling even less seriously if they’re exposed to it through this angle (I switched over to Raw during a commercial in the ALCS and it was during the Lita-Snitsky exchange and my mother was disgusted that I watch this). The abrupt face turn of Kane seems to have worked, although its long-term effectiveness is doubtful (but I don’t think WWE is thinking anything long term as far as Kane goes right now). Amazingly, Lita seems to have emerged unscathed from this debacle as far as mark popularity; if she’s willing to work at all towards getting back in shape and back to her 2000 level of wrestling ability, WWE needs to put as much distance between her and the remnants of this angle as possible (which is very do-able with both Matt Hardy and Kane out of the picture) and have her feuding with Trish Stratus (do NOT have her handpicking guys to get revenge on Snitsky). Most of all, the crowd buys Snitsky as a heel, the signs, chants, etc. are evidence of that, and while much of it is a case of right place, right time, give the man credit for his intensity and a good understanding of psychology when it comes to playing to the crowd. The finish was brutally effective and Snitsky has a bright future ahead of him as the “new Kane” of Raw.

The Smart: This won’t be the match of the night for any smarts, but it was a satisfactory brawl without any major errors. The biggest complaint I could see coming from the internet community is that the match went too long given the limited capabilities of the participants. Both guys could be carried to better matches, but no smart wants to see them up against each other for as long as this one went. For continuity sticklers, this whole angle has been a nightmare (are Lita & Kane in love now?) and I’m sure they’ll be glad to see it go away.

The Mean: For people watching at home, the match may have seemed too long, but the live crowd remained into it and it kept them hot, so mission accomplished for these two. They made good use of the chain to have a brawl you’d have trouble finding specific fault with beyond the fact that it was a brawl. This match was about setting Snitsky up for the future and it did that quite well.

Eugene d. Eric Bischoff in a Hair vs Hair match (pinfall via leg drop)

Ben’s Vote: Hair vs Hair

The Mark: The marks simply don’t care about Eugene anymore and this was a character designed to appeal to marks; even his cheap heat moves are drawing as many boos as cheers. The act has worn stale and they would have been better off leaving him permanently injured after the match with HHH and/or repackaging Nick Dinsmore (who just deserves so much better than this). The crowd did get into this, but not so much the match as the post match extracurricular activities, carried by the comedic stylings (and admirable willingness to be humiliated) of Eric Bischoff and especially Coach. The match itself was short enough to be inoffensive to the crowd and was probably a decently timed break between two longer matches.

The Smart: Smarts have been sick of Eugene for months and this match can’t have done much to change that. More annoying to those people with a decent knowledge of the business’ inner working and long memory span is the continued castration of Eric Bischoff at the hands of Vince McMahon, either directly or by proxy. Bischoff has been in WWE for over two years now and most smarts have completely forgotten the obnoxious jerk they loved to hate when he was in WCW; his effectiveness as a heel, once second to none, has been completely crippled by McMahon’s need to continually neuter him as some sort of lesson. After recently reading Sex, Lies & Headlocks and being reminded of the old Bischoff, I can’t help but miss him myself. Smarts no doubt saw this entire segment as a waste of time.

The Mean: For the live crowd this may have been a decent chance to go out and buy some merchandise, but for folks watching at home it was more than enough time to take a bathroom break. The Eugene character has crashed and burned, it’s time to move on. Eric Bischoff is being wasted and at this point he’s probably beyond the point of no return. Vince McMahon’s need to viscerally humiliate his employees on camera has gone beyond creepy. The only person who saved this segment was Coach, who sold that dress like a champ.

Match #5: Chris Benoit & Edge d. World Tag Team champions La Resistance to win the titles (Benoit submission on Robert Conway via Crippler Crossface)

The Mark: After months of miscues, Edge’s heel turn over the past few weeks and especially at this show has been very well done and the crowd is all over it. He’ll obviously need to modify little things like his entrance routine (there were already signs tonight), but he’s well on his way. Even though Benoit didn’t get a lion’s share of the votes, he was still over with the crowd; most likely people just wanted to see a new person in the World title picture after five plus months of Benoit, but he retains the mark credibility he acquired during his title reign. There was not much of an initial heel reaction for La Resistance tonight, but their schtick is tried and true and they’ll always be the go-to heel team when there is nobody else available; they’re still able to effectively work the crowd once the match gets going. Another long match, but unlike the Kane-Snitsky one, the crowd died partway in here due to WWE’s confusing choice to have Edge play the “face” in peril for so long; the crowd had nobody to root for.

The Smart: No doubt smarts are going to have a hard time accepting the fact that Benoit did not win the mark-driven vote and thus will probably not be regaining the World title anytime soon, but the truly smart (not just as a wrestling term) will recognize that they waited years for Benoit to flourish both because he was talented and because he was something new, and understand that WWE needs to work at building new stars, even if it is at the expense of recognized talent like Benoit; he will get the chance to shine again, but it won’t be until after he’s had some time. He still worked his ass off in this match. Smarts are more likely to get behind Edge now that he is solidly a heel as he does have wrestling ability and has always been a better character as a heel. I have a feeling that smarts will appreciate La Resistance’s work in this match as their double-teaming was crisp and their heel tactics and crowd psychology was the kind of old school that smarts love.

The Mean: A solid but unspectacular formula tag match that was fine for a little while but went way too long. It hit its high points when La Res was double-teaming or Benoit was in, but it died whenever Edge went in because he was focused on the storyline of his heel turn and not the match itself. This was what Eric S. would call an angle advancement match, and while the angle being advanced was worth it, it was still frustrating to watch; good start and good finish, but a dull middle.

Notes
-Gotta love Benoit for celebrating like it was Wrestlemania XX all over again after winning the Tag titles, another reason he’s the best
-Edge left his lights on
-The post-match Triple H interview was as paint by numbers as you can get; if one guy doesn’t have to worry about the “unpredictability” of an event like this, it’s him, because he’ll do the same interview no matter what
-Todd Grisham is a slap in the face to me and unemployed college graduates everywhere

Match #6: Christy d. Carmella in a Lingerie Pillow Fight (pinfall via”¦um”¦not sure)

Ben’s Vote: Evening Gown Match

The Mark: It’s T&A, the crowd liked it just fine. Christy is good at getting the crowd fired up, Carmella has potential to be a decent heel if she stops committing sloppy moves like screwing up the strip tease. Coach is a gem in that dress; hilarious. The stripping segment went on way too long to keep the crowd going, despite Christy’s best efforts.

The Smart: No comment.

The Mean: This pay per view has been well paced as far as breaking up the long matches with meaningless segments, but people who actually watched the whole thing and wanted solid wrestling couldn’t have been too pleased.

Notes
-The feathers were pretty counterproductive given that the whole point of this was to see the girls in their skimpy attire
-Hardly an ECW caliber catfight
-As the comic book guy I should know who did those drawings for the Survivor Series promo because they look damn familiar”¦

Match #7: World champion Triple H d. Shawn Michaels (pinfall via outside interference by Edge)

The Voting: So I speculated why a mark-driven audience would vote for HBK but also for Shelton Benjamin, but I think I answered my own question during the IC title match voting analysis. As far as Edge being so close behind, I think it’s once again indicative of the entire audience, mark and smart, wanting to see a match they’ve never seen before. But in the end it once again proves HBK’s drawing power, something many smarts have doubted over the past year or so. It also shows that the marks are ready to be take Edge seriously as a main eventer. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it gives WWE an indication of who makes up the majority of their viewing audience”¦which is not necessarily a good thing for pure smarts.

Ben’s Vote: Chris Benoit”¦mainly because I thought HBK & Edge as tag partners would give me a better chance of seeing them feud, but I guess I didn’t have to bother

The Mark: I don’t think the crowd fully understood the severity of HBK’s injury and as a result spent most of the match confused and frustrated. It’s obvious that Shawn Michaels is probably the most popular guy on Raw right now if you’re a casual fan and they did not want to watch a match in which he could barely stand. HHH did his best to keep the crowd in it, but he was hard pressed to find much to work with. I give Michaels a lot of credit for making a go of getting the crowd into it towards the end, but I think he oversold the injury so much during the match that his miracle comeback was just another layer of confusion for the marks. The one thing they did get into was Edge’s run in.

The Smart: I would hope the smarts, while recognizing the limitations of this match, are respectful enough to recognize that both wrestlers gave it as much as they could and tried to make the best of a bad situation. I imagine the internet will be lenient enough as Michaels’ injury is not exactly a secret and there’s no doubt about its legitimacy unlike some of his injuries from the late 90s. They should also give HHH some points for actually applying the figure four to the proper leg, something even Flair fails to do 90% of the time. I do think the home viewing audience got a lot more out of this by being able to hear the wrestlers’ interactions with Mike Chioda.

The Mean: This match was hard to watch both because it was so one-sided and because I honestly didn’t know how bad Michaels was hurt. Again, I give credit to both guys for doing their best, but I really question the wisdom of WWE for letting this match happen, fan vote or not; they’ll attribute it to giving the people what they want, but I really don’t think HBK’s continued welfare and ability to perform is worth that. Michaels is no stranger to putting on good matches hurt (Wrestlemania XIV against Steve Austin) but this one was asking too much even of him. The fact that the announcers worked so hard to lower expectations before the match even started didn’t help.

Notes
-Even if Michaels can’t go for a bit, Edge-HBK will be a classic on promos alone; you can already tell Edge is going to kill with this character
-J.R.’s out of nowhere rant against Lawler over him just caring about puppies was AWESOME
-Batista’s kick ass silver tights may be the final piece of his puzzle
-Bischoff looked like a military hard ass with his new haircut
-There was a lot of time killing with the recap packages, which exposes the perils of doing a largely unscripted event and having stuff like HBK-HHH that was probably supposed to run longer

Match #8: Randy Orton d. Ric Flair in a Steel Cage match (pinfall via RKO)

Ben’s Vote: Steel Cage

The Mark: If Randy Orton isn’t quite as over as WWE wants him to be with the marks as a babyface, he’s certainly getting there. The video package of events leading up to the match showed that Orton has definitely learned from Ric Flair if nothing else how to get the fans pumped up to watch his match. As this match went on, the crowd got more and more behind Orton, a sign that he’s doing something right. As far as Flair, the crowd loves getting the chance to watch him perform, he is definitely a special attraction and somewhat of a novelty act, but they also know they’re likely to see a good match with Flair involved. When it comes to crowd psychology, Flair is still the master. The announcers in both the weeks leading up to this and on the show did a good job of presenting Flair as a credible threat. The match was somewhat short but it was intense with no rest periods (impressive considering the age of Flair) and the crowd ate it up.

The Smart: Many smarts were down on Randy Orton after his brief and too soon World title reign, but I suspect most will view this feud and this match as a step in the right direction for him, even if only a small one. He showed that he’s learning psychology and how to pace a match a little better than he did a few months ago and hopefully his ring skills will catch up to his mic skills, which have come into their own again (they had already done so when he was a heel) over the last month. I suspect at least something will be made of the brevity of the match given its main event placement, but that has more to do with Flair than Orton; smarts may find it a point of contention that both the wrestlers and announcers were selling the match like it had gone twenty minutes at about the five minute mark. With feuds and matches like this, I think smarts don’t feel Flair is pissing on his legacy, but rather continuing to build it. Another problem that seems common in Orton matches is that the finish came out of nowhere, but that could be viewed as a good or bad thing. The only real smart tools Orton is missing is learning to do little things like work on a body part and have more effective rest holds and transition moves.

The Mean: A solid match with great little touches (mostly from Flair, i.e. the brass knucks, etc.) and the right finish. This should go a long way in establishing Orton and it makes you wonder how much better off he would have been had he turned face without winning the World title and feuded with Flair before facing Triple H. The match was very short, and given that it was one of the few in which the competitors knew they were facing each other you wonder about that, but, again, Flair can’t go as long as he used to, especially at the good pace he worked this match at. I would question the main event placement of the match, but I can also see why WWE would want to end the event with the moment they did, Flair passing the torch to Orton, which was a nice touch (despite Flair’s crazed old man look).

Notes
-Lawler is a Republican? Wow”¦

Final Thoughts
Not a great show when it came to the wrestling, but an interesting experiment and one I wouldn’t mind seeing repeated, albeit once a year. The cons were obvious, in that not knowing who would be facing who beforehand ended up providing poorly improvised matches (Jericho-Benjamin before Y2J saved it), retreads of things we’ve seen before (Benoit & Edge-La Res) and total train wrecks beyond the ability of the wrestlers to salvage (HHH-HBK). We also saw the weakness in the formula in the sheer amount of time needed for filler. Still, it provided a hot crowd and gave some wrestlers like Jericho, Edge and Orton a chance to really step up and show what they had. Interestingly, you’d think a show like this would not provide any real important changes, but if nothing else the concept behind the show provided us with a potentially excellent heel turn for Edge; it will be interesting to see where he and WWE take it.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.