For Your Consideration…Backlash Delivered Wrestlemania Part 2

Welcome to week 55.

Two weeks in a row with a column? Wow how I spoil you people.

So, last week I questioned the existence of Smackdown. I didn’t do it the way that scientists question immaculate conception, but based on some of the feedback I received one would think that I did. Some of you agreed with my slight condemnation of the program while others believed that I was seconds away from calling for the head of Michael Cole. Smackdown has been a consistently decent program; sometimes it has been as good as anything ever aired on television and sometimes it was just that show with JBL as champion.

To the comments themselves, some people pointed out that a lot of “good” people would be out of a job. While it is true that having one supershow a week would cut jobs, it wouldn’t automatically lead to the exile that people fear. As I said last week, the rosters can still be overflowing, but the talent can be used in different ways. Using lesser guys as cannon fodder as opposed to local indie workers worked for the WWE for many years, and a lot of the guys that were great hands but not necessarily great characters had jobs well into their forties. Take, for example, Val Venis. Yes, Val did have a good character that he rode all the way to the top (no pun intended), but now he’s a very capable jobber to the stars and is all but assured a job as a road agent once he hangs up the boots. How did he get this? Well for one he spent years honing his craft in the indie scene and in Mexico, and since joining the WWE he has been a model employee. Sure, he was never a world champion, but became a national figure due to his over-the-top character that came to personify the Attitude Era. Brian Kendrick, Trevor Murdoch, Steven Richards and Nunzio are all guys that deliver a quality match even though more often than not they’re going to do the J.O.B. Hell, guys like Bob Holly and Viscera were jobber fodder until the WWE suddenly decided (again) to try and give them a push. Sure, the superstars at the top would have little to worry about with a one-brand show, but the guys near the bottom wouldn’t be the first ones to go…at least not the guys with the positive attitudes and the sold workrate, which, as smart fans, is what we care about in the first place.

For Your Consideration…Backlash Delivered Wrestlemania Part 2

Next, Backlash was this past Sunday and to the surprise of very few it was a hell of a show. Backlash is a chance for the WWE to redo Wrestlemania with significantly less pressure, and more often than not the show becomes the high point of the year.

First, there’s the welcome addition of Mick Foley to the announce table. While I would have preferred Matt Stryker to take his natural place at the announce desk as the next great classic heel announcer, I will say that Foley’s knowledgeable and conversational style is a welcome relief from the few weeks of grating Coach commentary. Mick’s ability to call the match and sell the moves added more legitimacy to what would have been cartoonish moments, none more so than his selling of the Undertaker’s finishing move. I remember years back when Foley debuted the mandible claw that the only reason I bought into it was because the announcers so vividly described what the move was and how it affected the body.

The MVP/Matt Hardy match might not have had the same effect that it would have had if it happened last year, but it was nonetheless a solid opener. I’ve always thought Porter was a solid worker capable of delivering a great story and Matt Hardy…well…pops the crowd. Matt and MVP put on a very interesting match that truly helped to advance their storyline. Matt finally got one over on MVP. Matt finally, after coming back from a betrayal and a severe injury, won the United States Championship. Matt finally won a “significant” singles match. Granted, this was by no means the elevation the WWE was hoping for ala Bret Hart/Mr. Perfect, but it did do a nice job establishing Hardy as a legit singles threat once again. Now Hardy and MVP can continue their feud with Matt in the driver’s seat and Porter chasing, and once that’s used up Hardy can go on to feud with the rest of Smackdown’s midcard…which is Chuck Palumbo and Finlay.

Kane/Chavo was, of course, infinitely better than their Wrestlemania match. Chavo’s ability to get credible offense on Kane did more to establish his reputation than his entire ECW Championship reign. The finish was disjointed because of Mike Adamle’s inability to call a match, but the image of Kane snatching Chavo’s throat after the frog splash conveyed the storyline to a T. Kane is an unstoppable monster and Chavo simply did not have enough to beat him. Remember, kids, Kane once kicked out of the Tombstone. Twice.

Khali/Big Show was exactly what you expected it to be, so quit your bitching. The WWE gave you the cool shot of two giants standing toe-to-toe, and the match didn’t go on too, too long. Was it a bit of a trainwreck? Sure. But on the plus side, you had Foley calling it so someone was there to keep expectations grounded. In the end, Show was able to (temporarily) rid the WWE of the Great Khali and get his heat back a little bit from Mania. Now he’s free to move on to bigger and better threats like…uh…Vladamir Kosloff?

Shawn Michaels and Batista put on one hell of a wrestling match. This was a match that told a great story, and the addition of Jericho didn’t detract from the match. HBK/Batista reminded the WWE fans why Dave was at one point the most over guy in the company. Sure, it wasn’t a five-star bout in any way, but it was two guys giving it their all and advancing a storyline without cheapening the quality of the match. Batista’s still got his claim that HBK is a cheat and a fink by pulling the old injured knee trick and Shawn can say that he laid out the Animal. What more do you need from a match that couldn’t have a clear winner? Plus, Jericho’s amazing Highlight Reel on Monday night was worth the entire match. I don’t know what was better, seeing Fuji General or Chris’s subsequent reaction to how awesome it was. Now Shawn and Jericho can feud on RAW and Dave can continue to simmer on Smackdown and make his full-on heel turn that we’ve been waiting on for the better part of a year. Dave/Show and Dave/Taker are still money matches. Plus, with Jericho as this tweener again, Mister Kennedy…Kennedy can be the smarmy face the fans have wanted him to be for quite some time.

The divas tag match was the least fun orgy ever on television. The faces lost on Sunday but won on Monday. Beth Phoenix looked like an Amazon and Mickie James and Maria continued to look ridiculously hot. Move on.

Undertaker/Edge was, in my opinion, better than their Wrestlemania match. I’m not sure if it’s because I got to watch it from the confines of my home, I’m not sure if it’s the fact that the foregone conclusion aspect was removed or if it was just due to Foley’s commentary skills but this match just seemed better. In the end, the Undertaker seemed even more of a monster then he did before and his finishing move has instantly gained unparalleled credibility. Foley put it best when he said it cannot be countered. I contend that the secret spoiler of the night was Batista deadlifting Shawn up to toss him out of the ring when in a similar hold. Imagine how much it will do to Batista’s reputation with the fans if he counters the Undertaker’s finisher by lifting him up in the air. It could do wonders to rebuild him as the monster. Either way, bravo to Edge for swallowing his pride, biting the condom, and making it look like he had just seen the white light. Edge is more willing to put over the company than anyone else at this point and has shown that he will do whatever is asked for the good of the WWE.

The main event was just that, the main event. Four guys in one ring, three of whom could have walked out credible champions and, of course, John Bradshaw Layfield. The match didn’t have as many dead spots as I would have expected, and while JR was kind enough to point out every time a superstar tended to ‘vanish’ for a period of time, it wasn’t too noticeable that at any given moment someone was incapacitated. JBL tapping to John Cena instantly signified that we’re getting the JBL/Cena feud again, which can only mean one thing, a cure for insomnia. Orton kicking Cena in the head, however, was pure brilliance. That sudden shock to the system was exactly what the WWE needed to do. John Cena’s superhero act wasn’t cutting it with the fans, and when you remind everyone that he can lose just as easily as anyone else you’re reminding the fans that anything can happen in the WWE. Orton/HHH was a great and brutal brawl and the many bait-and-switch finishes kept the crowd on their toes. Hunter winning was a bit anticlimactic because I think a lot of people were secretly hoping for CM Punk to come down and beat Orton, but Triple H as the champion right now feels right. He really hasn’t had an extended run in a long time, and with HHH, Kane and the Undertaker as the three champions, you have three established superstars at the top of the company. Where do they go from here? Well JBL and Cena can have a placeholder feud while Triple H and Orton have yet another rematch. Then you’ve got Vengeance where HHH/Kane/Taker as a triple threat could sell a PPV easily. Then maybe the Hunter heel turn and his chance to establish either Jeff Hardy or CM Punk as the next great face.

Lastly, since I don’t think time permitted I can do a full column on it, I just wanted to comment on the Michael Hayes situation and the allegations of racism in the WWE. Before I do this, I am aware of the sensitive nature of the topic and for those of you easily offended, I suggest you click back now and read something less likely to raise your ire.

With that said, the Michael Hayes situation is something that is an unfortunate occurrence and can be a potential blight on the WWE, but it is not the awful situation people would like to make it out to be. Michael Hayes was once a part of the Fabulous Freebirds, a stable of superstars that routinely wore Confederate flags to the ring and cut scathing heel promos all over the South. Hayes comes from a different era, this is true, but his character was always tinted with such soul that he routinely said that he was one of the first true “black” superstars. On a Legends of Wrestling roundtable discussion on WWE 24/7, Hayes made a similar comment about Dusty Rhodes, saying that the dancing and the ease of the tongue were directly lifted from black culture. Michael Hayes, like many superstars from that era, tended to have the myopic view about a lot of liberal issues. They used terms that people would now deem offensive, but back then it was locker-room talk. Jokes about people’s sexual orientation or racial background were commonplace in the less sensitive 70’s, and while I don’t wish to condone those comments, I want to point out that they were not said with the bile and hatred other associate it with. The issue with Michael Hayes seemed to have been that he dropped the n-bomb on Mark Henry while drunk at Wrestlemania. Hayes’s drinking has never been a big secret in pro wrestling, and sometimes his antics have been a little embarrassing. In this instance, Hayes was trying to convey that his soulfulness and style made him more in tune with the African American culture than even some of the roster members who were in fact black. Was his use of the term inappropriate? Absolutely. However, he has long viewed himself as a part of that culture and wasn’t looking to use it to attack Mark Henry. He was simply being an ass. He was being an ass trying to make a point that guys like Henry lack the charisma of a Dusty Rhodes, but still there are obviously more tactful ways to do it. People seem to be reading way too into this, and while racism is something that should be abhorred, not all actions taken by people are motivated by the hatred everyone jumps to. Other allegations may start to come out that people have used inappropriate terms, but understanding the context in which it is said is crucial.

This has been for your consideration.