Saturday, January 10, 2009

No Way Out 2006

So here's a show from the best era of Smackdown!, which I'm feeling like watching lately for whatever reason.

I miss the Spanish announce table. It's functionally replaced by the ECW announce table now, but it was always somehow reassuring that the Mexican fans were getting quality ringside announcing just like the rest of us.

Cruiserweight title nine-way (!?) starts the show. For whatever reason, Greg Helms (the champion) comes out first. Dumb. The match itself is kind of silly, and I'm not sure why a nine-way is really necessary other than to get over that all the cruisers hate Helms. Early in the match there's some really rad exchanges between The Mexicools and London and Kendrick, and I wish that they had gotten ten minutes on pay-per-view at some point. Maybe not this show, but somewhere down the line. For most of the match, these four are focusing on each other, and yeah at this point I wish they had just run that tag and then made this a singles match between Helms and Kash. Helms, the champ, is naturally the best guy in the match. Take out the tag and Kash is the second best, and he had yet to get his one-on-one rematch for the belt anyway. Nunzio and Funaki suck here, and Scotty REALLY sucks. This match would have been pretty awesome if it had been nearfalls for eight minutes with the everyone breaking stuff up. Instead it's worked like a Rumble for the most part, two guys pairing off and one pairing is focused on. At two points we get fancy nearfall sequences. The first one is ruined by Scotty doing the fucking worm, the second ends the match. But other than those two runs and the Mexicools/London and Kendrick stuff, this was bad.

By the end of 2006 Smackdown! was totally all about King Booker and Queen Sharmell. They were still peasants at this show, but they're still really, really great. They have a backstage skit with Teddy Long that just rules.

Finlay and Lashley brawling over Finlay kidnapping Kristal is a pretty awesome way to start off Lashley v JBL because you start off with Lashley already in full 'house of fire' mode and JBL takes Finlay's spot in the brawl pretty naturally. I would rather have this than these two beating around the bush with collar and elbow tie ups and headlocks before getting to the power stuff. Jillian is seconding JBL, and 2006 Jillian is so much better looking than 2009 Jillian. Lashley is working an undefeated streak at this point and is surprisingly over with the crowd given to what I remember of him from later in 2006. He also looks really green still. His actual offense looks good but he'll do weird things right before hitting it, like lunge in slow motion. Just little things that make him look unsure of himself. JBL is JBL, meaning that JBL is fucking great. Finlay comes back for the finish, distracting the ref to hit Lashley and set him up for the clothesline from hell. I promise it came off a lot better than it sounds. Lashley eats all of JBL's stuff like a champ, his own stuff looks great, he has some rough moments like not knowing what to do in transition when JBL is selling, but for the most part Lashley looks like a star here. If you showed me this match and told me he wouldn't get a singles main event until nearly a year and a half later, I would have told you that you were nuts. If you said a month later he'd be done with WWE, I'd have told you that you were really nuts. I miss Lashley :(

Batista is monstrously over and I don't mind his promo here at all, but I'm already thinking I could have used some more Lashley/JBL/Finlay stuff, or split up the cruiserweight thing into two matches, and I hate to be one of those guys who bitches about promos for the sake of more time to matches, but couldn't they have cut this and given more time to a match? The Orton/Angle bit after is awesome, though, and it kind of needs the Batista part to properly set it up. JBL ranting and raving while at a computer with Josh Matthews is also great.

Melina. God DAMN. Another girl who looked a lot better in 2006 than in 2009. Actually, I can't think of any of the Divas who didn't, which is kind of discomforting. Matt Hardy looks a lot younger, too. Did the drug binges get that much more intense over the past three years or something? Wrestlers really do age way too fast. But as for things that aren't scary, this match rocked. Johnny Nitro is a lot better now as John Morrison than he was here, but he was still pretty good. That said, he's easily the weakest part of that match, including Melina who rocks ass as a second. Mercury and Hardy bring their usual tight awesomeness, but the I thought Tatanka actually looked the best of everyone. Tight punches and chops, good face-in-peril segments, all of his stuff looked great and he even got the pin. God damn, I need to go re-watch more Smackdown! from this era because he fucking brought it in this match. Hell, I could go for some 1993 Tatanka at this point. I know Jared will never read this but if he did, he would be proud to know that 2006 Tatanka still ruled it.

So I like joking around about the Benoit shit as much as the next guy with a morbid sense of humor who has knows he's going straight to hell, but what he did was really, really horrible and watching him is not the most pleasant experience in the world. The pre-match angle with Booker deciding to forfeit the title rather than defend it, only to run in and attack Benoit to start off the match, is the kind of old school thing I really dig. Benoit grabbing the mic and starting a coward chant directed at Booker is both fucked up and hilarious; fucked up because working a 'guy refuses to work injured' angle with the injured (fake injured, I know, but that doesn't really change the point) guy as heel and having Benoit be the big babyface in that angle is all sorts of wrong; and hilarious because Benoit grabbing a mic and leading the crowd in a chant is probably the most any audience has done in response to anything Benoit actually said in years.

Match itself is pretty good but kind of odd. You'd expect that the big heel-finally-gets-his match between these two to have more of a blow-off feel to it. It sort of does, but sort of doesn't. Sharmell is real good as a second here, don't think I liked her as much as I liked Melina in the tag match, but like I said, 2006 was all about Booker and Sharmell. So it's pretty fitting that Sharmell goes for a distraction and it doesn't work out, Sharmell has to take a bump from the apron, and Benoit gets Booker to tap for the title change. The other part of the angle is the injury stuff, which isn't blown off here. Three or four times in the match Booker fakes an injury, the ref backs off, and Booker ends up with the advantage. If you wanted to make this a true blow-off to the angle, you'd work that into the finish somehow, or at least have Booker's shit not work out for him and Benoit keeps the advantage, but it never does. Probably because Booker kept the injury angle shit going through his program with Boogeyman, but still. There's not really a coherent narrative to the match like you'd expect. Booker starts at Benoit's arm to prevent the crossface, but it's never followed up on, nor is Booker working Benoit's neck with a full nelson. There's a bit of brawling but not as much as you'd think a blow-off would have and it's pretty self-contained to the opening few moments. I guess you could say it's worked as a straight Benoit v Booker match, two guys who've wrestled each other a billion times and are purely competing for the belt, but the angle surrounding the match makes it stupid to work it that way, plus you never get the big bombs exchange between the two that you'd get if that's how you're working it. And as third-from-top match on a card with a face-v-face main event and a super babyface gets cheated by asshole heel semi-main, you'd expect Booker to get more comeuppance than he does.

So there's really no specific structure beyond Booker is heel and will use devious means to get ahead including but not limited to his wife as a ref-distracting second and faking injuries against Benoit who is the virtuous tough babyface who overcomes in the end. The way the match is worked doesn't specifically evoke thought of that structure but it's got to be either that or a random MOVES~! match and I enjoyed this too much for it to be the second. Besides there is nothing wrong with basic heel v face stuff, just kind of expected more for a blow-off. But the stuff they actually do is real good. As far as chains of three or more suplexes go, I liked Lashley's string of belly-to-bellies more than I liked Benoit's Three Amigos or rolling Germans that he used in this match, and with a long Angle match still on the card you don't want to burn out on suplex combos, and I thought the first time Booker went to the top rope to attempt his flipping senton only for Benoit to get up and counter was kind of a stupid spot. Other than that everything was good, tight work between them, everything looked good, pretty much what you'd want. Totally was the Booker and Sharmell show with Benoit along for the ride, but there's nothing wrong with that either.

Don't really want to talk about the segment with Benoit getting a hug from Rey, hugging all of the faces on the show, then giving a pep talk to Rey. Worst of all the non-wrestling stuff on this show so far by a long shot.

I'm a pretty huge Randy Orton mark. I didn't think anything was topping his summer 2007 character rebirth until his first half of 2008 blew me away, and I didn't think anything was topping that until he came back from injury somehow having learned to be even better while he was at home watching his kid be born. But the more I watch of his Smackdown! run, especially the early 2006 stuff with the Rey feud, I'm starting to think that either a) as great as he is now, he was actually just a little bit better then, or b) this guy is probably the best American wrestler of the past five years. Inclined to think it's the second one. I've watched this match a lot of times, especially after I randomly woke up one day with a total Orton boner, but I can never get sick of it. Fuck, I love it more every time I see it, and I think it may have passed his SummerSlam 2007 match with John Cena as my favorite Orton match.

EVERYTHING he does in this is great. Everything. He walks down to the ring surveying the crowd with a smirk on his face. Mysterio's music hits, and Randy squints his eyes and glares at the entrance. The crowd chants Eddie, and Randy laughs at them. Randy and Rey lock up and end up in the corner with the ref telling Randy to back off, and Randy backs away laughing and fake apologizing. He's a complete cunt here, and it's fucking glorious. The crowd starts chanting again while Randy has control, and he spits at them and tells them to shut up because he doesn't need their help. He beats Rey all over the ring until the crowd chants Randy sucks. Randy says "oh yeah?", drops a knee in Rey's face, and asks the crowd "who sucks now?" It's the kind of one man performance that would totally make a match even if he was working, like, Shelton Benjamin or Charlie Haas. Or even fucking Scotty 2 Hotty.

But he has someone to work with! He has fucking Rey Mysterio, who is on the hot streak of a lifetime and a top three, if not number one, wrestler in the company at this point. Everything Rey does looks phenomenal, and everything he sells looks even better, and if Randy wasn't being RANDY FUCKING ORTON! it would totally carry the match. It doesn't have to, but Rey makes every single thing Randy does even more powerful. The Orton stomp isn't as good in early 2006 as it is in 2009, but Rey still sells it like fucking death. The hope spots work a thousand times better because Rey packs enough into his kicks and flips that you think he has a chance, right up until Randy cuts him off and laughs at you for believing. Several times in the match, Randy is just dishing out punishment for the sake of being an asshole, and the crowd falls under this mesmerized hush like they do when someone gets hurt. Rey even gets Michael Cole and Tazz to sound legitimately concerned about him, and fuck me if it isn't probably the best I've ever heard those two call a match together. I don't even think Tazz says NOTFORNOTHIN' once.

Enough about Rey being awesome in this, though, because as great as he is, this is ALL about Randy Orton. Randy motherfucking Orton. He just toys and fucks around with Rey for the first two thirds of the match. Rey gets control for a while after Randy fucks up and tries for a second shoulder-drop neckbreaker and Rey has a counter for it. How does Randy break the flurry of Rey offense up? A fucking thumb to the eye. Fucking awesome. Rey sets up for the 619, and Randy goes along with it because it lets him watch the Titantron and see Rey coming. Duck, counter with a roll up, grab the ropes, pin. Bam. Randy grabs a mic and laughs at Rey for losing his WrestleMania title shot. Everything is just so, so great. This match is everything that is the best about pro wrestling.

The reason that this DVD has been in my player so many times but I have watched the main event so few times in comparison (especially considering that the reason I bought the DVD was for the main event... and because it was eight bucks) is because after the semi-main, I have no desire to watch a half hour Kurt Angle match, or pretty much anything else in the world. This is too bad, because it's quite a good match, though it has absolutely nothing on the previous one.

Like the Booker/Benoit match, there isn't much of a narrative here. A couple of starts and stops, but nothing that continues. Immediately you have 'Taker outwrestle Angle and Angle punch his way through things, which is pretty hilarious because Angle's gimmick is unstoppable amateur wrestler gone pro and 'Taker is the unstoppable undead zombie who will beat you with his fists. 'Taker goes for two early big boots but Angle dodges them, so you think they're going to work the match with a story of both guys having come prepared for each other's signature stuff and thus have to work a thinking man's match to win. But that all goes to shit because a few minutes into the match 'Taker is smashing Angle into the post and hitting his apron leg drop and Angle is pounding on 'Taker's leg to set up the ankle lock, effectively signalling that the opening exchanges was just posturing and this is going to be the match you'd expect. 'Taker takes his sweet ass time setting up a second apron leg drop, and you know Angle's just going to move like everyone always moves when 'Taker takes his sweet ass time setting up the apron leg drop, and the match kind of starts to lose you because hey, your basic WWE main event, sweet. Angle counters this into the ankle lock on the outside, which is fine because it makes sense to work the finisher that you've set up for and because it works into the ten count stuff they're doing, which we'll get to in a minute. You think that this will end up back in the ring and 'Taker will hit a quick Tombstone or Angle will get the ankle lock and the match will end. Instead this goes another fifteen minutes. At some point Angle will have devalued his ankle lock so badly that the only way anyone will buy him ending the match with it is if he brings a sawed off shotgun and blows the ankle clean off the body.

'Taker pulls out his triangle choke like, right after, which is neat because he's digging deep into his bag of tricks to stop Angle without busting out his big stuff just yet. See, Undertaker understands that if you save your finishers, they mean more, so instead of trying to hit the Tombstone sixteen minutes into a thirty minute match, he busts out a triangle choke. Of course, 2008 just ended and while I did miss a bunch of Undertaker television matches I saw all the big ones and I'm quite used to him ending things with the gogoplata or Hell's Gate or Devil's Triangle or whatever they ended up calling it (it's Hell's Gate, I'm just trying to make a bad point about how they left it unnamed all year until they realized it's not 1993, Vince McMahon isn't announcing, and you needed to say something other than WHATAMANUEVER for the finish of a match), thus the triangle choke is an interesting little blast from the past when 'Taker only tried submission finishers in matches with submission wrestlers, not in main events with fucking Edge. Anyway, Angle gets a rope break on the triangle choke and 'Taker resorts to just brawling Angle around the ringside area and it is every WWE main event you have watched since they put Steve Austin on top. This leads to the WWE main event table spot, and while the spot itself doesn't look bad or anything (Angle pops up from prone position to Angle Slam 'Taker through the announce table), it's just so cliched at this point. It's like they were given the choice between blood or the table, and neither felt like bringing the blade so they went with the table. More specifically, within the context of the match, the table spot doesn't even fucking make sense. You're working all of these ten counts, the ref is bitching at Angle to keep things in the ring, but it's perfectly kosher to put a dude through a table? That isn't within the rules, sir. I call shenanigans.

There's one more spot I really hated in this match, 'Taker is climbing up to the top rope and Angle pops up from the mat and climbs with him, and you just know that he's going to throw some stupid suplex off the top that means nothing because Angle always does the whole pop up and throw stupid suplex off top rope spot. But 'Taker actually counters it! He throws Angle to the mat and you're filled with hope that you're going to see something cool. Instead Angle pops right back up again and throws a HORRIBLE looking stupid suplex and you feel even stupider than the suplex for believing that they weren't going to run that spot. Neither Angle or 'Taker are really known for their execution, but it isn't a problem in this match. You don't get anything like Orton working a chinlock on Rey or Finlay leaning straight into Lashley's punches or pretty much anything Benoit did or pretty much the entire tag match, but it's not a problem. Everything looks good, you're happy, etc. But the top rope suplex looks BAD. Just awful, actively bad, bad enough to waste an entire paragraph on how fucking shitty it was. I don't mean like the way the table spot was kind of dumb and cliched, I mean really fucking awful. I would expect it from Scotty 2 Hotty. Fucking Scotty.

Luckily we go into the last eight minutes of the match from here, and the last eight minutes of the match are fucking awesome. I'm not usually a big fan of Kurt Angle counter-filled finishing runs, didn't much care for them against Shawn Michaels in 2005, didn't much care for them against Samoa Joe in 2006, but it ruled here for whatever reason. Perhaps it's the rather striking visual of the black adorned giant trying to destroy the little bald dude only for the little bald dude to writhe out of everything like his life depends on it (there need to be more detailed pictures of finishing runs like this, the way skateboarding magazines will have shots of every single moment of someone hitting a noseslide down a stairset, I would like to see a photo layout like this for hot finishing runs like this match had), perhaps it's that instead of countering whatever holds Michaels and Joe were throwing at Angle, he's countering crazy Undertaker finisher death moves and it just works better that way, I don't know. But it's rad. It's pretty neat seeing 'Taker kick out of an Angle Slam and use a second as a set-up for the triangle choke, pretty much exactly the way he did it with Edge's spear in their WrestleMania XXIV match. You actually buy the ankle lock as a finish here, forgetting that everyone gets out of the fucking ankle lock and forgetting that nothing in the last fifteen minutes leave you thinking anything at all about the ankle lock. I suppose that's a sign of a good finish, it makes you forget about the stupid things in the match. Now a really great finish would be making you forget about stupid things that happened in the other matches on the card...

So the finishing run is great, the actual three count itself is kind of hokey because you clearly see Angle doesn't tap out, he has Undertaker pinned, so I don't know why they did the whole double finish thing. Have Angle start tapping out as the ref is counting three if you want to do that. You don't need it for the rematch, 'Taker cornering Angle post match is enough for that. So that whole bit is kind of silly, but the finishing run is overall great. I know I'm probably coming off negative on the match but it's actually really good, not as good as Orton/Mysterio, but really good. The way the ten count is worked throughout the match (or at least the first two thirds, after the table spot and the ten count, the ref is kind of a non-factor) is the best part of the match and it isn't even close. I tried to not bitch too much about the table spot because it leads to the single best ten count spot, where the ref is about to count Undertaker out and Angle takes him aside and says "I am going to beat this motherfucker in the ring". Don't care too much for the bleeping of the swearing, I mean they barely get it and we know what he's saying, but the moment itself is pretty awesome. Angle comes off as a badass that you really want to get behind, even though I'm not a big Angle fan, stuff like this makes me want to be. Angle then hops out of the ring and starts brawling with 'Taker, and while I didn't much care for the 'Taker-led brawling pre-table spot, the Angle-led is a lot better and more intense. I know I bitched about the cliche WWE main event style but it's not a bad style, and it's worked well here, so whatever. Even if you make this match thirty minutes of the ten counts and those stupid top rope suplexes I would have liked it, but you only get the one top rope suplex and that's the only actively bad part of the match. I once put this as my #3 match of the year, it's not that good, but it's a good match and beats out the tag for second best match on a very good card.

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