Hello, folks — Atlanta, Georgia! Didn’t catch the venue name ’cause I was too busy writing “Hello, folks — Atlanta, Georgia!” Things happen that fast in wrassling!
Tonight we forgo the usual prologue wherein a competitor plugging a match or storyline spouts reams of exposition before engaging in a mic-off with his mortal enemy. As Stephanie McMahon promised on last Monday’s broadcast from the United Kingdom, the WWE’s entering a New Era following the surprise resignation two weeks ago of interim general manager Mike Adamle, though since he was only GM for — what, a few months? — his term hardly constitutes an “era.” But these are accelerated times, so who am I to argue?
Tonight begins with a Superstar Forum, where Stephanie McMahon addresses the concerns of the organization’s talent stable, all gathered in a squared-circle lump. I recognize this format from vaudeville as the schoolhouse sketch, with McMahon as Herr Teacher (see: The Marx Brothers’ Fun In Hi Skule) and her fibrous charges as her students. McMahon’s resplendent in her power bidnessatrix garb and Sarah Palin specs, so we know she’s serious — no sneaky suplexes tonight. Instead, she will speak in clipped, measured corporate-speak. Why this Superstar Forum is being played out on television instead of in a boardroom or meeting hall will become evident soon enough.
Randy Orton immediately seizes the floor, and, as usual, complains about this Sunday’s Heavyweight title match at Survivor Series pitting belt-bearer Chris Jericho against John Cena in the latter’s triumphant return after three months on the injured list. “What is so damn special about John Cena?” Orton barks in that deep syrup of venomous contempt he inherited from his infamous heel father, Cowboy Bob Orton, and grandfather, Bob Orton, Sr. Stephanie explains that Cena was a legitimate contender before his mishap, so it’s only fair to pick up where he left off. Surprisingly, the Legend Killer acquiesces.
Next up: Cody Rhodes, son of a son of a plumber (Dusty Rhodes, daddy! The American Dream who wined and dined with kings and queens!) and one-half of the Priceless duo with Ted DiBiase Jr. (his father being one of the biz’s greatest villains, the Million Dollar Man, a perfect Trump-era foil for Hulk Hogan and his blue-collar disciples), flanked by ringside muscle Manu (himself the legacy offspring of a Wild Samoan). Rhodes wonders aloud why he has to compete as part of an Orton-picked Survivor Series team, when aforementioned mastermind RKO’d his (Rhodes’) partner two weeks earlier in a revenge match with CM Punk. McMahon announces that tonight’s main event, already scheduled as an Orton/Punk do-over, has been upgraded to a 30-man lumberjack affair. For all y’all neophytes, that means the scheduled scufflers will be surrounded by two-dozen-plus-six leviathans assigned to keep the action in-ring.
In steps former Intercontinental champ Santino Marella, who surrendered his title last week in England to Queen’s subject/royal scoundrel William Regal (who didn’t see that coming?). He announces the ringside presence of Atlanta’s own Akon, whom he mangles as “Acorn” (malapropisms are part of Santino’s well-honed Roddy Piper-influenced shtick), then poses his quandary in the form of a rap. What we learn: he wants his belt back and he hopes squirrels nibble “Acorn” where it hurts men most.
Next, John “Bradshaw” Layfield (JBL) moseys up with an actually pertinent and direct question, “Where is your father?”, meaning Stephanie and Shane McMahon’s dad, WWE impresario Vince McMahon, out of commission since his onscreen kiss with a tumbling girder last summer. Stephanie reveals that Vince is “out of the picture.” (Hmmm, the plot-thickening of another convoluted family arc?)
Finally we get to the punchline, delivered by that card of cards, Shawn Michaels. Funnily enough — and this is gonna date me — but I first stopped watching the WWF around the time of Michaels’ arrival (no correlation, I assure you) in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when he was but an unlined, unblemished lad with a billowing mullet and a partner named Marty Jannetty. Together they wrestled as The Rockers, the most adored babyfaces y’ever saw — until Michaels’ betrayal and rebirth as the Heartbreak Kid, a persona he still wears today at the age of 43. He’s scheduled for a team bout against JBL at Survivor Series, but wants permission to whup JBL’s ass tonight too, since JBL and a folding chair cost him a likely victory over Chris Jericho the week before in a Last Man Standing match. When he’s told that’s not possible, Michaels shrugs his shoulders and explodes on JBL, anyway, clearing the ring. What the hell — it’s a better denouement than dropping a cow, right?
MATCH 1: Kelly Kelly vs. Victoria
First match! WWE “diva” Kelly Kelly, that girl next door in the brightest, whitest go-go tighties to ever caress a pear, vs. SmackDown’s Victoria, as a preview of Sunday’s Survivor Series fracas between the Raw and SmackDown women’s divisions.
Now, I dunno about you, but I’m weary of the d-word. As defined, diva is a distinguished term usually reserved for female singers. F’r instance, Mahalia Jackson: diva. Barbra Streisand: diva. Maria Callas: MONDO diva. In the ’90s VH1 began stretching its parameters by assigning it to everyone from Aretha Franklin (much deserved) to Mariah Carey (maybe) and Shania fucking Twain (NO). The distinction thus loosed, Entertainment Weekly dropped it like chocolate rain on every female celebrity in sight. Consequently, diva today covers anything even remotely feminine, from that Human Resources rep all the gals in the typing pool want dead to that wheat-tressed pole dancer with ambition beyond Trenchcoat Tuesdays at Twirlicanes. Diva also means, of course, “prima donna,” and guess what, girls: Ain’t a compliment.
That said, modern women’s rasslin is a damn sight better than it was in my shorty days, in those parched times of Wendi Richter, Leilani Kai, and the Fabulous Moolah, then in her SIXTIES, God rest her eternal soul. The acrobatic moves are near-fluid, the action faster, the grapplers more athletic (not to mention ridiculously pretty, even the ones who could crush a pit bull’s larynx).
Adding to the excitement is skimpier costumes, which means part of its modern-day objective is to not only win, but also to see how much of your toned opponent you can expose to the salivating on-site masses, not to mention us degenerates watching at home — except me; I’m too busy writing “not to mention us degenerates watching at home.” Anyway, Kelly Kelly wins for the Bettys, and when a furious Victoria, who in an honest gitdown could shove Kelly through a Chrysler, cuts the victor’s celebration short, the WWE divas come out in full force, led by Beth “The Glamazon” Phoenix. And with that, these former adversaries are united in hot-bodied amnesty. It’s a beautiful thing. Sisters are doin’ it for themselves!
WINNER: Kelly Kelly (Hooray for America!)
MATCH 2: Batista vs. Manu
The bout is prefaced with highlights of last week’s Raw, when Cody Rhodes interrupted Orton’s last-minute match with former Heavyweight champ Dave Batista to announce he would handle Batista himself. Rhodes was, of course, righteously liquefied.
Tonight it’s Batista versus Priceless capo Manu, in his WWE singles debut, with Rhodes as valet. Orton wanders out to watch from the moody shadows (he’s bathed in colors you rarely see outside of atmospheric Elmore Leonard adaptations from the early ’90s), furthering the developing Rhodes/DiBiase/Orton triangle, with Orton as paternal tough-love figure to Rhodes’ defiant, yet eager to please prodigy and DiBiase, still sidelined by concussion, the Icarus who flew too close to the sun.
After an early impressive run at the ex-title-holder, Manu finally tastes the deadly Batista Bomb, always telegraphed beforehand with a vigorous rope-flog and bull stomp as its namesake whips the crowd into an orgasmic frenzy. Quarry conquered, Batista beckons Rhodes into his squared web; Rhodes wisely declines. Instead Batista fixates his rage on the distant Orton. “For three years I’ve wanted to whip your ass!” he growls over the indifference of USA’s censors.
Stephanie McMahon introduces the legendary Chief Jay Strongbow, who wrestled during my dad’s youth (he’d often shout, “Oh, no! He’s got ’im in the Indian Deathlock!” during living-room horseplay with me and my younger brother) and today is 79 years old. He dodders out and waves. Then we’re off to the locker room, where backstage cameras happen to catch a post-match exchange between Orton and Rhodes among the Speed Sticks. They may not love each other now, but I predict a future betrayal that will rock Priceless to its very sports-entertainment foundation!
Speaking of rocked, the next sequence, an interview with the injured Evan Bourne, ends prematurely with the entrance of Mike Knox, a woolly skyscraper (he looks like a Mastodon album sounds) staring ice shards into the much smaller — and incapacitated — wrestler. This uncomfortable back-and-forth of determined and petrified is replaced with the more agreeable visual of Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels striding ringward for their first bout as a tag team, with Michaels in a chattily philosophical mood and even engaging the mysterious Dolph Zigler, whose gimmick thus far is introducing himself to everyone as Dolph Zigler. (Genius!) Michaels does everything but say, “We’ll be right back after these messages.” I wonder if the wrestlers pick the commercials. If so, what do they think of DC licensing its illustrious superhero franchise to Mortal Kombat? Is it possible to “finish” the Man of Steel?
MATCH 3: Shawn Michaels/Rey Mysterio vs. The Miz/John Morrison
Are The Miz and John Morrison on permanent loan from ECW? They’re always around! Both Michaels and Morrison have spangly pants, though the ones clinging to Morrison, based on the Lizard King with his Dionysian follicles, aviator shades, and washboard abs (whatever you do, keep Morrison out of Miami!), are much more in line with rock ’n’ roll excess. And he was facing one-half of the original Rockers! That must’ve been a slap in the Heartbreak Kid’s craggy puss — not that Morrison didn’t deliver a few of those. He also unloaded Michael’s trademark move, Sweet Chin Music (stiff kick to the button, basically), on its inventor and slapped his prone partner’s limp arm (The Miz was the recent recipient of an authentic SCM as follow-up to Rey Manzarek’s — I mean, Mysterio’s own acrobatic finishing move, the 619, named in honor of his San Diego area code) over Michaels’ freshly prone form for the 1-2-3, the same sequential count-off that once cued John Densmore into action!
WINNER: The Miz/John Morrison (Blood in the streets in the town of Atlanta)
After color announcers Michael Cole and my childhood idol-turned-play-by-player Jerry “The King” Lawler trumpet the USA network and WWE’s commitment to ecology, addressing the cable giant’s green logo in the bottom right-hand corner of the television screen (wow), we’re into another promo teasing John Cena’s Survivor Series return, with the same talking heads singing the wrestler’s praises. Chris Jericho stews backstage, his Heavyweight belt draped over his pin-striped right shoulder. Like Orton, he’s had it with the Cena hype too — it’s overshadowing his champion status.
Sadly, I’m indisposed in That Room of Eternal Modesty during CM Punk’s prematch interview. But I’m refreshed and returned for the JBL/Kane tete-a-tete before their clash with tag-team bridesmaids Cryme Tyme. Neither man is particularly enthusiastic about the union; Kane, as always, is rambling non sequiturs from Serial Killer Land. But since this is respectable family fare, he tones it down, describing the process of fastening car batteries to “groins” instead of the more offensive “nut sacs.” Kane may be pretend crazy, but he knows who butters his dungeon bread.
MATCH 4: Cryme Tyme (JTG/Shad Gaspard) vs. JBL/Kane
The fisticuffs begin after Cryme Tyme share a “That money, money/yeah, yeah” call and response with Akon and the whole damn ATL. As always, they sniff victory but can’t quite swipe it off the shelf. Kane, who in a previous WWE life was a sadistic dentist named I. Yankem DDS, throttles unwilling playtoy JTG and is about to execute his patented chokeslam when JBL slaps him on the back, effectively tagging himself in and pinning the unconscious JTG for the victory.
Backstage, Kofi Kingston is bantering congenially with Evan Bourne when Mike Knox resurfaces to cast his malevolent thundercloud shadow. After quickly dispatching the co-Tag Team champ, Knox advances on the helpless Bourne and brings the man’s crutches down hard onto his already injured ankle.
MATCH 5: William Regal vs. Matt Hardy
In a turn from last week’s humble monologue before his Ol’ Blighty peers, the new Intercontinental title-holder slags the United States for its lack of couth and breeding. ECW champion Matt Hardy delivers his rebuttal in a series of blows, and both men flail and scuffle into a double-countout beyond their battlefield. Not that either man hears the official announcement; they both have to be restrained by referees and dragged off.
Chris Jericho has an announcement to make before the main event. He’s weary of the Cena piffle and would prefer we focus instead on his own considerable achievements: capturing both WCW and WWE crowns on one glorious 2001 night against The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, respectively; being a five-time world champion; and thrashing Shawn Michaels in a Ladder match and CM Punk and Batista in Steel Cage battles to retain his title. He argues that his belt is the industry’s beating heart, its gold standard, not some gimpy loser hobbling back from months of physical therapy. Once the world realizes that, he resolves, “Only then will Monday Night Raw truly be saved.” It’s only my opinion, but I like this Jericho a lot.
MAIN EVENT: CM Punk vs. Randy Orton
Thirty wrestlers line the ring like bathtub film — with my wandering eye I spy “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan — as Orton and Punk throw down. The latter’s the first to get tossed, but he slips back in before succumbing to the heel stable’s tractor beam. Orton’s not so lucky when it’s his time. After socking Jamie Noble in the bean, he tumbles under a mass of humanity and is dumped like lunchmeat back into play. Later, a reflexive action by the woozy Orton sends Punk into the turnbuckle, where he’s plucked with the ease of a daisy by Mark Henry, the World’s Strongest Man, then reluctantly thrown back after the referee demands his return. The match finally ends when William Regal distracts Punk long enough for Orton to drop an RKO and the pin. The Legend Killer foolishly continues the assault, infuriating the good guys. Batista climbs into the ring and everyone follows, ending the night by raining blows in an already raging sea.
See you next week!