March 29, 2004
Molly Holly . . . shows herself to be one of the few members of the Divas roster that actually knows how to wrestle.
Ric Flair . . . may not be the worker he was, once upon a time, but, shows that he’s still got some gas left in the tank.
Triple H . . . does pretty much everything possible to make Shelton Benjamin into the next breakout star.
MOLLY HOLLY vs. NIDIA
Despite only having a few minutes to work with, this isn’t a complete waste. Molly and Nidia have a couple of smooth exchanges, and, after Nidia goes into the post, it’s a lot of fun to watch Molly work her arm over. The only real downer is the goofy finish with Molly’s wig coming off and Nidia pinning her after the roll up. But, the work was remarkably solid until that point.
RHYNO vs. LANCE STORM
Storm jumps Rhyno as he gets in the ring, and he shows some nice intensity, but, as soon as Rhyno gets a little bit of distance he hits the Gore and pins Storm. Why even bother putting this on the main show? Rhyno wasn’t being built up for anything important, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t have gotten seven minutes on Heat instead of thirty-five seconds on Raw.
RIC FLAIR/BATISTA © vs. CHRIS BENOIT/SHAWN MICHAELS (World Tag Team Titles)
You’d think that a match with Benoit and Michaels, where Flair looks good and Batista is reigned in, would be a good match. But, this never seems to get going the way you’d expect. Part of it is the same thing that dragged down the Shawn/HHH match from December, with them spending too much time punching, kicking, and chopping each other rather than doing anything to take the match somewhere. But, they also spend so much time doing that, by the time they get around to trying to lay the groundwork for something more, it’s too late and they have to rush. The heat segment on Shawn lasts for all of a minute. It starts off promising, with Shawn getting reversed on a whip to the ropes and getting planted with a spinebuster by Batista. Flair adds a butterfly suplex as a nice follow up spot to keep working over Shawn. But, that’s followed by a punch/chop exchange so that Flair can stumble around, fall to the apron and climb to the top rope so that Shawn can slam him off and tag in Benoit. Even with three more minutes, Batista could have given him another couple of bumps, and Flair could have drummed up some decent heat for Benoit’s tag.
The match isn’t devoid of good things, but, the real standout moments tend be quasi comedy spots designed to pop the crowd, like Shawn’s figure four to Flair, rather than anything that tries to genuinely build the match or tell a real story. The Benoit/Flair exchange is the best work by a mile, which is somewhat remarkable, but, then again, Flair wrestling Benoit seems to be better than Flair wrestling anyone else. Flair takes the German suplex like a champ, and his reaction to the sharpshooter is perfect. The sharpshooter has never been more than a recognizable spot for Benoit, but, Flair makes it seem like a genuine finisher. The finish is another case the booking getting too cute, when it doesn’t need to be. Flair gets pinned by Michaels, and then the match winds up being restarted because Flair wasn’t the legal man. After a near fall from a fast count on a roll up by Flair, Shawn decks the ref to draw the DQ. Benoit obviously shouldn’t have lost the match, since he’s the World Champion, but, there’s no reason why Flair’s flash cradle couldn’t have gotten a surprise pinfall on Shawn. The fast count would have been more than enough to protect him, and it’s not like Flair would be above pulling the tight or using the ropes. There’s a reason that the saying is ‘simple and effective.’
KANE vs. TAJIRI
Tajiri’s countout win is a nice surprise, but this is fun for the short time that it lasts. Everyone (including Tajiri) knows that Tajiri doesn’t have a prayer of actually beating Kane, but, it’s fun to watch him use his speed and his kicks to keep himself out of trouble. Tajiri doesn’t have anything that he can do that will really hurt Kane, as shown by the way that Kane shrugs off the handspring elbow and the way that he throws Tajiri to the floor when he tries the tarantula. But, Tajiri beats Kane into the ring and hits him with the mist to prevent him from beating the count. Edge attacks Kane afterward to build toward their upcoming match. The no DQ stipulation would have allowed Edge to theoretically help Tajiri win, but, it was nice to see Tajiri win on his own.
TRIPLE H vs. SHELTON BENJAMIN
Looking back, Shelton did quite well for himself during his years on the Raw roster, but, it’s arguable that the peak of his time on Raw came on his very first night. HHH pretty much did everything possible to show that Shelton had it in him to hang with the former World Champion, something that he probably wouldn’t do on this level again until his match with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX. It starts out with HHH seemingly toying around with Shelton, and being genuinely surprised when Shelton is able to give it right back to him. Early on, HHH backs Shelton into the corner and gives him a clean break before playfully slapping him, and the next exchange is Shelton outwrestling HHH on the mat, and returning the slap to him. HHH tries for the Pedigree early and Shelton wiggles free, and HHH taunts him by showing him how close he was to hitting it. Shelton responds by countering HHH into a backslide for a near fall, and then showing just how close he’d came to winning.
But, even as the match wears on and HHH gets more serious and aggressive, Shelton is never completely out of the match. Shelton’s selling and reactions show that he’s aware that he may have bitten off more than he can chew, especially after HHH’s knee drop. One of their best moments is with HHH’s sleeper hold, it’s never been booked on the level of the Walls of Jericho or Benoit’s crossface, but, it’s something that HHH has won matches with before. Shelton looks like he’s fading fast, especially with HHH’s size giving him the added leverage, but, Shelton finds it in him to run to the corner and use the turnbuckle to break the hold (with a perfect sell job from HHH). A little bit later, Shelton tries a sleeper of his own, and HHH gets one over on him by easily countering to a backdrop suplex. It’s also more than a bit refreshing to see HHH and Shelton finding better ways for Shelton to get away from the Pedigree than the stupid back drop counter.
There are a few issues that creep up, although nothing that comes to close to tearing down what HHH and Shelton manage to build up. One of HHH’s first advantages comes from running Shelton’s shoulder into the post, but nothing comes of it. HHH doesn’t do anything to work the arm over, and Shelton doesn’t do anything to sell it. It’s not really a big deal, especially coming so early into the match, but, there are at least half a dozen other meaningless spots they could have done to. HHH tends to fall back on punching quite a bit. To some extent, this makes sense, with HHH’s frustration boiling over with Shelton’s refusal to stay down, but, again, this could have been used to go somewhere and it doesn’t. Instead of HHH just throwing punches, who not have Shelton block or avoid them and use that to outwrestle HHH and go back on offense, and show HHH’s frustration getting the better of him?
Some people won’t care for the distraction and roll up finish, but, it’s not the usual ‘babyface jumps on apron and heel gets distracted’ affair. Benoit and Flair have a stare down on the floor, after Flair had taken a cheap shot at Shelton, and HHH was watching them (ostensibly to make sure Benoit didn’t go after Flair) and Shelton catches him in the corner with a Stinger Splash and a cradle for the surprise pin. The only thing that could have made it better was HHH frantically kicking his legs to try to break it up, and even then, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that the splash in the corner knocked the wind out of HHH. It would be another ten years before HHH made anyone else look this good, and, despite the success he’d find later on, Shelton would become better known for singular moments (such as his ladder run during the first MITB or his springboard into Shawn’s superkick) rather than great performances or classic matches. ***1/4
Conclusion: The main event is definitely worth a look, but, this is a decently fun show from top to bottom.