July 26, 2004

BATTLE ROYAL (#1 Contender’s match for the World Heavyweight Title)

The inherent problem with this combination of match and stipulation is that one can easily look at the people involved and write off the vast majority of them from even having a prayer of winning. Rodney Mack, Val Venis and Stevie Richards are barely on TV at all, so, everyone knows that there’s no way that either of them are going to be challenging Benoit or HHH at SummerSlam. The match itself plays out pretty much how you’d expect, with very little in the way of unique eliminations, Edge and Jericho’s tandem elimination of Rosey is probably the best one there is. The only real surprise is the fact that Maven lasts far longer than one would expect, and, he eliminates Flair, which is a sign that he had bigger things on the horizon. Jericho and Edge work together for most of the match, and then Jericho double crosses and eliminates Edge to further Edge’s eventual turn. The final stretch where it’s down to Jericho and Orton is fairly well done, with them both doing a good job of creating doubt for the finish, and the RKO across the ropes that finally eliminates Jericho is a nice enough finish.

CHRIS BENOIT © vs. TRIPLE H (World Heavyweight Title - Iron Man Match)

Benoit’s involvement shouldn’t be any surprise that this winds up being good, but, it’s remarkable that HHH puts in a damn fine performance himself. It’s paced very well, worked very smart, and even the over booked finish (more tolerable here than in the match they had on PPV two weeks earlier) doesn’t end things on a sour note. As good as HHH has shown that he can be, he’ll never be confused for a technical wizard, and Benoit exploits that by forcing him to actually wrestle, and easily showing him up for most of the first half of the match. HHH gets in virtually no offense, other than a DDT, for the first ten minutes or so, and even then, the DDT is more of a stall tactic than anything else. Benoit controls the action by keeping him in various holds, working over his leg, and using the same counter to try for the crossface three separate times, the last of which is what leads to a mat sequence that gives Benoit the first fall. The action more or less resets after the fall, but doesn’t really change, HHH gets to work over Benoit’s midsection for a spell after a bump on the apron, but, it’s still not very long, it doesn’t seem to have much effect on Benoit, and, the action is still pretty lopsided in Benoit’s favor.

Things start picking up for HHH after Benoit’s missed headbutt, which gives him the opening to go back to working over Benoit’s chest and sternum (previously injured in their Vengeance match). After Benoit wipes out, HHH shoots him into the corner at full speed and hits a quick Pedigree to tie the match. HHH goes up 2-1 a minute later by causing Benoit to get counted out, Benoit beats the count the first time, but a front suplex on the stairs keeps him out long enough for HHH to get his second fall. With a specific target to focus on, HHH shows just how good he can be, by bringing all kinds of good, and smart, offense to keep things going. HHH getting another fall with the spinebuster pushes the envelope a little bit. Granted, HHH has won matches with it before, but, he’s pretty much always used it as a mid level spot from him. Even with the injury already exploited, the move itself shouldn’t be able to keep down the world champion.

Things start going downhill after the spinebuster, but, it’s a slow decline, rather than a nosedive. HHH goes for another pedigree and Benoit blocks it, double legs HHH down, and goes for the sharpshooter only to be kicked off. The very next sequence is the exact same, only this time Benoit gets the hold. There is nothing that happens to explain why Benoit has success doing the same thing that didn’t work ten seconds before, unless you believe that the simple back bump from the takedown knocked the wind out of him. The actual sharpshooter spot is worked perfectly. It makes sense to HHH to be able to linger in the hold for a bit, since he was coming off an extended control segment, and, Benoit shows the tenacity he’s become famous for by refusing to let HHH get out of the hold by any way other than tapping out. Even though Benoit had worked over the leg for a spell, it's clear that he’s submitting just to get free of the hold before he gets too worn down, rather than HHH not being able to take the pain any longer. Not long afterwards, HHH attempts a lariat, and, just like he had done several times earlier, Benoit counters him into the crossface which eventually leads to HHH’s second tap out of the night.

The ref bumps and the run ins by Flair, Batista, and Eugene are pretty much par for the course when it comes to the WWE, but, it’s not terrible this time around. All that really comes from the interference from Evolution is Benoit getting busted open when Batista runs him into the post. The chair shot from HHH creates doubt as to a single pin attempt, and nothing more. Eugene comes down and evens the odds. Yes, Benoit’s final fall comes from Eugene hitting HHH with the chair, but, this isn’t nearly as egregious as the finish of the Vengeance match: Benoit had cleanly pinned HHH once, and tapped him out twice. He’s already proven that he can cleanly beat HHH without any assistance. HHH had also shown that he was capable of beating Benoit cleanly as well, but he chose to try to take shortcuts and karma came back and bit him in the ass. ***½

Conclusion: Overall, it’s a pretty nice episode of TV from a wrestling standpoint.