April 12, 2004
Trish Stratus . . . provides most of the highlights in a match with her most famous rival.
Sylvan Grenier . . . puts on an almost shockingly fun performance, considering his reputation as a worker.
Ric Flair . . . may be long past his glory days, but he shows exactly how much he’s still got left in the tank.
KANE vs. GRANDMASTER SEXAY
Brian’s appearance is a nice surprise, but this is a shitty way for him to be brought back (however brief his return was). He didn’t need to be going over someone as consistently pushed as Kane, but considering his talent and experience, feeding him to Kane in a short squash seems short-sighted. He could have gone to Smackdown and reunited with Scotty and Rikishi or he could have done a program with Chavo for the Cruiserweight Title, it couldn’t have been any worse than Chavo feuding with Jacqueline. But such as life in mid-2000’s WWE, they bring in a talented performer who can be beneficial in several ways, and they don’t lift a finger to make anything good come of it.
TAJIRI vs. THE FIVE STAR NINJA
The work here isn’t anything great, but it’s nice to see Tajiri attempt to tell a story. He gets himself in trouble the first time by being preoccupied with taking the Ninja’s mask off. Tajiri makes his comeback by surprising the Ninja with his handspring elbow and then does the Tarantula and gives Coach an opening to cheap shot him from the floor. Finally, Tajiri counters the attempt at the NLB and hits the buzzsaw kick to win the match. Once the match has been won, then he goes for the mask again and reveals Al Snow, which is just ripe for jokes about Al Snow finally getting five stars for something.
LITA vs. TRISH STRATUS
Aside from a couple of nice spots, namely Trish’s smooth counter of Lita’s whip into the Stratusfaction, and Lita countering that into a backdrop suplex, this is pretty hard on the eyes. Most of their work is loose, and their insistence on doing a lot of punching and kicking doesn’t help matters. The one nice touch to this is that Trish’s anger and intensity is completely believable, even when she’s just cranking on a chinlock, you get the idea that she’s trying to get everything she can out of it. Lita’s dive to the floor looks scary in the wrong way, and they go right to the finish afterwards with Christian interfering for the DQ. The history of Lita and Trish may be somewhat legendary, but that’s obviously not because of their ring work.
THE HURRICANE vs. SYLVAN GRENIER
It’s too bad that the actual match is just filler to advance the angle with Eugene and La Resistance, because it’s surprisingly watchable. Sylvan does a perfectly fine job of working over Hurricane’s midsection after he counters his leap and hangs him over the top rope, and Helms’ selling is really good. Seeing as nothing else on this show has gotten any real time (the longest match thus far has been the women’s match, at a whopping six minutes), this looks like the one match that could have gotten an extra four or five minutes and actually made something out of it. Instead, the fun work is followed by the Eugene appearance and distraction to allow Hurricane to hit his finisher and win.
CHRIS BENOIT/SHAWN MICHAELS/MICK FOLEY/SHELTON BENJAMIN vs. TRIPLE H/RANDY ORTON/RIC FLAIR/BATISTA
You wouldn’t think that 2004 WWE would have much in common with early 1990’s All Japan, but this doesn’t feel all that far off from the trios matches that All Japan was so famous for. The style of work is obviously different, but it’s paced well, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and everyone involved does their part, without overreaching. The only real weak moments are couple of ugly spots, namely Orton’s sloppy RKO to Michaels, and Foley’s back drop to escape the Pedigree, where it’s more than obvious that HHH is doing most of the work. The weakest worker of the bunch, Batista, is limited to a couple of spots to get over his power. And it’s his inexperience that winds up being the catalyst to Shelton’s hot tag. Flair’s early stooging is overdone in the right ways, and it’s nice to see that HHH is willing to stooge a bit himself, with the way he sells Shawn’s Manhattan drop to set up the double lariat to him and Flair. When Evolution takes over the match and works over Shelton, Flair gets some payback for the ways the babyface team laid into him early on.
It's also nice to see the wrestlers occasionally thumbing their nose at some of the conventional parts of the formula for the sake of the storylines. A good example of this is during the heel control segment on Shelton, with HHH’s abdominal stretch and Orton’s assist from the apron. The usual sequence is that the heels get away with it a few times, and wind up getting caught by the referee. But, instead of waiting for that to play out, Foley just hits the ring and knocks Orton off the apron. There’s another case of it a bit earlier when HHH first tags in to work over Shelton, and as soon as he gets in the ring and starts throwing punches, Shelton immediately tries to fight back. There’s even a bit of a role reversal at one point, when Flair seems to make a false tag to HHH (Flair did his flop and tried to tag him in on the way down) but he was apparently a little too short for it to work, so the ref doesn’t allow it.
The match breaks down after the hot tag, but what’s lacking in structure is made up for in genuine excitement. Everyone gets to do, or at least attempt, one of their bigger moves to give the idea that either team might be able to get the win. Orton’s RKO to Shawn is relatively early in the sequence, and Shawn sells it while everything else is going on. Foley’s Mandible Claw to Orton both buys Shawn enough time to recover and also dazes Orton enough so that he turns into Shawn’s superkick to give the babyfaces the win. There really isn’t anything that they could have done that would have seemingly made this marginally better. There are things that would have been nice to see, such as something during the final stretch between HHH and Shelton, or a tease of Benoit submitting someone with the crossface, but the lack of those isn’t anything that detracts from the match at all. Overall, it’s a very good match, with everyone involved putting in a solid performance, with the really noticeably lacking things being the usual WWE tropes of ref bumps, run ins, and chair shots. ***1/2
Conclusion: The main event is the main reason to check this out, but the Hurricane/Sylvan match is definitely something of a hidden gem.