On thing WWE hasn't done often is put Ric Flair in a position to really shine. Those of us who have seen him as the centerpiece star of WCW and before that the NWA and other territories in the 1980s know what WWE doesn't seem to "get" with him. Lately, though, he's dropped the maniacal crazy frenzied act and begun to act dignified and confident, yet within the context of the stage of his career he's in.
The epitome of Flair as his best in WWE in recent years was on this show when facing Mr. Kennedy, who continues to show an ability to bring the right tone to his promos and angles, a sign of years on the indy scene and being a long-time fan and student of the game.
Mr. Kennedy walked out. He said he wants an answer from Ric Flair. He said now would be a good time. Flair stepped onto the stage as his music played. Flair got in Kennedy's face and said he had a history lesson for him. He said guys like him "who think they're up here when they're really down here need to hear it."
Flair talked about his twice on Saturday, twice on Sunday schedule way back when, blazing a trail for guys like him to wrestle 100 dates a year and make a lot of money. He said he's been his world champion 16 times and he knows he respects that, because that's what he wants to be once. He had Kennedy's attention. He said Kennedy has a great future in store for him, but it won't be at the expense of the Nature Boy. He said he's got win to survive, and Kennedy has to beat him to get where he wants. He went into his intense catch-phrases of walking the aisle and vowed to live to fight another day.
As they had a staredown, Jim Ross said he has goosebumps. He's wasn't overhyping the moment. Kennedy motioned toward backing down, but then kicked Flair's injured leg. Ross said he's not surprised by his actions given Kennedy's track record. Kennedy left Flair to struggle to his feet.
Just a really good segment. One of Flair's best on WWE TV in ages. Kennedy played off of him perfectly. There's just something that works when it seems reverence is being paid to Flair's stature and history in the industry. That means Flair bragging about his past, not worshipping at the feet of Triple H or acting like a goofball.
KELLER'S RAW RAMBLINGS
No pyro or really anything resembling that type of usual energy that kicks off this show. Being pretaped, I would have expected them to overcompensate with a pretaped pyro show and a better opening segment. But Vince McMahon may think his wrestling is still a big deal... Santino was funny again this week. On commentary during Maria's match, Ross said Maria is ever-improving in the ring. Marella jumped in quickly and said, "That's because I teach her." Great delivery. Marella said he knows his Maria is beautiful and doesn't need "Mr. Stupid Heffner" to tell him that. Raw isn't the same without Santino. They just have to find creative ways to use him each week since he's not easily fit into any slot they're used to featuring, and overexposure or bad lines written for him can hurt his character, as Maria was hurt from both of those issues after she gained momentum as the resident ditzy girl... I can't believe how casually they treated the major singles match between Jeff Hardy and Shawn Michaels. This was a potential PPV main event given Michaels's stature and Hardy's hot-streak. This wasn't even advertised or hyped during the show. I mean, it's a nice surprise for the fans who stuck around, but it seems they could have built a bigger viewership if they made everyone anticipate this with heavy hype from the start of the show... There was a day when Vince McMahon wrestling was a huge deal. Now it's an opening segment of a TV show. Credit Vince for doing a job to Hornswoggle. It was the right move for everyone involved...
Bruce Mitchell, Torch columnist (7.0): This was a better show than last week. Everything was solid. John Cena's win over Mark Henry while a worried Randy Orton watched was a good build to their title match at No way out. Chris Jericho's win over JBL was decent and built the Elimination Chamber match. Ric Flair cut a real Ric Flair promo and Mr. Kennedy was strong against it. The best, of course, was Jeff Hardy beating Shawn Michaels' clean Michaels doesn't lose doesn't happen very often) in a free pay-per-view quality match. This was pretty much a blueprint for what go-home shows should look like.
Greg Parks, PWTorch.com contributor (7.0): Usually, episodes that are taped ahead of time feel different than the live Raws, and not in a good way. This Raw felt like it was live. For some reason, they decided to stack this show with four big matches, a few that could main event PPVs. On the negative side, two weren't advertised as much as I thought they would.
The Hornswoggle vs. Vince saga continues, with no sign of it stopping. As long as it's not taking up multiple segments on the show, I'm fine with it. Burchill's debut was fine, but I already miss the Pirate. What's the payoff for that, anyway? JBL vs. Jericho was okay, but after how-many matches together, it's safe to say these two don't mesh very well.
The Mark Henry vs. John Cena match was just a showcase for John heading into the PPV, and the post-match angle was unique. Randy Orton played his part well. The Kennedy vs. Flair segment was really good. I'm glad they're giving Flair strong personalities to play off of. The Michaels vs. Hardy match was as good a match I've seen on Raw in a while. I wonder if two 10+ minute matches on the show sold more buys for No Way Out than the usual angle-heavy go-home shows.
Box Score Essentials by Wade Keller
The show opened with Hornswoggle's ring entrance as Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler introduced the show. No pyro or anything for this pretaped show.
(1) Hornswoggle pinned Vince McMahon in 6:00. McMahon shoved Hornswoggle to the mat. He then demanded Hornswoggle slap him. McMahon didn't like Hornswoggle hesitating so he took off his belt, signalling he was going to whip him. Finlay came out and confronted Vince, who threatened Finlay's job, noting he has a family to support. Finlay backed off, but then Vince called Finlay a coward. Finlay hit Vince with his shillelagh. Hornswoggle then frog splashed Vince from the top rope for the pin.
Backstage, Vince told William Regal to get dismissal papers because someone is going to get fired later.
(2) Chris Jericho pinned JBL in 14:00. Average to decent match for this length, but nothing more. The two didn't have great chemistry, with some awful timing on occasion. In the end, Jericho pinned JBL after his new finisher. (**1/4)
Afterward, Umaga attacked Jericho. Ross said that JBL hired Umaga to look out for him in the Elimination Chamber. No sooner did Ross say that than Umaga gave JBL a Samoan Spike, showing it's every man for himself in the Chamber on Sunday.
Ross hyped the John Cena vs. Mark Henry TV main event, then Mike Adamle introduced a video package on the Cena-Randy Orton feud.
Regal approached McMahon ready to help him fire Finlay. McMahon changed his mind and said he'd rather face Hornswoggle in a cage next week and make Finlay watch from the outside.
A short video clip aired of Cena with the screen saying: "No special effects, no second takes no shortcuts, no drugs, no 'roid." Then a voiceover said, "WWE reminds you, there are no shortcuts to your goals."
(3) Paul Burchill (w/Katie Lea) beat Brian Kendrick in 3:00. They're going to play up hints of romance between the brother-sister duo of Paul and Katie. Burchill looked good in the squash. Kendrick played his role well, as usual, taking nice bumps. (1/2*)
(4) John Cena defeated Mark Henry via tapout in 3:00. Not a lot to it, but watchable. (1/4*)
Afterward, Cena stepped to ringside and addressed Orton on the mic. He said he would advise him to shut up and listen to what he has to say. Orton wouldn't even look at him. Orton had that look of someone who's been lectured before. Cena said, "I am 100 percent." He said for once, Orton is the hunted, not himself. He said this Sunday, there's injury to hold him back, thus no excuses. He concluded, "For you Randy, there is no way out." Orton hung his head, as if the impressive win and strong words by Cena affected his confidence going into Sunday.
Mr. Kennedy called Ric Flair to the ring. They hyped their match at the PPV. Very good exchange.
(5) Melina defeated Maria (w/Santino Marella) in 3:00. Santino joined Ross and Lawler on commentary. Maria shoved Melina off the top rope, then gave her a running bulldog. Before the pin, Jillian Hall screamed into her mic and then gave Marella a long, mushy kiss on the lips. Santino almost fainted, and Melina rolled up a distracted Maria from behind. (3/4*)
Ross and Lawler plugged the No Way Out line-up.
(6) Jeff Hardy pinned Shawn Michaels in 20:00. Really strong match, suitable for PPV. Michaels stomped the mat to signal Sweet Chin Music. Hardy ducked the move and went for a DDT. Michaels blocked it and applied his new leglock. Hardy crawled over to the bottom rope to force a break. Hardy fired back with a Twist of Fate and a Swanton for the clean pin. Ross proclaimed: "Hardy beats Michaels! How do you argue that Jeff Hardy isn't the hottest superstar right now at this moment in WWE!?" (****1/4)
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He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).
He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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