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I'll be updating this throughout the show with thoughts after each match. For a detailed report on the matches, check out James Caldwell's report. Also, my detailed match report (with my star ratings) will be posted on the VIP site after the show and emailed to VIP members. There will also be two post-PPV audio shows for VIP members shortly after the event concludes tonight.
-Seniority kicked in as a traditionally Smackdown-branded PPV was opened by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, who then threw to Joey Styles & Tazz and then Michael Cole & JBL. It's a small thing, but undeniably political because of how brands are perceived based on announcer appearance order. It also cements that the PPVs are not at all being looked at as being brand specific with some crossover talent added, but rather tri-branded PPVs entirely.
-No matter what stage of his career he is in, it's never easy seeing Flair wrestling opening matches. Flair could still be a significant draw if his image had been protected and his in-ring appearances had been saved for special occasions. That said, I think Flair personally would rather work full time, even openers, than be relegated to bring brought in for only a match here and there, even if they were main events.
-The crowd was silent for most of the Carlito vs. Ric Flair match because most of consistent with armlocks in mid-ring by Carlito. There something to be said for pacing, and Flair did do a nice job selling the holds, but there's also something to be said for making sure wrestling is exciting. The opening 20 minutes of this show had to make some people question their time invested with so many (free) entertainment options on TV.
-The crowd popped for Flair's figure-four at the end. Carlito tapping out clean indicates WWE management isn't ready to push him out of the gate as a newly turned heel. If Carlito turns heel but is still perceived as mediocre in the ring, he's not going to get over and be a draw for WWE.
-The video package on the ECW Title feud was really long. The rationale is that a lot of people buy the PPVs who don't watch the TV shows regularly (such as those visiting a friend's house for the party-atmosphere even though they aren't regular consistent viewers), so they'll enjoy the show more with background. The other rationale is that regular viewers get revved up for the match if they get a refresher on the feud. I don't buy either argument. I've never heard anything in my get-togethers for PPVs than complaints and grumbling. "I've already ordered the event! Get on with the matches!" is the usual response. I agree.
-I feel less bad about Flair being in the opener now that I see Vince McMahon has positioned himself in the second match on the show. Interesting match placement. The idea is probably to load the first hour with some star power and spread it throughout the show so the first hour doesn't seem weak in the eyes of casual fans. Not a bad strategy, but I've always favored building from least to most important during the course of any wrestling event.
-Vince McMahon changing the rules as he goes along has gone too far. Fans are going to stop caring about anything he's involved in if it appears there are no consequences to anything bad happening to him because he can just rewrite the rules. I guess if you're eight years old, you don't think this through that much, but the average WWE viewer just has to roll his eyes at this. Why invest in the outcome of a match if it doesn't really matter?
-I was anticipating C.M. Punk vs. Elijah Burke more than most matches on this show because these are two rising stars in WWE. This is a test to see if they can rise to this occasion and not only have a good match, but also project a star power that is necessary to eventually move into the top tier of the roster.
-It was pretty clear that a lot of fans in attendance don't watch ECW TV. If any match needed an extended video package to recap the feud, it was this one. The crowd didn't treat Punk or Burke as stars and many seemed restless even when they were putting on the best action of the night.
-By the last five minutes of the match, they had won over the fans, which is a real accomplishment. It was easily the best match of the night to that point, with the last five or eight minutes being especially strong. It was an encouraging showing for both. This match saved the first hour from being way below par.
-Shawn Michaels did a great job selling his "concussion issues." (Pat McNeill called to say I should clarify here that his "concussion issues" aren't real, and that he's actually taking time off for knee surgery.) He could have crossed over into melodrama easily, but he managed to stop just short of that. The scene with his wife crying as he was strapped to a gurney was also well done. Jim Ross's emotionally charged sudden reaction to Randy Orton giving Michaels an RKO after the match was great. When first announced on Raw, I didn't think the match had much of a place on the show as it felt thrown together because "neither Orton nor Michaels had anything better to do" (and that is how it came across on TV), but it ended up being a memorable and relevant storyline progression, explaining effectively Michaels's pending absence and help put over Orton as a "legend killer."
-Why did Michael Cole and JBL get assigned announcing duties for the Hardys vs. Cade & Murdoch? Cade & Murdoch are Raw wrestlers. The Hardys are the Raw tag champs (Deuce & Domino are the Smackdown tag champ.) Strange decision.
-Ross and Lawler updating Michaels's situation, saying he was taken to a hospital for observation, helped cement this as a major incident, not just a throwaway angle. The build up to Michaels's eventual return will mean more because of the dramatic way they explained his absence.
-One of the benefits of Edge being moved to Smackdown and being featured as World Champion is that JBL is going to call his matches. JBL put Edge big time during his ring intro, saying Edge is the greatest ever at this stage of his career, comparing him by name to Ric Flair, Harley Race, and the Briscoes. JBL is credible on commentary because he's careful and selective with what he says and when he says it. While he's gushed too much about some things, such as the Matt Hardy vs. Gregory Helms feud or Helm's Cruiserweight Title reign, he is largely dead-on with his commentary. He will promote Edge as the centerpiece of Smackdown effectively.
-It was a nice touch that they zoomed in on the ref giving pre-match instructions to Edge and Batista with the mic catching what he was saying. It gave it a more legit sports-like feel, which added to the dramatization of the battle for the belt.
-Edge did a good job giving off the vibes that he was trying his best to hide his pre-match nervousness. Edge is really on his game in every way as a top heel, with a good mix of cockiness and credibility, but a personality you still want to see get taken down a notch.
-Batista didn't keep his streak alive of having much better than expected matches, but his ten minute loss to Edge told the story it needed to tell well. The built in excuse for losing clean to Edge due this bum leg helped him retain credibility, but it also helped Edge get some early cred for taking advantage of it and scoring a pin over the determined former champ.
-The segment with the Divas predicting the winner of John Cena vs. Great Khali served to give the divas a chance to get some face time, get across their various personalities, and convey that Cena-Khali is a big deal that "everyone is talking about."
-Having MVP beat Chris Benoit in two straight falls stunned the crowd, but made booking sense. It gives Benoit fans a sense that he really has something to prove in rematches against MVP. It elevates MVP more than the usual two-falls-to-one finish. And by having two straight falls, it makes future second falls more suspenseful because viewers have been conditioned to always expect a split in the first two falls. Another good match from Benoit and MVP, too.
-In the Tale of the Tape graphic before John Cena vs. Great Khali, it listed the Giant Chokeslam and Giant Chop as Khali's signature moves. They didn't have many moves to choose from when picking his signature moves. Going into this match, those might have been his only two moves.
-They did a great job building up the odds against Cena on TV and on this event that Cena making Khali tapout really felt like a significant happening and a huge achievement by Cena. Khali was more than serviceable in executing what was needed from him in this match. They knew his limitations well and worked around them. A satisfying main event for many WWE fans who ordered the show to see this match. Those who ordered despite this match also got what they expected.
-Not a must-see show by any means, but an okay three hours of WWE style entertainment.
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