Musings of a Mark: 2006 Q2 Retrospective
?Musings? is back ? better late than never! ? as I continue our retrospective journey through World Wrestling Entertainment’s product circa 2006. The following bunch of reviews stem from that year’s second quarter output, though once again I haven?t been able to include everything. My ?Mania 22 and No Way Out 2006 reviews shall be in the next column, but for now here’s everything else.
Oh, and get Judgment Day 2006 if you haven?t already. It’s quite a solid pay-per-view, appropriately representing the levels of quality Smackdown was achieving in the first half of 2006. We?ll just ignore most of RAW for now … Hahah!
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio, World Heavyweight Championship ? WWE Smackdown 04.07.2006
And so the Smackdown string of great quality matches continues after ?Mania. This isn?t as good as their No Way Out encounter, which possessed superior acting by Rey and arguably a better milked Orton control segment, but that doesn?t take away at all from this contest. It features some well-teased Mysterio fight-backs (subsequently halted via several cool ?cut-off? spots) amongst the headlock-centric offensive sequences from Randy Orton, building towards the eventual breakthrough that sees the new World Champion ultimately seal the victory. What’s interesting, and very welcome, is the Mysterio’s manner of portraying his successful burst of offense towards the end. He never sprints to the ropes, which would compromise the impression of damage sustained throughout his being dominated, but is either whipped into the ropes by his opponent (rebounding to counter) or counters a move in progress. Thus he maintains a visible state of fatigue owing to his previously grounded state; an aspect I tend to criticise individuals like John Cena (in recent times) for failing to perform. On this occasion it resulted in a tauntingly hinted 619 early on in the fight-back that Rey fails to execute, simply because he is too drained, allowing the Legend Killer to return to his feet.
A really fun Smackdown main-event from a pairing that unreasonably falls under the radar. I haven?t seen a less-than exciting match between these two, so do yourselves a favour and give this (and their No Way Out performance) a chance.
Shelton Benjamin vs. Rob Van Dam, Winner Takes All (Intercontinental Championship + Money in the Bank) ? WWE Backlash 04.30.2006
These two deliver just about what you?d expect of them. Spots loosely connected by a semi-coherent narrative thread. Hit-and-miss selling, ranging from consistently good (for the most part RVD’s depiction of the back injury) to average (the moments not included in ?for the most part?, particularly when Van Dam clutches his spine, then freshly nails a clothesline, then returns to clutching and so forth). Yes, these performers ARE prone to general silliness ? RVD’s insistence on hitting a Rolling Thunder despite his injured back, Shelton executing a remarkable sunset flip-powerbomb spot onto the outside as his first ?move? of the match ? but it’s few and far between. To be honest, the sunset flip-powerbomb spot serves a (superficial) ?purpose? in breaking through the even spread offense to grant Shelton a prolonged (though not tedious) control segment so I can?t complain much.
It’s encouraging to see Rob Van Dam and Shelton Benjamin adhere to a tightly structured dynamic ? Benjamin grounding control segment, coupled with some nicely executed ?cut-off? spots, extended RVD fight-back sequence (somehow escaping the much-retarded ?five moves of doom? moniker in the process. Go figure!); both of which are bookended with more equal beginning and finishing stretches ? rather than producing a spotty mess. Shelton transitioning between rest-holds, amidst ?bombs? and athletic spots, allows for a solid foundation to base his control segment, positioning Rob’s high-flying exploits and prowess in drawing reactions from the crowd as the injection in pace that sustains the viewer’s attention. A fun match, albeit not clinically superb in any respect. About the best you can hope for from Rob Van Dam and Shelton Benjamin.
Mark Henry vs. Rey Mysterio ? WWE Smackdown 05.05.2006
Another fine addition to the Mysterio / Henry television series, though if asked I?d rate this below the other two. The highly enjoyable dynamic of Henry swatting away the ?bug? returns, tossing and squashing the World Champion for the most part, whilst Rey attempts to find an opening to desperately nail his killer material for an upset victory. That’s teased throughout, engaging the crowd only to be silenced by a sudden and jarring World Strongest Man cut-off. When the sequence eventually does occur, the atmosphere is loud and exciting, making Mysterio’s subsequent defeat seem all the more disheartening. These two have surprisingly fun chemistry (considering I initially thought Henry to be quite poor during this period), resulting in several really cool matches on Smackdown in the first half of 2006.
Johnny Nitro / Joey Mercury / Melina vs. Paul London / Brian Kendrick / Jillian Hall ? WWE Smackdown 05.19.2006
MNM highlight once again their prowess at finely working a tightly structured tag match here. They bump and stooge initially, getting the crowd behind London and Kendrick, before slowing the pace down through dissecting Kendrick’s knee. Everything achieves a nice audience reaction, from the cheating and taunting to the teased ?hot tag? and small bursts of Kendrick offense, leading to an acceptably enjoyable match. London’s energetic style slides in appropriately for his eventual ?hot tag? sequence which, combined with his and his partner’s ability to sell well whilst being dominated, makes them as good as face team and MNM are a heel team. Strangely enough the Melina / Jillian conflict receives the loudest noise from the crowd, though they do portray an adequate catfight vibe whenever they interact. This is just another in a solid list of good tag performances from MNM, with London and Kendrick meeting them halfway to create another entertaining show.
Finlay vs. Chris Benoit ? WWE Judgment Day 05.21.2006
I?ve done my best to tone down the excessive analysis of behavioural minutiae in recent columns, but every now and then a match comes along that demands it. This is one such match, though I?ll fight the temptation to go overboard. Finlay and Benoit, simply put, wrestle and beat each other up. The dynamic is largely back-and-forth, although it does evolve into a ?grounded lucha? performance with the Rabid Wolverine rebounding against a dominant Finlay.
What makes the showing remarkable is the detailed approach to performing these two adopt. A number of exchanges inject notable ?beef? into the physicality, whilst the wrestling portions are layered nicely with continuous struggle before holds. This makes the eventual locking-in of the Crossface, and Finlay’s swift submission , significant and believable respectively. However the detail isn?t limited to the wrestling but to other aspects as well. Witness Finlay attempting to headlock the Crippler during the first triple German sequence and the Irishman driving his knee into Benoit’s face amidst pins (amongst many other examples). Both Benoit and Finlay are on point, and it shows. Enjoy!
Rey Mysterio vs. John ?Bradshaw? Layfield, World Heavyweight Championship ? WWE Judgment Day 05.21.2006
JBL’s middle control segment is a joy to behold. It contains such awesome moments as him showing Rey’s wife his bleeding knuckles to whipping out Eddie Guerrero’s famed triple suplexes to counteract the somewhat dead crowd (due to Taker / Khali). The general bullying aura JBL flaunts throughout, trash-talking to Rey’s family and pounding his opponent with his trademark stiff strikes, works to overcome the weird start (Rey’s a bit too slow to get the crowd engaged initially) and although Mysterio’s selling isn?t perfect (in a narrative focusing on his drained state, he gallops about a little too much) they ultimately deliver a fine match that, on some levels, concludes the rivalry that Layfield and Guerrero began in 2004. Read into the Eddiesploitation if you will, but I personally found it a nice story arch.
Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair, 2 / 3 Falls ? WWE Vengeance 06.25.2006
A sweetly short match, never deviating from its basic point. Mick Foley tries, and utterly fails, to out-wrestle Flair. From the decidedly clumsy exercise in chain-wrestling to Ric’s swift, expert manner in countering to Foley’s embarrassing roll-up loss, the performance hardly looses focus on its story and articulates it quite well. Whether intentional or not, Mick Foley’s clumsiness (and how it contrasts with Flair’s fluid execution) is a great contributing aspect to the narrative. Of course, the Hardcore Legend can?t compete in a ?wrestling? match, and soon degenerates into a brawling approach that ultimately results in a disqualification. Thus we get a nice compact showing that effectively sets up the ?I Quit? encounter for 2006’s Summerslam event. Foley floundered at Flair’s game, how would Nature Boy fare in Foley’s?
Kurt Angle vs. Rob Van Dam ? WWE ECW 06.27.2006
If he’s not focused on blowing through his move-set in five minutes, Kurt Angle can work quite effectively as the grounding force within a match. Like his encounter with Rey Mysterio in the last ?Musings?, this here is an adequate example. Everyone’s favourite Olympian paces his offense well, being largely dominant throughout, utilising a variety of rest-holds that exhibit the viciousness that had become a central quality in his character. These build decently towards RVD’s spotty comebacks, providing a nice rise-and-fall flow to the performance. Rather than string together excessive (see: ridiculous) amounts of meaningless suplex spots, Angle layers their eventual use with purpose by deploying them as ?cut-off? spots halting Rob’s progress. They operate to not only develop anticipation towards RVD finally getting the upper-hand but also to create a sense of impact for the moves as a result of the sudden downward jolt in pace. Honestly, excellently executed ?cut-off? spots may well be my favourite aspect of pro-wrestling… Either that or performers exhibiting fantastic character-acting.
This dynamic occurs for the first two thirds of the main-event, with the final third equalling out the amount of offense. It becomes almost move for move, applying a suspenseful final act to the main-event. The selling isn?t perfect, but neither is it disastrous. All in all I?d say it does little harm to what was established in the fifteen minutes prior. As such this is a fun television match; probably the last one Angle would have as a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment roster. It won?t set the world ablaze, but that doesn?t stop it from producing around twenty minutes of enjoyment either. Check it out.
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I may have to compose a special ?catch-up? edition of ?Musings? for all the matches I wanted to review but didn?t have the time to put together. Anyway, regardless of whether that takes form or not, like always I?m open to emails requesting specific reviews (or challenges to reviews) of matches relating to 2006. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I?ll try and answer them within the next column.
That’s it for now,