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RAW: Benoit and Michaels align
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling


As Alice herself might say, people come and go so quickly on Raw. Last week saw the return in earnest of Mick Foley, the arrival of Royal Rumble winner Chris Benoit and the continued teasing of the resurrection of The Undertaker. Tonight we head a few hours across the state of Pennsylvania from Hershey to State College, the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions. We might not see Joe Paterno delivering chair shots, but we will see Goldberg versus Kane and Shawn Michaels taking on Randy Orton as Raw comes back at us for another week.

The aforementioned Benoit appearance is the subject of the video package that kicks off the show. Then we head to the ring for yet another return, namely the much-missed Highlight Reel. Chris Jericho can't resist taking a stab at Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime 'wardrobe malfunction,' but he quickly turns all business as he introduces Benoit as his guest. The Crippler gets some props for his Rumble victory and his craftiness in taking advantage of the legal loophole to jump to Raw was pure genius. The problem Jericho sees is that his countryman won't just be dealing with Triple H, but with the rest of Evolution as well. Benoit says he knows what he's up against, but Jericho presses on by saying that maybe the biggest obstacle the Wolverine faces is ... Chris Benoit himself. Referring to numerous people that feel Benoit just might not have what it takes to make it to the top, Jericho rolls some footage from the Rumble showing Ric Flair expressing just those sentiments. And speak of the devil, Flair comes to join the Canadians and repeat his belief that Benoit will always be a runner-up. Flair reminds Benoit that HHH rules Raw with an iron fist, but Benoit counters by saying he'd love the privilege of facing the Nature Boy in competition tonight. The fans like that idea better than Flair, but general manager Eric Bischoff has other ideas. He's putting Flair and partner Batista in a title defense against Jericho and Christian, though he promises Benoit he won't have to wait long for some action. His first match since his return to Raw is up next.

Match 1 -- Chris Benoit vs. Mark Henry

Looks like Benoit's first test from Bischoff will be a big one. [Rim shot.] Thanks folks, I'll be here all night. Henry doesn't intimidate the world's best technical wrestler, but he is able to outmuscle him for a bit. Benoit responds with dropkicks to Henry's knees and an enzuigiri just as interested onlooker Triple H strolls halfway down the ramp. A top rope shoulderblock has no effect on the World's Strongest Man, but a minute later a bit of a sloppy exchange leads to a Crippler Crossface, and Henry is forced to tap out. The world champ gives a sarcastic clap made famous by SLAM! Wrestling Smackdown writer Dale Plummer.

You can't have a Raw without the sheriff, at least these days, and Steve Austin is on the scene. Stone Cold finds Shawn Michaels and asks him if he's feeling down about being lost in the world title shuffle since Benoit showed up. HBK resents Austin rubbing salt in the wound and wants to know what he is expected to do about it. The answer is pure Austin: if Michaels wants another world title shot, he should do something about it.

From the 'In Case You Missed It' file comes a recap of Foley's return to face Orton last Monday. Mick is also here at the Bryce Jordan Center tonight, getting props from the stagehands and production folk. One person who's not as happy to see him is Test, who was the unfortunate person in the wrong place at the Rumble, getting jumped backstage so Foley could seek his revenge on the intercontinental champion. As Test is about to take his displeasure to the next level, Orton and his trusty title belt jump Mick from behind. Orton yells at Test to back off, then makes sure Foley knows that he is Randy's bitch.

Match 2 -- Rene Dupree vs. Rico

Surely there's little point to even discussing this match for all you guys out there. I know what you want to know. Does Jackie pull down her top and bare her chest again? Well, sorry, but no. Breasts are so passe these days after the Janet incident. Instead, as Dupree starts to get the upper hand, Stacy Keibler comes to the apron and lifts up her skirt to display her, um, assets. Rico uses a spin kick to seal the deal, and Stacy celebrates with Rico and Jackie for another week. Keibler makes another plea for her and Jackie to be the Playboy divas and both of them dance to solidify their case. One problem: the Playboy shoot is already done. But I guess that since the WWE doesn't talk to Internet sites, they can just pretend that they don't exist. Curse you Internet wrestling writers! Hey, wait a minute...

Trish is finishing up some training for her women's title shot when she runs into Christian, who is quickly becoming the Newman to her Jerry. Everyone's favorite CLB is reading an article on the Beatles, and he makes some pretty obvious statements comparing Trish to Yoko Ono. If he would have been Paul McCartney, Christian says he would have smashed the chick. But you know, that's just him. Elsewhere, Linda McMahon is leading the WWE's effort to get young people to vote. While this is a noble effort and certainly should be applauded, it doesn't help that Linda is, let's say, not exactly the most inspiring public speaker.

Match 3 -- Trish Stratus vs. Molly Holly -- Women's Title Match

At least that's what we were led to believe. After Trish is in the ring, Bischoff appears on the Titan Tron and announces that unfortunately, the title match is not happening tonight. In fact, he's not even sure that Trish should be the number one contender. But he still wants to get Stratus some action, so her real opponent is about to come out. Flames erupt from the stage ... it's Kane. Guess Bischoff is determined to make this match happen. Let's try this again ...

Match 3 -- Trish Stratus vs. Kane

Stratus is cowering in the corner as the Big Bald Machine enters the ring. I would be running. She finally gets that idea but a bit late as Kane snatches her back through the ropes and lifts her for a chokeslam. Of course, Jericho isn't about to let that happen, and he arrives just in time to save her. His low bridge sends Kane to the floor and allows Trish to escape, but Chris pays the price when Kane grabs a chair and whacks him, then sends his leg into the post. Jericho holds his leg in pain as we go to commercial.

And we're back. While the trainers work on Y2J, Stratus thanks him for the save. He's just about to reveal his true feelings for her when Christian drops in to berate both of them. Jericho gets in his face, warning him not to talk to Trish that way and to worry about his own end of the tag team title match.

Match 4 -- Kane vs. Goldberg

What a trooper Kane is, taking on Goldberg in a weakened state after that tough bout against Trish. The two titans go head on, with Kane eventually getting the upper hand with a sidewalk slam. He uses some basic wrestling moves (no, really) to keep Goldberg down, but the inevitable rally includes a front powerslam and a couple of clotheslines. Kane regains his strength and hits a chokeslam, but the lights go out and a lightning bolt fires down and hits the ring. The new Undertaker video plays again, distracting Kane to the point that he is easy prey for a spear. The famous 'Taker bell tolls and smoke begins to billow up from the ring. Goldberg decides to take a powder, and Kane is so spooked that he walks out through the crowd.

Match 5 -- Booker T vs. Matt Hardy (Ver. 1.0)

A bulldog gets the ball rolling for Hardy, who is all over Booker for numerous near falls. A rear chinlock continues to have Booker on the disadvantage, and event though he powers out he has to scramble to kick out from a Side Effect. Hardy finally feels momentum switch when a spinebuster and a series of kicks leave him kicking out, and his frustration shows when he tries to use the ropes for leverage and still can't get past two. He looks for the Twist of Fate but Booker escapes, hitting a scissor kick to get the pinfall.

Match 6 -- Triple H vs. Spike Dudley

This brings me back to the old WWF Superstars days when almost every match was a squash. Triple H intends to use it to send a message to Benoit, but unless that message is he doesn't intend to fight anyone tough until WrestleMania, I'm not sure I get it. Spike is game as always but inevitably tastes the canvas on a Pedigree and is quickly pinned.

Sheriff Austin walks into Goldberg's locker room to have a chat with his clone ... I mean, buddy. He wants to know if big G has heard Brock Lesnar's comments on Smackdown and brings up the upcoming No Way Out pay-per-view. As luck would have it, one of Austin's friends got him a front row ticket but he can't go, so he offers it to Goldberg. Austin reminds him that if he goes to the show, he's not just representing Raw but Stone Cold Steve Austin himself. And oh yeah, don't do anything Austin wouldn't do.

Match 7 -- Chris Jericho and Christian vs. Batista and Ric Flair -- World Tag Team Title Match

Plenty of tags get everyone involved early, with Jericho eventually getting the upper hand on Flair thanks to a reverse elbow and a clothesline. Batista bails his partner out of trouble but gets dumped to the floor with a double clothesline, and Christian flies off the apron with a cross body to keep him down. Meanwhile, Jericho lands hard on his injured wheel attempting a Lionsault, but he soldiers on to put Flair in the Walls of Jericho. The Nature Boy taps out, but the ref is otherwise occupied checking on Batista and Christian on the outside. Batista gets in another shot on Jericho's leg, leaving him in so much pain that he has to submit to Flair's trademark Figure Four.

Main Event -- Randy Orton vs. Shawn Michaels

Michaels shows his veteran craftiness with a quick roll-up for two, and then grounds Orton with mat wrestling. Orton's dropkick takes the ref out, literally in this case as he goes through the ropes all the way to the floor. Randy is just about to use his belt as a weapon again when Austin rides his four-wheeler down, sporting Earl Hebner as a passenger so the match can continue. The Ratllesnake rides off with the unconscious ref and Michaels dumps Orton and himself to the floor so we can take our last commercial break. Shockingly, HBK is in a chinlock when we return, though he soon fights out and scores a near fall with an inside cradle. Orton rallies with a few two counts of his own but bites off a bit too much when he misses a move off the top rope. Both men are down, but it's Michaels who is up first. A jumping forearm and a flying elbow have HBK warming up the band, but a series of reversals leads to an Orton DDT. Foley chooses this moment to come down the ramp, giving Michaels an opening to roll up Orton and get the duke. Mick and Randy immediately get into it, spilling out to the floor and right into the crowd. Batista and Flair rush after their teammate, but Helmsley can't resist going into the ring to take some shots at his old rival. He's raining right hands on Michaels when Benoit runs down to make the save. With the fans chanting for Benoit, he steps to the world champ. Triple H decides this is not the time, backing out of the ring and yelling at his challenger from the ramp. Benoit offers his hand to Michaels, and the two men share a respectful but uneasy handshake as Raw fades out.


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    Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998. He was upset when Janet exposed herself at the Super Bowl because he was thinking about doing the same thing to increase the number of hits for his Raw report. You can discuss the folly of this idea at ntylwalk7@yahoo.com.