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RAW: Benoit bests Michaels
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling


As the intro to the show suggests, tonight's edition of Raw is all about one thing - Shawn Michaels versus Chris Benoit, one-on-one (hopefully) for the world heavyweight title. One figures there will be a few other matches as well, just so the two top faces don't have to go at it for two hours. Not that it would be a bad thing if it were these two particular gentlemen. Anyway, on with the show, live from the America West Arena.

Match 1 - Evolution (Randy Orton, Batista and Triple H) vs. Shelton Benjamin, Tajiri and Edge

That answers my question right away. Shelton starts things off against Triple H, who, we might remind you, he's already beaten twice in his short time here on Raw. Wait, Trips lets Randy Orton lead off instead. Fair enough. All six men get a chance to work early, with Batista getting the first near fall using a running powerslam (shades of the British Bulldog) on Edge. Evolution plays the numbers game, paying special attention to Edge's injured hand. Triple H hits his facebuster, forcing Benjamin to make the save; a spinning heel kick finally allows Edge to tag out to Tajiri. A handspring back elbow and a cool looking DDT have the Japanese Buzzsaw looking good, but he goes to the well again for the handspring and Batista makes him pay with a shot to the back. Commercial time. We return to no submission hold (for once) but Orton dropkicking Tajiri for a near fall. Tajiri finds himself fending off attacks from all of Evolution until he finally escapes a failed sunset flip attempt and drops Triple H with a stiff kick. The hot tag is made to Edge, setting up a wild closing sequence. Benjamin hits his leaping move in the corner, then dumps Batista out to the floor. A kick from Tajiri interrupts an attempt for an RKO, then Orton backdrops Edge to the outside. Batista returns to go for his power bomb finisher on Tajiri, but the green mist puts a stop to that. Edge hits the spear on Orton - who I guess is the legal man after all this - and gets the three count for the good guys.

Backstage, The Coach and new best buddy Garrison Cade rip on the women of Phoenix. Someone stops by who disagrees - and he just happens to be the Chairman of the Board, Vince McMahon. The boss is here to see the main event, and he sounds pretty psyched. Yeah, sell it Vince, sell it. After the Smackdown Rebound, Triple H and the rest of Evolution whine to Eric Bischoff about their treatment in the opening match. The GM gives them all singles matches next week: Batista against Tajiri, Triple H against Benjamin and Orton against Edge. Hey, usually the writers would follow three singles matches with a six-man the next week, so reversing things is creative for them. In any case, Orton has to put up his Intercontinental strap in his bout, and he looks none too pleased.

Match 2 - Rob Conway vs. The Hurricane

Sadly, The Hurricane has been reduced to a rest stop on the road to the Rob Conway-Eugene match next week. He starts out quickly with a schoolboy for two, but it's pretty much all Conway the rest of the way. A hotshot leaves Hurricane strung out on the top rope, where Conway hits his "roll the dice" type finisher to get the pin. The La Resistance member can't resist grabbing the stick to mock Eugene a little bit too. Something tells me he'll pay for that.

The next two items on the show are a Tale of the Tape for the main event and a recap of the Kane-Lita stalker angle. One is pretty cool, the other is creepy. I'll let you figure out which is which.

Match 3 - Kane vs. Steven Richards

A squash like this takes me back to the days of watching WWF Superstars on USA on the weekends. Kane ends things quickly with a big boot and a chokeslam, then sprints to the back. Guess he has a hot date. Get it? I kill me.

Y2J heads to the ring for Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel, and even he does his part to sell the main event. But there's another motive too, and that's to discuss how long it's been since he got a shot at the world title. He challenges the winner of tonight's match, then welcomes his guest for tonight, Matt Hardy. Lita's former flame comes down to discuss their current situation, and he has something to say to Lita personally. She appears on the Titan Tron instead, saying she never wants to see Hardy again, but she's in obvious duress. Or maybe it's just her lousy acting skills. Nope, it's duress alright, as Kane's ugly smiling mug appears and we see that she's tied up in the basement with the Big Red Machine. After a moment to say his prayers, Hardy rushes off to rescue her. Jericho is speechless, but not for long as Christian, Trish Stratus and Tyson Tomko come to the stage. Gloating about Trish (again), Christian sends his problem solver to the ring. Jericho fends him off for a second, but Christian lends a hand and Tomko gets in a big kick to the face. Jericho's lack of friends comes back to haunt him as no one comes to his aid, allowing Trish to slap him and Christian to hit the Unprettier. And in case you were wondering, Hardy reaches Lita backstage and prevents any more kisses involving Kane. Thank goodness.

Match 4 - Gail Kim vs. Victoria

SLAM! Wrestling Smackdown reporter Dale Plummer insists Kim had some, ahem, work done during her last absence. I'm not so sure. In any event, things are pretty even until Victoria is thrown to the outside, where Molly Holly and her wig are waiting to interfere. Kim follows up in the ring with a dragon sleeper, a clothesline and a series of kicks. Victoria escapes a second dragon sleeper for a short rally, but Kim finally succeeds in executing her headscissors/armbar combo submission. The women's champ is forced to tap out, leaving me pondering this question: shouldn't someone who beats the champ in a non-title bout automatically become the number one contender. I think so.

Because you demanded it, we go to a training video detailing William Regal's attempt to get Eugene ready for his debut match next Monday. Regal muses that he figures this will be his chance to get rid of Eugene for good. Anyone else think Regal's involvement is the only good thing about this angle? He's hilarious. After a commercial, Regal kicks the training into high gear. And wouldn't you know it - Eugene can actually wrestle. I never saw that one coming. Ooohh... the use of that much sarcasm at one time actually made me woozy.

A rundown of next week's card has me momentarily confused. Are we pushing a pay-per-view? I shouldn't complain, as it's actually nice to see the WWE push each show as if there's a compelling reason to watch. Bischoff and Johnny Nitro come out to announce another match for next week pitting Christian against Chris Jericho. Just as I'm about to yell, "Again?" Bischoff reveals that it will be a Steel Cage Match. Okay, that's cool.

Main Event - Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit - World Heavyweight Title Match

It's been hard to focus so far knowing my beloved Detroit Red Wings are probably going down in flames (pun intended) on ESPN, but it's time to get down to business for a very worthy main event. The early action features lock-ups and mat wrestling, with HBK establishing command with a shoulderblock, a headlock takedown and some chops. Benoit gets his feet up in the corner and hits a colothesline and a back body drop, then he takes Michaels out to the floor. Michaels is hit on his way back in and the champ uses a snap suplex and a backbreaker to earn a near fall. HBK fires right back with a swinging neckbreaker, an elbowdrop and a flying forearm. He nips up and tries an inverted atomic drop, but Benoit counters and looks for the Crippler Crossface twice to no avail. Both men are down as we catch our breath with a commercial. This time it is a submission when we come back, though Benoit quickly hip tosses his way out of an abdominal stretch. Michaels dodges an elbow, hitting a suplex and covering to force the champ to grab the ropes. The challenger goes to work on Benoit's back, using a hard Irish whip and a back suplex for more two counts. Benoit rallies with a surprise inside cradle for two of his own, following with a backslide and an Oklahoma roll. Still no dice. HBK drops Benoit with a clothesline and goes up top to hit his big flying elbow. The band is warmed up but Benoit ducks and hits three, make that four German suplexes. He goes up top for the flying headbutt, but Michaels rolls away. He crawls over and covers but only gets two once again. Michaels climbs the turnbuckles again, where he's met by Benoit and chopped and kicked off his perch. The champ tries to suplex him in off the apron, but he blocks it and reverses it to send Benoit to the floor. Ouch. Michaels climbs yet again and hits a moonsault to the floor, making me mark out in the process. He hurls Benoit into the steps in a sequence that's strictly for the ladies - Benoit grabs the back of his trunks and exposes his backside. Crap, another commercial. Michaels scores a couple more near falls; Benoit responds with a bridging German suplex for two. Michaels shakes it off and does his own version of Jericho's Walls; the champ looks like he's in trouble but he flips over and inches his way to the ropes. A second later the tables are turned with a Crippler Crossface, but HBK escapes the hold twice by getting his feet to the ropes. Time for Sweet Chin Music? Nope, as Benoit catches the incoming foot and flips Michaels over into the Sharpshooter. HBK grabs the ropes and kicks Benoit off, taking down the ref in the process. Sweet Chin Music connects this time and everyone is down. As Michaels crawls over, a wonderful match is suddenly jolted back to reality by Triple H, who runs in to Pedigree Michaels. The ref and Benoit both revive, and the Wolverine drapes an arm over his downed foe to get the three count. Even with the ending, that was worth the price of admission. Hope we can say the same next week.


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    Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998. A heart ailment that kept him out of action last week didn't get any better when the Red Wings were eliminated last night by Calgary. Send condolences to ntylwalk7@yahoo.com.