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Raw: The return of the sledgehammer
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling


The proverbial Road to WrestleMania makes a stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is definitely Flair Country. But it's safe to say that the Nature Boy might not enjoy himself all that much when he takes on a guy by the name of Batista. It's time for Raw, live from the RBC Center.

At least Ric gets a stay of execution, because it's Shawn Michaels who heads for the ring first. HBK says he wanted his challenge to Smackdown's Kurt Angle to result in a match at WrestleMania that would produce a wrestling classic and give everyone something to remember. Of course, his outlook changed just a bit when Angle decided to show up at the end of Raw last week to pummel him right after his street fight with Edge already had him bloody. That made Michaels decide to return the favor on Smackdown, and HBK rolls footage of his appearance last Thursday for everyone (like me) who missed his star turn as a cameraman. Shawn thinks the match will determine once and for all who is the greatest performer of their generation, and Angle appears on the Titan Tron to agree ... sort of. Kurt's beef is that when he was winning his Olympic gold medal back in 1996, all anyone wanted to ask him about was when he was going to turn pro and do something like Michaels did in his Iron Man Match with Bret Hart. Angle vows he's going to do everything Shawn's done in his 16-year career in the next four weeks. Get the zipline ready, I guess.

Match 1 - Triple H vs. Rosey

After disposing of The Hurricane last Monday, The Game must feel the need to eliminate Raw's other super hero to prove how tough he is. Or something. Rosey sits on Triple H in the early going, but it isn't long until he finds his head bouncing off the steel steps on the outside. A couple minutes later, a spine buster and Pedigree combo are enough to finish the big man off, but Trips isn't quite done. He reaches under the ring to find his old friend, the sledgehammer. A shot to the gut punctuates his point, whatever that may be, and the guys in the back have to bring out a stretcher for poor Rosey.

The new issue of Playboy hits the stands this Friday, and SLAM! Wrestling reporter Dale Plummer has vowed to pick up a copy for the compelling story about the last days of Uday Hussein. Dale tells me there's also a feature on CBS chairman Les Moonves. Sounds fascinating. Something tells me though, that he might "accidentally" turn to the nude layout of Raw Diva Search winner Christy Hemme. In the back, Triple H wants to introduce Flair to the new member of Evolution: his sledgehammer. Flair's down in the dumps though, because he doesn't really feel like facing Batista. The Game assures him that both he and the hammer will be at ringside, which immediately cheers Ric up.

Elsewhere, Eric Bischoff summons Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Christian and Edge to his office. It seems that Jericho has proposed -- and Bischoff has agreed to -- a six-way ladder match at WrestleMania. Edge immediately starts to protest, but Bischoff quiets him quickly by telling him that it's a Money in the Bank Match. That is, a contract for a future world title shot will be the item suspended above the ring, and the winner can have his shot any time in the 12 months following WrestleMania 21. To sell the match, Bischoff is having all six men compete in matches tonight. I know what you're thinking, and you're right: there are only five men in the office. But Christian is going to solve that mystery when he takes on the unknown sixth man next.

Match 2 - Christian vs. ?

SLAM! Wrestling's own Jason Clevett called this one. The eruption of fire and the sudden red tint mean Kane is on his way out. Christian tries to launch an assault before the bell even rings, and gets a slight edge with some mounted corner punches. Kane quickly rallies by dropping his foe on the ropes, and he manages to keep the momentum until Tyson Tomko sneaks in a shot from the apron. Christian tries a piggyback sleeper hold, but Kane dislodges him with a power slam. A choke slam misses, but a big boot doesn't. Kane goes up top for his flying clothesline, which Christian evades only to find himself caught by the throat. This choke slam doesn't miss, and Kane gets the pinfall. But wait, there's more. The ladder set up outside the ring to promote the match at Mania isn't just for decoration, as Kane finds out when Tomko grabs it and clocks him in the face. That means Kane will be sitting up, right ... about ... now!

Stacy Keibler makes sure Randy Orton looks good for his big announcement later tonight. What announcement is that, you ask? It's his challenge for WrestleMania, and I'm pretty sure it has to do with someone who's 12-0 at wrestling's biggest event.

Match 3 - Chris Jericho vs. Edge

A match between two fine Canadians has to start with some mat wrestling, though things quickly turn to a more professional style. Jericho hits the first big spot with a springboard cross body to the floor that ushers in the inevitable commercial break. Edge is down when we return, with Jericho putting the boots to him. Y2J goes up top, but Edge meets him there and connects with a superplex. A baseball slide knocks Jericho out to the floor, and Edge follows with a double ax handle off the apron. Jericho finally rallies back in the ring with a clothesline that earns a near fall, then continues to roll with a missile dropkick and a bulldog. Edge rolls away from a Lionsault and gets a two count of his own with a big boot to the face. Y2J tries to respond with the Walls of Jericho, but Edge powers out with his legs, kicking Jericho into the ref in the process. The Spear is launched, but Jericho ducks and Edge flies out to the floor. Edge retrieves the ladder only to get a drop toehold and a Lionsault for his trouble. Jericho makes the cover but the ref is still out. Edge's second ladder shot finds Jericho's groin, and the Impaler gives the ref enough time to recover and make the three count. By the way, there's someone with an "Edge Speared Lita" sign in the second row. I wonder what the heck that's about?

Pleased with the way things are going so far tonight, Bischoff tells The Coach about Pick Your Poison Monday on next week's Raw. To keep his two main event men on their toes, Bischoff has decided to allow them to pick each other's opponents for the next few weeks. Hence, the name of the gimmick. With a glaring lack of tough heels on Raw though, I'd say Batista has a definite advantage. After another word from our sponsors, Orton gets his chance to address the crowd. With his dad going into the Hall of Fame this year, he wants to do something memorable at WrestleMania, something befitting his (self-proclaimed) title as the Legend Killer. He wants to take down another legend, so he's decided to challenge the Undertaker, a proclamation that draws more than a few boos from the Raleigh fans. Bischoff comes out to congratulate Orton on his brave choice of opponents, thanking him because he figures if both he and Angle win their cross-brand matches, Raw (and of course, Bischoff) will look better than ever in the eyes of the WWE higher-ups. Orton asks rhetorically if Eric was in charge of WCW when it was winning the Monday night wars for 88 straight weeks. That makes Bischoff a bit of a legend in his own right? which means he's a perfect target for an RKO. The announcers quickly take it to a rundown of the WrestleMania card at this point.

Match 4 - Chris Benoit vs. Shelton Benjamin

Benjamin isn't Canadian, but this one still starts out with a bit of mat wrestling. Shelton ends up getting dumped out to the floor, where Benoit tries a suicide dive that misses and finds him flying head-first into the ladder. Benjamin also misses with his version of the Stinger Splash, but does manage to counter Benoit's pinning attempt with a roll-up for two. Three rolling German suplexes find their mark as Benoit fights back, though Benjamin rolls away from the diving head butt. Shelton tries a rolling cradle for another near fall, and both men execute a series of counters. The Crippler Crossface finally prevails, and Benjamin is almost at the ropes when Benoit rolls him back toward the center of the ring. The Intercontinental champ fights the hold for a bit more but is finally forced to tap out.

Bischoff's busy office gets more visitors in the form of Daivari and Muhammad Hassan. The Arab-Americans are ticked because Hassan isn't involved in the ladder match, or any match at WrestleMania for that matter. They can only conclude that it's the result of ... wait for it ... discrimination. Hassan says the matter isn't over, but it is for now since we head for the Smackdown Rebound to see John Cena drop the U.S. Title to Orlando Jordan, who receives more than a little help from his friends. Elsewhere, William Regal and Tajiri scope out an advance copy of the Hemme Playboy until Trish Stratus snatches it away in disgust.

Hey, that might as well segue into the next segment. Hemme comes to the ring with something important to say to Stratus. Trish obliges, then almost laughs herself silly when the redhead challenges her to a title match at WrestleMania. When she realizes Christy is serious, Trish says she will end Hemme's career if they meet. But Christy says she's been getting some wrestling training in between nude photo shoots, and her trainer comes out: it's Lita. Stunned by the revelation, Stratus is dead meat for Hemme's inverted Twist of Fate.

Flair heads for the ring with HHH and the sledgehammer. Bischoff, flanked by security, tells Trips he's not going down to the ring with the hammer, so he needs to hand it over or not be involved. The Game is furious, but he eventually decides to leave the most silent, and honestly, most menacing member of Evolution with Bischoff, much to Flair's dismay. Ric's actual words: "We're supposed to be the Three Amigos; you, me and the hammer."

Main Event - Ric Flair vs. Batista

As you might expect, the opening has plenty of Batista no-selling Flair's offense and tossing the old man around. But with Triple H's help, Batista is distracted long enough for a couple of chop blocks to hit, and Flair follows up with elbow drops to the right knee. Ric locks on the Figure Four, but it is quickly flipped. Batista throws Flair off the top rope and follows up with a clothesline and a power slam. A spine buster is next, and Triple H's attempt to interfere goes for naught as Batista sends him flying right out the other side of the ring. A Batista Bomb ends the match, but the fight isn't quite over. Trips goes under the ring and ... no, it can't be. It's the sledgehammer's twin brother! Helmsley tries to hit Batista with his new friend, but the big man blocks the shot and snatches the hammer away. As Hunter looks on in horror, Batista goes Bo Jackson style and breaks the sledgehammer in half. That's all for this show -- see you in seven. [Editor's note: Bo Jackson? Talk about a dated, non-steroid reference!]

Next week: Batista has Triple H goes up against Benoit. Plus the first sledgehammer swears revenge for the death of his twin brother.


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    Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and he'd like to send his condolences to the sledgehammer for his loss. In lieu of flowers, please send PayPal donations to ntylwalk7@yahoo.com.