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COMMENT





Rey wins, MNM splits at Judgment Day
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling


Forgive my long-winded introduction to tonight's Judgment Day review, but I need to get something off my chest. There has been a lot written this month about Rey Mysterio's recent non-title losses, and about how he is the worst-booked champion in the history of WWE.

I beg to differ, and I'll explain why.

Mysterio, clearly, is always going to be the underdog in the heavyweight division. Even without the World Heavyweight Championship, this much is obvious, as he contends with another (comparative) WWE giant every week on Smackdown. And by definition, it is not possible for the underdog to always win. Indeed, what singles out the underdog is that when it really matters, he has the ability to pull a win out of the bag.

So you can see, there is a method behind the WWE madness (this time, at least). Not only does this string of non-title losses set up the pay-per-view championship match with protagonist JBL, but it also allows The Great Khali, Henry, and Kane a win over the champion that can be used to further their own storylines.

Notwithstanding killing San Diego (where Khali got the win over Mysterio) as a wrestling hotbed, the booking of Mysterio is not as bad as it reads. What would make it that bad, though, is a title loss to JBL, which would really cast Mysterio as a jobber, and negate the effectiveness of the wins by the aforementioned giant trio.

Anyhoo!

Judgment Day 2006 began with the WWE's traditionally-excellent video package, which highlighted the bouts between Mysterio and JBL, Angle and Henry and The Undertaker and Khali. Based on this, you could argue that Judgment Day boasted a triple main event. Or that there wasn't a single match on the card that is worthy of individual build-up. You decide!

Match #1 - Smackdown Tag Team Championship: MNM ( c ) vs Paul London & Brian Kendrick

I was most surprised to see that this match was the first on the show, since it certainly had the potential to steal the match of the night plaudits. However, there have been a lot of rumours in the last week regarding MNM's off-screen conduct, which may well have relegated them to this position.

Michael Cole -- commentating on the event with regular partner Tazz -- was quick to point out that in the last five matches involving these teams, that London and Kendrick (who mercifully seem to have had their "Hooligans" moniker droppped) have defeated MNM on each occasion. Any seasoned pro wrestling fan is then forced to think that the match will this time go the other way, although John Cena has proven that things aren't as obvious as they used to be.

The psychology of this match was very interesting indeed, as neither of these teams were able to hold a distinct advantage over the other for a significant time. Naturally, London and Kendrick were the stars of the match, especially at one point when the former backdropped his partner over the top rope and on to the champions.

Later in the contest, London also hit his incredible dropkick-into-a-moonsault combination, the cover from which was broken up only by Melina literally screaming into the ear of referee Jimmy Korderas. I haven't seen that one before. Even that distraction did not aid MNM in the end though, as Mercury accidentally struck Nitro, who landed on Melina on the outside. Grasping the advantage, London caught Mercury in a bridging cradle for the win and the tag team championship.

After the bout, in quite a shocking storyline move, Melina and Nitro attacked Mercury for losing the match, apparently breaking up what is in my opinion the best tag team that the WWE has had in years. I don't know if the rumours regarding MNM's conduct are true, but unless it is something truly serious, I can't help but feel that this is tremendously ill-advised.

Winners -- Paul London and Brian Kendrick
Rating: 7.5/10

Match #2 -- Chris Benoit vs Finlay

When Chris Benoit emerged for the second bout of the evening with Finlay, I couldn't help but think that having the two perceived best bouts at the beginning of the show was part of some perverse in-joke. Or more likely, the WWE wanted to get them out of the way so that we don't compare these wrestling matches to the sports entertainment showdowns later on.

Even when working a WWE style, thankfully you know what you are going to get with Benoit and Finlay, and they didn't disappoint in the early going with some nice chain wrestling, before Finlay took the unfair advantage with a poke to the eyes and a short clothesline.

Benoit countered with three released German suplexes, before missing his patented top-rope headbutt, whereupon Finlay took control with simple but well-paced offence. On the outside, however, Benoit hit an incredible released German suplex, which looked every bit as painful as it sounds. Back in the ring, Benoit hit the Three Amigos for strong "Eddie" chants, before taking Finlay down in the crossface, to which Finlay quickly tapped.

This was an excellent match, which was both rugged yet technical, and also believable as a contest. A more dramatic finish would have made it easily the best WWE match of the year so far.

Winner -- Chris Benoit
Rating: 8.5/10

Match #3 -- Melina vs Jillian Hall

The women's match had absolutely no chance given the quality of the previous two encounters, but it was still an admirable effort for two combatants that aren't considered full-time wrestlers. Ashley Massaro, I hope you were watching.

Melina controlled most of the match, whipping Hall into the ring steps and connecting with an inventive double knee-drop in the corner. Still, Melina was to suffer her second defeat of the evening, as Hall used the turnbuckles to vault over her opponent, hooking the shoulders with a sunset flip for the three count, as the referee failed to note that Melina had grabbed the bottom rope.

After the match, Melina was confronted by a smug-looking Krystal Marshall, with whom she had a short pull-apart brawl.

Winner -- Jillian Hall
Rating -- 5.5/10

Backstage, JBL caught sight of Chavo Guerrero as he delivered a promo. Chavo made it clear that he was here to support his friend Rey Mysterio, and that JBL should "stop living in the past". I have a feeling that that line will be memorable in the next few months.

Match #4 -- Cruiserweight Championship: Gregory Helms ( c ) vs Super Crazy

This match began in rapid-fire fashion with Crazy using referee Nick Patrick as a vault to land a somersault tope on Helms. The champion soon countered however, hitting a hot-shot whilst Cole and Tazz annoyingly bickered about whether Helms was a high-flyer or not. At least the crowds, who pleasingly were into this match, didn't have them as a distraction.

This was another back-and-forth match, with Crazy missing a top-rope moonsault, after which Helms connected with a Buff Blockbuster neckbreaker. But just as it looked like Crazy was taking over the offence once more, Helms hit a weak-looking powerbomb out of the corner, before putting his feet on the ropes to claim the victory. This was another good match, complimented by surprising crowd heat, although it should have had a much better finish.

Winner -- Gregory Helms
Rating: 7.0/10

In a backstage segment, Nitro and Melina confronted Teddy Long about their various ill-fortunes during the evening. Melina wanted to know what Long was "going to do" to put things right. When Long noted that he wasn't inclined to do anything, Melina slapped him, prompting the General Manager to "fire" both of them. I think we can now say that MNM -- Nitro and Melina, at least -- have made some powerful political enemies. We can only hope that they will be back soon.

Match #5 -- Mark Henry vs Kurt Angle

When Mark Henry made his way to ringside, the first thing that he did was approach the announce table, removing the monitors from it, with the clear intimation that he was once again going to squash Kurt Angle through a table. He grabbed the microphone, but was quickly interrupted by Angle -- sporting taped ribs -- who gained the advantage with a second-rope somersault attack that I've never seen him use before. Indeed, the fact that he nearly landed on his head prompts me to believe that he hasn't had that much practice at it.

When he took over on Angle, Henry's offence was limited to punches and kicks, and as he went for his front slam finisher, Angle hit a DDT counter, a big German suplex and the Angle slam for a near fall.

Henry did eventually hit his front slam for another near fall, before taking Angle outside, setting him up for the anticipated splash through the announce table. Angle was able to move before Henry made his leap, however, but Henry crushed him against the ringpost before returning to the ring for an extremely cheap count-out victory, as the announcers played upon the fact that Angle should not have returned from injury so soon.

After the decision, Henry again went for the splash on the table, but once again Angle moved before Henry left his feet. The Olympic Gold medallist countered with a chair shot to the knee and three further shots to the back, before applying the ankle lock on the floor, which made Henry symbolically tap. Still, Angle was not done, as despite the protestations of WWE officials, he took Henry through the announce table - which didn't break - with the Angle slam, before walloping him with a vicious chair shot to the head, at which point Henry's 400lb frame was too much for the table to bare.

Winner -- Mark Henry (via count-out)
Rating: 6.0/10

In the build-up to the King of the Ring final, highlights packages were shown of Bret Hart (1993), "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (1996) and Kurt Angle (2000) winning the tournament, as a means of showing what the win can do for a WWE career. I'm certain that I wasn't the only one who wondered why they missed out Mabel (1995) and Billy Gunn (1999). To make matters worse, Cole then claimed that winning the tournament "can change your life in one night". That might have been close to being true, had this tournament not been held over the entire month of May.

Match #6 -- King of the Ring tournament final: Booker T vs Bobby Lashley

Lashley came raging out of the blocks on this one, displaying some of the fire that it seemed that only Finlay could get out of him. He nearly crushed Finlay with a car, you know. Booker soon took control however - after Lashley struck only the ringpost with a shoulderblock - going to work on the limb with an armbar.

Lashley recovered quickly however, and rocked T with a major league clothesline and a belly-to-belly suplex. Just as he appeared to be on the verge of applying a finish however, Sharmell provided the distraction, which allowed Booker to hit the Book End for the near fall. Lashley himself then gained a near fall with a running powerslam, before the advantage traded again as Booker hit the Ax Kick for another near fall. Countering, Lashley hit a spear, at which point Sharmell entered the ring, allowing Finlay to sneak up behind both his nemesis and the referee, striking the rookie with the shillelagh. Booker then hit a second Ax Kick for the pinfall. Sickened by Booker's coronation, Lashley crowned Booker in his own inimitable way by spearing him on the ramp.

Winner -- Booker T
Rating: 7.0/10

Match #7 -- The Great Khali vs The Undertaker

The Great Khali made his way down to the ring to considerably less fanfare than anyone else on the card so far. That wasn't a good sign, and neither was Tazz's statement that he "couldn't wait" for this match. Maybe he meant that he couldn't wait until it was over.

WHAT YOU THINK
What did you think of WWE Judgment Day?
It was great - 14%
It was okay - 17%
It wasn't very good - 11%
I didn't see it - 58%
Contrary to the reaction to Khali, the reception granted to The Undertaker was rapturous, and when he engaged in a staredown with the 7ft 1" giant, loud chants of "'Taker" resounded through the arena. When the action began, Khali twice threw Undertaker out of the ring, before slamming him from the top turnbuckle as Undertaker went for his "old school" walk along the top.

Khali's offence was basic in the extreme, as he hit a bodyslam and his infamous chop to the forehead, with Undertaker just about kicking out from the latter. "The Dead Man" rebounded with a completed "old school" top rope stroll, before capturing Khali in the ropes after rocking him with a flying clothesline. The relatively silent Daivari was quick to release his protege from this predicament however, and Khali connected with another chop to the head, and a kick to the face, after which he shockingly pinned Undertaker, just as he had done to Mysterio, placing a single boot on his opponent's chest.

With this win, it seems that the WWE are serious about trying to use Khali as the monster of all monster heels. If everyone works as hard as The Undertaker to get him over, he's got somewhat of a chance.

Winner -- The Great Khali
Rating: 5.5/10.

Match #8: World Heavyweight Championship -- Rey Mysterio ( c ) vs JBL

Rey's strategy in this match was to hit and move, and he almost accomplished his goal early on when he was a second or so away from connecting with the 619. That didn't stop Rey from then hitting a baseball slide and seated senton on the outside, though, and it wasn't until JBL caught Mysterio with a kick to the chest, before launching him into the ring steps, that Rey looked in danger.

Inciting the crowd, JBL hit his version of the Three Amigos, actually rolling though with a fourth to drop Mysterio on the top rope. After verbally accosting Mysterio's wife on the outside, JBL hit a fallaway slam on the floor, which gained a near-fall back in the ring. By this point, Mysterio had been visibly lacerated through his mask, and the bleeding was only made worse by a strong boot to the face from JBL.

Mysterio eventually fought back with a moonsault press and a twisting crossbody, using the second rope as a springboard. He then connected with a 619, but as he came off the top once again, JBL pulled referee Nick Patrick into the line of fire. After connecting with a powerbomb, JBL screamed for a new referee, but when Charles Robinson was only able to get a two-count out of the pin attempt, JBL knocked him out, too. The challenger then got desperate, grabbing a chair from ringside, but Rey saw it coming, kicking it into JBL's face, and hit a second 619. With Nick Patrick recovered, Mysterio scored the pinfall with a frog splash dedicated to Eddie Guerrero, as Chavo came to the ring to celebrate with him.

Winner -- Rey Mysterio
Rating: 7.5/10

Dispelling the worst fears of almost every wrestling fan on the planet, Judgment Day was a very entertaining PPV which was highlighted by an excellent contest between Chris Benoit and Finlay. It is very likely that the PPV buy-rate will be down from Raw's Backlash event, but there is no question that it was Judgment Day that was the clear winner in terms of in-ring action.

The WWE have an interesting conundrum ahead of them: do they continue to market Smackdown as "B" show, in effect refusing to waver from the premise that star power will always out-draw good wrestling? Or do they give Smackdown a fair crack of the whip, and present it as a wrestling alternative to the sports entertainment saga of RAW?

It should be a rhetorical question, of course. But Raw is Vince McMahon's baby, and Smackdown, it seems, is just the ugly cousin.

Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports, and soccer. He is a regular contributor to www.dvd-reviewer.co.uk, and can be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.