WWE Tribute to the Troops: Strong work from the Fed
JON WALDMAN -- SLAM! Wrestling
Hello everyone and welcome to a special Monday wrestling recap. Today, we're looking back at the fourth annual WWE Tribute to the Troops.
Obviously, this report is a bit different than what you're used to seeing from us on Tuesday morning, with no storylines being developed. That doesn't mean, however, that there won't be the usual banter you'd expect from your favourite stand-in. So, as Billy Red Lyons used to say, let's get right to the action.
We open with a look at previous troop entertainment tours, including vintage USO tours, which is actually looked pretty good.
To emphasize that this isn't a Raw, we get different theme music leading us in. I can't tell which song it is, but it's a Creed tune.
Match 1 -- John Cena vs. Edge
Well, we saw this match last week, so not exactly the best work in terms of booking, but hey, it's a special event, so why not have, arguably, the feud of the year culminate for the soldiers?
By the way, the old school ring, with the red, white and blue ropes and blue mat is here. WWE really needs to bring the ring back permanently.
The match itself is a very impressive bout between these two, who have always had above-average matches. There are some decent bumps taken as well, including Cena taking a couple hits to the ringside mats and barricade. Ever the thinking heel, Edge pulls out the Camel Clutch, using WWE history to rile up the crowd, before Cena makes the comeback with his usual stuff. Edge, however, blocks the FU and gets an Implant DDT, and even pulls out the Electric Chair Drop. Eventually, Cena avoids a spear and gets the FU for the victory. Great match, quite possibly Cena's best on free TV this year. Easily, a 6.5 out of 10.
Winner: John Cena
Next up, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. gives a speech over a montage of troop footage. This is the first of many such scenes we see throughout the show (as one would expect). If you missed any of this footage and do wish to see it, there are several up on the WWE website.
Going into our next break, CM Punk and Shelton Benjamin bring holiday greetings, the latter being insincere, setting up our next bout.
Match 2 -- CM Punk vs. Shelton Benjamin
In an era where there are few dream matches left for WWE to do, this one, between two of the top in-ring performers in the Fed, certainly is one that a lot of fans would love to see. Thankfully we get it in an environment of competition over storyline.
Much like Edge, Benjamin does some classic heel work, threatening to leave the match. When he does get back in the ring, he puts his ring technician mastery on display, working consistently on Punk's arm, including getting Move #167 (Buffalo Armbar). Punk has a brief advantage before Benjamin takes over with a wicked top-rope snap suplex. Shortly thereafter, Punk gets a win with a Schoolboy Roll-up, rather than his Anaconda Vice. Yes, the de-push of Punk knows no borders. Not exactly what I expected, but it whetted my appetite for more from these two.
Winner: CM Punk
Match 3 -- Johnny Nitro vs. The Undertaker
Well, this could be a good indication of just how much respect Nitro has in the locker room. And really, there isn't much here before he is absolutely squashed by Undertaker. Yep, yet another hot young gun dismantled by 'Taker. Thankfully, this was a special-event show and it will hopefully not mean anything to Nitro's position on Raw.
Winner: The Undertaker
After the break, we get footage of the WWE setting up when a mortar attack hits close to Camp Victory, the host of Tribute to the Troops. We get some good reporting from the WWE workers who were close to the hit, including Michael Cole. This was a well-done segment by the Fed and hopefully will get picked up somewhere to illustrate the true danger of what's going on in Iraq.
Match 4 -- Bobby Lashley vs. Bob Holly
As what is the usual now, unfortunately, this all-ECW match does not include extreme rules.
Continuing the game from a couple weeks back of ECW on Global, Lashley uses the Bulldog Delayed Suplex, the Stone Cold Steve Austin Mudhole Stomp, the Kurt Angle stop-and-go belly-to-belly overhead suplex and eventually the Davey Boy Smith running powerslam (which JR labels a, "stampede-like slam") to get the duke. To his credit, Lashley uses a Torture Rack Drop, a move that I don't believe has been used in WWE yet.
In between, the "tribute" moves, Holly and Lashley get some good exchanges and the two show signs of some decent work together. Given the small ECW roster, the two will inevitably hook-up soon and we could see some solid matches come out of such a feud. In this case, it was a more-than-decent bout which, given Lashley's history as an Army sergeant, should have been the main event.
Winner: Bobby Lashley
Going into the break, WWE interviews an Iraqi soldier fighting along side the US Army. This was another fantastic segment done by WWE to illustrate what's going on in the Middle East.
Back to the show we go, and Chris Masters throws out the Masterlock Challenge to the troops in a vignette.
Match 5 -- Umaga vs. Jeff Hardy
Looks like Armando Alejandro Estrada didn't make the trip, unfortunately. Fortunately, though, Umaga gets his usual wicked offence here, breaking the streak of faces winning every match. Hardy does have a very strong showing here, getting some decent control at one point until Umaga lifts the knees on a Swanton attempted by Jeff. From there, it's academic.
Match 6 -- Carlito vs. Randy Orton
Another decent feud in 2006 gets relived here, as these two had some really strong bouts over the summer. The bout in Iraq is another strong one, as both men put on a good show, including blocking each other's finishers.
Near the end of the match, Orton tries to get the W with his feet on the ropes, but for the first time in 2006, if not the entire millennium, the referee spots the illegal pin, which allows Carlito to get the roll-up for the win, with a handful of tights, natch. These two could easily carry WWE in the future with a main event feud, and hopefully we'll see that.
Backstage, Torrie Wilson, Kristal Mashall and Maria are chatting until Santa Claus comes in.
Back from the break, Santa comes out to the ring, and calls out the aforementioned Divas to help him give out gifts. Santa gets in the usual jokes on the women, especially on Torrie Wilson. The gifts include tee-shirts, video games and, for some reason, lingerie.
Eventually, Chris Masters comes down, bringing Santa into the ring. The two exchange words before Masters issues the Masterlock Challenge to Santa. Mr. Claus accepts.
Match 7 -- Chris Masters vs. Santa Claus (Masterlock Challenge)
This one is short and sweet.
Winner: Chris Masters
Next up is the troop challenge. Before I roll the tape on my VCR, I'm thinking that this would be the single-best way to introduce a new babyface to WWE. Not only do you have a fresh fighter brought up to the main roster with instant backing, but also a very strong push potential from the get-go by doing what no one else could do. Let's see if my fantasy booking comes true.
Match 8 -- Chris Masters vs. Jose Avila (Masterlock Challenge)
Avila doesn't look much bigger that Rey Mysterio Jr., just to give you some perspective. As Masters has Avila down, Santa unmasks, revealing John Bradshaw Layfield. JBL kicks Masters in the back, allowing Avila to break the Masterlock. Well, it was with an assist, but the challenge is officially over.
Winner: Jose Avila
Post-match, JBL, gets the Clothesline From Hell on Masters and celebrates with the Divas to close the show.
Now if I may say a word -- yes, it's a schmaltzy finish that we'd expect on a special show like this, but Masters' gimmick is now dead and buried. Of course, we'll see Masters say it didn't count because of JBL's interference, but the bottom line is that history will show Masters that he did go down here. Unless JBL returns to active competition and takes the challenge himself, or Avila is revealed to be a WWE superstar next week, this was a wasted moment in WWE storytelling.
Aside from the last segment, this was an awesome show with some really strong matches and a good overall presentation. Once again, WWE showed the true heart in doing this show. Hopefully somewhere down the line, WWE will put out a compilation DVD of these shows that could benefit the families of fallen soldiers.
Happy holidays, to those at home and overseas.
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Jon Waldman has been with SLAM! Wrestling since 2000.