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WWE just passes on Judgment Day
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling


Given that the Judgment Day pay-per-view was held in St. Louis, Missouri -- at the Scottrade Centre -- one couldn't help but wonder what legendary promoter Sam Muchnick would have made of a wrestling show main-evented by the horrendously under-skilled Great Khali.

The answer, I'm sure, is not much, but credit must be given where credit is due, and it is undeniable that the current WWE product is markedly better than it has been in several years. The valuable air-time that had previously been spent on third-rate comedy, has since largely been allotted to actual wrestling bouts, allowing much better pacing, and thus, better matches. Although it is hardly the norm, the 55-minute John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels match from London, England, is a case in point.

The company went into Judgment Day with several serious injury problems, which robbed them of the services of The Undertaker, Mr Kennedy, and Gregory Helms, not to mention Triple-H, who continues to rehab his torn quadriceps. Furthermore, Shawn Michaels was known to have a serious knee injury, which will likely require surgery this week. With that in mind, there was a need for balance between risk-taking, and producing a worthy PPV show.

Match #1: Ric Flair vs. Carlito

Prior to the bell, Jim Ross noted that Flair's first match in St. Louis was back in 1978, against Pat O'Connor. Carlito, on the other hand, wasn't even born until the following year.

Still, that didn't seem to bother "The Nature Boy," who began the contest by quickly reddening Carlito's chest with some brutal chops. But his offence was short-lived, as Carlito set to work on Flair's left arm with elbows and punches, and also several shots into the top turnbuckle. He also ventured to the outside to wrap Flair's arm around the ringpost, before striking it with a dropkick.

Carlito's domination of this 15-minute contest was almost squash-like, until Flair rebounded with a block of the Back Cracker, and himself began working a body part, this time Carlito's left leg, in preparation for the Figure Four Leglock. After stomps to the limb, and a big kneedrop, Flair locked it on for the submission victory.

Winner: Ric Flair

Match rating: 6.0 / 10

Backstage, Shawn Michaels was about to discuss his recent concussion with Todd Grisham, but he was attacked by Randy Orton, who threw him head-first into the metal Judgment Day set. Michaels stayed down, and the concern shown by agent Tony Garea put into doubt the bout with Orton later on the show.

Match #2 -- ECW World Championship: Vince McMahon (c), Shane McMahon, and Umaga vs. Bobby Lashley

Lashley went to work quickly on all three members of the opposition, sending Umaga flying to the outside with a clothesline, and striking both McMahons with punches. He then isolated Shane in the corner, and had the foresight to move out of the way of an Umaga splash, meaning that the Samoan squashed Shane instead. Eliminating Umaga with a Spear, Lashley then powerslammed Shane for the win, in just a little over one minute.

That wasn't the end of proceedings, however, as Lashley challenged Vince to re-enter the ring, to reclaim the title belt. Just as it seemed that Vince was about to do so, however, Umaga attacked Lashley from behind, and then struck with the Samoan Spike, at which point Vince took possession of the belt, and claimed that Lashley would have to defeat him, not Shane, if he wanted to win the Championship.

Winner: Bobby Lashley (though McMahon seemingly remains champion)

Match rating: 3.0 (points deducted for no title change)

In between matches two and three, WWE's Dr. Rios informed a dazed Shawn Michaels, and the audience, that he would not allow Michaels to contest his proposed match with Randy Orton.

Match #3: CM Punk vs. Elijah Burke

CM Punk entered the ring with his ribs heavily taped, the result of an attack by Burke, during a recent bout with Marcus Cor Von. And the ribs were Burke's obvious target from the get-go, as he struck with punches and knees.

Punk reversed the momentum with a series of nice moves, including a T-Bone suplex, a delayed vertical suplex, and a twisting crossbody from the second rope, which earned him a near-fall. After he had also struck with a second-rope dropkick, which sent Burke from the apron to the floor, Punk continued with an unconvincing middle-rope tope, before hitting a superplex.

Despite all of this, Burke was able to recover, countering an attempted Go 2 Sleep with his version of the STO, the Elijah Experience. After this gained him only a near-fall, he also struck the Elijah Express double-knee in the corner, with only the ropes saving Punk from a three-count. A second attempt at the Elijah Experience was then countered, and Punk hit the Go 2 Sleep for the pinfall.

Winner: CM Punk

Match rating: 5.5 / 10

Match #4: Randy Orton vs. Shawn Michaels

After Edge proclaimed to Krystal that "the Rated-R era has begun" on Smackdown, an apparently-concussed Shawn Michaels stumbled to the ring to face Randy Orton. Though he was clearly in no state to do so, Michaels demanded that the referee ring the bell, but at the very moment that he did so, Orton attacked, hitting a spike-style DDT as Michaels' feet draped on the second rope, as well as some vicious stomps to the head.

Orton then considered hitting the RKO, but instead took his time, and decided to attempt the move from the top rope, by which time Michaels had the presence of mind to use eye-rakes to make Orton keep his distance. Michaels then managed a weary-looking top-rope elbow, but when he contemplated Sweet Chin Music, he could not muster the strength, and collapsed to the canvas. The referee then called for the bell, citing that Michaels could not continue.

After the match, Orton feigned concern for his opponent's well-being, but quickly showed his true colours by hitting the RKO. This prompted Michaels' wife Rebecca (who some may remember as Whisper of the Nitro Girls) to tearfully hit the ring, after which her husband was stretchered out of the arena.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match rating: 5.0 / 10

Backstage once again, The Great Khali -- through interpreter Runjin Singh (actually WWE writer Dave Kapoor) -- challenged John Cena to "come get some."

Match #5 -- RAW Tag Team Championship: Matt & Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch

Continuing the storyline that Cade & Murdoch have a new, babyface outlook, the RAW Tag Team Title match began with a number of feeling-out wrestling holds, as headlocks and arm-wringers were the order of the day. Within that, though, there was some nice quick-tag work, which for Cade & Murdoch, led to the former hitting a hard lariat and an impressive standing dropkick on Matt.

When Jeff and Murdoch entered the fray, however, it was the Hardys that took the advantage, as Jeff hit a dropkick in the corner, and a corkscrew moonsault. That was until he then missed a cannonball plancha, which allowed Murdoch in particular to work him over, using the Canadian Destroyer, the pin from which was broken up by Matt.

A jawbreaker allowed Jeff the time to make the tag to his brother, who hit a bulldog on Cade, while delivering a clothesline to Murdoch at the same time. Matt then hit the Side Effect on Cade, before Cade countered with a nodowa into a sit-out powerbomb, a move which JBL described as being akin to that used by "Hiroshi Hisaki" (of course, he actually meant Hiroshi Hase).

An entertaining bout ended when Matt caught Cade with a Twist of Fate, and Jeff came off the top rope with a Swanton Bomb for the pinfall. After the match, The Hardys extended their hands to their challengers, and amidst chants of "Shake their hands," Cade & Murdoch accepted.

Winners: Matt & Jeff Hardy

Match rating: 7.5 / 10

Match #6 -- World Heavyweight Championship: Edge (c) vs. Batista

WHAT YOU THINK
What match are you looking most forward to at Judgment Day?
Cena vs Khali - 28%
Edge vs Batista - 21%
McMahons & Umaga vs Lashley - 4%
Burke vs Punk - 9%
Michaels vs Orton - 16%
Carlito vs Ric Flair - 6%
Benoit vs MVP - 16%
Another injury victim -- although this time, as part of storyline -- Batista emerged for this title match continuing to wear strapping across his right thigh. In the early going, however, this did not seem to affect him, as he teased Edge with several shows of his superior strength.

The challenger's confidence quickly faded, however, when Edge struck a chop-block, and avoided a Spear in the corner, which meant that Batista himself hit the ringpost. But after a clothesline as Edge came off the top rope, followed up with a powerslam and a sidewalk slam, Batista continued to dominate, further scoring with a Spear, a second powerslam, and a spinebuster. Just as he hit the spinebuster, however, his injured right leg gave way, allowing Edge to roll him up for the three count.

Winner: Edge

Match rating: 6.0 / 10

Match #7 -- U.S Championship (2/3 Falls rules): Chris Benoit (c) vs. MVP

Chris Benoit looked to get a fall in early in this Best of Three Falls match, as he took MVP to the ground, for an attempt at both the Crippler Crossface, and the Sharpshooter. Thankfully for MVP, he was able to block both attempts, and soon went to work on Benoit's left knee, after a drop-down from an Irish whip connected with the champion's out-stretched limb.

Despite the injury, "The Crippler" was still able to hit three German suplexes, but by the time he had completed the third, more damage had been done to himself, than had been done to his opponent. After surviving further attempts at the Crossface and Sharpshooter by getting to the ropes, the challenger struck with kicks to the leg, and a dragon-screw leg whip, although a second attempt at the move was countered with an enziguri. Benoit then looked to hit an Electric Chair manoeuvre, but MVP countered it with the Playmaker to take the first fall.

Benoit took the second fall to MVP with knees, chops, and headbutts, seemingly in fury at having given up the first fall. But his knee was still giving him major problems, which weren't aided by MVP using elbows to deteriorate its condition. He also placed Benoit in a tree of woe, to deliver a Yakuza kick to the knee, and locked in a heel hook on the ground, before utilising a form of Boston crab, with Benoit's knee stretched behind MVP's neck, as Benoit lay stomach-first on the canvas.

The champion was just able to survive this onslaught, and from there was able to counter another attempt at the Playmaker, almost into the Crossface. But MVP saw the move coming and positioned Benoit into a small package for the win in two straight falls.

Winner: ... and NEW U.S. champion ... MVP

Match rating: 6.5 / 10

Match #8 -- WWE Heavyweight Championship: John Cena (c) vs. The Great Khali

After a staredown exposed the incredible difference in size between champion and challenger, it was The Great Khali who took the first meaningful advantage in this contest, countering all of Cena's kicks and punches with one huge clothesline. He then took Cena outside of the ring, and whipped him into the ringsteps, though when he placed his foot on the champion's chest to get the pinfall, he could only score two.

A missed legdrop provided Cena with an opportunity to hurt the 7-foot-3 giant, and he did strike a Blockbuster, before Khali displayed more dexterity than thought possible, as he connected with a spinning kick. Back outside the ring, Cena was twice introduced to the Raw announce table, before being locked in a nerve hold to his right shoulder.

After Cena made somewhat of a comeback, locking Khali in the ropes after two running shoulderblocks, he also managed to avoid a chop to the head, and when the match again fell outside the ring, Cena dropkicked the ringsteps into Khali's knee. This slowed the giant immensely, and as he clambered underneath the bottom rope and back into the ring, Cena came off the top rope with a legdrop. From there, he locked in the STFU, and even though Khali's long legs appeared to touch the bottom rope on at least one occasion, the referee failed to spot that, and awarded the match to Cena when Khali eventually tapped out.

Winner: John Cena

Match rating: 6.0 / 10

Overall, Judgment Day was an above average show that maintained the recent WWE philosophy of wrestling over ridiculousness. It didn't match the high standards of Backlash, but doing so was never going to be easy.

Coupled with the fact that there were no real stand-out matches on the card -- although The Hardys vs. Cade & Murdoch and Chris Benoit vs. MVP were both fine contests -- Judgment Day suffered from a little too much of the same thing, with four of the eight bouts here having one participant who came into the match with a storyline injury. Though Shawn Michaels was likely in no position to wrestle with his legitimate serious knee injury, the three other injuries were pure storyline, and having so many matches follow this pattern meant that the wins for Edge and MVP in particular were diluted, at a time when both could have used a promotional push.

Away from that, the screwjob-style nature of the ECW Title match was a major downer, and while the Punk vs. Burke match did contain some spectacular moves, at nearly 17 minutes in duration, it stalled badly at several points, with Burke in particular appearing lost in front of the PPV cameras.

The one real triumph of the night was the WWE Title match, which was infinitely better than perhaps anyone had expected. Although it was relatively basic in content, the story of Cena vs. Khali was tell told, and the finish was creative. Furthermore, even with the limitations of Khali, the people seemed to buy it as a true main event, as the crowd reacted impressively throughout.

In my introduction, I noted that the company had to find a balance at Judgment Day, between taking risks, and creating a good PPV product. Despite some criticisms, this goal was well-achieved, with no further injuries incurred, and a mildly enjoyable event presented.


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    Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports, and soccer. He is the sports editor for Burn magazine, and can be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.