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Raw: Not so live -- or interesting -- from England
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling


The graphic at the top of the UK Raw feed may state "live", but while the WWE can still count on a strong fan-base on this side of the Atlantic, it’s hard to imagine that the 10,000+ fans in the Manchester Evening News Arena would be quite so many if things actually kicked off at 2 a.m. local time.

And even if the live insinuations were to be believed, Raw’s opening reminder of the previous week’s abysmal "celebration" episode would likely dampen that fan fire in a hurry. Such as it was, mercifully only Chris Jericho’s reclaiming of the WWE Title from Batista was highlighted in this opening montage -- meaning that we were spared DX’s comedy, for now, at least.

Batista was the first entertainer (thanks, Vince) to come before the live crowd, looking like he’d just been asked to dance in the ring with Sgt. Slaughter and Dusty Rhodes. Instead, of course, he was simply unhappy at losing the WWE title, but quickly set about altering that situation again, by invoking the re-match clause in his contract.

At this point, Stephanie McMahon appeared on the big screen, "from WWE headquarters", to announce that he could not have a re-match until after John Cena had had his shot at Jericho at the Survivor Series. She also stated that she and Shane were eager to put a cap on all outstanding personal issues before a new Raw General manager was named, and booked Rey Mysterio vs Kane in a No DQ match, and Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels in a Last Man Standing bout for later on the show.

Leaving Batista rather in the lurch, it was fortunate then that Randy Orton had words for "The Animal", which he delivered personally. Orton claimed that he was next in line for a title shot, following which Batista challenged him to a match later on the show. Accepting, Orton berated his former Evolution partner for his eight-day title reign, and just about got away when Batista took exception to that, and attempted to hit the Batista Bomb.

Proceeding after three of the most lifeless promos ever recorded -- Stephanie is only marginally better with a microphone than she was nearly 10 years ago -- at least Santino Marella (along with Beth Phoenix) resuscitated the crowd, as he rejected the Honk-a-Meter, in favour of the new Honk-a-Perfect-Mountie-Meter, and noted that in just two years’ time, he would be Intercontinental Champion for longer than The Honky Tonk Man, Mr Perfect, and The Mountie combined. His accusation that Italy was the best country in Europe then brought William Regal (with Layla) out for their title contest, with the English crowd’s response to the Blackpool native surprisingly as numb as I can ever remember it.

Match #1 -- Intercontinental Title: Santino Marella ( c ) vs William Regal

It took Regal all of 30 seconds to destroy Marella with a suplex and a running knee, to capture the title for the first time since January 2002. He then said he would be proud to represent the United Kingdom all across the world, all the while doing his best to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Sadly, for him, Manchester largely weren’t having it.

Winner (and new Intercontinental champion): William Regal

Match #2: D-Lo Brown vs Mike Knox

After a quite awful promo from Kane in which he informed us that he "never liked being liked", it was time for the "long awaited" (Michael Cole’s words, not mine) of Raw debut of Mike Knox, as he faced D-Lo Brown.

Another non-descript 30-second bout, Knox won with his "Knox Out" reverse STO, as you could hear a pin drop inside the sellout M.E.N Arena.

Winner: Mike Knox

Backstage, Phoenix consoled Santino, who informed her that he’d just given Shane McMahon a piece of his mind about the title match. Unfortunately for Beth, as a result, Shane had matched her with Mickie James, in a match for her Women’s Title. Furious, she smashed Santino’s cellphone, while he looked like he was about to cry.

A smug Chris Jericho then claimed that he was at the top of his game, and would defeat both Shawn Michaels, and then John Cena at the Survivor Series to retain his title. That would prove, he said, "that not every story has a happy ending."

Match #3 -- No DQ match: Rey Mysterio vs Kane

Sadly, there was to be no 30-second repeat of the prior two matches in this No DQ match. Kane set the tone for the contest by viciously whipping Mysterio into the crowd barrier, and removing the middle turnbuckle pad to create more havoc on Mysterio’s person. Having been waylaid in doing so, he then removed the ringside mats and went for the Tombstone, but Rey countered, hitting a not-very-convincing DDT on the concrete.

Back in the ring, Rey hit the 619 and a springboard splash, but Kane caught him by the throat on the latter move, but when Mysterio reversed, he hit a drop toe-hold into the unprotected steel turnbuckle. Mysterio then dove off the top rope with a botched seated senton for the pin.

Winner: Rey Mysterio

Backstage, Cody Rhodes slapped Randy Orton for his treatment of partner Ted DiBiase the previous week, which then led to more male heavy-breathing than I was comfortable with, as Manu held back the more experienced of these second generation performers.

Match #4: Batista vs Randy Orton

With Orton and "The Animal" just about to collide in an encounter that the English fans actually seemed happy to witness, Rhodes and Manu came to ringside, at which point the former announced that while Orton could never beat Batista, he could. It only took that for Orton to inexplicably step out of the ring, allowing Rhodes his opportunity. Though more competitive than you might think, this was a basic squash match, ending with the expected Batista Bomb.

Winner: Batista

Match #5 -- Women’s Championship: Beth Phoenix ( c ) vs Mickie James

Having lost the Intercontinental Title earlier in the evening, things weren’t initially looking good for the other half of WWE’s current romance, as Mickie James continually beat Phoenix to the proverbial punch. As James went to the top rope to land what may have been the winning move, however, she was distracted by Santino, who took a kick to the face for his trouble, allowing Beth to ram Mickie’s head into the steel ringpost for the win.

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match #6 -- Last Man Standing match: Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels

Before the start of this non-title match, Jerry Lawler informed us that this match could only end when one participant was unable to answer the count of ten. I couldn’t help but know what he meant, considering I’d been struggling to stay conscious throughout what must be one of the worst editions of Raw in its 16-year history.

The pressure was thus on Michaels and Jericho to deliver as they had done in the past, and they started out well, at least, as Michaels avoided a dropkick on the apron, and used a springboard twisting splash from the second rope to the floor.

Still on the outside, Jericho avoided Sweet Chin Music, hitting a bulldog on the floor for a seven-count. But Michaels again countered soon thereafter, catapulting Jericho into a British mailbox prop, in a move which would have looked a lot better had the item not feebly fallen to the floor on impact.

Using another prop, a London black cab, Michaels went for a piledriver on the roof, which was reversed into the Walls of Jericho. But Michaels then used a camera rig to clothesline Jericho for a close eight-count.

Back at the ringside area, Michaels produced a ladder from underneath the ring, but when Jericho gained control of it, he struck Michaels in the head with it. "The Heartbreak Kid" soon recovered and returned the favour, however, before setting Jericho onto the Raw announcing table, diving from the top of the ladder to hit an elbow drop.

Amazingly, Jericho made it to his feet, and when a neckbrace-wearing JBL provided a distraction, the champion struck his opponent with the World Heavyweight Title belt. Somehow, Michaels recovered to strike with Sweet Chin Music, but at almost the same instant, JBL thundered a chair across Michaels’ head, knocking him out, and allowing Jericho to take the victory.

Winner: Chris Jericho

Final thoughts: In general, when WWE comes to the UK, it is guaranteed a good house, and a vociferous crowd to boot. In Manchester -- which interestingly was never referred to by name throughout the show -- there may have been close to 15,000 in attendance, but most seemingly preferred to sit on their hands.

That is not a complaint towards the fans, for it is up to the company not to rest on its laurels, and to give those in attendance something worth getting excited about. The only bout here that that could be said of was the main event Last Man Standing match, which didn’t live up to Michaels and Jericho’s previous pay-per-view outings, but was a hard-fought TV effort nonetheless.

The rest of the card, however, was a disaster. Having promised Randy Orton vs Batista from the outset, instead fans were "treated" to Batista vs Cody Rhodes. While this is likely part of an angle to team Orton with Rhodes, Manu, and Ted DiBiase, taking away from the fans a match you had promised isn’t exactly the best business, especially when UK tours make so much money for your company.

The Intercontinental Title match set the tone from the outset, and whereas WWE likely expected William Regal to receive a huge ovation for taking the title, it was not to be. King of the Ring or not, WWE cannot expect fans to get behind a wrestler who is a heel everywhere but in the UK, and who has been made to look completely inept at every recent opportunity.

In her promo at the start of the show, Stephanie McMahon stated that she wanted some "finality" before the appointment of a new Raw General Manager. Perhaps when they change personnel from Mike Adamle to whomever, behind the scenes the company can change their complacent attitude to their loyal fans, too.

Brian Elliott is a British journalist covering soccer, MMA, and pro wrestling. After watching tonight’s Raw, he remembered why he’s more excited about Brock Lesnar vs Randy Couture in UFC, than he has been for any WWE match in years.