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Raw: JBK-HBK storyline moves along
By BRIAN ELLIOTT -- SLAM! Wrestling


While somewhat comparable to Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash's "Fingerpoke of Doom" bout from January 1999 (incredibly, almost a decade ago), the conclusion of last week's episode of Raw provided all of the soap opera drama that professional wrestling is capable of - and something which WCW in that period was truly incapable of. The outcome of the several-minute staredown between JBL and "employee" Shawn Michaels saw Michaels voluntarily take the Clothesline From Hell, thus allowing JBL to advance to the Royal Rumble, to face John Cena for the WWE Championship.

And so, just as that angle ended last week's edition of Raw, so it began this week's, with a fantastic highlight video, going back as far as Armageddon, when Michaels declared he had accepted the Texan's job offer.

The show proper began with Chris Jericho and Randy Orton in the ring, noting their filing of a "formal protest" at the Michaels-JBL collusion, and suggesting that JBL should be stripped of his Rumble title shot. Instead, they pontificated that they should face each other later in the evening, with the winner receiving the title shot.

That suggestion, of course, brought JBL to the ring, accompanied by a forlorn-looking Michaels, to state that both Orton and Jericho would have done exactly the same thing if they had his wealth. With Orton legitimately struggling to contain his laughter, Jericho likewise denied that notion, before verbally laying into Michaels, who responded by stating that he could at least be proud to have denied them both title shots.

Stephanie McMahon -- who has "X-Pac heat" with this journalist, but apparently nothing of note with the New Orleans crowd, who barely reacted to her -- then entered the fray, to declare that since Michaels "did not lie down" for JBL, the referee's decision would stand. Jericho then further petitioned that Michaels not be allowed in the Royal Rumble, as he would "poison" it as he had done the Fatal Fourway.

JBL then stepped in to dictate that Michaels would not be competing in the Royal Rumble in any case, as his "only function" was to help and support him against John Cena. Finally, as a means of testing Shawn's "remaining integrity," Stephanie booked Orton and Jericho against Michaels and Cena in the evening's main event.

Match #1: Goldust & Melina vs Santino Marella & Beth Phoenix

Very sadly, Santino had no mic time before this contest, a fact immediately which eradicated what is often the best portion of Raw these days. The majority of the work was left up to Phoenix and Melina in this four-minute contest, with Melina scoring with a top-rope bulldog, before catching her opponent in a roll-up for the pin. After the bout, Rosa Mendes (Milena Roucka) attacked Melina, who chased her into the crowd.

Winners: Goldust & Melina

Match #2 - Intercontinental Title match: William Regal ( c ) vs CM Punk

After Punk noted that it would be an honour to the hold the Intercontinental Title, which Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, and Curt Hennig had held before him, it was immediately time for his effort at wresting it from William Regal, in a bout which was noted as the first title contest of 2009. The champion was largely the aggressor, striking with Muay Thai-like knees in particular, but just three minutes in, just as Punk countered an Irish Whip with an attempt at the Go 2 Sleep, Regal grabbed the referee's shirt and held on for dear life, causing him to be disqualified.

After that deplorable finish, Stephanie appeared on the Titan Tron to explain that in their upcoming rematch, next week on Raw, the disqualification rule would be waived, meaning that the title would change hands if the champion attempted the trick once again.

Winner: CM Punk (by DQ)

Backstage, JBL informed Michaels that he expected him to help put John Cena on the shelf in their later tag team match, which would cause the title to be forfeited to him. Also backstage, Randy Orton informed Cody Rhodes and Sim Snuka that if they won their bouts on Raw, that they would get their spot in the Legacy group. Manu -- who lost to Matt Hardy last week -- then begged for another chance to prove himself, which after he noted that Orton also lost last week, was aggressively turned down.

Match #3: The Miz & John Morrison vs Kofi Kingston & Rey Mysterio

Kofi Kingston began this match like Gorilla Monsoon's proverbial "house of fire", utilising his incredible springing ability to strike with dropkicks and bodyblocks. Taking care of both the tag team champions at the same time in this non-title bout, he was only caught out when the referee was distracted as he went to the top rope, allowing Morrison to push him into a nasty fall to the canvas. After that, Miz and Morrison exchanged frequent tags, trying to ground Kingston by working on his left leg.

After several attempts, he finally made the hot tag to Mysterio, who nailed Morrison with a 'rana and a remarkable Japanese armdrag-cum-DDT, the cover of which was broken up by The Miz. Mysterio then struck Morrison with the 619, but he had to deal with a distraction from The Miz as he went for a springboard splash, allowing Morrison to catch him with a flying kick for the pinfall.

After the match, to everyone's delight (ahem), Mike Knox attacked Mysterio, and laid him out with a kick to the head.

Winners: The Miz & John Morrison

Again backstage, Cena confronted Michaels and asked if he was going in the ring against two guys, or three. But while Michaels replied that he was "nobody's puppet", he also told the champion that he could look to his history, to discover what he could expect from him.

Match #4: Kelly Kelly vs Jillian Hall

In what was another Divas' contest that made one wonder "Where is Gail Kim?", Kelly Kelly faced Jillian Hall. After performing one of the worst dropkicks in recent memory, and surviving a countered attempt at a victory roll, Kelly sprung off Jillian's back, coming down on her with a legdrop for the pin.

After the bout, Kane came to ringside to scorn Kelly, noting that next week, he would go back to doing what he loves best, "eviscerating (disembowelling) people", in his contest with the man who jilted Kelly, Randy Orton.

Winner: Kelly Kelly.

Match #5: Sim Snuka & Cody Rhodes vs Cryme Tyme

Things didn't look good for Rhodes and Snuka in the early going here, as they attempted to cement their place in Randy Orton's Legacy group. They eventually took control when JTG was blind-sided by Snuka, allowing Rhodes to take over with punches, kicks, and a bodyslam, before JTG struck Snuka with a hooking clothesline, allowing him to make the tag.

Shad quickly struck with a huge backdrop on Rhodes, but when JTG found himself back in the ring moments later, Rhodes utilised a twisting DDT to take the win.

Winners: Sim Snuka & Cody Rhodes

After their victory, Snuka and Rhodes jubilantly met Orton backstage, only for the "Legend Killer" to state that while Rhodes had been accepted in his fold, Snuka had not, because he hadn't made the winning pin. Creating dissention between the tag team partners, Orton then asked Rhodes if he agreed with his judgement, to which the son of the "American Dream" replied that "all I know is that I won the match."

"Glamarella" then showed up in Stephanie McMahon's office, where the General Manager informed them that Phoenix's No.1 fan, Rosa Mendes, had been banned from attending Raw events. Then, after Phoenix forcibly ejected her boyfriend from proceedings, Jericho arrived to inform a surprised Stephanie that Vince McMahon would be back on Raw in two weeks' time.

Match #6: Randy Orton & Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels & John Cena

Cena looked tentative as he stood alongside his tag team partner before the start of this match-up, while the "Heartbreak Kid" refused to even meet eyes with him. But they did work together in the early going, combining to double-clothesline Jericho over the top rope, just prior to JBL appearing on the rampway, apparently to encourage Michaels to do the right thing by their agreement.

But things didn't work go quite so swimmingly when Cena mistakenly grabbed Michaels in the F.U position after Orton had attacked his eyes, a deed which Michaels met with a hard shove to the chest. Jericho then went to work on Cena with a slingshot splash and a sleeperhold, before Orton tagged in and stomped Cena on the ground, in a move reminiscent of Ronnie Garvin. When Cena was caught again in a sleeper by Jericho, Michaels finally showed interest in receiving the tag, though Orton and Jericho did a good job of keeping Cena from making it.

When Cena eventually did make the tag to Michaels, the former Grand Slam title winner (having held all of the WWE's championships) hesitated before attacking his autumn nemesis, but once again worked with him to strike Randy Orton with Sweet Chin Music, before doing likewise to Jericho to take the win. Behind the curtain with Todd Grisham, JBL announced that Michaels would next week face Cena in a singles match, for which he would be in Michaels' corner.

Winners: Shawn Michaels & John Cena

Final Thoughts: With two good matches this week in the main event and Miz & Morrison vs Kingston & Mysterio, there was much more acceptable wrestling on this week's Raw, than was routinely the case in 2008. Those bouts were more than enough to forget the Punk vs Regal debacle -- which only served to hurt both men in the eyes of the fans -- and the sloppiness of the Divas contest.

Furthermore, the WWE's current feature angle involving Shawn Michaels and JBL was intelligently furthered, with the intriguing premise of a Michaels vs Cena bout on next week's show.

Brian Elliott is a British journalist covering soccer, MMA, and pro wrestling. His credits include the Associated Press, the Canadian Press, Fighting Spirit Magazine, and staying up ‘til 4am covering for Nick Tylwalk. Just ribbin’ ya, Nick!