Raw: Orton a weak challenger going into Hell in a Cell
BRIAN ELLIOTT -- SLAM! Wrestling
The recent WWE fad for the celebrity guest host has certainly had its critics, but if it is publicity what the company are after (and it most assuredly is), then having the Rev. Al Sharpton as host in Albany, New York this week was a success days before the show went live on air.
Sharpton, an often outspoken Baptist minister and civil rights activist, was condemned in several areas of the press for planning to appear on the show, most notably by long-time Vince McMahon critic Phil Mushnick (no relation to legendary promoter Sam) of the New York Post, especially since the company has a history of playing on racial stereotypes, as can be seen with Cryme Tyme's antics. Not to mention those with a voice in print, a vocal minority of fans pledged to boycott Raw due to Sharpton's involvement.
But in any case, the Reverend – who claims he is doing the show to reach out to illiterate youths – did indeed take the mic, beginning with appearing with MVP and Mark Henry on the VIP Lounge. That was not before Chris Jericho & The Big Show interrupted proceedings, however, with Jericho lambasting MVP for not referring to Sharpton as “the most prominent civil rights leader of our time”. The two then traded introductory accolades until Sharpton arrived to quite vocal boos from the crowd, which only changed when he made a match between the two teams for the Unified Tag Team Titles.
Match #1 – Unified Tag Team Title Match: Chris Jericho & Big Show ( c ) vs MVP & Mark Henry
The big men of each team were dominant throughout this contest, as Big Show easily had his way with MVP, as Henry did likewise with Chris Jericho. The action was sub-par until Jericho missed a Lionsault on MVP, allowing the latter to make a tag to Henry, who stormed the ring and threw the Intercontinental Champion over the top rope, though he was caught by “The World's Largest Athlete”.
After a break, Big Show and Henry exchanged power moves, before the two clotheslined each other, allowing a double-tag. MVP then worked over Jericho, getting a near-fall with the Ballin' elbow, but Big Show broke up an attempt at the Playmaker. Two other near-falls came from a schoolboy and a DDT, but when MVP came off the ropes to launch himself at Jericho, Big Show struck from behind with a punch, after which Jericho hit the Codebreaker for the pin. The champions now defend the titles against Rey Mysterio and Batista at Hell in a Cell.
Winners: Chris Jericho & Big Show
Match rating: 3.5 / 10
Chavo Guerrero's recent “tweeting“ clearly was of little significance to anyone at WWE, as he remained in conflict with Hornswaggle in the next segment. Chasing him around Sharpton's office, he was soon joined by Chris Masters – looking remarkably like a taller Ken Shamrock – and Santino Marella, with Marella mocking the two before their tag team match later in the show.
Also backstage, Randy Orton spoke of the “slaughter” that John Cena would endure in his gauntlet match later on the show, and proclaimed that he would take the WWE Title from Cena at Hell in a Cell.
Match #2 – Divas Title match: Mickie James vs Rosa Mendes
Mendes - who was accompanied to the ring by James' opponent on Sunday Alicia Fox – continued to look out of her depth on live television, with several moves mistimed before James used a distraction by Fox to her advantage, striking with a spinning kick after Mendes crotched herself on the ropes.
Winner: Mickie James
Match rating: 0.5 / 10
With the Hell in a Cell structure hanging above them, Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase lambasted those who believe that they don't have a chance against D-X on Sunday, noting how they made Shawn Michaels tap out at the Breaking Point pay-per-view. But after Rhodes noted that it was a case of D-X being locked in the cell with Legacy, and not Legacy being locked in with D-X, Michaels & Triple-H interrupted and likened themselves to The Incredible Hulk – the green monster just waiting to show itself. When the multiple-time singles champions then took to the ring, Rhodes & DiBiase fled, at which point Helmsley informed them that they should enjoy the distance, since they'll be locked in the cell on Sunday.
Match #3 – Jack Swagger vs Evan Bourne
There was a huge size difference here between the 6ft 6in Swagger – who carried the stolen U.S Title to the ring - and the 5ft 9in Bourne that soon played into this three-minute contest. After initially working on Bourne's leg, the former ROH competitor countered with a knees-first bodypress, but when he went for a hurucanrana, Swagger lifted him from the ground and powerbombed Bourne for the pin. After the match, The Miz taunted Swagger prior to the Triple Threat match with Kofi Kingston on Sunday, and when the two then brawled, rightful champion Kofi Kingston stepped in to take back his title belt.
Winner: Jack Swagger
Match rating: 2.0 / 10
Match #4 – Santino Marella & Hornswaggle vs Chavo Guerrero & Chris Masters
This match was comedy from before the bell had even rung, and that theme continued, albeit unintentionally, after the bout as well. Following a Masterlock victory for the heels, Masters grabbed Hornswaggle and put him in the hold, only for Chavo Guerrero to inexplicably break it up by punching Masters. Guerrero then left the ring looking at his hands, sadly with barely an iota of the greatness with which Bob Backlund did the same in 1994.
Winners: Chavo Guerrero & Chris Masters
Match rating: 0.0000000001 / 10
Match #5 – Gauntlet Match: John Cena vs Chris Jericho, Big Show, and Randy Orton
After Pittsburg Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was announced as the guest host of next week's show, it was time for the main event gauntlet match, with Chris Jericho opening up against Cena.
Cena attempted to get a quick victory over Jericho in the early going, grounding him for two pinfall attempts and an ill-fated try for an STF. Instead, Jericho choked him on the ropes and held a sleeperhold, before missing a charge into the corner, whereafter Cena struck with two flying shoulderblocks and the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Jericho then reversed an attempt at the Attitude Adjustment into the Walls of Jericho, which he refused to break even when Cena made the ropes. This caused him to be disqualified, intentionally, leaving Cena as prey for Big Show.
Show's offence consisted largely of a bearhug, until Cena reversed a chokeslam into a DDT. Despite the bad back from the Walls of Jericho, Cena then managed to lift Big Show into the Attitude Adjustment position, only for Jericho to run into the ring to cause another DQ.
Randy Orton then entered the fray in the slowest, most methodical manner imaginable, even allowing Cena time to recover from the beating. Staring face-to-face, Cena pointed to the sky, at which point the cell lowered, trapping Orton inside the structure with the WWE champion. Bringing back memories of the infamous Mankind vs The Undertaker bout from 1998, Orton then went through the door and scaled the cell to run from Cena, only for the champion to follow him, and eventually deliver the Attitude Adjustment, bringing the show to an end.
Winner: No contest
Match rating: 4.5 / 10
Final thoughts: While the closing segment with Orton and Cena was both dramatic and enjoyable, it did leave fans wondering why on earth Orton allowed Cena the opportunity to get to recover, especially when he earlier claimed that Cena would be “slaughtered” in the match. It made the challenger look weak, which is the last thing that should happen going into a title match.
Thankfully, Rev. Al Sharpton's involvement in proceedings was kept to a bare minimum, with only one appearance live in front of the audience. That said, with all of the publicity garnered, you could argue that to have used him in a more influential and positive manner would have silenced some of the product's critics.
Brian Elliott is a British journalist covering soccer, mixed martial arts, and professional wrestling, who has recently written for the likes of the Daily Mirror newspaper, the Associated Press, and Sports Illustrated. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.