Booker still reigns after No Mercy
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling
Call me old-fashioned, but when a singles championship is on the line, I prefer to see it contested by the champion and his closest-ranked challenger. And most definitely, mano a mano.
This may be professional wrestling, where we all know that not everything is as it seems, but imagine a Fatal Fourway or Three Way Dance in the world of boxing. Can you envisage current heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev stepping into the ring with (his most recent opponents) John Ruiz, Owen Beck, and Monte Barrett? Furthermore, can you imagine that if Ruiz knocked out Beck, Valuev would lose his title?
No, I can't see it either.
So imagine my disappointment when WWE.com this week announced that the World Heavyweight title match between King Booker and Bobby Lashley was now a four-way bout incorporating Batista and Finlay, who were previously scheduled to face off in a separate bout. Word around the campfire suggested that the WWE hierarchy feared a poor pay-per-view buy rate, and it was hoped that the premise that "The Animal" could reclaim the title that he never lost - when in January a torn tricep sidelined him for six months -- would be enough to stir more fan interest.
Match #1: Matt Hardy vs Gregory Helms
The first match from the RBC Centre in Raleigh, North Carolina featured two hometown stars who have consistently had the best matches on Smackdown in recent weeks. So, in WWE land, it was a no-brainer that they were on first.
Perhaps annoyed by their position on the card, Hardy and Helms had an excellent back and forth match, highlighted in the early going by a plancha dive by Hardy, and a second-rope Russian Leg Sweep by Helms. The latter retained control for much of the remainder of the bout, using a modified version of the Unprettier -- with Hardy landing on his back rather than his stomach -- three times, before Hardy repeated the trifecta, using his own Side Effect slam.
The finish came after Hardy missed a moonsault from the top, and Helms twice tried to put him away with the Shining Wizard. Unable to do so, he picked Hardy up from the canvas, whereupon he was caught with the Twist of Fate for the win.
Winner: Matt Hardy
Match rating: 8.0 / 10
Match #2 -- Tag Team Championship: Paul London & Brian Kendrick ( c ) vs K.C James & Idol Stevens
After a segment in which William Regal promised King Booker that he would persuade Finlay not to commit treachery on him in the main event, it was time for the Tag Team Championship match. As such, my fears were allayed about having to follow the opener, but then now, who would be able to follow this?
This was another very good contest, made so in particular by the effort of Paul London, who took a horrible bump early in the bout, being pushed from the second turnbuckle by James and landing back-first on the mats at ringside. From there, the challengers worked on London's back, until Kendrick received the hot tag, and scored with an impressive spinning DDT / dropkick combination, taking out both of his opponents. When Michelle McCool saved her charge by pulling James' foot onto the bottom rope, Ashley -- who had accompanied London & Kendrick to ringside -- was incensed and the two engaged in a scuffle at ringside.
Back in the ring, Kendrick hit James with a shiranui (sometimes known as Sliced Bread), followed up by a shooting star press from London -- springing off Kendrick's back -- for the pinfall on James.
Winners: Paul London & Brian Kendrick
Match rating: 8.0 / 10
After a trailer for The Marine -- which I quite objected to, since I didn't pay up for this pay-per-view to be hit with a two-minute advert -- William Regal was backstage searching for Finlay. Instead, he found Vito, dress et al, working out with a skipping rope. This was a set up for the obvious thong gag, and Regal was so repulsed by what he saw that when he turned to leave, he ran straight into a condiments cart, and was covered in ketchup and mustard.
What did you think of WWE No Mercy?
I loved it - 13%
It was okay - 12%
It sucked - 17%
Didn't see it - 58%
Back at ringside, Teddy Long emerged and noted that the cake and oversized present in the ring was for The Miz, who was celebrating his birthday. Long said that Diva Search winner Layla -- whom The Miz has been chasing recently -- wanted to help him celebrate, and indeed she came out wearing next-to-nothing, giving Miz a little lap dance before blindfolding him. Out of the present box then came Smackdown writer Chris DeJoseph -- who is the overweight male stripper who has been on TV several times -- who similarly danced for Miz, as Layla stood back. Upon realising what had happened, The Miz couldn't leave ringside quick enough.
Match #3: MVP vs Mystery Opponent
With the big build-up that MVP (full name Montel Vontavious Porter) has received in the last few weeks, the fact that his mystery opponent was not Chris Benoit, or even Tatanka or Scotty 2 Hotty, was a real let-down. Instead, his adversary was Marty Garner, and this was a pay-per-view squash match. MVP won quickly with his version of Elix Skipper's Play of the Day.
Match rating: 2.0 / 10
Backstage, William Regal was coming out of the shower, cleaning up after his ketchup and mustard debacle. Horribly -- and obviously, this wasn't planned -- he hadn't quite arranged his towel properly, and we got to see more of Regal than anyone had intended. In any case -- and we're back to what was scripted now -- in his hurry to get away from Vito, Regal's towel dropped, exposing his back side to the camera, and everything else to those in front of him. Teddy Long then said that he wouldn't put up with such nonsense, and told Regal to be ready for a bout later on.
Match #4: Mr Kennedy vs The Undertaker
Despite his promo on this past week's Smackdown, in which he proclaimed he wasn't intimidated by The Undertaker, that was clearly not the case as Kennedy awaited his opponent's arrival to the ring.
The U.S champion, however, controlled the majority of this matchup, hitting Undertaker with a brutal Samoa Joe-style running facewash kick, and striking with a piledriver. When Undertaker sat up, he scored with a chokeslam, but Kennedy then took him face-first into an exposed top turnbuckle, before getting a near fall with a swanton bomb. Frustrated at failing to get the pinfall, Kennedy went to ringside and brought the U.S title belt into the ring, but it was taken from him by Undertaker, who was disqualified for striking it against his opponent's head. He then used the Tombstone on both Kennedy and referee Robinson.
This was a poor finish to a rather poor bout. It isn't often that an Undertaker match fails to keep the attention of the crowd, but in the long time that Kennedy held the offensive upper hand, the crowd were noticeably unconvinced by him.
Winner: Mr Kennedy (via disqualification)
Match rating: 5.5 / 10
Match #5 -- Falls Count Anywhere: Rey Mysterio vs Chavo Guerrero Jr.
This was a very odd match, in that whilst it was Falls Count Anywhere with no disqualifications, it was much more of a kick/punch brawl than I would ever have anticipated from these two. Unfortunately, that also meant that this was a notch down from my expectations.
In between the fists and feet, Mysterio did manage to strike with a couple of nice 'ranas, one on the stage area, and one on the concrete between the stands and the ringside area. Guerrero, for his part, threw Mysterio into the barricade several times, and also struck with a vicious clothesline. At one of the entrances to the arena, Mysterio delivered a 619 using the railings of a staircase, before hitting a crossbody from the top of the same railing for the 1-2-3.
Winner: Rey Mysterio
Match rating: 6.5 / 10
Match #6 -- William Regal vs Mystery Opponent
Regal made his way to the ring with no idea who his opponent would be, but to the absolute delight of the audience -- and me, at home -- Chris Benoit emerged for what was the most brutal WWE bout in recent memory.
Benoit looked fresh after his near-five-month layoff, and was typically aggressive in this contest, rocking Regal with his patented chops, as well as a sickening headbutt which cut Regal open hardway. After an attempt at a German suplex from the apron to the floor, Regal reversed and drove his opponent's head into the apron with a DDT. He then utilised a surfboard/dragon sleeper combination, before attempting to apply the Regal Stretch.
The Edmonton native soon hit the comeback trail, however, and tried to apply the Crippler Crossface, forcing Regal to reach for the ropes. Benoit then struck with a Dragon suplex, and eventually did apply the Crossface for the submission victory.
This was a tremendously stiff match that harked back to the psychology of 1970s British wrestling, and was the match of the night.
Winner: Chris Benoit
Match rating: 8.5 / 10
Match #7 -- World Heavyweight Championship: King Booker ( c ) vs Bobby Lashley vs Finlay vs Batista
After a backstage segment in which King Booker and Regal traded blows after The King labelled the Englishman as "useless", it was time for the evening's main event.
Booker and Finlay initially began working together, double-teaming both Lashley and Batista, but Finlay soon turned on the monarch with a stiff clothesline. Later, with Batista and Booker outside the ring, Lashley set himself up for the spear on Finlay, only for Finlay's minature sidekick to strike with a low-blow. In the referee's haste to see who had struck Lashley, he missed Finlay then connecting with the shillelagh.
After Batista struck Booker with a Jackhammer, Batista and Lashley squared off, with the latter hitting a spinebuster and a belly-to-belly suplex, before clotheslining the former champion over the top rope.
Booker then returned to action, hitting the Book End on Lashley, but Batista then found the energy to re-enter the ring, hitting spinebusters on all three opponents. After hitting the Batista Bomb on Finlay, Lashley flew at Batista with a thundering spear, allowing Booker to make the cover on Finlay, and retain the title.
Winner: King Booker
Match rating: 7.0 / 10
Overall, No Mercy was a very good pay-per-view, brought down by the time-wasting Miz skit, and the MVP squash match. But these failings were more than made up for by three excellent bouts in Hardy vs Helms, Kendrick & London vs Stevens & James, and Regal vs Benoit.
The main event was better than perhaps expected, but still, it couldn't hold a candle to the earlier bouts, and I maintain that the card would have been better served to cut the Miz and MVP nonsense, retaining the original singles matches on top.
Let's hope that the buyrate was worth the change...
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WWE No Mercy 2006 DVD
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.