Jed Shafer: Arm Chair Booker, Part One
“Jed, what would you do if you were in charge?”
I get that a lot. I don’t know if I can say I get it more then other IWC writers, but the nature of my column kinda pre-loads the question into most any email or message I get. But if you’re asking the question, then you know the reply is a hell of a lot more complicated then can be said in a quick email or a 30-second answer in an interview.
Based on feedback I’ve received from emails, as well as from the awesome folks in our Official WrestleCrap Forums, there’s a staggering number of people who’d like to know what I would do if the current Big Three (WWE, TNA and ROH) put me behind the wheel. I’ve never been one to ignore the audience and their demands, so, this brings us to what you’re now readying: the first of a three-part series, where I sit in the captain’s chair of the Big Three and guide the ship as I see fit.
Before we dive in, though, there’s some rules that I decided on to make things feel more authentic: first, being in charge of the creative direction of a fed does not necessarily equate the power to hire and fire. In Ring Of Honor, Gabe Sapolsky has carte blanche because ROH is an indy. But Michael Hayes over on Smackdown does not; his job description is booking (or whatever lame euphamism the ‘E is using these days) and nothing but. TNA is a little more flexible, as those in charge of creative are so close to Jeff Jarrett, they might as well be talent relations. So, I’m going to play along just as the promotions act: in ROH, the sky’s the limit. WWE, I only get the toys currently in the toy box. TNA … there’s wiggle room.
Second–and I hope this isn’t a disappointment to some–I’m not going into micro-fine detail for months and months on end with angles. That’s more time then I want to invest, because that means coming up with angles for everyone. Once we get to the section of the column regarding angles, I’ll give a general overview of some angles I’d book, but no week-by-week, step-by-step breakdowns. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be a three-parter; it’d rival War & Peace in its length. You don’t want that anymore then I do.
Third: each column will have a “launch date”. That’s the real-life date we’ll be saying I assumed control of the fed, so there’s a sense of continuity with current rosters/storylines/etc.
And finally–I won’t be playing fast and loose with reality. The injured are injured, and that’s that. I can’t turn Triple H or Kurt Angle into fodder for Festus and Shark Boy. But people out for kayfabe reasons are fair game..
Okay, we all clear? Good. Let’s dive in. And there’s no better place to start Stamford, CT, with World Wrestling Entertainment.
Launch date: May 1.
Part 1-A: Creating roster balance
The Brand Extention stays. Deal with it. The roster’s just too big to cram into a two hour show.
However, one problem that’s sprung up from the split is the gross inequity between the rosters (disregarding ECW, cause that’s obviously not meant to be on the same level as the other two). The E’s primary brands, Raw and Smackdown, have the balance of Kelly Kelly and Big Daddy V try to use a see-saw. In case you think I’m joking, here, let me illustrate.
On Raw, the roster consists of Paul Burchill, Lance Cade, Carlito, John Cena, Jim Duggan, Charlie Haas, Jeff Hardy, Hardcore Holly, Chris Jericho, Brian Kendrick, Mr. Kennedy, John “Bradshaw” Layfield, Paul London, Santino Marella, Robbie McAllister, Rory McAllister, Shawn Michaels, Trevor Murdoch, Randy Orton, William Regal, Cody Rhodes, D.H. Smith, Snitsky, Super Crazy, Triple H, Umaga, and Val Venis.
Over on Smackdown, there’s Batista, Big Show, Deuce, Domino, Kenny Dykstra, Edge, Festus, Finlay, Funaki, The Great Khali, Chavo Guerrero, Matt Hardy, Curt Hawkins, Gregory Helms, Mark Henry, Hornswoggle, Jesse, Shannon Moore, Rey Mysterio, Jamie Noble, Chuck Palumbo, Montel Vontavious Porter, Zack Ryder, Dave Taylor, The Undertaker, and Jimmy Wang Yang.
That’s 27 stars apiece for Raw and 26 for Smackdown, counting those inactive because of injury, suspension or other unspecified reasons. “Jed, that’s a great balance!” you say. And in terms of pure numbers, you’re right; there’s only a difference of one.
But look closer. Look at the quality of talent in the card positions on the two shows. Smackdown’s main event and upper midcard? Batista, Rey, MVP, Edge, and Undertaker. I’m being generous with MVP there, as he has a tendency to be booked as a whipping post for Smackdown’s true main event talent. Show and Finlay were on loan to Raw for so long, they feel like guests in their home. Khali’s pushed with a wink and a nudge, reminding us how useless he really is. So what does that leave us with? Batista, Edge and ‘Taker are credible world title threats at any time. Rey… thanks to injuries and inconsistent booking, Rey, as a main event talent, is a mess. Below them? Go-nowhere tag teams, damaged goods and lower mid-card fodder. Mark Henry is probably the most likely to break out of that pack. Send up the white flag, Custer.
Now look at Raw: Cena, Jericho, JBL, Michaels, Orton, Triple H. A case could be made for Umaga, Santino, Kennedy and Regal (his role has power over the entire roster of Raw; you tell me he can’t be slotted in a main event at will just based off that) being upper-mid and on the threshold of the main event, and though Jeff Hardy’s likely midcard for life now, the crowd will still go ballistic for him. Any one of those six is world title material (they’re all, in fact, former champs), and any of those other five are only one win away from joining the party. And beneath them? Carlito, Burchill, Rhodes, Murdoch, Cade and Smith. Sure, right now, they aren’t credible threats, but that’s not a bad foundation for a midcard. Better than relying on Mizark, the Prince of Punk and Spirit Squad Kenny to carry Smackdown into the next generation.
Oh, fine, I guess we better look at ECW, too, cause they are part of the company. They have Shelton Benjamin, Big Daddy V, The Boogeyman, Elijah Burke, CM Punk, Colin Delaney, Kane, Tommy Dreamer, Kofi Kingston, Mike Knox, Balls Mahoney, The Miz, John Morrison, Nunzio, Stevie Richards, and Kevin Thorn.
Now, ECW’s a weird bird. There’s three levels of stars in ECW: the two guys fighting for the title, a few “project” guys either fresh from developmental or limping in from a failure on the other brands, andeveryone else (you know this last group as “jobbers”). And what with the “talent exchange” with Smackdown, really, I guess we coulda lumped this into Smackdown, but that’d just be shoving more useless filler down Smackdown’s throat. Cause, really … once you get past Kane and Punk, the only other guys with anything to them are Morrison (who still feels like too much, too soon), Dreamer (old, broken down, coasting on nostalgia) and Shelton (on his, what, third, fourth, fifth repackaging?). Kingston is still beating up prelim guys, Miz is nothing with Morrison, Delaney is joke whose punchline will wear out soon (see Whipwreck, Mikey) … and then there’s everyone else.
And we haven’t even gotten to the Divas yet.
So … inventory review: we have one brand that’s beyond top-heavy, one that “anemic” is an understatement, and the mess of ECW. To fix that, I’ve done some major reshuffling of the decks. No hirings, no firings … just swaps, all to better accentuate the positives and address some key needs. 27 guys on Raw, 27 on Smackdown, 15 on ECW.
Raw’s new roster is Lance Cade, John Cena, John “Bradshaw” Layfield, Santino Marella, Robbie McAllister, Rory McAllister, Randy Orton, William Regal, Triple H, Umaga, Batista, Kenny Dykstra, Snitsky, Trevor Murdoch, The Boogeyman, Kevin Thorn, Chuck Palumbo, Dave Taylor, Mike Knox, Jim Duggan, Rey Mysterio, Finlay, Hornswoggle, Mr. Kennedy, Big Daddy V, Deuce and Domino.
Now, Smackdown: Paul Burchill, Charlie Haas, Shelton Benjamin, The Miz, John Morrison, Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, Brian Kendrick, Paul London, Edge, Festus, Jesse, Chavo Guerrero, Curt Hawkins, Mark Henry, The Undertaker, Zack Ryder, Stevie Richards, CM Punk, Shawn Michaels, Elijah Burke, Matt Hardy, Montel Vontavious Porter, Big Show, Gregory Helms, Cody Rhodes and Hardcore Holly.
And, finally, ECW: D.H. Smith, Val Venis, Funaki, The Great Khali, Shannon Moore, Jimmy Wang Yang, Colin Delaney, Tommy Dreamer, Kofi Kingston, Balls Mahoney, Nunzio, Carlito, Kane, Jamie Noble and Super Crazy.
Immediately, the shows get new blood and new match-ups, and the rosters are more balanced. Raw picks up Batista and Rey Mysterio, while Smackdown picks up Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy. ECW picks up some new talent that needs exposure, and some veteran talent that can serve as guiding hands. That’s to say nothing of the midcards and tag ranks, which get much-needed injections. But this is only the beginning. There’s more work to be done.
Part 1-B: Roster fine-tuning
Now that the rosters have been rearranged, there’s a couple other talent issues to be sorted out.
First is tag teams (ECW is exempt here, since they don’t have tag titles). The division is, quite frankly, pathetic. Teams are built up, get the titles, lose ’em, and languish in jobsville, or worse, break up weeks later without building up enough heat for people to care for them as singles stars. With the new rosters, not a problem, because I built my rosters around several principles, and one of them was to give the tag ranks a booster shot.
On Raw, there’s Cade & Murdoch and The Highlanders, and Deuce & Domino just arrived thanks to me. In addition to that, I’m making a few new teams: Finlay & Taylor (their gimmick being henchmen in GM William Regal’s administration), Knox & Snitsky (monster heels with no mercy), and Palumbo & Dykstra (doing a Natural Born Thrillers-style pairing). Just like that, six tag teams.
And Smackdown? Well, they have London/Kendrick, Morrison & Miz, Jesse & Festus, The Rated R-my and Holly & Rhodes, without adding a single team. But we’re gonna add a few anyway: please welcome Benjamin & Burke and Haas & Helms to the party. That’s seven tag teams. Just like that, both shows have a vibrant tag scene with smart pairings added to their existing sets.
Second: the midcard. Half my work is already done here. The re-org took care of one of the midcard’s largest problems, being a lack of depth. All that needs to be done is book smart. No problem.
Next: announcers. JR and King stay on Raw. I’m bringing back Styles for ECW, and I’m killing this “stop calling the moves, tell a story” crap. Styles sounds so generic in that role, and it’s turned JR into Willard Scott (watch Today, and you’ll see what I mean). Now, Smackdown? Dear sweet crap. That’s gotta change. I’d love to ditch Cole, but there’s no available talent to replace him. However, Coach has to go, and the choice is obvious: Josh Mathews. He was solid in the booth on Velocity, and deserves the shot, so Coach gets the heave-ho.
Okay, last on this part of the agenda are the Divas. There’s someserious work needed here, thanks to Johnny Ace’s policy of hiring out of the pages of Maxim and Victoria’s Secret catalogs, but since I’m not allowed to hire/fire, I’m gonna do the best with what I have to work with. First, I’m taking the ECW Divas–Kelly Kelly and Layla–and I’m moving them to Raw. Why? ECW doesn’t need Divas. They have 44 minutes a week to get over 15 wrestlers; the useless T&A brings only cuts the legs out from under the purpose of the show. Beyond that, well, I gotta reshuffle the existing ladies.
On Raw, we’d have Ashley, Maria, Cherry, Eve Torres, Maryse, Torrie Wilson, Kelly Kelly, and Layla.
For Smackdown, we’d have Katie Lea, Nattie Neidhart, Mickie James, Melina, Candice Michelle, Beth Phoenix, Michelle McCool, Victoria, and Jillian Hall.
There’s one more thing to go along with this change in the Divas: the Women’s Title is coming to Smackdown. Why? That’s a lead-in to:
Part 2: Re-branding the brands
One of the biggest criticisms about WWE is that the Brand Extension has failed to do anything regarding creating distinctbrands. The angles and appearences of Raw and Smackdown are interchangable, and the talent hop-scotching back and forth doesn’t help. Since January, when they went to the big HD set, the only visual difference at all are the personnel and the color of the ring ropes.
But I’ve created distinct differences between the brands, just by rearranging the performers. The new rosters were done with the purpose of creating two distinct shows. Raw is a more sports-entertainment-oriented show, with wrestlers who slant more towards “WWE Main Event Style”. Smackdown has the strongerwrestlers. This even extends to the Divas; notice who’s on Raw? All the pretty faces with the wrestling skills of doorknobs. Smackdown, new home of the Women’s Championship, has women wrestlers. Making the distinction between the shows is important; it gives the audience a choice on what style they want to watch. It’s a lot easier to sell two different candy bars then it is the same candy bar in two different wrappers; same issue here. Raw will feature the bigger, more sensationalistic angles (pretty much staying the same as it is, in other words); Smackdown will focus on in-ring action, much like the old NWA or WCW.
Having a distinction does more then give the audience options, though; it creates drama when the brands collide. Brand rivalries mean nothing when the brands are identical; to go back to candy analogies, imagine if the Mars company ran commercials for Snickers that attacked Milky Way’s lack of peanuts, saying Snickers were a more filling candy bar. The stupidity there is that they’re both made by Mars. So, having Smackdown and Raw wrestlers be “proud” of their brands when their brands mean nothing more then different-colored ropes is ludicrous. It’s even dumber when you see wrestlers jump brands at will (something that will not be happening under my administration without a damned good reason).
Now, wrestlers have reason to be proud of their brand; Smackdown wrestlers can say they wrestle for the brand that focuses on wrestling and has the best pure athletes. Raw superstars can say they’re on the show that has the original WWE Title and has been the “flagship” for the WWE since 1993. Suddenly, the brands mean something again. Brand loyalty is now important, not only to the wrestlers, but to the fans.
As for ECW, yeah, it’s still the wrestling equivelant of the junk drawer in your kitchen … but it doesn’t have to be tacitly presentedas such. So I’ll take the most obvious path: ECW will be fought under old ECW rules. No DQ’s, no countouts. It’ll still be sort of a televised developmental show, but the style will be more akin to the old ECW … but it won’t be pushed down the viewers’ throat. There won’t be table spots in every match, there won’t be lesbian love triangles; it’s more about having the freedom then using it.
But since ECW’s roster is smaller, I’m also going to extend the “talent exchange” between ECW and Smackdown; it will also exist between ECW and Raw. It won’t be a prominent, or oft-used feature, but it will exist. Sometimes, 15 wrestlers just won’t be enough, ya know? Inter-brand rivalries, with the ECW wrestlers being protective of their turf against the “Big Two” will make ECW seem more renegade and give it a grittier, underdog feel. It might even restore some value to its belt.
Part 3: The PPV calendar
There’s one more issue to attend to, and while it may exist outside the normal boundaries of WWE Creative’s authority, I’d press the issue to Vinnie Mac. It’s the pay-per-view calendar. Since the roster split, WWE has tried two different strategies regarding PPV: “co-branded” PPV’s, and “brand-specific” events. I don’t think it can be said that either path has been entirely successful; the co-branded events reek of being an upper-midcarders-or-higher-only club, and have reduced the specialness of the “Big Four” tentpole events. But the brand-specific shows felt like they had an untenable amount of filler, exposing the host brand’s roster weaknesses. While I don’t know if my idea is the best solution, I think it has a lot more promise then either the old model or the current one. My calendar of events would look as such:
Royal Rumble–mid-January, co-branded.
No Way Out–late-Febuary, Raw-exclusive.
Bad Blood–late February, Smackdown-exclusive.
WrestleMania–late March, co-branded.
Backlash–late April, Raw-exclusive.
Judgment Day–late May, Smackdown-exclusive.
King Of The Ring–late June, co-branded.
One Night Stand–late July, Raw-exclusive.
Great American Bash–late July, Smackdown-exclusive.
SummerSlam–late August, co-branded.
Unforgiven–late September, Raw-exclusive.
No Mercy–mid-October, Smackdown-exclusive.
Survivor Series–mid-November, co-branded.
Clash Of The Champions–mid-December, co-branded.
The changes are, no doubt, screamingly obvious, and probably controversial: there’s a couple more events then the current calendar, which runs counter to the common complaint of “too many events!”. But beyond that, there’s a couple bigger changes; a limited number of brand-specific events are back, as I think my rosters can support them. And I added two co-branded events: King Of The Ring (who doesn’t love KOTR?), and I turned Armageddon–usually one of the year’s most skippable shows–into something big by giving it the “Night Of Champions” motif, and renaming it something with a little more history and class. Months with two events in it would be put towards the end of the month, staggered if possible, but on consecutive weekends if not; yeah, I know it sucks for the pocketbook for someone who wants to see every event, but remember I’m trying to create two viable markets, not squeezing more blood out of one then exists. If someone wants both events, hey, cool, more power to me. If not, thye have their choice which show to follow.
What of ECW, you ask? With the “talent exchange”, they can piggyback on the other brands’ events. This gives them the unique position of having a couple matches at every PPV, unlike Raw and Smackdown. They don’t have the roster to support a full PPV; we’ve seen evidence of that with the lone ECW PPV they tried to put on two years ago. No need to repeat that disaster.
And, to capitalize on WrestleMania turning a quarter-century old (!!!), it will be a super-sized five hour event.
So … we have the rosters set. We re-energized nearly every position on the card, from main event to tag teams. We brought a logical order to the Women’s division, and are maximizing the use of the eye candy Divas in ways that make sense. We tinkered with the PPV card. There’s nothing left, as far as the business end goes.
Part 4: The booking
Across the brands, there’s gonna need to be reason for the rosters to have become so shuffled. A simple draft lottery–even with a “supplemental draft”–cannot explain the vast amounts of personnel shifting from one show to the other, so we’ll have to get creative. And it just so happens WWE has the set-up for it on TV right now: the Batista/Shawn Michaels match.
The issues between Batista and Michaels continue past Backlash, with wrestlers starting to take sides in the argument. It comes out that Flair didn’t choose Batista because he wanted a betterwrestler, not a big brawler.
As this happens, it is decreed that the month of May will feature two landscape-changing events: the first Monday in May will see elections for the General Manager positions, to be voted on by the wrestlers. In addition, the brand extension will be suspended for a period of one month, allowing wrestlers to try out the other brands and renegotiate their brand contracts. This will lead up to a draft lottery on the final Raw of the month, where any talent who have not committed to a show (or talent unavailable for any reason, such as injury, etc.) will be drafted at random to a brand. ECW will elect Tommy Dreamer as their GM (although he will remain an active competitor); William Regal will rig the election on Raw to remain GM; and on Smackdown, in a stunning write-in upset, Ric Flair is elected GM (I don’t like either Vickie or Teddy). The GM’s woo wrestlers, many wrestlers jump ship, and at the end of the month, the draft lottery is held, rounding out the roster changes. Any championships on wrestlers who jump ship are stripped–Umaga wins the Intercontinental Title, and the team of Snitsky & Knox win the Tag Titles.
Around this, wrestlers start to take sides on the HBK/Batista issue, as it becomes bigger then just about Flair or HBK being a bad person; it becomes a statement on wrestling and who is the superior brand. With Smackdown now being commanded by Flair, he stocks his cabinet with wrestlers not only partisan to him, but more in the mold he wants Smackdown to be: like the old NWA. Raw ends up stocked with those who want to carry on the tradition set forth by the WWE’s 20+ years of dominance. At the end of May, aside from the new open door policy regarding ECW, Raw’s and Smackdown’s rosters are locked.
In the tag division, the main story is the utter domination of Snitsky & Knox, who retain the titles as often with pinfalls and ref stoppages as they do with disqualifications because they’re so violent. Cade & Murdoch and Palumbo & Dykstra are the two top tier face teams chasing Snitsky & Knox, with Regal’s henchman Finlay & Taylor (dubbed The House Of Lords) making it a four-way war as Regal tries to exert control over as many championships as he can. Deuce & Domino and The Highlanders feud with each other primarily, but occasionally get worked into the tag scene.
The Divas primarily stick to roles as valets, getting involved in distaff feuds stemming from their clients’ main feuds. The occasional T&A match occurs.
In the mid-card, Umaga is turned face, and is chased by a glut of challengers. William Regal leads the pack, wanting to secure the IC Title for his stable; Big Daddy V, Kevin Thorn, The Boogeyman, Santino Marella and Rey Mysterio all turn up as challengers. Mysterio and Marella end up feuding as they both go after Umaga. Armando Estrada goes back to managing, but Umaga rejects his services, so Estrada secures the services of Big Daddy V to destroy his former client. Kevin Thorn and The Boogeyman pair off as they try to gain ground in the chase.
In the main event, a number of feuds dominate; John Cena puts his chase for the WWE Title on hold in favor of getting revenge on Randy Orton once and for all. Batista, now back on Raw, sets his sights on Triple H, but finds a roadblock in the form of the fame-hungry Kennedy, looking to make a name for himself at the expense of The Animal. Triple H’s main feud then becomes keeping JBL at bay; JBL’s candidacy for the #1 contendership is greased along by Commissioner Regal, who welcomes JBL into the House Of Lords as their “American diplomatic emissary”, which brings Regal into the feud as a tangential participant.
Raw gets three slots for the King Of The Ring tournament in June (in my one retro-active stroke of the pen, the recent KOTR tournament never happened), and picks Kennedy, Regal and Rey.
Smackdown’s tag champs, John Morrison and The Miz are immediately challenged by Cody Rhodes & Hardcore Holly, who use the fact their status as former tag champs on Raw as reason to get a shot on Smackdown. Likewise, Paul London & Brian Kendrick come looking for a title shot. The Rated R-my and Jesse & Festus cross paths and become rivals, and with Charlie Hass and Shelton Benjamin back on the same show, a reunion of The World’s Greatest Tag Team is teased … but Elijah Burke sticks his nose in it, trying to sway Benjamin’s loyalties.
The Women’s division (of which I will discontinue references to them being “Divas” on Smackdown, as I want them presented aswrestlers, not models and bimbos) will bring wrestling to the forefront again with competitive matches and stronger characters; Victoria will continue her role as a malicious borderline-type, Beth Phoenix will be pushed as the monster heel, Melina as the fame-hungry bitch, Mickie James as a Trish Stratus-type snarky face, and so forth. The belt will be transitioned back onto Beth Phoenix, and all comers, heel and face, will chase her, with Mickie and Candace being the top two.
In the mid-card, new United States Champion Matt Hardy will finish off his feud with MVP in a big blow-off. After that, Hardy will be find himself chased by Paul Burchill, Stevie Richards (yes, a serious midcard push for Stevie!), Chavo Guerrero and Mark Henry … but the person that Matt will want to face is his brother, Jeff; Matt will ask for the match, as he feels that he has been in his brother’s shadow for too long and wants to show that he is as big a superstar with as much of an upside as Jeff. While the match is teased and built up over time, Jeff will feud with Chavo, and Hardy with Burchill. Richards will be pushed against Henry with Richards playing off the short-lived inspiration underdog story from his ECW return. After failing to beat Hardy, MVP will try to make a name for himself by going after CM Punk.
The main event, with Undertaker at the top as World Heavyweight Champion. Everyone wants a piece of the Dead Man, but the first to get his attention is Chris Jericho, playing a tweener role. Shawn Michaels is eager to show that he is The Man after his retiring of Ric Flair and declares he’s on a mission to win the title … but Edge, bitter about losing the title, will not abide by HBK leapfrogging past him when HBK is just like Flair: an old man living on the past, taking up space that belongs to the next generation. Big Show, like MVP, will target Mr. Money In The Bank in an effort to raise his stakes in the title hunt.
For the KOTR, Flair sends MVP, Punk and Richards, who qualifies on the biggest upset of his career, pinning Big Show.
The extreme brand’s primary storylines will be the chase of Kane’s ECW Title, and the path of destruction he wrecks upon those who challenge him. Kane’s top challengers will Khali, Tommy Dreamer and Carlito, with feuds crossing between the four. Other feuds on the brand will include Kofi Kingston and Jamie Noble, and DH Smith and Val Venis. Colin Delaney will finally “earn a contract” with a high-profile victory, but Shannon Moore, looking to climb up the ladder, is fearful of Delaney getting ahead of him on the contendership ladder, and attacks the youngster, setting up their feud.
ECW’s representatives at the King Of The Ring are Carlito and DH Smith.
At the King Of The Ring, CM Punk will win the tournament, continuing his hot streak, while both Undertaker and Triple H retain their titles against Jericho (double-DQ) and Cena (Orton interference). Kane drops the ECW Title to Carlito in a display of violence not unlike Carlito’s dad, ushering in a new attitude for the Carribbean star: a bloodthirsty jerk.
For SummerSlam, Undertaker retains against Shawn Michaels, thanks to Edge screwing Shawn; Jericho, MVP and Punk tangle in a three-way for #1 contendership, with Jericho coming up the winner; the Hardys fighting Chavo & Burchill in a match to fuel the tension between the two, as they argue about getting the pin and Burchill beats Matt (setting up a title shot). ECW Champ Carlito beats Kane in a gory rematch, which is stopped by Tommy Dreamer when it gets too gory for his sensibilities. For Raw, Cena and Orton battle to a violent double-DQ that has both men doing stretcher jobs. The WWE Title is decided in a fatal four way elimination match between champ Triple H, JBL, Batista and Kennedy; Batista beats Kennedy, but Kennedy comes back to get Batista eliminated; Regal comes out, takes out the ref when he’s about to count the pinfall for Triple H, subs in himself, and screws Triple H, giving the title to JBL.
In the tag divison, Knox & Snitsky continue their reign of terror, holding onto their titles through sheer brutality. Regal, unwilling to risk injury to his minions, tries to recruit the monsters into The House Of Lords, but they rebuff the offer with violence. This prompts Regal to not only load the champions’ calendar with defense after defense, but he calls upon Tommy Dreamer to send ECW wrestlers to help dethrone the unstoppable monsters. The only team that seems to find any success is Palumbo & Dykstra, but Regal refuses to allow them the opportunity and ties them up with meaningless matches and tries to injure them through his henchmen.
In the midcard, Umaga continues to withstand the barrage of challengers, besting top contender Big Daddy V. Santino Marella and Rey Mysterio both qualify for shots at Umaga’s title; figuring an alliance with Marella will at least bring the title under his control, Regal stacks the deck for Umaga at Raw’s first post-SummerSlam PPV, with a fatal-four-way defense against Rey, Santino and himself, with the intention of taking care of Rey while Santino beats Umaga.
In the main event, Batista chases Kennedy, tearing through everyone he’s put up against in a Goldberg-like streak of destruction, while Kennedy keeps ducking him. H’s wants JBL, but Regal says he has to start at the bottom and work his way up again, leading up to a match with Randy Orton at Unforgiven. Cena, meanwhile, wins a title shot by beating JBL in a tag match, and says that after he beats JBL for the title, the first thing he’ll do is grant Orton a title shot as long as he gets his hands on the Legend Killer.
At Unforgiven, Batista tears through Big Daddy V, hired by Kennedy to be a roadblock. Knox & Snitsky defeat Tommy Dreamer & Kane, but get punked out afterwards by Dykstra & Palumbo, the first time the champs look vulnerable. Umaga surprises the GM and wins the fatal-four-way, pinning none other then Regal, which causes the tempermental, power-hungry GM to immediately book Umaga to defend his title at every Raw and ECW until Survivor Series, when he will defend against Umaga in a Duchess Of Queensbury Rules match. Triple H gets by Orton and vows to come after JBL next. Cena fails to win the WWE Title, only because JBL gets himself intentionally disqualified when his title is in jeopardy; Triple H comes out and attacks JBL, while Orton comes out and attacks Cena. They manage to fight off their foes, but Cena and Triple H are left standing in the ring, glaring at each other uneasily.
Building up to Survivor Series, several of Raw’s main event and upper card feuds combine, heading towards a Classic Survivor Series match up, putting Cena, Mysterio, Palumbo, Dykstra & Batista vs. Orton, Santino, Snitsky, Knox & Kennedy while JBL defends the WWE Title against Triple H.
In the tag division, Morrison & Miz drop the titles to Kendrick & London, but that just gives the rivalry new legs; likewise, winning the titles moves Kendrick & London into the crosshairs of Holly & Rhodes. Hawkins & Ryder also chase the champs, while still dealing with Jesse & Festus, who they can’t seem to get a handle on. The Haas/Benjamin/Burke triangle gets more complicated when Gregory Helms returns and suggests to Hass to leave Benjamin behind and team up with him.
In the Women’s division, the main story will still be Beth Phoenix’s reign of terror, dominating opponents through either raw physicality or alliances with Victoria and Melina. But over time, the lust for the gold infects them, too, and they seek shots at the champ, prompting Phoenix to start laying waste to any woman that crosses her path. Mickie James, eager to get back in the title hunt, becomes embroiled in a rivalry with Nattie Neidhart, who wants to prove herself in the division, and Mickie slowly becomes frustrated by not being able to get on the winning track.
In the mid-card, Matt Hardy drops the US Title not to Burchill, but to Chavo Guerrero (who gets Mark Henry to act as a bodyguard); immediately, Jeff Hardy goes after Chavo, looking for a shot at the title. Matt also wants to give chase, but Paul Burchill, frustrated about coming up short, wants revenge, thus derailing the former champ. Stevie Richards gets past Mark Henry, only to run headlong into the frustrated MVP, who is trying to get back on the winning track after a long stumble following his US Title loss; MVP brutalizes Richards time and again, but Richards keeps pulling himself to his feet and daring MVP to bring it.
In the main event, Shawn, having been screwed by Edge at SummerSlam, goes after the Rated-R Superstar. Edge opportunistically befriends Big Show, which leads to CM Punk stepping in and coming to Shawn’s help. Jericho and Undertaker aren’t openly hostile, but as he and Undertaker are slated to clash at No Mercy, the two keep crossing paths in ways that increase the tension. Jericho vows that he’ll prove he wasn’t a fluke World Champion.
At No Mercy, the Haas/Benjamin/Burke/Helms situation comes to a head with Benjamin aligning with Burke and stabbing Haas in the back. Matt Hardy ekes out a win against Burchill, while Chavo cheats his way to victory over Jeff. MVP and Richards clash in a no-disqualifications brawl, and Richards surprises MVP with a pinfall victory off a Stevie Kick. Shawn and Punk win when Edge gets frustrated with Show and leaves him by himself, with Shawn getting the pinfall on the 7 foot giant. Jericho wins by disqualification, thanks to the bitter Edge spearing him out of his boots, then attacking Undertaker and vowing only he will take the title off Undertaker. Shawn Michaels runs off Edge after he produces a ladder and starts brutalizing champion and challenger, but when Undertaker comes to, he sees the ladder and Shawn, leaps to the wrong conclusion and attacks Shawn.
Building towards Survivor Series, Smackdown’s feuds culiminate in the following matches: Haas, Helms, Richards, and the Hardys vs. Benjamin, Burke, MVP, Chavo & Burchill in a Classic Survivor Series match, Big Show vs. Edge, and in a three-way ladder match for the World Heavyweight Championship, Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho.
Carlito continues to utilize ultraviolence to keep his ECW Title. Kane, DH Smith and Khali are all sent after Carlito by Tommy Dreamer, who is desperate to get the title off Carlito before he hurts someone, but Carlito keeps running through everyone. Reluctantly, he sends a request to Ric Flair and asks if CM Punk can help ECW and face Carlito at Survivor Series; Flair agrees. Val Venis and Kofi Kingston also start to feud, while Colin Delaney earns the ire of Jamie Noble.
CM Punk is found injured before he can face Carlito, so Kane is sent out, and fails to recapture the title. In Raw’s Classic SurSer match, Batista single-handedly eliminates three of the five members of the opposition before getting himself disqualified for ignoring a ref’s five-count in the corner; the heel team makes a comeback, including Orton getting the better of Cena yet again with the concussion kick, but Rey Mysterio ends up the sole survivor, lastly pinning Orton. On the Smackdown side, MVP, Chavo and Burchill are able to use dirty tactics and squabbling between the Hardys to pick them off and become the three survivors for their match. In the Intercontinental Title match, Regal captures the title from Umaga thanks to his ever-shifting, ambiguous rules. In the WWE Title match, JBL retains because Regal has to lay out the ref to keep him from counting to three after a Pedigree; Regal fires the ref, and when Triple H puts his hands on Regal, he gets disqualified for being physical with a ref. The ladder match goes on last, and Edge can’t help himself but to screw both Jericho and HBK out of opportunities to get the belt. Punk ends up coming out and laying out Edge with the Money In The Bank briefcase, then shocks everyone by doing the same to Undertaker as he’s coming to, announces he’s cashing in his shot right now, climbs the ladder with ease, grabs the title and is the new World Heavyweight Champion.
In the tag scene, Snitsky & Knox’s violent reign of terror comes to a surprising halt when Cade & Murdoch, turned face after getting the living daylights beat out of them by the champs, win the titles on a freak roll-up; for winning, they’re punished by Snitsky & Knox with chairs and driven through tables. Both Cade & Murdoch are injured in the beatdown and Regal strips them of the belts. A four-way elimination tag match is booked for Clash Of The Champions, with Regal’s lackeys, Knox & Snitsky, Deuce & Domino and The Highlanders. Palumbo & Dykstra are left out purposefully by Regal.
In the midcard, Regal proclaims himself unstoppable, having toppled Umaga; Armando Estrada sends Big Daddy B after Regal, but the Commish/King wins, feeding his ego. He invites anyone to step up and face him at Clash Of The Champions, and the challenge is acceptable by Triple H, looking for revenge for Survivor Series. Santino Marella, looking to get into title contention, tries to promote himself, saying he is obviously better then the former champ, which starts an Umaga/Marella feud. Big Daddy V goes on a rampage, taking out anyone he sees, until Palumbo & Dykstra step up against him; Estrada acquires the services of Kevin Thorn, starting a feud between them all.
In the main event, Cena demands a match at Royal Rumble with Orton, but Orton ducks it by being the first person to enter the Rumble; Cena upsets Orton’s plan and enters the Rumble as well. Batista keeps chasing Kennedy, and finally scores a match with him at Royal Rumble by beating Kennedy’s chosen proxy in a Pick Your Poison match, while Kennedy loses. By dint of his victory at Survivor Series, Rey Mysterio is granted a title shot against JBL at Clash Of The Champions.
In the tag division, Haas & Helms and Burke & Benjamin continue their blood feud. Holly & Rhodes and Hawkins & Ryder take to beating up each other as they try to muscle one another out of the title running. But for the Clash, the champs are slotted against the two men they won the titles from, John Morrison & The Miz.
In the Women’s Division, Mickie James’ mental state looks to be in jeopardy as she goes on a losing streak, while others leapfrog to title shots. Her friendly rival, Nattie Neidhart, tries to counsel and coach her, offering to wrestle with her in scrimmages to get her confidence back up, an offer at first James rejects, but eventually comes around to. The other women fight amongst themselves to be the next up to tackle the dominant Beth Phoenix, but it ends up being a running buddy, Victoria, who gets the shot at the Clash. Beth is notably upset at Victoria coming after her, but Victoria tells her when you’re the champ, you don’t have friends.
In the midcard, Stevie Richards and MVP continue to feud as Richards proves he is far from the unqualified goof he used to be; frustrated, MVP gets help in the form of Mark Henry, which Richards counters with by getting back-up from ECW’s Kofi Kingston. Jeff Hardy gets his wish, a shot at Chavo Guerrero for the US Title, leaving former champ Matt Hardy out in the cold, trying not to get his head stomped in by Paul Burchill. Matt asks Jeff for a title shot if he wins, but Jeff is non-committal.
In the main event, CM Punk reveals his attack at Survivor Series was a ruse to get out of fighting Carlito, so he’d be “fresh” for his “grueling” ladder match. Undertaker is immediately granted a rematch at the Clash. Bitter and so enraged he can’t think straight, Edge blames Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho for putting Undertaker in a vulnerable position, and comes after them with the help of Big Show.
Carlito reveals in an interview the motivation behind his bloodthirst: he’s bitter about being drafted to “this third rate hellhole”, and has vowed to exterminate the brand single-handedly by injuring and crippling every wrestler on the roster. This earns him the hatred of everyone in ECW, faces and heels alike. Val Venis, who had been the aggressor in nasty wars with DH Smith and Kofi Kingston over the course of the year, steps forward to warn Carlito that all three brands are still under one company, and he should be glad to be working for WWE; Carlito brutalizes him, which brings out Smith and Kingston. Dreamer books a three-way-dance for the Clash, with Carlito against DH Smith and Kofi Kingston. Venis and Kane mentor the two youngsters personally. The Delaney/Noble feud brings in Shannon Moore and Jimmy Wang Yang, who end their partnership when they find themselves siding on opposite sides of Delaney/Noble.
Clash Of The Champions
London & Kendrick retain their tag titles, while The Highlanders pick up the vacant World Tag Titles thanks to both Cade & Murdoch and Palumbo & Dykstra costing The House Of Lords the pinfall. Beth Phoenix retains against Victoria, but shows her first signs of vulnerability; backstage, Nattie convinces Mickie to challenge Beth for the Rumble, for which she will help her prepare and weaken Beth by wrestling her beforehand. Jeff Hardy wins the United States Title from Chavo; Matt comes out to congratulate him, and asks if he can have a shot, but again, Jeff is non-committal. Regal uses brass knuckles to knock out Triple H moments after suddenly changing the rules of the match to no-disqualifications and retains the IC Title. Carlito outlasts both DH Smith and Kofi Kingston, and as he stands in the ring with his opponents bleeding and unconscious, demands Tommy Dreamer face him. JBL has more trouble then he expects from Rey Mysterio, and has to get himself intentionally disqualified by smashing Rey’s face in with the title belt by Finlay to save his reign; when he tries to leave, Raw’s faces block the aisle, and he has to escape through the crowd. CM Punk retains against Undertaker, despite Edge trying to interfere on Undertaker’s behalf. Punk is able to get out of dodge while the ring becomes a brawl, with Undertaker, Edge, Big Show, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho all going at it with each other.
In the tag scene, the reign of the Highlanders lasts all of one day, as The House Of Lords get a shot on Raw and win them the night after the Clash, with plenty of help from Regal and JBL. Cade & Murdoch and Palumbo & Dykstra both lobby for a shot at the Rumble, but are denied, saying the champs will be involved in the Royal Rumble. Deuce & Domino, Cade & Murdoch, The Highlanders and Snitsky & Knox end up warring with each other, trying to elevate their position over one another for whenever Regal decides to allow his champions to defend.
In the midcard, Rey Mysterio, angry at Regal and The House Of Lords for their involvement in his WWE Title match, seeks revenge against Regal. The GM informs Rey that, so he can help oversee the Rumble, he won’t be wrestling at the event, so Rey tries to goad Regal into a title shot in the interim. Instead, Rey is given the #1 slot in the Rumble. The Umaga/Marella feud continues, as does the feud with Palumbo & Dykstra standing up to Big Daddy V and Kevin Thorn.
In the main event, Batista stalks Kennedy, tormenting his every move; Kennedy retaliates by getting Regal to throw anyone and everything at Batista, but The Animal will not be stopped. Orton and Cena continue to taunt, attack and harass each other as they edge closer to being in the Rumble together. H’s has to qualify for the Rumble against a stacked deck, but when he defies the odds, Regal screws him by putting him at the #2 position. Regal books a #1 contender’s tournament, and interferes to try and get JBL the easiest opponent possible; instead, the plan backfires, and Umaga ends up winning the shot.
In the tag ranks, London & Kendrick’s celebration is short-lived, as they drop the straps on Smackdown to Benjamin & Burke. The challengers line up to get at the new champs, especially Haas & Helms, but the champs keep finding ways to either avoid the match, or screw their rivals out of opportunities. The failure to recapture the titles causes a rift between Morrison and The Miz; The Miz takes on a new partner, Mark Henry, while Morrison moves to the singles ranks. The new pairing becomes the new roadblock for Holly & Rhodes, fresh off their feud with Ryder & Hawkins, who end up in a feud with Jesse & Festus.
In the Women’s Division, Victoria tries to get another shot at Beth Phoenix, but Candace Michelle steps in and starts a feud between them. Nattie and Melina begin to feud, even as Nattie helps Mickie James get ready for the big Rumble match against Phoenix. But in Nattie’s “softening-up” match against Phoenix, she ends up beating Phoenix. Melina is given the shot at Nattie based on their feud, which enraged Phoenix even more, and she goes after Mickie.
In the midcard, John Morrison return to singles’ action gets off on a bad foot when Stevie Richards pins him, thus igniting a feud between them. Matt corners Jeff about a title shot, and Jeff finally answers, saying he will not fight his brother; Matt gets upset and asks for a shot from Flair, but before he can get it, Paul Burchill beats his brother for the United States Title; the tension between the brothers becomes even worse as both want a shot. But instead of either of the brothers, MVP shows a new, sadistic side to him as he goes after Burchill to get the US Title back. Burchill makes a turn to a strong babyface when he protects his valet, Katie Lea, from MVP and offers to lay down if MVP will spare her; MVP takes the deal, then drills Katie Lea anyway. With Burchill’s attentions dominated by MVP, the brothers put their names into the Rumble.
In the main event, Edge wins a #1 contender’s match, but General Manager Ric Flair decrees that, since neither man can be trusted to wrestle a clean match, he installs Undertaker as special referee. With the spot filled, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho both enter the Rumble. Edge, not wanting to see either man get another shot at the belt, sends Big Show into the Rumble to act as a spoiler.
Kane, having been low-key in ECW for a while, returns, having rediscovered his inner monster, vowing to bring down Carlito, but Khali stands in his way. Delaney feuds with Shannon Moore, while Jamie Noble feuds with Jimmy Wang Yang, in spinoff feuds from the original Delaney/Noble feud. Balls Mahoney fails to capture the belt from Carlito, giving the Carribbean star another notch on his belt; he continues to call out Tommy Dreamer, but the GM says he won’t succumb to ego. Val Venis steps forward and says he will take out Carlito; Tommy books it for the Rumble.
Val Venis pulls off the shocking win over Carlito, even though it takes more then half the roster attacking Carlito to get the job done. Nattie beats Melina, but comes face to face with Beth Phoenix as soon as the match ends; Mickie James comes out to even the odds, and her and Beth brawl to the back. Batista finally gets his hands on Kennedy, and though Kennedy tries every trick in the book, Batista is too much for him, and he wins decisively. JBL barely squeaks by Umaga, once again on a save by The House Of Lords. Punk, meanwhile, retains against Edge in a clean, hard-fought contest; Punk actually acts respectful to Undertaker, while Edge constantly mouths off and gets in Undertaker’s face. At the conclusion of the match, Punk runs his mouth about being better then everyone, which angers Undertaker, but Edge pulls himself up and attacks Undertaker until he is bloody; when Edge gets in Punk’s face after that, Punk lays him out.
The Rumble has a number of stories during its run; Big Show, sent into the match by Edge to keep Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho from winning, gets eliminated before either one of them enter the match. Edge comes down and blasts Show with a chair as payment for the mistake, but Show shrugs it off and chases Edge out of the arena. John Cena and Randy Orton never even make it into the Rumble, as Cena attacks Orton in the aisle during his entrance, and the two brawl all through the arena and into the back. Triple H fails to come out at his designated time, but officials can’t find him. Rey Mysterio eliminates both Finlay and Dave Taylor, payback for their screwing him at the Clash, but Regal surprises everyone by being an entrant in the Rumble after all, and eliminates Rey. Jeff Hardy and Matt Hardy manage to clear the ring together at one point; Jeff offers a handshake and suggests they wait for more entrants, a suggestion that Matt shows visual distaste for, but reluctantly agrees to. Jeff then surprises everyone, including Matt, by throwing his brother over the top rope. Triple H finally comes out after the 30th entrant has come in (and been eliminated), making the final four him, Jeff Hardy, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. Hardy gets tosses by Jericho and Michaels working together; Triple H uses the opportunity to pitch both Jericho and Michaels out to win the Rumble … until Regal comes out again and says that, since Triple H did not come out at the designated time, and entered after the match’s entire roster had been run through, his entry was illegal, and his eliminations were invalid. Jericho and Michaels, eliminated at the same time, are named co-winners.
In the tag ranks, Palumbo & Dykstra wrap up their feud with Big Daddy V and Kevin Thorn and refocus on getting a shot at The House Of Lords. Likewise, Cade & Murdoch demand a title shot. GM William Regal, however, says that neither team has proven to be better then the other, so, to earn a shot, at No Way Out, they will have to prove their worth; first, the teams will face each other, and the winner of that will go on to face Mr. Kennedy and the WWE Champion JBL. If they should win that match, they will get shots at The House Of Lords. In the meantime, The Highlanders earn a title shot at No Way Out by upsetting Snitsky & Knox; Regal tilts the odds in his cohorts’ favor by making the match a “Straight Wrestling” match: no strikes or kicks.
In the midcard, Regal’s Intercontinental Title reign comes to a shocking end when he loses to, of all people, The Boogeyman, a win aided by Rey Mysterio. Unfortunately, Boogey’s reign only lasts to the next Raw, when he drops it to Santino Marella, who gets help from The House Of Lords … and is inducted into the group as their “ambassador to the European mainland”. Marella’s reign is put into jeopardy immediately, as he is stuck facing Umaga at the PPV. Regal books Rey in a series of tormenting matches, including against Big Daddy V and a handicap match against Snitsky & Knox.
In the main event, Regal’s protection of JBL’s title reign and squashing of any likely contenders results in the McMahon family intervening; an Elimination Chamber match is booked for NWO, with Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, John Cena, Triple H, Batista and William Regal. The GM is horrified and begs to be let off the hook, but not only do the McMahons hold firm, they inform him that after No Way Out, they will discuss his tenure as Raw’s GM.
Carlito continues to call out Tommy Dreamer, but Dreamer remains steadfast in not wanting to be the boss and fight for the championship as well. Instead, he calls on an old ECW friend, Stevie Richards, to help him out and go after Carlito at No Way Out. Kane’s feud with Khali continues, while Jamie Noble begins a feud with DH Smith, Kofi Kingston feuds with Nunzio, and Shannon Moore feuds with Val Venis.
No Way Out
The House Of Lords retain their titles when The Highlanders get disqualified for punching. Santino Marella retains the Intercontinental Title after employing a low blow, a handful of tights and his feet on the ropes when he pins Umaga. Carlito retains against Stevie Richards with help from John Morrison; as Carlito and Morrison prepare to attack Stevie with a broken beer bottle, Tommy Dreamer comes to the rescue, bludgeoning both men into unconsciousness with a Singapore cane. Palumbo & Dykstra defeat Cade & Murdoch in a straight-up contest, and promise to give Cade & Murdoch the first shot if they can get to, and beat, The House Of Lords. Regal comes out and says their match against JBL & Kennedy is now; despite being exhausted and sore, Palumbo & Dykstra are able to capitalize on miscommunication, when JBL hits the Clothesline From Hell on Kennedy by accident, leading to Palumbo getting the pin on a surprised JBL. In the Elimination Chamber, Mysterio is the first eliminated, after getting kicked in the groin by Regal, which leads to a Batista Bomb; Triple H is eliminated next, a victim of Regal and his Power Of The Punch, but Regal gets F-U’ed onto the steel platform and Batista Bombed into oblivion. Orton sneakily waits until Cena turns around and, as Batista is pinned Regal, hits the RKO on Cena, eliminating him. Finally, after a brutal fight that leaves both men bleeding and exhausted, Batista punches his ticket for WrestleMania by pinning Orton.
In the tag division, the numerous teams all clamoring for title shots prompts GM Ric Flair to book a Tag Team Turmoil match at Bad Blood, with positions in the match drawn at random. The champs come up on the short end of the stick, drawing first. The build-up sees many combinations of teams and singles’ matches of the vast field of competitors, but Burke & Benjamin help their cause along by putting Helms on the shelf by injuring his neck in a backstage attack.
In the Women’s division, Beth Phoenix continues to have problems with Nattie and Mickie, and her communication issues with Victoria continue to get worse, as Victoria won’t stand down from wanting the Women’s Title. Candace and Melina renew their feud. Mickie continues to lean on Nattie as a means of emotional support in her chase for vengeance against Beth. A six-woman tag is signed for Bad Blood, combining all the feuds, with Nattie, Mickie & Candace on one side, and Beth, Melina & Victoria on the other.
In the midcard, Stevie Richards evolves from the feel-good underdog to a serious competitor as his war with John Morrison gets under his skin. MVP continues his harassment of Paul Burchill in his quest to reclaim the US Title, but Burchill keeps finding ways to get the better of MVP. The big story in the midcard, though, is the Hardys; Jeff succumbs to his ego, saying how he’s been a world title contender in multiple companies, while Matt is just taking up space, and being tied to Matt has nearly killed his career. Matt is hurt and has a change of heart about fighting his brother, preferring to find a way to heal their rift. Burchill and MVP are booked in a pick-your-partner match for Bad Blood; Burchill asks Matt, as he has experience with MVP. Jeff quickly nominates himself as MVP’s partner, wanting to end his brother’s career.
In the main event, Big Show looks for revenge on Edge for the Rated-R Superstar’s stab in the back at Royal Rumble; GM Ric Flair grants him a grudge match at Bad Blood, and Show proceeds to make Edge’s life a living hell in the weeks leading to the event. Flair also announces that Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho will face off in a #1 contender’s match, with the winner going to the main event of WrestleMania to meet the winner of CM Punk versus Undertaker, who will fight in a steel cage match at Bad Blood.
Burke & Benjamin cheat their way through almost the entire Tag Team Turmoil match, not beating anyone cleanly; but on the last fall, Jesse & Festus get the pin, and the titles, thanks to Haas & Helms providing a timely distraction. In the women’s tag match, the mistrust between Victoria and Beth gets worse, causing Victoria to walk away from the match; nevertheless, Beth gets the pin on Mickie, who, post-match, has a nervous breakdown. Edge has a hard-fought, violent contest against Big Show, but ends up not only winning, but winning clean. In the tag team grudge match, Matt shows reluctance to fight his brother, while Jeff wants to tear Matt limb from limb; Burchill gets the pin on MVP, but the fight keeps going, and they brawl to the back. The #1 contender’s match ends controversially, as Jericho, dominating in the last few minutes with a lot of targeted offense to HBK’s weak back, gets caught with Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere, then collapses; the ref administers the 10-count, actually gets to 10, and has to render the match a no-contest. Punk and Undertaker both bleed in a nasty battle, and Undertaker looks to have it after Edge comes out and slams the door in Punk’s face. But Undertaker takes too long getting up and over, and ends up in a cat-and-mouse game with Edge, waiting for him below; Punk recovers enough to grab one of Undertaker’s legs, pulls it through and ties it up in the ring ropes, then, after kicking the door back in Edge’s face, walks out, retaining the title.
In the tag scene, Snitsky & Knox feud with Cade & Murdoch, and The Highlanders feud with Deuce & Domino. The biggest storyline is Palumbo & Dykstra finally getting a shot at the tag titles at WrestleMania XXV. The House Of Lords tries to injure or otherwise cancel the match, but to no avail; the challengers are on a roll, and refuse to be stopped.
In the midcard, the build-up to WrestleMania means the opportunity of a lifetime: the Money In The Bank ladder match. Mr. Kennedy is the first from Raw to qualify for the MITB, and promises that when he wins, he’ll use it that very night … but he won’t say against whom. Rey Mysterio is the second to qualify from Raw, and Umaga is the last. The three become embroiled in a three-way war, looking for ways to score a psychological or tactical advantage over their opponents. Santino tries to worm his way into the match, but his requests for more chances to qualify are turned down.
In the main event, GM William Regal begs and pleads for his job from the McMahons, but Triple H, looking for some payback on the tyrant, offers a compromise: a match at WrestleMania, putting Regal’s job up against any future WWE Title shots for Triple H; the McMahons love the idea. Randy Orton and John Cena, after over a year of feuding and neither satisfied with the result, ask the McMahons for the ultimate stage on which to end their war: the Hell In A Cell. Regal, still acting as JBL’s manager, feeds him weaker opponents to help the champ build up his confidence and strength, but Batista tears through his opponents in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania XXV, looking virtually unstoppable; Regal puts pressure on JBL to be at his very best, saying losing the title would bring about the end of The House Of Lords.
In the tag division, Burke & Benjmain recapture the tag titles from Jesse & Festus, but in doing so, GM Ric Flair immediately books them in a defense at WrestleMania against Haas & Helms. Ryder & Hawkins feud with Holly & Rhodes, and Londrick feuds with Miz/Henry.
In the Women’s division, Candace and Melina’s feud continues, and Jillian Hall aligns herself with MVP, picking a fight with Katie Lea. The relationship between Victoria and Beth Phoenix continues to deteriorate as they both chase the Women’s Championship. Mickie James tells Nattie Neidhart that she has to prove something to herself, and asks Nattie for a match at WrestleMania; Nattie is reluctant, saying that fighting each other won’t help, but Mickie offers to make it non-title. Nattie says yes, but turns down making it non-title, saying if this is what she needs to rebuild her confidence, the title should be available as a prize if Mickie is successful.
In the midcard, Smackdown sends four representatives to the Money In The Bank match: the first to qualify is Paul Burchill. MVP qualifies next, determined to screw with the US Champ. Stevie Richards’ improbably year-long career revival culminates in a qualifying victory for the MITB, while his nemesis, John Morrison, fails to make the cut. The final Smackdown participant is the most improbable and, in terms of a ladder match the one at the biggest disadvantage, is Big Show. But the most emotional story is that of the Hardys; after weeks of harassment and being called out by his brother, Matt gives in and agrees to a match at WrestleMania against his brother.
In the main event, Edge asks Flair for Undertaker in a street fight, saying that he now understands what he needs to do to eliminate the Undertaker and end his WrestleMania streak. Jericho and Michaels argue about who should be #1 contender, with Michaels saying he proved he can land the knockout blow at any time from anywhere, while Jericho says the match showed who the dominant wrestler between the two of them is. Flair resolves it by making the match a triple threat match, which infuriates Punk to no end.
ECW only qualifies one roster member to the MITB match: Kane. The big story leading into WrestleMania is Tommy Dreamer, who steps down from his GM position in order to face Carlito. Dreamer asks Balls Mahoney to step in as General Manager, a move that angers Val Venis, who feels slighted after the dedication and hard work he has put into helping Dreamer keep ECW from being exterminated by Carlito.
WrestleMania opens with the ECW Title match. Tommy Dreamer returns to his roots as the Innovator Of Violence, giving Carlito a true taste of old school ECW. Though Carlito gets pretty hardcore, Dreamer is too good at the hardcore game and gets the win, reclaiming the ECW Title from the obnoxious Carlito.
Smackdown’s tag title match follows, but the outcome is less crowd-pleasing, with Benjamin & Burke pulling off a tainted victory thanks to a lot of illegal double-teaming, distracting the ref and a handful of tights.
The House Of Lords’ defense Palumbo & Dykstra follows that. William Regal tries to interfere on his team’s behalf, but Cade & Murdoch come out and remove Regal from ringside. Palumbo & Dykstra get the clean win, kicking the night off with a good title change.
The Money In The Bank match goes next, and it is the car crash everyone expects it to be. John Morrison interferes to get at Stevie Richards, and Santino Marella attacks Umaga. In the end, it is MVP who climbs the ladder and grabs the briefcase, landing him a guaranteed title shot.
The explosion of the Hardys goes next. Matt tries to wrestle a clean, straight match, still clinging to the hope of healing the rift between them, but Jeff continues to antagonize Matt. Finally, Matt unleashes his inner frustration, but the trap works, and Jeff is able to capitalize on it; Matt makes a mistake, and Jeff gets the win. The fight continues, though, requiring a host of backstage officials and road agents to break up the brawl.
The Women’s Title is decided next. With every failed pinfall attempt, Mickie gets more and more frustrated, even pulling her hair out at one point. Nattie wrestles hesitantly, as if unwilling to finish off Mickie, but as the match goes on, Mickie’s growing instability becomes a profound meanstreak, and Nattie has no choice but to go for the win. She gets a tap-out victory with the Sharpshooter, but looks regretful for doing it, as Mickie breaks down in tears. Nattie offers an embrace, but Mickie tackles her and strangles her until she’s pulled off by referees. Several other women from both Raw and Smackdown come to check on Mickie, and she flips out on all of them, attacking Candace Michelle; security has to lead Mickie away in handcuffs.
The Edge/Undertaker street fight goes next, and is as nasty and brutal as can be expected. Both men look to be fighting not so much for a win, but for the destruction of their opponent. In the end, Edge has a submission move on Undertaker in the middle of the ring, and Undertaker is close to passing out, but Edge stops the ref from signalling for the bell, as he wants a tap out, not a ref stoppage victory. It proves Edge’s undoing, as the time spent arguing with the ref allows Undertaker to recover enough to get a Tombstone for the pin.
The WWE Title match goes on next; JBL has a lot of trouble handling the steamroller that is Batista, and even the normal shortcuts don’t keep The Animal down for long. JBL calls for reinforcements when the ref gets taken out and Batista is felled by a punt kick to the crotch; William Regal comes out. Regal grabs the title belt, gives it to JBL, then, as JBL waits for Batista to stand up, waffles him with brass knuckles. Regal orders Batista to finish off the “weakling” and, as he revives the ref, Batista powerbombs JBL into oblivion. Three seconds later and, though there is a new champion, the fact remains that the belt is still controlled by William Regal, as he and Batista embrace and leave the ring together.
Regal has to come back out, as his match is next. Both he and Triple H fight tooth and nail for their cause, with Triple H’s chest looking as red as a tomato from Regal’s chops. In the end, Regal eats a Pedigree and gets pinned clean as a sheet, ousting him from Raw’s General Manager’s office.
Inside the Cell, Randy Orton and John Cena unleash over a year’s worth of animosity, hatred and bloodlust on each other. Tables are broken, chairs are wrecked, and the mat and ringside area are covered in blood. In the end, Orton sets up Cena against the steel steps and goes for the concussion kick, but Cena is playing possum, rising up and catching Orton on his shoulders. Cena hits the F-U onto the steel steps for a hard-fought, ugly, blood-covered win.
The main event is the World Heavyweight Title triple threat match, and the three athletes involved go full-bore, putting on one of the most scientific displays of technical wrestling ever seen. Near-falls and near-submissions happen over and over, but every time someone gets close to tapping or getting pinned, the crowd chants for the match not to end. In the end, after over a half an hour of balls-to-the-wall wrestling, Punk gets nailed by Sweet Chin Music, but Jericho hits HBK with the Codebreaker right after, then puts the Walls Of Jericho on Punk in the middle of the ring. Punk has nowhere to go and taps out; Jericho captures his second World Championship.
So, what did we accomplish? The rosters became more balanced as a result of smart shuffling, matching like-styled wrestlers with each other. Raw, Smackdown and ECW got distinct identities, instead of being interchangable. The tag divisions were re-energized by the re-organization, putting together smart pairings and having feuds that involved both the champs, challengers and teams not involved in the hunt. The Women’s division was given a total overhaul, with all the women who wrestle on one show, and the eye candy on the other. The midcard was made to look effective, made their respective belts seem important again, and elevated new people. And the main event got some new blood in it. Would it work in real life? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get a call from Vince and we’ll find out.