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March 20, 2009
– Adam Russell

The rich get richer

This week SmackDown was celebrating its 500th episode, after ten years on the air. The show, which of course took its name from one
of The Rock’s famous catchphrases, started off as a Thursday night companion for the hugely popular Raw show. It still plays
second fiddle to the Monday night brand but, as I discussed in more detail in last week’s report, SmackDown has consistently been
the show to watch for in-ring action. A lot has changed in those ten years. SmackDown has moved to Friday nights and The Rock is now
Dwayne Johnson: big movie star. It’s also noticeable how creatively inferior the product is now to back then.

This week’s celebration promised much but, while this was a solid show, the most notable thing it delivered was a big reminder of
what is wrong with the company. And strangely, we didn’t get any highlights of memorable SmackDown moments.

The show, filmed in Corpus Christi, Texas on St Patrick’s Day, opened with a video recapping the latest installment of ‘Triple H
outdoes Randy Orton’, from last week’s Raw.

The Game himself was out to open the show, in anticipation of his match with the no-longer-undefeated-or-special-in-any-way Vladimir
Kozlov. Hunter took to the mic, and said that his marriage to Stephanie McMahon was the worst kept secret in the business. He stated
that they had tried to keep it a secret for the sake of business, but everyone knew about it, including Randy Orton. The Game, kind-
hearted soul that he is, then said that he let what Orton did to his father-in-law, Vince, and brother-in-law, Shane slide, but that the Legacy-
founder should have known better than to put his hands on Steph. He continued that Orton hid behind his lawyers, and his crippling
Intermittent Explosive Disorder, but really the only disease he has is called cowardice. Triple H said that Orton has run from every
challenge he has faced, but that will stop at WrestleMania. There will be no-one to hide behind then, the future owner of the WWE said,
and Orton better be as good as he thinks he is. He finished what was a strong promo by saying that Orton is the disease, and he is the
cure. It sure beat the Hunter Horror Picture Show from a couple of weeks back.

--- Triple H Vs Vladimir Kozlov

Out came Big Vlad, still without a match at ‘mania when just a month back he looked a shoo-in to be on the card, and the two locked
up. Kozlov took the early advantage with brute strength, but the wily veteran soon hit his stride, first low-bridging the Russian out of the
ring, and then clotheslining him over the top rope. A Triple H chant (there weren’t too many of those ten years ago) broke out as we
went to our first commercial break after a full 50 seconds of action. Back from the break and it was a rare case of the babyface being on
offence (well, this is Triple H), as the Game had Kozlov in a figure-four. Kozlov managed to get out of the hold, and rocked Hunter with a
headbutt to the sternum, and a belly to belly suplex. He followed up with a fallaway slam for a two count, and clamped on a bearhug at 5â
€™09. Triple H Hulked up (or Hunted up, if you will), and hit Kozlov with a face buster, a clothesline, and a neck breaker for a two count.
The end was in sight, but Kozlov managed to reverse the WWE champs Pedigree attempt into a back body drop, only to find himself the
victim of a spine buster, followed by the Pedigree. That was all she wrote for Kozlov, as Hunter picked up the win at 7’33. Kozlov went
the best part of a year without losing a singles match, but has now lost his last three. The honeymoon is well and truly over.

As for the Triple H/Randy Orton situation, keeping the two of them apart for this show was probably the best thing for the feud.

If the shenanigans we’ve seen in that storyline are the silliest thing in the company right now, what we’ve seen in the John
Cena/Edge/Big Show storyline isn’t far behind. A recap of that situation played next, followed by a highlights package of WrestleMania
23, featuring Vince McMahon and Donald Trump’s Battle of the Billionaires.

The next match was a United States championship contest between Shelton Benjamin and MVP, both of whom will be involved in the
Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania.

--- United States Title Match - Shelton Benjamin (champion) Vs MVP

Neither guy was important enough for us to see their entrance apparently, as the two were introduced in the ring. Shelton jumped out of
the blocks, beating his challenger down in the corner, flapjacking him on the top turnbuckle, and front suplexing him onto the top rope, for
a two count after a minute of dominance. MVP used a hip toss to escape from an abdominal stretch, but Benjamin was back in charge
with a knee to the gut. The champion next tried a Stinger Splash, and when MVP avoided the contact, he did well to land on the second
rope. However, the show of balance and agility was for nothing, as MVP caught him with an overhead belly to belly suplex. That led to a
flurry of offence from the Ballin’ Superstar, including a big boot, facebuster, and the Ballin’ Elbow, which garnered a 2 count. He
then looked for a suplex, but Benjamin landed on his feet and dropped MVP with a neckbreaker. After a two count, MVP came back with a
backslide and a jacknife cover for a pair of near falls, before Benjamin came back with a modified backbreaker, and an exploder suplex.
Benjamin saw the end in sight, and went for Pay Dirt, but MVP countered by hotshotting the champ on the top rope. He followed up by
hitting The Playmaker for the three count at 5’20. MVP was once again the US Champion (clocking up the longest run with the belt in
WWE history with his previous reign), and he did it using a move that hasn’t won him a match in who knows how long. Whether this
title change gives us a clue about who will, or won’t, win Money in the Bank, I’m not sure, but I do know that after the lengthy
losing streak storyline that MVP went through, he is now back to exactly where he started before that story began. In fact, as MVP was on
the cusp of the main event before the losing streak started, you could actually say that he’s gone backwards. I thought storylines
were supposed to advance people’s career.

Next was a 12 Rounds promo (does anybody want to see this film?) followed by a segment in Vickie Guerrero’s office. Vickie
complained to Edge about him spearing The Big Show at the end of last week’s Raw. Edge responded that Show got what he
deserved for his affair with Vickie. A video package followed, hyping the triple threat match at WrestleMania, in which Edge defends his
World Heavyweight Championship against John Cena and The Big Show. The video made this match look ten times more appealing
than has this insipid love triangle storyline. There’d be more from this angle later in the show, as we were promised that all three
combatants were in the arena.

--- Shawn Michaels Vs Kane

As part of the celebration of 500 episodes of SmackDown, this match featured two members of the Raw roster, one of which (HBK) has
never been a part of SmackDown. Of course, this was really just a platform for the continuation of the Michaels/Undertaker feud, with
Shawn facing off against ’Taker’s lil’ bro. It was Shawn who took the early advantage in the match, rocking Kane with some
brawling offence, before Kane took him down with a shoulder block. A missed elbow drop from the Big Red Monster gave Michaels the
chance to target the leg of his opponent, but this line of offence was curtailed by a nice thrust to the throat from Kane, at the 53 second
mark. Kane followed it up by choking Michaels with his boot, but the Showstopper hit back again with more strikes. He attempted to Irish
whip Kane into the corner, but Kane reversed it, and Shawn took his trademark corner bump, ending up outside the ring, as we cut to
break at 2’15. We returned 5’40 into the match, and Kane was still in control, sending Michaels again into the corner, and
following up with a big clothesline. Kane then started focusing his offence on Michaels’ arm, sending him arm first into the
turnbuckle, hitting the arm with a big boot, and then grounding Michaels with an armbar. Shawn tried to fight out, but Kane hit him with a
low dropkick for a two count t the 7’28 mark. Back to the arm, Kane applied a top wristlock, but Shawn’s comeback attempt was
more successful this time, as he hit a swinging neck breaker, and a flying forearm, followed by nip-up. It looked like Shawn was going to
run through his usual repertoire towards another win, but Kane threw a spanner in the works, by getting a knee up to block Shawn’s
flying elbowdrop. It was Kane’s turn to fly next, and he was more successful, nailing his opponent with a flying clothesline. A
chokeslam looked set to follow, but Kane waited to long to hit the move, and Shawn hit him with a desperation Sweet Chin Music to pick
up the win after 11’16 of reasonable action. There was little doubt here that Michaels was going to win, but I nonetheless enjoyed
seeing Kane working over the arm of HBK. Maybe that can be used as part of the Shawn/Undertaker storyline.

Taking a breather from the in-ring action, we were once again transported to Vickie’s office, this time the GM chewing the fat with The
Big Show. Show told Vickie that he can’t let the spear that Edge gave him go unpunished. Vickie replied that she doesn’t want to
see either man get hurt, but Show said that Edge deserves everything he’s going to get.

It was announced next that the WrestleMania match-up between Matt and Jeff Hardy will be an X-Treme rules (their spelling, not mine)
match, and to whet the appetite, Jeff would be competing next in an X-Treme rules match against The Brian Kendrick.

--- X-Treme Rules Match - Jeff Hardy Vs The Brian Kendrick

Jeff started off by taking Ezekiel Jackson out of the ring with a dropkick, but the distraction allowed Kendrick to attack Hardy. Hardy came
back with some punches, and then threw Kendrick over the top rope. He then hit a rolling plancha on big Zeke. Zeke retaliated by
throwing Jeff into the security wall but, as he checked on Kendrick, Hardy attacked him from behind with a steel chair, and laid into the big
man, taking him out of the equation for the rest of the match. Back in the ring, Kendrick caught Hardy with a leg lariat, and then whipped
him into the corner. Jeff avoided the contact of Kendrick running in, and threw a chair at him. He then set up the chair, and hit a one-man
Poetry in Motion (a move he made famous with his brother) off the chair. Next, he picked Kendrick up for a power bomb, and released
him over head, and followed that up by hitting an ugly-looking Twist of Fate onto the chair, which was standing up- that move could have
really hurt Kendrick. A Swanton Bomb later and it was all over after a brief 3’31 match comprised of generally messy action. I expect
much better from the Hardy brothers at WrestleMania, and as for Kendrick, well, he made it 20 seconds longer this week than he did last
week.

What followed was a really good video honoring the latest Hall of Fame inductees to be announced, The Von Erich family followed by yet
another 12 Rounds promo. I’d much rather spend $10 to watch an hour and a half of WWE-produced tribute videos than on this, or
any other, WWE-produced movie.

--- The Undertaker Vs JBL

The big question next, was whether The Undertaker could match Shawn Michaels’ win from earlier in the night. The answer, of
course, was obvious. Before the match got underway, ’Taker took to the mic, and told Shawn that it’s him, Michaels, that is the
prey, while the Undertaker remains the hunter. He warned Shawn that when he least expects it, he will feel the wrath of The Undertaker.
When the match did get started, it was a series of punches from the Dead Man rocking the Intercontinental champion who, we were told,
has accepted Rey Mysterio’s challenge for a match at WrestleMania. JBL came right back at The Undertaker, with a series of
punches of his own, taking his opponent right back into the corner. ‘Taker retaliated with yet more punches, and then began working
on Layfield’s arm, for no reason other than to hit “Old School�. Bradshaw actually managed to avoid that particular move, but
was caught instead with a big boot, which resulted in a near fall at the 2’20 mark, which is when we went to commercial. Upon
returning, The Undertaker hit his patented leg drop on the apron to JBL (the move just isn’t quite the same without Cole exclaiming â
€˜vintage Undertaker’, although Tazz tried to make up for it, salivating over the impact of the move).The dynamic of the match
changed when The Undertaker whipped JBL into then security wall, and tried to follow up with  big boot. JBL avoided the contact, and
spent the next portion of the match working on the Dead Man’s injured leg, even busting out a figure-four leglock. It was while in this
hold that The Undertaker performed his trademark sit-up, and applied a choke to JBL, forcing him to break the hold. Undertaker then hit a
series of punches, snake eyes, a big boot and a leg drop for a two count. As with Kane earlier, a chokeslam attempt proved cataclysmal
for ‘Taker, JBL kicking out the Phenom’s leg to escape his grip, and hitting the Clothesline From Hell. Unlike Kane though, The
Undertaker isn’t a glorified jobber. He kicked out of the pin attempt and, with JBL contriving to get himself into the right position, he
locked on the Devil’s Gate, forcing the IC champ to tap out after 11’40. JBL hasn’t won since capturing the Intercontinental
Title. Maybe the commentators should talk about the belt (sorry, they can’t say ‘belt’) being cursed, as it’s been so long
since any champion racked up a series of meaningful title defenses.

It was now time for the grand finale of this special celebration show (which was neither all that special, nor particularly celebratory), which
was to be an in-ring face off between Edge and The Big Show. Awesome.

Show came out first, and said it was time for Edge to stand up and be a man, calling the champion out. Edge obliged, and warned Show
to be careful what he wished for. The two got into each other’s faces, and traded comical trash talk, when Vickie came out to break up
the party. She told them that they are all in a difficult situation, but she can’t help how she feels- she’s in love with them both.
Edge told her that she’s being ridiculous, which caused Show to warn him not to talk to his lover that way. Vickie told the two love
rivals that they can settle all of this at WrestleMania, and that the winner of their match will not only be the World Heavyweight Champion;
they will also be the champion of her heart. So essentially, the match will be a Vickie on a pole match. Without the pole. She asked them
to call a truce until then, which the Big Show, looking decidedly under the thumb, eagerly agreed to. The two shook hands, which brought
out the third man in this situation, John Cena. Cena said that when he wins at WrestleMania, he wants nothing to do with Vickie’s
heart, head, or handles (hilarious). He then told those in the ring that this truce was the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. Really,
John? More ridiculous than a guy blackmailing someone into giving him a match, and then giving up all his leverage a month before the
match has taken place? Anyway, he asked them if this is all they’ve got for the 500th episode of SmackDown (which is kinda what I
was asking all night), and speculated that Edge is scared to do something about Show and Vickie’s affair. Edge responded that
Vickie is worth fighting for, and told Cena that he doesn’t know Vickie like he does- giving the example of the way she breaks wind
while she’s sleeping. Show chimed in with the example of Vickie giggling when he kisses her back. This angered Edge, who told
Show that he doesn’t want to hear from his big, fat mouth. The two then got back into each other’s faces, with Edge slapping the
face of the World’s Largest Athlete. Show grabbed Edge by the throat, and absent-mindedly pushed Vickie to the ground. Upon
realizing what he’d done, he went to tend to his lover, which gave Edge the opportunity for a spear. Show saw it coming this time, and
sidestepped the move, sending Edge predictably into Vickie. The two then argued over who got to carry Vickie out of the ring, with Big
Show winning. With the GM in his arms, he was taken out at the legs by Edge, which again sent Vickie flying. Vickie, to her credit, took the
bump like  trooper. This was all too much for Show, who chokeslammed the champion, and carried Vickie out to end the show (Cena, we
assume, made a quiet exit while all this was going on).

All this segment achieved was the further burying of the thing that these three men are supposed to be fighting for at WrestleMania- the
World Heavyweight Championship.

This week’s show contained 40 minutes of in-ring action, following up from the 45 minutes from last week. With that in mind, it’s
hard to too critical. My main problem is with who those 40 minutes were spent on, and this ties in to the whole build-up to this year’s
WrestleMania. 11 minutes was given to Shawn Michaels and Kane, and another 11 minutes was given to the Undertaker and JBL.
Neither match was particularly interesting on paper, nor did it deliver all that much. On the other hand, a championship match, and title
change to boot, was given less than five and a half minutes. MVP, and to a lesser extent, Benjamin, could be main eventers. But they
won’t be if they’re not given the time to shine. Benjamin has already false-started a number of times, and maybe he has himself
to blame for that. But the WWE right now, and for a while, looks to be a place of little or no upper mobility. The men in the big matches at
WrestleMania this year are all people who have been there many times before, and that’s because WWE just doesn’t elevate
new talent. The rich - HBK, ‘Taker, and the like - get richer, to the detriment of the MVPs of the world, and the company as a whole.