After the debacle we witnessed last week, the first RAW of the new year was actually anticipated greatly, if only for the presence of Bret Hart to remind us what once was, and sadly what may never be again. As he thanked everyone in between welcome back chants, Hart cut right to the chase, calling out Shawn Michaels for what would be the first face-to-face meeting between the two men since the infamous night in Montreal twelve years prior.
As expected, Michaels cut to his own chase, telling Hart that he got everything he deserved that night at the Survivor Series, due to disrespecting Michaels and the business itself, and that there was a large part of Michaels that didn't regret a thing. Preferring to let everyone's memory linger on the Ironman match, Michaels admitted Hart was not the only one who wanted to move on after twelve years. Hart then extended his hand, and the two shook on it. Before leaving the ring, Michaels stopped and embraced Hart. Then again, that was a TV handshake, people. I'm not so sure I could get past being called a "hairless yellow dog," even if I did (for the most part) deserve it.
Anyone who thought Hart was done there obviously did not pay enough attention. Having apparently taken care of business with the Heartbreak Kid, Hart then immediately got to the meeting everyone wanted to see- Vince McMahon. Calling out the Chairman, Hart quickly found himself standing in the ring alone as the first commercial break of the evening took over. It may not have been high drama, but compared to recent efforts, it may have well been Shakespeare in the Park.
Josh Matthews would gamely try to get an answer from Vince on why he didn't go to the ring, but for the second straight week, we got the classic heel McMahon. Saying he had just come from a meeting (no doubt watching Hogan's promo on Impact), McMahon flatly stated that no one calls him out, and that he would call Hart out later in the evening, if he wanted a "public discourse." Finally, a glimmer of hope the end of Monday Night Raw would be worth a damn this week.
It may have felt like a big game atmosphere, but the first play from scrimmage saw the booking drop the ball, as the show kicked off in-ring action with the Divas. Sigh, yawn, and sigh again. Although Maryse was involved, this week she was facing Brie Bella in the first round of a tournament to determine a new Divas Champion, as Melina had to vacate due to injury. First off, this match was a big reason 99% of the Bella twins' on-air involvement is as background scenery for the guest hosts, and secondly, I think Maryse's surprised expression at the failed "switcheroo" was not scripted. I think she was literally thinking "they are still going with this act?" Even Festus got a fresh gimmick when they figured out a next generation George Steele was not, in fact, equaling ratings, and God knows that one wiggle move the Bella sisters got is as fresh as the seat on an exercise bike after thirty minutes of Mae Young.
The first match worth paying attention to was a Fatal 4-Way to determine a #1 Contender for the United States Championship. You had two guys in need of a push, and you also had Carlito and Mark Henry. While MVP and Jack Swagger helped establish a frenetic pace to this match, it quickly became obvious they were the focal point. I could waste a month of Sundays complaining how big, how huge, how monumental a waste it is giving Carlito anything other than a comfortable plane ride back to Puerto Rico, or how simply giving Mark Henry a HD-friendly singlet is not going to rejuvinate his career, but rather than go through all that, I'll simply tell you MVP earned the U.S. title shot after hitting the Playmaker on Swagger for the win. Thanks to the commercial breaks, this was a better match than what you got to see.
The Big Show and Chris Jericho were down to the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and the closer on the mound. Facing their final rematch for the WWE Unified Tag Team titles, Jericho had attempted to grease the wheels with Bret Hart, but to no avail, as the Hitman quickly told Jericho he would have to save his spot on Raw himself! Meanwhile, DX was busy using Santino Marella and other props to push merchandise and predict victory. Yeah, if you are feeling deja vu, don't bother asking your doctor for something prescription-strength...this crap happens every week, and it is it's own side effect.
As the actual match went, this was the high point for the evening. Granted, you occasionally got the feeling that four former World Champions were simply going through the motions (listening, Triple H?), but as far as tag team wrestling goes, this was textbook in spots, crib notes in others. Good work by Jericho and Big Show in cutting the ring in half and actually building the pressure on a hot tag, rather than hoping Cole or Lawler could explain it away after coming back from the commercials. The ending, prop included, could have been seen a mile away on a foggy day, but it could have been worse for Chris Jericho. He could have been sent to ECW. There are worse things than losing a match in this business.
In one of the slightly more surreal moments, even for this week's episode, Randy Orton sought out Vince McMahon with a proposal, one that would allow McMahon to get one over on Bret Hart, allow Orton to resurrect the "Legend Killer" gimmick for a night, and most importantly to the former champ, allow Orton to draw the #30 entry into the Royal Rumble. Flatly refusing, McMahon left Orton to receive the rest of his bad day. This week, Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes returned the favor, telling Orton that his spot in Legacy was on the line, and that they would be at ringside to dish out punishment...should Orton be unable to defeat Kofi Kingston!
WWE Champion Sheamus hit the ring to remind everyone that he has backed up everything he said he was going to do thus far, and since the last two or three items on the Irishman's list has come at the expense of John Cena, so much for the better. Announcing he was ready for a new challenge at the Rumble, Evan Bourne hit the ring to demand an opportunity to earn a WWE Championship match. While nearly stealing one in the opening moments of the match, Bourne soon enough found himself showered in beatdown from the Champ. It was all Champ from that point forward. If you hadn't guessed by now. Champ won.
With a match like the one they had tonight, it's just a damn shame the program between Randy Orton and Kofi Kingston has absolutely nothing for either man to gain. I don't see Orton being a serious presence in the title hunt until closer to SummerSlam, and if Kingston hasn't hit the glass ceiling, he has damn sure grazed it. This could have meant so much more. Orton wins, although Legacy looked as though they were playing their cards close to the vest after this one was over. I liked the turnabout from last week's "lose and you're out" angle, but the only time you throw the head a of stable out is when he's turning face, and if you think Randy Orton is going face in 2010, you need to go back to watching Jersey Shore and leave the heavy lifting to us adults.
All this led up to the confrontation between Vince and Bret in the ring. They could have done so much more with this, especially in light of knowing the lengths TNA was going in competing against them, if only for one night (?). But they didn't. Why feign surprise at this point? Vince is fond of saying he is not worried about TNA, and watching tonight's show, I am prone to believe him. But too many more missed opportunies, and Vince's deja vu will consist of adjusting to the scenery when second place passes on the outside to pull ahead...
Bottom Line: C-. More watchable (if not by much) matches. One fewer match than last week, although I think the Tag Title match was longer than all the matches last week combined. Still way too much time spent talking or passing off ham-fisted "writing" as improv. Something tells me for all the regrets Bret Hart mentioned in his book, he may be working on a new laundry list by the time mid-April rolls around, if enough people are watching for it to matter by then.