Saturday, 16 November 2013

And that’s my opinion...Top 5 Raw & Smackdown in the UK moments By Dave Green (@dagreeno)

Hello again. Before I start today’s column, I’d like to thank everyone who read my last column on entrance music. Particular thanks to Jay Hunter from the OSW Review crew who gave me some very constructive feedback, which I hope to act upon!

I wasn’t expecting to write a new column so soon after the last one, but a comment from Benjamin Tucker of the PWTorch website got me thinking. Upon reviewing this past week’s edition of Smackdown, he summed it up with the following statement: “For a show where half the roster is overseas, this could have been a lot worse. Like the U.K. episodes next week probably will be. (Editor's note: As this article has gone up late the shows of course have already aired)

My initial, overly patriotic reaction was to say “F- you, Tucker – what does that rhyme with?!” But when I remembered I was a mature adult and contemplated his statement, I realised he had a point. The majority of the shows that WWE has broadcast from these shores have been appalling. But surely there have been some silver linings in the dark clouds that most yanks think the UK is permanently surrounded by? So I’ve researched my way through the archives to find the top 5 moments from the UK editions of Raw and Smackdown......but my god, it was tough.

A quick history lesson...

The first time the WWE came to the UK for a televised event was the 10th October 1989, which featured a main event of Hulk Hogan vs Randy Savage. After broadcasting the event on the relatively new broadcaster SKY, it would be another 18 months before they returned. Five UK and European Rampage specials were broadcast on Sky Movies between 1991 and 1993. All of these were quite inconsequential when it came to the main televised output. In other words, nothing with storyline developments took place.

Of course, smack dab in the middle of that run was Summerslam 1992. The first major PPV that was put on outside the USA and Canada, it was also the first UK show that had storyline implications and a title change.

After 1993, WWE seemed to forget all about us. Aside from the occasional tour, no televised output from the UK took place until 27th September 1997, with the now infamous One Night Only. It featured the controversial first defeat of Davey Boy Smith in a UK show by Shawn Michaels and was part of the Harts vs DX feud. For the first time since Wembley, a UK broadcast was part of a major storyline.

Sadly that’s where it ended for us for a long time. The next major UK show came on 4th April 1998 with Mayhem in Manchester. Although untelevised due to contract issues, the video release is quite possibly the worst thing WWE has ever released. All filmed seemingly on camcorders, it’s a thankful feeling you get when you realise that it’s just an hour of “highlights” and not the full show.

From 6th December 1998’s “Capital Carnage”, WWE embarked on bringing UK exclusive PPVs twice yearly, settling on the titles “Insurrextion” and “Rebellion”. The product was essentially glorified house shows, featuring the usual batch of bad to good matches, but nothing that would matter to worldwide televised output. Even if a title would change hands, it would only ever be the European or Hardcore title and be immediately changed back on the following Raw. These events took place until abruptly finishing in 2003. Having looked back at the schedule, it is understandable why they finished the way they did. The talent would travel from the States to the arena on the Friday, perform on the Saturday, return on the Sunday, then on to Raw and Smackdown tapings the following Monday and Tuesday. A long way to go for one show.

Finally, on 11th October 2004, Raw broadcast from the UK. A stacked card saw Evolution take on HBK, Edge & Benoit, while our own William Regal came oh so close to winning tag team gold. The main angle of the programme was the build to that year’s Taboo Tuesday ppv. While it was a very average edition of Raw, the fans made up for it on sheer enthusiasm. Even I felt it being a viewer at home, not least due to the fact that we UK viewers could watch it sooner than we’d previously had to (Raw used to be broadcast on Friday nights, but on this occasion we allowed to view it on the Tuesday! Exciting times) However, as the twice yearly tapings went on, “average” was generally the highest opinion that these editions of Raw and Smackdown were given. Full of highly inconsequential matches and promos, the UK editions are generally known for being the ones with a red bus on the entrance ramp. Nothing eventful really happens. No “This is Your Life”, no return of Brock Lesnar, not even Charlie Haas knocking Lilian Garcia off the ring apron – nothing eventful.

But there have been some highlights. My decision regarding a top 5 in this subject was considered using just two qualifications: 1 - Was it relevant to a storyline or angle? And 2 – Was it entertaining? (Note – the latter usually matters to me more!). So with that in mind, here are my top 5 moments from Raw and Smackdown UK editions.

5 – Batista vs Randy Orton – Raw & Smackdown riot, 25th November 2005

This week’s Raw and Smackdown tapings were coming off of one of the most emotional times in the history of the company, with the passing of Eddie Guerrero having taken place just a fortnight previous. The company rebounded to push the build up to that year’s Survivor Series, which featured a Raw vs Smackdown elimination match. On the previous Raw, the Smackdown team invaded and created chaos. On Smackdown, Raw retaliated. On an edition that had already presented the impactful debut of Chad and James – The Dicks (note – that was sarcasm), the main event saw a World Title match between the SD team captain and champ Batista and his rival-but-also-teammate Randy Orton. The implications were pretty huge. Of course the drama of two men who are going to be on the same team defending their brand going at it is big enough, but with the title on the line, plus his huge back and shoulder injury, Batista’s place in the team was also in question. Plus – IT’S A WORLD TITLE MATCH IN THE UK AND ON TELEVISION! This just did not happen often at all. The injury of Batista really implied that there was a very good chance of seeing a title change. Sadly what happened ended up being a mass Raw roster invasion, as everyone on both rosters ended up going at it, with the end result being Batista getting a double chokeslam through a table from Big Show and Kane. Yes, it was a disappointment not to get the title match that had been hyped, but the almost riot-like scene that developed was one that I thought was very memorable and really added to the hype behind what I thought was a very good Survivor Series.

4 – William Regal wins the Intercontinental title, 10th November 2008

Now the placement of this may surprise a lot of you, but I ask you to bear the following in mind. How many times have we seen a hometown hero get put on TV only to be humiliated? Booker T jobbing to Rosey & Jamal in Houston, Texas. Mickie James losing the Women’s title to Lita in Richmond, Virginia. Jim Ross has had so much happen to him in Oklahoma (Austin beating him up, kissing McMahon arse) that I’m almost glad he’s retired so it doesn’t happen anymore. But above most others, William Regal has been practically a jobber when coming to the UK tours. In his earlier run, it was fine, as he was a heel. If the crowds’ cheered him, he was such a good heel that the crowd would the opponent when they defeated him. But as a face, he’s been destroyed by Big Show and had a tag title win taken away. So when he won the Intercontinental Title from Santino Marella, it was a huge shock and a great moment for UK fans.

The timing was strange, as Santino was in the midst of his “Honk-a-meter” angle. He asked for a graphic to be put up of the length of time the Honky Tonk Man, the longest reigning IC champ of all time, had been champion and how long he had to equal and surpass the record. By the time this match came about, he got so confident that he then made the “Honk-a-Perfect-Mountie-meter” to make his reign goal even more absurd. 40 seconds later, Regal got the win. This was totally out of the blue for a number of reasons. Santino was right in the midst of a push, Regal was a fellow heel, and it was the UK and legit title changes rarely happened. Not this time. Regal gave a proud speech and made British feel good about the world. While there was no major storyline that went on from here, it was a rare feel good moment for a proud Brit.

3 – Santino’s Tea Party, 8th November 2010

I’m sure you will agree that WWE’s attempts at comedy over the years has been, how should I put it.......varied to say the least. For every “This is Your Life” and “Austin and Angle sing”, there have been at least 30 “Little People’s Courts”. So when Santino Marella is announced as having a tea party segment coming up, you could only expect the worst. However what transpired was one of my favourite Raw segments ever.

The storyline was that Santino had just upset Sheamus by beating him in a match that had interference from John Morrison. Santino wanted to make it up Sheamus and invited him to his tea party. Out come Santino and Vladimir Koslov in suits and bowler hats, as they claim to have studied English culture. Santino invites Sheamus to join them and goes on to accidently insult him at every turn, mentioning ginger and milky before realising he’s perfectly describing the appearance of his guest. The comedy is of course a little bit puerile, but Santino’s delivery was a lot more subtle than usual. An appreciative Manchester audience going along with everything being said certainly helped matters. Even Koslov got in on the comedy, with a dead pan delivery reminding Santino why Sheamus hates him. I believe this may have been the only time that a crowd chanted for Koslov. The expected result of Santino spilling tea over Sheamus was predictable, but the crowd knew it would happen and went along with it with a typically British building up chant of “WooooooooooAH!”

The resulting match can hardly be called as such, as Santino got himself dq’ed to avoid a beating. When that fails, Morrison joins the fray to build up on the bigger storyline of Morrison vs Sheamus. Yes it’s typical WWE comedy, where it’s not exactly difficult for the brain to digest, but it’s perfectly performed by all parties and is still fondly remembered to this day. Plus the sight of Sheamus trying desperately not to laugh at various points gets me every time.

2 – The Undertaker returns, 22nd March 2013 AND 26th March 2013

Yeah I’m using two separate episodes of Raw and Smackdown for one moment – sue me
WWE had announced several weeks previously that The Undertaker was going to be at the tapings in London. This enough was an honour. Undertaker making such a rare appearance was special in every way, especially being in the UK, almost as thanks to us fans. But then they announced he was going to be on the actual broadcast! He hadn’t made an appearance since the post-Mania Raw, where he was close to being attacked by The Shield until Team Hell No intervened. That was the setup for the Raw six-man tag match.

The storyline was simple – The Shield were undefeated, this was their biggest test to date. I’m not ashamed to admit I popped a bit for the Undertaker’s entrance. The fact is that this could be his last time performing on these shores and I was intensely jealous of the crowd that was there for the show. But I couldn’t get over the excitement of seeing such a rare appearance from this legend was happening in the UK.

And it didn’t end there. After the Shield won the six-man, the match was made for the following Smackdown – Dean Ambrose vs The Undertaker. So not only were we getting The Undertaker twice in one week, we also got the first appearance of one of The Shield in a singles match. Nice one UK! The angle built around The Shield’s dominance was carried on, even though Ambrose lost the match, as they took Undertaker apart to end the broadcast. We still haven’t seen him on TV since, so a potential storyline for his return could have been made there. Depends on many things that happen around Wrestlemania season, but the fact that the UK got the, so far, last appearance of the Undertaker is a truly great one and deserves to be the top moment of UK broadcasts from WWE.

If only it wasn’t for one other match...

1 – John Cena vs Shawn Michaels 2, 24th April 2007

Now before you start crying about Cena being at number 1 in this top 5, I’m going to state something very controversial. Cena isn’t that bad. Now, am I sick of seeing him at the top all the time? Absolutely! Do I find his attempts at comedy cringe worthy? Too right. Do I agree that he absolutely sucks in the ring? No. I think Cena is one of those wrestlers that equates his in-ring abilities with who he’s up against. Put him up against a middle-of-the-road wrestler, then that’s the result you’ll get. But put him up against Ziggler – great match; Jericho – great match; Punk – great match. And let’s face it; he had a match of the year candidate against Daniel Bryan at Summerslam. Yes Daniel Bryan can make anyone look good in the ring, but it takes two to have a great match. And on 24th April 2007, that’s exactly what he had with Shawn Michaels.

The angle surrounding this edition of Raw was that it is the final set up for Backlash 07 (incidentally, one of the more underrated PPVs and well worth a look). The WWE Title match is due to be Cena defending against HBK, Edge & Orton. Cena and HBK had just had a great main event match at Wrestlemania 23 and this was a non-title rematch. It was magic. It took up almost all of the last hour of that edition of Raw and caused the cancellation of an Edge vs Orton match that was scheduled for after this match. Well, that’s what they told us. In reality, Orton had been sent home from the tour for being a dickhead. It’s quite funny to think that anyone would put Edge v Orton (two heels) as the main event over this, but we’ll let that go for now.

I won’t go into the ins and outs as to why this is #1 in my top 5. Just watch the match. It’s still mentioned as one of the greatest matches in the history of Raw.

The story coming out of it is of course that HBK beat the champ in an epic encounter, but couldn’t quite do it at Backlash. With the score at 1-1, there would have been a rubber match if not for a knee injury sustained by HBK a few weeks later, so sadly the feud ended not long after this. But the fact that the match is so highly regarded, it makes it difficult not to put this at the top of my list.

At least that’s my opinion.

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