Ok, so this is a LATE edition of the Wrath of Tito. I gotta say, it's been a busy month for yours truly. Christmas stuff here and there, working to death, and this past week, I've been a little sick and taking shots of DayQuil© every 4 hours. Nothing like working and feeling like you're ready to pass out. Ok, let me tell you what really happened... I kid, I kid. I just lack the time, in addition to having the energy/motivation this week to write some columns. Yes, I know I wanted to do the Year in Review column, which are a tradition since I began to attempt to write history-like columns. But I can't muster it within these few hours left of 2004, so if I find the time and motivation, I'll write the 2004 Year in Review column at a later date.
I will give you a brief analysis of 2004 in case I don't get to the "Year in Review", which is a good bet to make these days. I thought 2004 was a rebound year for the RAW Roster, but a disappointing year for the Smackdown Roster. With RAW, you had the excellent addition of Chris Benoit, who lit a nice fire under Triple H's ass to finally wrestle some good matches since HHH's return in 2002. But with that addition, you had subtraction on Smackdown. Not only did Smackdown lose Chris Benoit, but they lost Brock Lesnar to football and Kurt Angle to injury after Wrestlemania. Eddie Guerrero was left around with nobody to wrestle and scapegoated for Smackdown's weak ratings and business during the Spring/Summer. While John Bradshaw Layfield's new gimmick could develop into a great character/wrestler over time, the WWE pushed him too fast and too soon. RAW's strong momentum of Benoit's arrival was actually cooled down by another wrestler who was pushed too early and too soon in Randy Orton.
-RAW had a BAD 2002 and 2003. HHH and Shawn Michaels could only fight so much, and Triple H wasn't carrying his own weight against up and coming opponents who could have landed a long-term spot in the main event (Jericho, Kane, Rob Van Dam, and Booker T). But 2004 became great for RAW during the night after the Royal Rumble when Chris Benoit landed on RAW. Suddenly, you had great matches between Shawn Michaels, HHH, and Chris Benoit, and the many other combination matches that resulted between them. Michaels and Benoit had a phenominal 2004, with an incredible workrate that made almost every match quite watchable. Chris Benoit was the best World Champion that the WWE has had since Steve Austin's return-to-form 2001 title reign, and he should have remained champion PAST Summerslam. However, the WWE pushed the button too early on Randy Orton, a 24 year old so-called sensation, who is still a big green and uncharismatic in the ring and is NOT appealing to fans, especially as a face. The WWE should have been more patient or at least build him up like the way they are slowly building up Batista right now.
RAW had some odd moments, though... the whole Kane-Lita storyline was a piece of work, to say the least. First, Lita was FORCED to have sex with Kane. No condom, either, and Lita was "knocked up" from the night out. She would be forced to marry Kane in a ridiculous and goofy wedding ceremony, and eventually lost her baby when Gene Snitsky accidentally bumped Kane into Lita. Oddly, ending the pregnancy has made Snitsky a WWE comedy sensation and if anything good came out of that storyline, it was cementing Snitsky on the WWE roster. Snitsky actually defeated Kane and put him out for a while. Then, you had the Diva Search. Ugh, that was some of the worst shit I've seen in wrestling. Now, the ladies were beautiful, so don't get me wrong. But the way the contest was handled and hyped hurt RAW, and ratings did NOT go up as a result of the contest. However, the WWE payroll went up because the WWE has signed most of the contestants to contracts anyway. I do like the winner of the contest, though, as Christy seems at least energetic and looks as though she wants to be there. Good for her. While Eugene's character has been played well by the man behind the character, it, too, was overpushed and burned out fans with overexposure. Oddly enough, Eugene wrestled HHH at Summerslam... FINGER OF SHAME to the WWE, though, for their usual anti-American characters and exploiting 9/11, despite parading the fact that they went over to Iraq to entertain the soldiers (which I commend the WWE for, but oh the hypocrisy!).
Most of RAW, though, has been the conflict between good and evil, with Evolution vs. the face wrestlers. It has provided for some entertaining match combinations and it's a very simple storyline set up to do. It has worked, even though the WWE is overpushing Randy Orton as the leader of the faces when Chris Benoit should be given a second chance... That, or someone with more seasoning or experience than Orton should get the ball. I'm for new talent getting promoted, but not new talent that's not quite ready for the task at hand. With great power comes great responsibility!
-Now, Smackdown had it worse... After being the break-out face that the WWE didn't want him to become, Eddie Guerrero was FINALLY given the main event push in 2004. He wrestled and defeated Brock Lesnar to an excellent match at "No Way Out 2004", which I'll comment more on later. Eddie would go on to wrestle Kurt Angle in an overlooked bout at Wrestlemania 20. After Wrestlemania 20, both Angle and Lesnar were unavailable. Kurt Angle hurt his neck, AGAIN, and would later come back around Summerslam time wrestling a much lighter modified style (which he should have wrestled in the first place). Secondly, Brock Lesnar was getting burned out on the WWE tours, tired of the schedule and the ridiculous booking. So, Lesnar decided to leave millions behind and attempt a dream: the NFL! Lesnar gave a good effort at the Minnesota Vikings training camp, but the football talent simply wasn't there. He did not make the team, but he did not return to wrestling as of yet. Lesnar wrestled Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania 20 in what was a lameduck match, with both guys leaving thereafter. The MSG crowd ate them up in a moment I'll never forget.
But, while Angle and Lesnar were gone at Wrestlemania 20, the Undertaker actually returned to action. Not the biker gimmick, either, which I thought put the Undertaker at his best, workwise. Nope, he reverted to the no-selling deadman gimmick and bad storylines/matches have resulted since. Brock Lesnar was supposed to be the first fallguy of the returning deadman gimmick, but that obviously didn't happen with Lesnar leaving the WWE. Undertaker would go on to have ridiculous feuds with Mordecai (sp?) and Heidenreich, two guys only in the WWE feeder system due to their size. Taker looked embarrassing at Wrestlemania 20 and Summerslam, where both of his matches (against Kane and JBL) received very poor crowd reactions. Instead of listening to the crowd, the WWE keeps the Undertaker on top and the younger guys below will never get the proper rub.
One guy who feuded with the Undertaker was the current champion, John Bradshaw Layfield. Bradshaw has been on the WWE roster since 1995 or 1996, making him quite the veteran. He's long been known as Undertaker's right hand man backstage in locker room enforcement among wrestlers. He's also noted as being the most vicious hazers backstage of incoming or new talent. His "veteran" status has given him several attempts at the main event spotlight, including a poor one when the WWE roster was first divided up. When Angle was injured and Brock Lesnar wanted to play football, the WWE needed a guy, fast, to feud with Guerrero. The WWE put their heads together and decided to push Bradshaw. They had the right idea and the WWE was extremely smart for repackaging Bradshaw as a businessman, thanks to his financial spots on FOX News and CNBC (although Bradshaw lost his CNBC gig by making obscene Nazi gestures to German crowds on a tour). His look reminds you of J.R. Ewing on Dallas, at least it does for me. Instead of pushing Bradshaw as a cocky business man like Larry Hagman on Dallas, they pushed him as an evil Republican. At times, the character got too political and it hurt the character's vibe with the fans. In addition to this, the WWE pushed him too fast and Eddie Guerrero quickly dropped the title to the newly pushed Bradshaw. While business has not picked up on the Smackdown side with JBL as champion, the WWE is loyal to JBL and hopes that a lengthy title reign will create a Honky Tonk Man atmosphere with fans (credit: Scott Keith for the idea). Honky, as you know, was a hated heel during the 1980's as Intercontinental Champion and packed houses with people wanting to see him lose the title.
-Smackdown, in my opinion, misuses talent. Carlito Caribbean Cool (sp?) came in and won the United States title on his first match! Charlie Haas, a very talented performer as witnessed by his Team Angle days, is a very misused OVW wrestler. Many believe that Rob Van Dam could be utilized as a major face. I personally believe that Chavo Guerrero is ready to wrestle heavyweight, while Eddie Guerrero was scapegoated and is actually getting misused while JBL is still champion. It's a show that I'm just not catching every week due to the show's storylines, matches, and general interest to watch wrestling on Thursday nights.
-Meanwhile, NWA-TNA got a national cable deal on FOX Sports Net. Congrats to them... but I have no interest in following their product. I don't care to see washed up WCW/WWE guys hog the spotlight on the Pay Per Views when they have a slew of young talent waiting to explode like AJ Styles did. With that being said, I sincerely hope that TNA does something to improve their product and get me to watch on a regular basis. I'm begging you!
-Strange year for Paul Heyman... Things were going better with Heyman, as he was promoted to a creative director of Smackdown and I believe a consultant with RAW too. Then, the "Rise and Fall of ECW" DVD comes out and it's a HUGE hit. Suddenly, the genius of Paul Heyman is shown and the WWE now talks about putting on an ECW Pay Per View, along with other possible DVDs. But, with most things Paul Heyman, things came crashing down. For whatever reason, the McMahons just got fed up with Heyman probably constantly disagreeing with them on storylines and demoted him off of the creative team. The current status of Heyman is unknown, but the WWE would be crazy to let him go to another organization, such as TNA.
Ok, that's as much stuff that I can remember off the top of my head. Everybody put on your Sunday's best... it's time for the TITO AWARDS!
BEST WRESTLER = Chris Benoit
Nobody had a better 2004 than Chris Benoit. He won the 2004 Royal Rumble in an impressive fashion, made fantastic matches with Shawn Michaels and Triple H, and was World Champion from Wrestlemania 20 through Summerslam. It should have been longer, but let's not get into that.
BEST TAG TEAM = La Resistance
2004 saw Grenier and Conway forced together as a tag team, as Dupree left for Smackdown. That allowed Grenier and Conway to gel as a team and their finisher is freakin' awesome! They are rare in that they are uniform as a tag team in terms of look and goals.
BEST CRUISERWEIGHT = Chavo Guerrero
There's still a Cruiserweight division in the WWE?
BEST FEMALE WRESTLER = Trish Stratus
Not only did her workrate continue to be good, but her character evolved into an awesome heel. She, along with Snitsky, helped patch together a shattered Lita-Kane storyline.
MATCH OF THE YEAR = Brock Lesnar vs. Eddie Guerrero at No Way Out 2004
Many are going with HBK vs. HHH vs. Benoit from Wrestlemania. Not me. I enjoyed Brock vs. Eddie on the first watch, and I still enjoy it to this day. I didn't like the first 3 way until second viewings, and I liked the second 3 way on first viewing. It was a defining moment for Eddie Guerrero and it's a shame things went down after Wrestlemania 20.
PAY PER VIEW OF THE YEAR = Wrestlemania 20
Get rid of the crappy midcard matches in this 4 hour+ show, and you've got quite the impressive card!
MOST IMPROVED = Batista
This guy has benefitted by being a side-character in Evolution and is learning the business as such. He's not getting pushed quickly, too, which is the downfall of Randy Orton. Ric Flair's presence adds a touch of class to Batista, too.
BEST ROOKIE = Eugene
I know the guy behind Eugene was in wrestling for a while, but his debut in the WWE was this year, guys. Eugene, even though he's shoved down your throat, can actually work in the ring. He has that knack for wrestling that can't be taught in OVW or wrestling schools.
BEST MIC SKILLS = John Bradshaw Layfield
He's a good talker, what can I say? I'll admit it. If only the WWE was patient in building him up and not turning him into an evil Republican, they could really have something.
BEST ENTRANCE = Eddie Guerrero
"I Lie, I Cheat, I Steal"... I mean, come on, who can beat that theme?!?!? In addition, driving in the car is fantastic.
BEST MANAGER/VALET = Ric Flair
That's right, Flair is a wrestler, but whenever he's ringside, he's DANGEROUS. You see Flair on the outside in his suits, helping HHH or Batista out on a regular basis. Reminds me a lot of the old JJ Dillon days from 1988 or so in NWA/WCW... Plus, I really can't think of any valets or managers even worth mentioning.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR = Monday Night RAW
After an embarrassing 2003 and a poor 2002, RAW bounced back in 2004 with more intelligent storylines, better wrestling, and a better conflict between good and evil. Bigtime improvement on this roster and show as a whole. Randy Orton can't drag down the whole year!
BEST FACE = John Cena
This guy is crazy over! I saw him live just after Wrestlemania 20 at a Smackdown, and the Columbus, OH crowd was going bonkers for him! Now, if only his in-ring wrestling ability would catch up to his character...
BEST HEEL = Triple H
The final award goes to... TRIPLE H?!? That's right, as Triple H was a bit more generous in 2004 than in 2003. 2003 saw HHH being too dominant of a wrestler. That certainly doesn't make him a heel. However, in 2004, he led Evolution to more thoughtful attacks, begged like a vunerable heel for a World Title shot on numerous occasions, and he seemed to capture more heel heat this year than previous. Was it because HHH gave more to his opponents in 2004 than in 2002 or 2003? I'd tend to agree with that notion, but I'll still give props where they are deserved. HHH was the top heel of 2004, and it wasn't just because of lesser competition out there. HHH earned it this year, and after admitting to being a member of the WWE creative team in an interview, you are left to wonder if he can keep it up in 2005. We'll see!
LAST WORD: I hope you enjoyed the last column of 2004, with the mini-year in review and Tito Awards. Have a Great New Year and be safe. A big thank you to all of my readers here in 2004, and especially to those who have stuck it out with me for over 6 years now. I'll hopefully be back this Tuesday or Wednesday with a full blown RAW review and back to my regular schedule of writing columns. I'd recommend checking the BLOG for any updates or delays on the column, along with other stuff. Thanks a million, as always, for reading and just chill... till the next episode!
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