There was quite the irony tonight that after two derisory pay-per-views in a row, the WWE’s distinct “B” brand were the ones expected to end 2006 on a high note.
But while Smackdown may very much be considered secondary by Vince McMahon, the Friday night show has been the one that has received critical acclaim under the pen of head booker Michael Hayes. Bouts between Chris Benoit and Finlay, and William Regal and Paul London immediately spring to mind as wrestling highlights of recent TV, a fact that provided some promise going into Armageddon.
The card featured several marquee matches, albeit a rather odd main event, a tag team encounter in which Finlay and King Booker faced World Heavyweight Champion Batista, and his WWE Champion counterpart John Cena. But in the end, it would not be the main event that fans left the Richmond Coliseum in discussions about. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a match that was announced ahead of time.
Match #1: Inferno Match — MVP vs Kane
In what was an absolute shocker to me — and to the crowd too, it seemed — the first televised bout of the evening was the Inferno Match. Much like previous Inferno encounters, the winner of the bout was he who ludicrously set his opponent on fire. For the WWE’s sake, I hope Indonesia wasn’t watching.
This match involved very basic wrestling, if you can call it that, with the majority of the bout featuring punches, kicks, and clotheslines by both participants. Kane was the first to go for the win, when he removed the turnbuckle pad, setting it on fire before attempting to attack MVP. The former “highest paid athlete on the Smackdown roster”, however, was able to counter, and was soon using baseball slide dropkicks to try and propel Kane into the flames.
Unable to do so, MVP decided that escape was his only option, and scaled the turnbuckle, only to be pushed by Kane, over the flames and down to the floor. “The Big Red Machine” followed him with a clothesline from the turnbuckle, and after MVP tried to escape under the ring, Kane grabbed him in a chokehold and held him into the flames, setting his back alight for the win.
A match that was high on visual thrills provided almost zero in the way of wrestling, but was a somewhat entertaining opener nonetheless.
Match rating: 6.0 / 10
Teddy Long was a busy man in the next few moments, as not only did he announce a “Naughty or Nice” Divas Lingerie contest, but he also came to ringside following the introductions of William Regal and Dave Taylor, and Paul London and Brian Kendrick, to state that not only would this bout actually be a ladder match, but that it would also additionally feature MNM and The Hardy Boyz. In my initial opinion, to say that this was the wrestling equivalent of coal in the Christmas stocking would be the understatement of the year.
Match #2: Tag Team Title Match — Paul London & Brian Kendrick ( c ) vs William Regal & Dave Taylor vs MNM vs The Hardy Boyz
There were a number of crazy spots throughout this one, the first of which saw Mercury flung from the top of the ladder, over the top rope, and onto his partner at ringside. Once recovered, MNM then went for a double superplex on Jeff, with his landing to be atop the awaiting ladders. This backfired violently, however, when Jeff jumped off the top rope and onto the far end of the ladder, which propelled its near end into the face of Mercury & Nitro. The former failed to get his hands up, taking a sick blow to the face, whereupon he was legitimately taken out of the match and rushed to hospital with a shattered nose and cuts around the left eye.
That did not stop the craziness, however, as Regal used a half-nelson suplex to send London onto a ladder, and when Jeff attempted a Swanton Bomb from the top of a ladder, outside to in, Nitro dove through the ropes with a dropkick, and Hardy took an awful fall on the top rope.
In the meantime — after Taylor embarrassingly took a bump where there was clearly no impact on him — Matt hip-tossed Kendrick off the top of the ladder, and Jeff struck Nitro with a nasty sunset flip powerbomb, coming as Nitro was halfway up the ladder. As Regal then ascended, Kendrick delivered the Sliced Bread #2 from near the top of the ladder, and Kendrick in particular fell horribly, and was lucky not to be seriously injured.
The carnage finally ended with Matt Hardy and London on the top of the ladder, battling for position. London hit several punches which caused Hardy to fall, allowing London to grab the championship belts to retain.
This was an absolute car crash of a match, with involved several scary bumps. But for its genre, this was genuinely one of the great matches of all-time.
Winners: Paul London & Brian Kendrick
Match rating: 9.0 / 10
Match #3: The Miz vs The Boogeyman
Following the previous encounter was going to be impossible for anybody, but The Miz and The Boogeyman were close to setting new standards for PPV lows in this offering. After several minutes of clotheslines, bodyslams, and not much else, Boogeyman hit the two-handed chokeslam for the pin, and spat worms into Miz’s mouth.
Winner: The Boogeyman
Match rating: 2.5 / 10
Match #4: U.S. Title Match — Chris Benoit ( c ) vs Chavo Guerrero (w/Vickie)
The champion came firing out of the blocks in this encounter, catapulting Chavo over the top rope and hitting three German suplexes before going for his patented diving headbutt. Chavo was able to counter with a superplex, however, after which he began working on Benoit’s back and ribs, wrapping Benoit around the ringpost as one means of doing so.
Showing that “The Crippler” isn’t the only one with a penchant for suplexes, Chavo hit two Saito suplexes, and then went for the Three Amigos, but he was only able to complete one, before Benoit showed his dominance by hitting an amazing eight German suplexes in a row.
Benoit then tried to finish Guerrero with the Sharpshooter, but Vickie grabbed the U.S. Title belt and climbed into the ring, threatening to strike the champion. This forced Benoit to break the hold, and as Vickie backed off, Benoit contemplated placing her in the Sharpshooter, a thought which was abandoned when Chavo schoolboyed him. Guerrero was only able to get a near fall, though, and Benoit rolled through, applying the Sharpshooter once more for the submission win.
Winner: Chris Benoit
Match rating: 7.0 / 10
Match #5: Cruiserweight Title Match — Gregory Helms ( c ) vs Jimmy Wang Yang
Several of the big moves in this contest occurred on the outside of the ring, beginning with Yang missing a spinning heel kick in the corner, which allowed Helms to strike him with a baseball slide, propelling him into the security wall. From there, the champion hit a swinging neckbreaker on the floor, although Yang soon rebounded and hit a big crossbody from the top turnbuckle to the floor.
He continued the advantage by hitting his spinning heel kick, and also connecting with a missile dropkick, although Helms was able to turn the tide of the match when Yang struck his shoulder against the ringpost. Both men then reached the top rope, where Helms hit an amazing swinging neckbreaker, but when he then dove off the top, Yang hit another spinning kick for a near-fall.
Yang then scaled the ropes himself, but found no-one home on his Sky Twister press, which allowed Helms to drop Yang’s chin across his knee for the victory.
This was rather a good match, but the crowd, sadly, simply weren’t interested, something which JBL berated them for until the beginning of the next matchup.
Winner: Gregory Helms
Match rating: 7.0 / 10
Match #6: Last Ride Match — Mr Kennedy vs The Undertaker
The rules of this match stated that the winner would be he who put his opponent into the back of the hearse (awaiting in the aisle), and drive his opponent out of the arena.
The Undertaker was unsurprisingly aggressive in the beginning of this bout, as he hip-tossed Kennedy onto the Spanish announce table, and then sent him back-first into the ringpost. Kennedy showed resilience, though, and on two occasions put his best efforts into closing the hearse door on Undertaker, only to find on the latter attempt that Undertaker was waiting for him in the passenger seat.
Kennedy then decided that a steel chair was his only chance of beating Undertaker, and he struck him with two hard chair shots to the head, which barely registered with “The Deadman”, as he quickly sat up. Kennedy, not able to believe that the chair shots had not slain his foe, then attempted to get away from Undertaker by climbing the rigging of the Armageddon set, and as the two battled with punches, Kennedy threw Undertaker off the top of the set — which seemed to be a legitimate fifteen feet — to the floor.
Unfortunately, it was all too obvious that Undertaker had landed on a crash mat, and the crowd weren’t interested in the spot after seeing the high risks taken during the earlier ladder match.
Kennedy managed to drag Undertaker into the back of the hearse, closing the door, but as the in-car camera looked over Kennedy’s shoulder, Undertaker sat up, and then went to work on his recent tormentor. The two climbed onto the roof of the hearse, where Undertaker nailed Kennedy with a chokeslam and a Tombstone piledriver, before closing the door on the hearse and driving out of the arena.
Winner: The Undertaker
Match rating: 7.0 / 10
Match #7: Finlay & King Booker vs John Cena & Batista
After a Divas lingerie contest in which Santa Claus revealed himself to be Big Dick Johnson, and began his usual fat-man dance routine, it was time for the main event.
The babyfaces dominated the early proceedings, with Batista delivering what could almost be described as a Muscle Buster on Finlay, and Cena hitting the Five Knuckle Shuffle on Booker. After an attempt at both the F-U and the STFU, though, Booker struck Cena in the throat with his sceptre, and the heels beat on him until Batista made the hot tag.
“The Animal” cleaned house on the opponents with a powerslam and two spears, before Booker did some of his work for him by accidently striking Finlay with a kick to the head. Finlay & Cena and Booker & Batista then paired off, with Finlay getting the momentary better of Cena, allowing him to strike Batista in the leg with a chair, a shot which Batista treated like it never happened. The World Heavyweight Champion then raised Booker in the Batista Bomb, for a very flat three count.
Winners: John Cena & Batista
Match rating: 5.5 / 10
Overall, Armageddon was a relatively enjoyable event. The surprise of the evening was, of course, the ladder match, both because it wasn’t announced until during the show, and because of the quite incredible effort of its participants. While SLAM! Wrestling may always reserve its greatest plaudits for high-quality technical wrestling and in-ring story-telling, there is no denying the incredible effort of the Ladder match participants, nor that they created a stunning, death-defying contest.
The rest of the card was largely overshadowed by this match, even though Benoit vs Guerrero, Helms vs Yang, and The Undertaker vs Mr Kennedy were all entertaining bouts. Unfortunately, the main event was nowhere near this standard, and whilst Batista may be the blue-eyed boy of the Smackdown brand, I can’t recall seeing him participate in a good match since his 2005 feud with Triple H. Given the lacklustre reaction to his main event match here, that should be a cause for concern.
But in five years time, if people are to remember anything of Armageddon 2006, it will not be the main event, but rather the insanity of the Tag Team Ladder match. It may not have been the greatest technical wrestling match, but WWE fans will assuredly find it to be one of the best matches of this calendar year.
Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports, and soccer. He is the sports editor for Burn magazine, and can be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.