WrestleWatch Vault: WWE Great American Bash 2006
At the time of writing this, I'm feeling pretty damn good! My physical health is still in a seemingly endless pit of despair, but at least I have my hobby of watching wrestling and writing about it. And as far as all that goes, I'm feeling mildly accomplished. I've spent the last 2 years watching the Ruthless Aggression Era, and as of last week, I'm all caught up. So this journey into the WrestleWatch vault is the second last one of the RA Era... for now. I'll release the Summerslam 2006 one in the coming days, then it's back to the Attitude Era, starting with Survivor Series 1997!
The 2006 instalment of the Great American Bash was a strange one, because the card that took place differed a considerable amount from what was advertised. Several key talents were removed from the show at the last minute, which was attributed to medical issues, notably "elevated liver enzymes". New Smackdown commentator JBL had a field day with this, exclamining, "I've got a liver like Jake Roberts and I never had elevated enzymes!" So in reviewing and scoring this event, I will try and take the last minute nature of this card into consideration.
Rey Mysterio came into this event as the World Heavyweight Champion. Or, "World Champion", they took the "Heavyweight" out of the title for much of Rey's reign. In watching Mysterio as champ week by week, it really highlights how awful his run as the top guy really was, through no fault of his own. The masked man was just a victim of terrible booking. Of course, there was the incessant tributes to his late friend, Eddie Guerrero, which felt a little on the nose even at the time. But even if you can put that aside or view it in a positive light, there were still many other problems with "World Champion Rey Mysterio". First of all, Rey never won a non-title match as champ. Ever. He spent more time looking at the lights than any other champion I can recall. It didn't help his underdog cause, it just made him look weak. Secondly, WWE went to the David vs. Goliath story way too much during his reign. JBL. Mark Henry. Great Khali. The same story was told over and over again. The one semi-bright spot was his appearance at ECW One Night Stand, where he faced a much different opponent in Sabu. But even that was marred with its own problems- a "no contest" in a ECW match!?!
Rey's opponent at the Bash, King Booker, was the smallest challenger he had faced at a WWE PPV. Booker T was riding high after defeating Bobby Lashley to win the revived King of the Ring tournament. Where other wrestlers have dabbled in the King gimmick and come off as hokey or lame, Booker embraced the role with great comic timing, over the top props, Queen Sharmell and his "King's Court" of Finlay and William Regal. In my opinion, the whole King Booker gimmick was the best work of his whole WWE career.
The other featured match on the card was the Punjabi Prison match. It was introduced by the Great Khali, a giant of a man who appeared on the Smackdown scene post-Wrestlemania to attack the Undertaker, decimating him easily at Judgment Day. Khali and his manager Daivari challenged Taker to the Punjabi Prison match, a structure shrouded in mystery. What added extra intrigue or mystery was Khali's obvious inability to do even basic moves as a wrestler- the appeal of seeing such a huge man in the ring faded extremely quickly when it became apparent that he had trouble even moving around inside the squared circle. What kind of smoke and mirrors would the Prison employ to hide that?
Great American Bash. A Smackdown-only PPV, and the final PPV stop before Summerslam. Let's do this!
Match 1: WWE Tag Team Championship- Paul London & Brian Kendrick def. The Pitbulls (Jamie Noble & Kid Kash) (at 13:28)
Thoughts: This was one of the few promoted matches on the card to make it through to the PPV unscathed, and it was a strong way to open the show. It was a little strange to see 4 cruiserweights in action outside of the division- this was a time when every cruiser bar Rey Mysterio was pretty much locked into that spot. But this was great action, with the rough and tough Pitbull executing an aggressive, more ground-based attack, while London & Kendrick popped the crowd with their high-energy high-flying. This was early in the long reign of Londrick, and they put on an excellent show here. (***)
This is where the hits start coming. Smackdown GM Teddy Long comes out to announce that Lashley is not medically cleared to compete. Lashley comes out in his gear to protest this- it's unreal that 2006 Lashley and 2019 Lashley look almost the exact same. Through pro wrestling and MMA, the dude has never failed a drug test, so either he's clean and has great genetics, or he has the world's best steroid masking agents. Dude is a freak of nature physically, muscles on top of muscles. Anyway, Lashley's out of the scheduled US Title triple threat, but there will still be a title match- Finlay vs. Regal.
Match 2: WWE United States Championship- Finlay def. William Regal (at 13:49)
Thoughts: The King's Court members tried hard, but it was tough to get into a heel vs. heel match here. They really only work when the heels go over the top in trying to out-cheat each other, like Chris Jericho vs. Christian on Raw in 2003. Alternatively, it can also work if one wrestler is popular enough to assume a face role for the match, but there was none of that here. They wrestled an old school, technical style that made the fans in attendance (and me) pretty restless. Mat wrestling can be entertaining, but when the emotional investment of good guy vs. bad guy isn't there, it's an uphill battle. Also, both men individually had great physical battles with Chris Benoit during this year, but Benoit brought an intensity to proceedings that Finlay and Regal couldn't pull off against each other. The crowd briefly pops with an appearance by Hornswoggle (who is still unnamed and referred to as "that little bastard" at this point). Solid work, but a little too long and with little replay value. (**)
Match 3: Gregory Helms def. Matt Hardy (at 11:43)
Thoughts: These two men would feud over the next several months, including a killer opening match at No Mercy, but I believe this match was just thrown out there cold. Helms was the Cruiserweight Champion, and although Hardy is a former CW champ, he's above the 220 pound weight limit at this stage (interesting how a lot of current top guys in WWE would actually make the old cruiserweight limit). This was well-wrestled, but lacked the energy and spark of later encounters. (**1/2)
Backstage, Undertaker confronts Khali and Daivari, then Big Show attacks the Deadman. GM Teddy Long responds by taking Khali out of the Punjabi Prison match and putting Big Show in his place as punishment. It's a pretty weak premise, but prevents Khali stinking up the joint on a PPV that's not exactly the strongest to begin with.
Match 4: Punjabi Prison- Undertaker def. Big Show (at 21:35)
Thoughts: This was actually a kinda cool spectacle, at least visually. The bamboo cage was a cool novelty, and it was surrounded by another set of higher bamboo walls. The internal cage had 4 doors, and once a wrestler called for a door to be opened, they had 60 seconds to escape before the door would be closed and locked shut. So they created some decent drama around those stipulations. I mean, it's Taker and Big Show, they've wrestled each other hundreds of times at this point, so the end result is going to be something watchable, if not particularly innovative or awe-inspiring. A couple of cool spots were strewn in, like Taker swinging off the cage almost like Tarzan to kick Show, followed up by a leg drop that put Show through a ringside table. The match finish, where Undertaker dove off the internal cage to send both himself and Show through the external wall, was a nice spot. Kinda cool... decent... nice... might give you an idea of where my rating lands here... (**1/2)
Match 5: Bra & Panties Fatal 4 Way- Ashley def. Kristal, Jillian & Michelle McCool (at 5:17)
Thoughts: The obligatory buffer/eye candy segment that was a staple of the Attitude/Ruthless Aggression Eras. The objective of the match was to strip your opponent down to their bra and panties. I can only imagine the outrage from the PC police if they dared try and do such a match today. Anyway, we had sexy women rolling around and taking clothes off. Not exactly a wrestling classic, but definitely with its own... entertainment value. Besides the visual appeal, another highlight was hearing JBL rip Michael Cole a new one when he tried to deliver a line putting the Divas over as "great athletes". Whether or not it's the case, Cole... they're cat fighting and ripping clothes off. Not a great advert for their "athleticism". Time and place, Cole, time and place! (**)
So, Mark Henry was supposed to face Batista in a big grudge match, but Henry had to go in and get surgery. This was a problem that plagued Henry for the first decade or so of his long WWE career- the company wanted to give him the big main event push, but every time they'd try and establish him as a top guy, he'd get hurt and put himself on the shelf for 6-12 months. So, rising star Mr. Kennedy... Kennedy steps in last minute to try and fill the shoes of the World's Strongest Man.
Match 6: Mr. Kennedy def. Batista via DQ (at 8:38)
Thoughts: This was Batista's return to singles competition, recently returning from injury himself. He's intense and wastes no time attacking Kennedy. They brawl at ringside and Kennedy gets legitimately busted open after getting his head slammed into the ring steps. He's actually bleeding pretty badly. The commentators parlay it into a positive for the match, referrring to Batista as "the Animal unleashed!" Kennedy gains a brief advantage through underhanded means, but it doesn't last long as Big Dave needs to get his shit in. A series of spinebusters, followed by a Batista Bomb... and then he gets DQed by choking Kennedy in the corner with his boot. Pretty dumb. But that's THE RAGE OF THE ANIMAL for you. Some good intensity, okay action, but honestly the blood all made it seem better and more dramatic than it really was. Trying to take the last minute nature of this into account... eh. (**- probably gets one star without the blood)
Match 7: World Championship- King Booker def. Rey Mysterio (at 16:46)
Thoughts: The failed experiment of Rey Mysterio as world champion is over. So that's good. And Booker gets rewarded for some stellar character work over the last 6 months, including the brilliant reinvention as King. This had a better pace than the painfully slow matches that Rey had with Henry and Khali, and Rey got to look a little more competitive. Queen Sharmell played her role well at ringside before getting the boot, and the finish where Chavo Guerrero screwed Rey Mysterio, sets up Rey's next feud in the upper midcard nicely. Not a classic match between Booker and Rey, who hadn't interacted much before this, but it accomplished a lot, so I liked it for those reasons. (***)
Great American Bash 2006 was hampered by injuries and last minute changes. It was also in a weird transitional period where it was trying to elevate new talent like Kennedy and Lashley, but also bringing back Batista as a big time main event player. Not a great show by any means, but it was one which saw a lot of pieces to the puzzle get shuffled, making for a better product on the Smackdown brand going forward. Highlights were probably the first and last match... and also it's kind of fun watching Batista back in the ring kicking ass after his time away.
Until next time, take care,