Following Monday night’s massive Raw main event and the championship earthquake that reverberated from Triple H’s Pedigree on Seth Rollins, it’s not surprising that SmackDown Live chilled out a bit this week. There were no major surprises or even any particularly memorable matches, but the blue show keeps trucking along with pleasant, easy-to-watch wrestling. I’m not sure when this is going to get old, but after years of not knowing whether you should tune in to a particular WWE show on any given night, being confident that SmackDown Live will at least deliver a fun use of your time is a comforting feeling.
It all comes down to two main things, really: better, more economical writing and better use of talent from top to bottom. Due to being two hours and having an objectively weaker roster top to bottom, the SmackDown Live creative team has had less to work with from the start. In most industries, that would be a drawback, but given wrestling’s need to fill a lot of time with semi-similar content and its historic predisposition towards excess, it has been the breath of fresh air that the company has needed for some time. In a way, this week’s shows were best represented by their main events: while Raw was unpredictable, uneven, and eventually exciting, SmackDown Live went for a good one-on-one matchup that advanced a handful of storylines. “Can’t complain” remains the phrase of the day for one more week.
A Mizzed Opportunity, If You Will
The show actually started hot, following up last week’s landmark Miz promo on Talking Smack with an in-ring version addressed to the fans. Miz as this weird “fed up veteran egomaniac” character is 100% working, which further drives home the fact that we had a missed opportunity to do something historically significant on this week’s show. And yet, instead of an intense face-to-face confrontation with Daniel Bryan, Miz found himself in the ring with Dolph Ziggler, who did his same old “prove it to the fans, prove it to me” shtick in challenging the Miz. No mention of being a proxy for Bryan, no real follow-up from the most buzz a WWE promo has gotten since, well, CM Punk’s Pipe Bomb.
Part of that might just be that SmackDown Live is shying away from GM vs Superstar storylines on its show, which is a good call for the most part. Unfortunately, this is an unique opportunity to capitalize on mainstream coverage, so maybe bend the rules just this once? Wouldn’t even be too much of a reach, considering what’s going on with Shane McMahon and Brock Lesnar (a point that Daniel Bryan himself amusingly makes). But, to me, it seems that the other, more important part is that WWE wants to shy away from even hinting at a Daniel Bryan return to the ring, for his sake and the sake of his rabid fans. No amount of unscripted mayhem can (or should) get him back into the ring, what with his neck problems and concussion history, so maybe it’s best to nip it in the bud by sending out Ziggler instead. Just because we get it, though, doesn’t mean that we like it.
A Good Ol’ Georgia Boy Showdown
When we said we wanted Apollo Crews to develop some form of character, we did not mean “Spelling Bee Champion.” That being said, his match again AJ Styles was a fun little one, allowing Crews to show off his strength and speed in defeat. It’s still not the step in the right direction that he desperately needs, but maybe that ship hasn’t even docked at the harbor. After all, even though he’s been around the indies for a while, he’s only twenty-nine and just getting started. And even though the spelling thing was only a cute little gimmick to set up the match, Crews walking up to Mauro after clocking Styles and spelling out “P U N C H, Punch” was the funniest thing he’s ever done in the WWE. More of that, and less of him smiling and being, as David Otunga awkwardly put it, “thicky muscled.”
The Beauty and the Man Beast
Man, what has gotten into Heath Slater recently? The man is certified gold every single week, and I’m almost getting tired of writing about it. But how can you not, when this week, he conducts an interview with Renee Young in his West Virginia trailer home, complete with his “wife” Beulah and his new tag team partner, Rhyno, casually eating Cheese Whiz throughout the entire thing. From calling Beulah “the Martha Stewart of West Virginia” to apologizing to Renee that she can’t meet his kids because they’re out back collecting cans and bottles, Heath brought it once again tonight. I’m 100% rooting for them in the tag team tournament, a statement that sounds crazy when you think of the fact that American Alpha is on the other side of the bracket.
Speaking of the tournament, Slater and Rhyno advanced to the semifinals by beating the bleeping Headbangers, who made their return to a WWE ring after sixteen years. If you weren’t watching wrestling during the Attitude Era, well, you can still figure out Mosh and Thrasher’s gimmick extremely quickly: they banged heads. These dudes weren’t all that great, if we’re being serious, but they get in and out with a quick match that offends nobody (except for maybe my eyes due to Mosh’s “Real Men Wear Skirts” shirt), and even manage to bloody up Rhyno before the Gore-related finish. So, if you’re keeping score, not only did we flash back to the Attitude Era in a WWE sense, we also caught a small (minuscule, even) glimpse of the ECW of those days. And this only a few minutes after we saw Rhyno in casual flannel, making a sad face on his cracker out of processed cheese. Team Beauty and the Man Beast forever.
Distraction Finishes Are The Worst
I get that we have to tread some water before what should be a really fun Six-Pack Challenge for the Women’s Championship at Backlash, but do we have to do it with a distraction roll-up?! Sigh. That’s nothing to say of the fact that Nikki Bella just does not work as a face, and never really has; Becky Lynch should be the top good gal on the blue brand, but if the past two weeks (and the upcoming Total Bellas promotional spam) are to be believed, we’re going to be back in the “You Can Look But You Can’t Touch” era.
As for the match itself, it was a fun tag match for what it was: filler. We already know that most of these women can go in the ring when given the opportunity, so working on the feuds and general division isn’t the worst idea in the world. Carmella continuing to get heel heat is a pleasant discovery, and Alexa Bliss really is coming into her own on the main roster. All that is well and good, but the moral of the story is that next Sunday can’t come quickly enough. On a related note, distractions also played into the finish of the main event, but that deserves its own section…
All Hail Baron Corbin?
…because it delivered more than you would expect from a “Baron Corbin vs. Dean Ambrose in a non-title match” main event. Following an amusing return for Kane (chokeslamming Gary “The Milkman” Milman, a fantastic jobber who stripped down to his underoos after issuing an open challenge), the main event mostly skipped the comedy that makes Ambrose so frustrating at time. Corbin has potential hidden behind his monotone promos and ambigous character, and it comes out in the most marquee matches (reminder that his coming out party was at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn last year against Samoa Joe). His size is impressive, yes, but his burst is even more so; at any point in time, The Lone Wolf can explode into a runaway train of pain.
Meanwhile, Ambrose is at his best when a bigger dude is beating the crap out of him (it’s why his match against Triple H at Roadblock was so fun and intense), so having Corbin beat him down unlocked the best parts of Dean Ambrose, WWE World Champion. With that in mind, the finish was disappointing, but understandable; by having AJ inadvertently cost Corbin a big match, it could set up a feud for later on (or even just a match for next week), while advancing the main event story that only has a few weeks to build up to the first big title defense of the Ambrose Era. It may not have had the pizzazz of Raw’s world-shaki-err, Universe-shaking conclusion, but for another week, SmackDown Live put its own brand of consistent storytelling to work with success.