THE SMACKDOWN (7/4/14)
|Episode 1: "Let's get nuts!"|
SmackDown has become increasingly relevant in the passing weeks, having offered up solid, entertaining episodes for about a month now. This latest show was the best I've seen from SmackDown in a long time, boasting some memorable matches and enjoyable promos.
SmackDown typically exists as an obligatory aside, a longer, more elaborate RAW pre-show.
But this week, due to the focus placed upon the feuds between Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Randy Orton, it felt as though the events which transpired actually contributed to an evolving story. Perhaps RAW will simply rehash what we've seen here, as if SmackDown didn't actually happen, but I'd be surprised to see that happen, as the show seems to very deliberately set up a potential RAW main event: a tag match between the teams of Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins and Randy Orton.
The opening segment was spectacular.
Rollins cut a decent promo, continuing to flesh out his character as a sleazy, solipsistic jerk. It's good that he's not acting afraid of Dean Ambrose in the typical heel way (I'm seeing now that I should have given him more credit for that). He actually makes confident comebacks to Dean's threats. I criticized him in the early-going of his turn, and while he's not the most charismatic talker, it's good to see him strike out on his own, to see segments without The Authority doing his talking for him. He's presenting a character that truly believes in what he's doing, won't necessarily back down, but might weasel his way into victory nonetheless.
And he was good on commentary later in the evening, even amusing at times.
Dean's interruption was in top-form this week. The segments between these two have become increasingly reminiscent of the good old days, when the top feud had a through-line on every show, and the combatants truly hated each other.
Seth snarled at Dean, "You can't keep that up!" when discussing Dean's promise to thwart any of Rollins' Money in the Bank cash-in attempts.
Where other wrestlers would launch into a diatribe, sling a schoolyard insult, or proclaim that they were "going to be the next WWE World Heavyweight Champion", Dean simply responded with a casual, "Yes I can. I'll start right now."
And then he launched himself into the ring and started hammering Rollins in the face.
The delivery of his promos is unlike anything else in the WWE. He's appropriately insane, but still a human being, less a gimmick and more a well-crafted, believable, fictional character. He's eloquent, but not cryptic or too poetic. Everything about his performance (the facial expressions, the gesticulations, the unpredictable attacks, and the manic in-ring style) transcends pro-wrestling.
He seems to have walked out of a Quentin Tarrentino movie and into the WWE.
Following Dean and Seth's opening segment, Sheamus defended his United States Championship against Alberto Del Rio.
Thankfully, the show was short on overly cheesy, Americana, Forth of July schmaltz (perhaps because it wasn't really the Forth of July when it was filmed on Tuesday or such segments had been edited out of my HuluPlus version). Only a handful of quick promos, a Rusev segment, and the U.S. Championship bout emphasized the red, white, and blue.
The match between Sheamus and Del Rio was excellent. The two worked some new, entertaining spots into their usual, hard-hitting match - particularly the finish where Del Rio tried a moonsault off the middle rope and wound up getting a Brogue Kick.
It would have been nice had Del Rio picked up the win, however. It's been too long since we've seen a title of any kind change on a non-pay-per-view show, and it being the Forth of July, the timing was perfect for a heel like Del Rio to do something unexpected and significant with that awkward championship.
Hopefully, come WrestleMania 31, the United States Championship and the Intercontinental Championship will finally be united into one title; The Intercontinental Championship.
After Sheamus' victory there was a backstage (outer-space?) promo from Stardust and Golddust, discussing what their team name should be.
It seems most wrestling fans are enjoying this latest Cody Rhodes transformation, and I'm no different. Perhaps he's yet another gimmick that's over in an ironic sense, but that doesn't change the fact that he's consistent in his performance, and the two real-life brothers know how to work their weirdness well.
I'm genuinely excited to see what their team-name will be.
Bo Dallas continues the "greatest undefeated streak in wrestling history", defeating Diego and body-slamming "the bull". Bo continues to gain a blend of Bolievers and haters each week, now insulting Daniel Bryan's neck injury. This, combined with his growing streak will hopefully earn him some legitimate hate from the audience. He needs to go over someone in the midcard, rather than jobbers like Diego.
The cynic in me sees Bo gaining a lot of steam, only to be thrust into a momentum killing feud with Daniel Bryan when Bryan returns. If Bo keeps attacking Bryan in promos, then it seems like something WWE creative might be establishing - it could serve as a way of easing Bryan back into the fold and giving Bo a high-profile opponent (though such a feud would be bad for both wrestlers, as Bo is a demotion for Bryan, and not being put over by a guy like Bryan erases a lot of strength).
Regardless of what the WWE inevitably does with the character, for now, I'm going to enjoy every second. All we have to do is...
Next came Y2J Chris Jericho.
It's always delightful to watch Jericho. He's simply excellent "at what he does", and his presence is comforting in a time where other part-time veterans seem to enter the WWE Television Universe on a whim, disrupting everything (even entire careers), without ever becoming fully integrated into the show. Jericho, on the other hand, slipped right into the WWE within the first few minutes of his return. No posturing, no rallying the crowd to chant hashtags or follow him on Facebook - just a straightforward confrontation with a young, rising star in Bray Wyatt.
And then Jericho cut a good promo on SmackDown, playing up his rock star image with what I believe is a new "catchphrase", "Did that feel good?" and other variations on typical rock star crowd-hyping speech. And it works.
I'd like to think Jericho was alluding to my favorite line in any Batman movie when he said, "You wanna get nuts, I can get nuts too."
When building a feud, wrestlers would be wise to watch Tim Burton's Batman, particularly that scene. It has all the hallmarks of a good, professional wrestling feud: great costumes, personalities so at odds that they're darkly reminiscent of one another, passion, and even cool catchphrases.
Bray Wyatt responded to Chris with another Titantron promo.
It was decent, but I don't think we're going to get "the goods" from either Jericho or Bray until we're a few weeks into this conflict. It's an odd pairing, where both characters seem to inhabit entirely different universes. It makes even less sense than Wyatt versus Cena, but within that oddity is the potential for greatness, and Jericho displayed a darker, more world-weary aspect of his personality on SmackDown that will hopefully grow stronger each week.
The Miz's interruption of Jericho's rebuttal was actually quite welcome, as it resulted in yet another quick Codebreaker to the face, and Jericho stealing Miz's sunglasses.
Cesaro seems to be settling into a more recognizable personae of late - that of a vicious brawler. He and Big E beat the life out of each other before their match could even begin. On one hand I was disappointed to miss out on an actual match between the two, and on the other it was thoroughly entertaining to observe their visceral battle. It was nice to see Big E didn't get manhandled like Kofi. Big E is just too massive to be convincingly tossed around like a ragdoll, even by someone as strong as Cesaro. And the entire segment had a "real-fight-feel", and so it made sense for it to be left in a standoff.
A feud between Big E and Cesaro might actually be what both performers need right now, as they could put on a kind of hard-hitting, powerhouse match that is as graceful and athletic as it is destructive. It would be an entirely unique match that could help both get over in their respective roles.
And then there was AJ.
Her match against Eva Marie was nothing to write about, save the finish, which was an impressive whip-around counter that led into The Black Widow.
Paige sat at the commentary's desk without a headset.
It's certainly fun to imagine all the real reasons why she wasn't permitted to talk, or chose not to talk with commentary (perhaps she refused to get lambasted by Cole and JBL the way other Divas are). Regardless, her response to AJ's victory of Eva was just strange and uninteresting - lots of smiling and clapping, unclear if such was supposed to be sincere or a trap.
Perhaps Paige's performance is simply lacking, but it seems like something we're just going to have to accept before she finally does turn-full-heel and attack AJ. Hopefully we'll see such on RAW. Sometimes it seems as though the WWE wants to make their characters unnecessarily complex. Instead of having them just suddenly become evil, characters will occasionally be drawn to the dark side. The problem here is that the wrestlers themselves or the writers are always competent with a more complex, subtle turn. Even if Paige is just pretending to be nice right now, that's just not interesting and merely results in confusion. And it keeps making her appear weak.
Hopefully there will be a payoff, and hopefully AJ will get her hands on a mic again in the coming weeks.
Damien Sandow came out as Bruce Springsteen this week. It seemed as though his promo had been cut up (the entire show was heavily edited, in fact), and he was yet again interrupted before he could launch into a coded shoot. Rusev made quick work of him, and then Zeb came out and we were treated to another Real Americans versus Rusev segment.
While this one lacked the energy of Monday Night RAWs, it was good to hear Zeb cut a longer promo, and to start out by reminding everyone that he's still the same xenophobic anti-illegal-alien right-wing soap-boxer he's always been. This is a situation where subtlety actually benefits a character - we may not agree with what he has to say, but almost everyone can't help but stand up and shout, "We the people" or cheer when ole' Zeb defames mother-Russia (though I don't know if "inventing the internet" is something any country should be particularly proud of).
Lastly, we come to the excellent main event; Randy Orton vs Dean Ambrose.
The match was entertaining, mostly because anything Dean Ambrose does these days is spectacular - and it's good to see him in the mix with high profile guys like Orton.
Guys like Dean and Bray demonstrate how to be as intense and powerful as the non-PG-generation wrestlers of the Attitude Era were - behavior.
Before Rollins executed the above hold, he hissed at Orton, "You wanna play games? Let's play games" and then bent his head back. One of Dean's signatures is a vicious face-rake while his opponent is in the turnbuckle. Dean acts as though his injured shoulder needs to be popped back into socket during matches, smashing it into the matt (he's been doing this for weeks now), channeling Mel Gibson's suicidal anti-hero from Lethal Weapon, Riggs.
He's violent and entertaining, if not moreso than his Attitude Era precursors, and incredibly creative within the confines of a PG-rated.
The match devolved when he broke free of the ring and once again leapt on Seth.
Many fans fear that despite how enjoyable this is now, that it might sour. I honestly think I could watch Dean attack Seth for a full calendar year and enjoy every moment. When Orton and Seth got the drop on Dean and started double-teaming him, Roman came to his old Shield-brother's aid.
I can't emphasize enough how enjoyable it is to see good, old-fashioned friendship and camaraderie in the WWE. Even if Roman and Dean aren't friends in real-life, seeing these characters come to one another's aid is uplifting and exciting because we know the history of these characters.
In knowing their histories, their actions are significant, pushing them further and further into the future, and the spotlight.
Hopefully Monday Night RAW will continue in this vein, delivering another excellent show filled with good matches and solid promos.
In Punk's name we pray.
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All unsourced photos via WWE.com and WWE Network screen-capture.