WWE SmackDown
May 14
The Ford Center
Evansville, Indiana 

Dean’s Not Saying Sorry: While Dean Ambrose turning on Roman Reigns in the closing segment of Raw on Monday was heart-breaking for long-time fans of the final remnants of the Shield brotherhood, Dean having a moment to stand alone seems to have given him a renewed edge, and this brief opening promo was deliciously delivered. I don’t want Justin Bieber jokes from Ambrose, I want this unnerving drawl, punctuated by declarations of violence. Babyfaces, or any characters at all, are always infinitely more relatable when they show moments of stark vulnerability, which is something Ambrose is perfect at; wearing his hurt at losing the stability of the Shield on his sleeve.

Roman Reigns is far worse at this, or any sort of character nuance at all, and interrupts this segment sooner than necessary. Reigns recaps everyone on what’s going on and how you should feel, and offers a handshake to Ambrose, who isn’t convinced.

Inevitably, Kane decides he wants to get involved in this segment too, and do more exposition, in the most slow and dull manner feasible. Triple H doesn’t seem to have removed any of his random match booking authority, so Kane decides on…

Dean Ambrose vs Sheamus: To be frank, I’m still recovering from seeing Sheamus with his ginger mohawk all slicked down underneath his flat cap on Monday. Thank goodness we don’t get any of that sort of nonsense here on Smackdown. This match is a bit rubbish. There’s one point early on where Dean sort of gently grabs Sheamus’s leg and just grasps it awkwardly for a while until they eventually mutually settle on a submission hold. Commentary insist on bringing up kisses on the bottom at every opportunity. I worry that it’ll be years from now, on some sort of roundtable nostalgia TV show, and an elderly Tom Phillips will be enthusing “…and Sheamus STILL owes Dolph Ziggler a smooch on the backside!”. Neither men at their best here, which makes the “this is awesome” chants even more bemusing- Ambrose gets an anti-climatic roll-up victory.

Rusev’s Fledgling YouTube Career: This is where I get sad. In this uncomfortable segment, Rusev makes Lana recite a pre-written apology for accidentally being seduced by the power of fandangoing. It’s really terrible, because Lana’s defining character trait has always been her conviction and strength, and to see Rusev now ordering her around while she pouts submissively gives me a real sinking feeling. It’s succeeding in making Rusev a lot less endearing, which was perhaps necessary for him to be a convincing heel, but at what cost?

Call me crazy, but I feel like the best way to turn someone’s alignment is to latch on to inherent parts of their character that already exist and exaggerate them to make them more heroic or villainous, instead of just inventing a complete personality transplant overnight, and undoing all the characterisation that got us invested in the person to begin with. There are other types of character development for a woman other than just “mistreated by a man”. Regardless of what their plans are here, any interest in this Rusev/Cena situation is massively overshadowed by the loss of awesome power couple’s dynamic.

The one redeeming part of this was Rusev’s smug face when he reveals a video clip he’s presumably created himself, of the part of Raw where Cena said he would never quit, predictably edited to show Cena repeating “I quit” over and over. You’ve never seen a smugger man, he’s so immensely proud of himself.

Renee’s in a geometric patterned black and white dress tonight, with sort of…rose velvet sleeves and skirt? It’s a striking look. I want to rank it high for being unique, but the clash of fabrics and patterns is not working, so it’s like a solid two stars.

Ryback vs Seth Rollins: Bray sneak attacks Ryback before he can get to the ring, but thankfully not before the dramatic close-up of his eyelashes that we always get treated to during his entrance. So Ryback enters this match on half health, and quickly gets subjected to tiny stomps from JJ security, pushing his already damaged torso into the critical zone. Despite all of this, Ryback holds his own against the champ for a few minutes of uninteresting wrestling. The drama of this match, in my mind at least, is that one of Seth Rollins’ fatal flaws is his hobby of accidentally springboarding into fireman’s carries. He manages to evade that danger here, though, and gets a wicked knee off the top rope followed by Avada Kedavra (look, the videogame calls it that, so it’s not smarky, ok?) for the win.

Kofi Kingston vs Tyson Kidd: The New Day/Kidd & Cesaro feud burns on, as Big E lists a litany of crimes he claims Kidd and Cesaro are guilty of, including not recycling. This is ironic, considering how much of Smackdown is recycled Raw! The New Day seem to be in a positive spiral of confidence, and are genuinely fun to watch, hitting that sweet spot of obnoxiously delusional. A highlight from Lawler during this match: “Kofi Kingston showed that he had moves, and now Tyson Kidd…he has moves.”

Kidd reverses an enziguri into a sharpshooter for a tap-out victory in less than three minutes.

Bryan’s Still Out, Guys: What was advertised as being a “Daniel Bryan Health Update” transpired to be a lengthy recap of Bryan’s speech about his injury set to sad music, which destroys any hope I had of getting through this show emotionally intact. The catch in his voice when he says “never…never able to wrestle again” absolutely destroys me. VOW Raw reviewer Sean Flynn already said more on this matter than I can hope to compete with, so I’ll bite my tongue about how distressing this whole thing is.

Anyway, in the most wrestling thing ever, Bo Dallas milks the truly sad news about about Bryan’s uncertain in-ring future for heel heat. He narrates the stages of grief in relationship to Bryan, making cheap jabs in typically Bo fashion. It was hard to concentrate, because I was thinking about how in the newest Pokemon games, you can customize your ostensibly ten-year -ld protagonist by putting a ridiculously inappropriate goatee and moustache combo on them. The resemblance to Bo is uncanny.

You may recall this is not the first time Dallas has used Bryan’s frailty as a platform for a promo, interrupting him in the Money In The Bank pre-show almost a year ago. Interesting bit of symmetry there.

Neville vs Bo Dallas: If you could fantasy book a match between two former NXT champions, who would you pick? It’s safe to say it probably wouldn’t be this.

I like these not-so-subtle nods that they’re considering Neville a kind of spiritual successor to Daniel Bryan; him wordlessly coming out when Bryan is being slandered, him being slotted into the scene with the other IC title picture guys. Barrett is on commentary in his full regalia, something which I enjoy almost as much as he does. Dallas makes the most distractingly scary yelps and grunts throughout this match, while Neville is on top form as you would expect. He hits the red arrow for a clean win before Barrett rises majestically to stand atop the commentary table, gesticulating wildly with his sceptre at Neville’s shortcomings. Very excited to see these two go at it again at Payback.

Kane vs Roman Reigns: I was thrilled when the opportunity to review Smackdown for VOW came up, for two main reasons. Firstly, I wouldn’t have to work myself into a red-faced tizzy over sexist John Cena promos every week (like I almost certainly would if I had the unenviable job of our stalwart Raw reviewer), and also SmackDown is home to some my most favourite outlandish stipulation matches. If they’re seasonal and/or pun-based, eg. Trick or Street Fight, then I’m completely besotted. This week, however, features the most rare match stipulation in WWE programming; the “Must Be A Winner” match! Seriously though, it’s a sad state of affairs when a clean, definitive finish is so unusual in your promotion that your advertised selling point for a match on your B-show is that someone will win it. What is literally the point of any other match on this show, if you’re not promising that there will be a winner? Why does anything matter? Does anything have consequences at all?

I’ll try to quash down my looming sense of existential dread to review this match. I guess this is also a no DQ match, because Reigns goes for the kendo stick within seconds. They bash each other with that back and forth for a while until Kane figures it time to charge up a chokeslam for what feels like years. Roman throws a cool combo of a super-ish kick, into a superman punch, into a dropkick on the announce table, because that’s where this match is happening, then bops Kane with the stairs. Tom Phillips undermines the whole concept of the match by saying “is there really a winner, whoever walks away from this match?” THAT’S THE ONE POINT OF THIS MATCH!! That sucks the last speck of drama or intrigue out of this main event. Roman wins with a spear through a turnbuckle table.

Luckily, the closing moments of this show make my heart race. If you watch nothing else from Smackdown this week, check out the last two minutes or so. Rollins is making bratty comments about Roman, until Dean emerges from the shadows with a plate of snacks, which he promptly whacks Seth over the head with. Oh no, you’re thinking! Dean is back to his life of food based offence! Roman teleports into the scene and throws some choice punches and it’s a really good, old fashioned, quality Shield beatdown, ending with a swerve handshake and some electric tension between the old comrades. I’m kind of in love with this, because everything about the Shield when they’re being real with each other is still magical.

Final Thoughts: Check out the top and tail of this show if you’re a sucker for Shield drama, but the wrestling’s nothing to write home about. While we were promised a winner in the main event, it’s certainly not the viewer.