WWE SmackDown
Thursday, June 4
Toyota Center – Houston Texas

Anniversary of Destruction

It’s been nearly a year since Seth had nothing to carry to the ring and he looks sort of naked, especially sans J&J security; he’s just swinging his arms all awkwardly with his grumpiest face on. He picks up a steel chair on his way down, and stands in the middle of the ring, looking at it thoughtfully in his hand for a beat. There’s a sudden swelling of noise from the crowd, as they recognise the significance, and realise what this promo is going to be about (or as the sound crew manipulate hairdryer noise, whatever).

Rollins is here to remind you it’s the anniversary of when a chair, not unlike the one in his hand, helped him betray his brothers and end the Shield for good. He slowly unfolds it and lowers himself on it, and it’s a really cool, dramatic image as he casts a long shadow in the ring and recalls the unspeakable deeds he did, sounding more driven and serious than he has in a long time. Not bratty or whiny, but just a dangerous man who will do anything in his own self-interest. All this reminiscing ties in beautifully with the issue at hand, which is that Seth’s championship is in the hands of a man he just can’t shake, no matter how much he’d like to forget about him.

The Endangered Species List

Ambrose butts in via sassy video interruption with the gold on his shoulder, and is poised beneath a ladder. Presumably he’s not too bothered about bad luck at this point. Dean says that being surrounded by the buffer of the Authority has made Seth weak, and that Dean himself has had to spend the year learning to survive on his own and has become tougher for it. If you forget for a moment that this survival in question involved a lot of comedy stipulations, spooky holograms and blowing up TVs in his own face, then that sounds pretty hardcore and awesome. It also illustrates an interesting dichotomy: pampered authority posterboy vs desperate survivalist from the streets.

WWE Tag Team Championship Number One Contenders Match – PTP vs The Ascension vs The Lucha Dragons

I always think that triple threat tag matches should just operate like a tag version of normal triple threats, with three men in the ring at once; but maybe that’s too messy. I just reckon that limiting the amount of standing around is always a good thing, which is why I love sloppy spot-fests and PWG. Like most of these sorts of matches, the main source of drama is when someone veers too close to a tag rival’s corner and gets accidentally tagged out, which can’t sustain interest for a whole match. A highlight is when Byron claims to have insight on the sorts of posters that the Ascension have in their home (I guess they live together?). Posters of old tag team champions, if you’re interested.

In my mind, relations between the Lucha Dragons have been strained since Sin Cara headbutted Kalisto in the balls a month ago. They’re trying to put on a united front, but the cracks are there if you’re looking carefully. Zero camaraderie lately. It doesn’t help that Jerry Lawler clearly can’t tell the difference between them, saying things like “…and he catches a Lucha Dragon!”.

This match is mostly the Ascension stomping around and the Lucha Dragons half-heartedly flipping around them. Cool tag maneuvers were thin on the ground. I’ve found the Primetime Players’ recent resurgence a complete delight, however, particularly enjoying Super Mecha Dad Titus O’Neil casually flinging members of the New Day into space on Monday; and just like on Raw, the match crescendo is a Titus tag. His presence in the ring as he just starts wrecking the other men and slamming Victor to the matt is seriously impressive. He gets the pin, and PTP are the new Tag Team Number One Contenders!

Future As Bright As A Rising Sun On A New Day

New Day are backstage to provide live reactions to this news, which is a joy to watch. I want The New Day to live react to everything. They explain their three point plan for retaining the Tag Team titles at Money In The Bank, and Big E gets flustered accusing PTP for “only wanting the money!”, which is a valid accusation considering, you know, their theme and dance and everything.

Ryback vs Stardust

Ryback has swapped the weight lifting belt for the IC Championship , but it’s only really a cosmetic difference. I’m not sure why I can’t get my head around Ryback being a champion, but it hasn’t really sunk in properly. He’s wrestling someone with even less momentum than himself, here though. Byron points out that it’s another important anniversary today- Stardust’s been Stardust for a year now. Somehow that feels less memorable or significant than the Shield implosion, but there you go. Ryback wins with Shellshocked.

Priding Herself On Remaining Different

Paige cuts a promo which is worth watching for the bit where she claims that the Bella twins are holding the Divas’ divison back. Renee does the most exaggerated eye roll to the crowd I’ve ever seen. Paige says that the spotlight being on the Bellas distracts from her and other female competitors, such as Naomi: which is weird, because a week ago she was embroiled in a slanging match with Naomi where she called her an over-emotional bitch, but hey. It’s a mess of a promo that doesn’t really have any sort of direction or theme.

Kevin Owens’ NXT Championship Open Challenge

I’ve literally only just got my heart-rate back to normal after that amazing victory at Elimination Chamber, and I’m still humming Kevin Owens’ theme under my breath at every opportunity when they spring this on us! I LOVE THIS. Important cool stuff happening on Smackdown is what I live for, and I don’t have enough exclamation marks for how this segment made me feel. Kevin Owens is here and he’s more credible than ever. It’s not just words anymore.

Kevin’s making sense, like he often does. Who hasn’t secretly harboured the belief that John Cena is delusional? Who hasn’t felt deeply uncomfortable that he’s a role model to children when he behaves in such unredeemable ways week after week? Owens sarcastically mocking Cena to the extent of parodying his very championship reign, by out-championing him, by doing his own open challenge, feels so completely right.

All this talk of NXT open challenges makes me wish the announcers would reference one of the best things ever to happen on pre-network NXT: the Bo Dallas Invitational. If you recall, Sami Zayn was banned from entering, so he came out in a mysterious masked disguise. It was an excellent moment.

Kevin Owens vs Zack Ryder

Ok, so it’s Zack Ryder, but that’s fine, right? You weren’t really expecting it to be Samoa Joe, were you? This is an interesting one, seeing Owens integrate with the main roster and interact with the most unlikely characters. Owens doesn’t even seem to be from the same planet as Ryder, but if Owens is going to be moving up full time very imminently, as has been rumoured, then I suppose we had better get used to this sort of weirdness.

This match was a lot of fun crammed in a very short space of time, and ends with a pop-up powerbomb with an unfeasibly high pop-up. Kevin Owens retains, then goes for a second one for good measure.

Neville vs Kofi Kingston

So Kane booked this, and I’m still completely flummoxed by Kane’s relationship to The New Day. Last week he was setting them on Ambrose like attack dogs, when a day previous he had been stacking the odds against them in a ten-on-three handicap match. Today, Kane is back to the malicious booking; we know it’s supposed to be bad guy behaviour because he sarcastically said “I hope you have a pleasant day” after announcing it, but on paper it’s a totally reasonable singles match.

This was actually a good call by Kane. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, right? The lovable Geordie is on fine form, Big E is doing some dramatic miming on the outside that I can’t quite decode, Xavier is screeching motivational things, and Kofi is there. There are a lot of fun sequences in which Neville has to juggle various New Day members popping up on the apron, at ringside and elsewhere, which makes his offence look super cool and versatile. After having a Red Arrow attempt thwarted, he manages to take out Kofi’s team-mates and score a roll-up victory.

Lana on Miz TV

The Miz is sporting a kind of headscarf, laceless military boots, and a long drapey grey cardigan, complemented by that ugly patchy stubble he always has, and the shades. It’s such a weird outfit that it almost distracted me from groaning loudly at the idea of Lana being introduced as a “heartbreaker”. Almost.

The Miz tries to convince Lana that she’s an insufferable harlot for escaping an abusive relationship with Rusev, and Lana gets the crucial line out right off the bat. “Rusev did not respect me, so he did not deserve me.”

The Miz replies to this with a drawn out chuckle and sarcastic slow clap, and accuses Lana of using Rusev. I know the Miz is supposed to be a hateable, punchable heel, but if misogyny is ingrained in everything in this company, if the babyface women are cutting sexist promos, if the commentators are derisively calling female competitors “those girls” and if every insult of John Cena’s involves having no balls, then is this really subversive or noteworthy? Isn’t it just more tired, old, woman-hating?

Rusev is invited out to join in, and has a tracksuit jacket with an impossibly large Bulgarian flag embroidered on it. He’s trying the soft and sweet approach now; apologising, saying he’s changed, and things will be different now. It’s horrible, and insidious, and I don’t know. I guess I don’t like abusive relationships being portrayed realistically on wrestling shows. I just want Lana to kick Rusev in the foot, and then win a championship or something. I don’t want a long cycle of emotional abuse.

Don’t worry though. Lana’s saviour Dolph Ziggler is here to rescue her, because she’s helpless and useless.

Roman Reigns vs Sheamus

I am enjoying Roman Reigns’ current role as handsome sidekick and owner of the second most fierce eyebrows in modern professional wrestling; but I find I get over-saturated very quickly when he wrestles too much. Raw was too much, and now I need to not see him for a while. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Shockingly, he hasn’t considered my feelings and here he is main eventing Smackdown. Also, the commentary team is using the word “absconded” in reference to Ambrose so much that I’m starting to get semantic satiation.

This is a distinctly average match, it features lots of dramatic close-ups of the Money in The Bank briefcase, as if to further illustrate the point that this is all just time-killing until something with consequences happens. Sheamus and Reigns is one of those clunky combos where they don’t really compliment each others’ style very well, and anyway nothing matters because Kane’s music hits a few minutes in and here he is in the ring, kicking Reigns for the DQ. Then he chokeslams Sheamus too, because he’s an equal opportunities interferer. Kane then clears up absolutely nothing by explaining that the final participant in the MITB ladder match will be himself, then stares creepily up at the briefcase while his music ends the show.

At this point it’s starting to feel like Smackdown endings are booked by random generator in which an assortment of Shield bodies are thrown into a mix (plus bonus Kane and J&J security), and they’ll tussle in some unmemorable combination, and one man will stand tall at the end, but it’s pretty irrelevant which one. Unless it was Jamie Noble, I suppose, that would be kind of special.

Final Thoughts: A pretty weak in-ring episode, but quite enjoyable overall anyway, apart from the massive dark cloud of the Miz TV segment. It should go without saying, but don’t miss Kevin Owens.