WWE SmackDown
June 11, 2015
Lafayette, Louisiana – Cajundome 

A Wacky Week

Dean Ambrose opens SmackDown by sauntering through the crowd with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship nestled on his shoulder with an affection that he never had for the US Championship, and adorned with festival jewelry. “Man, it’s been a wacky week!” he drawls, and I wince, because I feel like “wacky” should be a word kept far, far away from Ambrose.

So in just a brief week, hardcore survivalist Ambrose has been metamorphosised into a laid-back party-goer, and I’m reminded of the mantra oft-repeated on the VOW flagship podcast: to paraphrase, keep WWE at arm’s length, because just as you’re really getting into something, just as it’s really connecting with you, they’ll find some way to flip it and spoil what you were enjoying. They’ve done this back and forth with Ambrose for months and months now. Show a glimmer of something compelling, something unique, only to quash it with pink trombones and briefcases full of slime. Dean goes on to share an album of selfies from the WWE instagram. Uncharacteristic doesn’t cut it here.

Luckily, Rollins interrupts this scene before I can slide down my chair irretrievably, and he manages to fairly successfully draw attention back to the pressing issue: the championship.

Shouldn’t the babyface here be the one talking with reverence about the meaning of the title and the pride and respect that it demands? Regardless, Dean is back up to his sneaky tricks, and lures Rollins into the ring with what turns out to be a replica belt that he “bought in concessions”, which is stretching logic and imagination somewhat, but isn’t nearly as outrageous as the following confession that he’s misplaced the real title. His brain’s fuzzy, it’s been a weird week, remember? It still feels like Tuesday to him. SmackDown fourth-wall breaking jokes always make me feel conflicted, because WWE can never work out if SmackDown canonically occurs on the day it airs or not; which requires quite a large suspension of disbelief even for wrestling fans.

In case you forgot that the formula for a SmackDown opening is Dean or Seth promo, THEN Dean or Seth interruption, FINALLY Kane books something unrelated, and here he is to remind you! He sticks stroppy Seth into a singles with Ziggler, a reasonable and measured booking decision, and Seth does his best to look like he’s been asked to wrestle a barbed-wire-ropes handicap gauntlet match in a tank of sharks.

Ryback vs. The Miz

At least if he’s in a match, it reduces the chance of a Miz TV segment. The Miz is sporting a look I’d describe as “slimming sleeveless maxi-dress meets desert utility gear”. This match feels tediously by-the-numbers, with all the usual stuff you’d expect: the delayed vertical suplex, the reversed figure four, etc. The Miz seems like a shell of a human doing the same gimmick sans Sandow, and Ryback isn’t exactly brimming with passion and verve either. A personal highlight occurs when the Miz kicking out of a cover attempt prompts Byron to exclaim “talk about derailing Ryback on the way to Money In The Bank!” like this particular kick-out is just the most horrendously demoralising thing that could happen to a new champion. Perhaps it is, I don’t know. Ryback hits Shellshocked for the win.

I did some musing on twitter (@doctordala) over the weekend about star ratings, and why I don’t feel they’re particularly useful or practical in reviewing a show like SmackDown, where the matches sometimes serve merely as storytelling segues. Sometimes the matches aren’t even that, though, sometimes they’re just a thing that happens and it’s hard to have an opinion: this match is the perfect illustration. Is **1/2 a baseline, and you add or subtract from that? Or do you start from zero and earn every last star fragment?  Is a dull, unmemorable, but inoffensive match a **1/2; or is boringness an offensive trait in itself?  Working out whether a match feels right in your personal narrative as a ****3/4 or a ***** is a fun, albeit self-indulgent pastime, because the implication is that you’ve just witnessed something you really loved, and you want to quantify exactly how much you loved it, and whether you loved it unconditionally. Splitting hairs between a *3/4 and a ** is not a pleasant or fun task for anyone. This was definitely on the wrong side of 2 stars, if anyone’s keeping track.

Big Show comes out all business-casual after the match, to garble some weird awkward tenuous puns about fists and being hungry. Ryback calls Big Show “little man” and drops the mic. Not exactly intellectual discourse.

King Barrett vs. Jack Swagger

Where’s Swagger been lately? Signs point to languishing on Main Event. In fact, this exact match, including R-Truth on commentary, was on last week’s Main Event. It’s insulting when they repeat matches on Raw after a successful SmackDown run, with no acknowledgement of the prior matchup, but it’s reassuring to know that this annoying habit ripples down the B shows too. Before the bell has even rung, R-Truth is intently insisting to Jerry Lawler that Vince McMahon is a creative genius. Oh boy.

This match was two minutes start to finish, including R-Truth dressing up in Barrett’s cloak and theatrically distracting him. Barrett won with the Bullhammer.

Michael Cole interviews Lana

Hands up: who’s not-so-secretly thinking that this interview would be a thousand percent more bearable if it was one of those Vampiro sit-down interviews from Lucha Underground? That’s right, it’s me! Probably you too, if you have good taste. I can’t enjoy a sit-down interview without dramatic freeze frames and tasteful zooms any more. Lana continues to give vague non-answers about her relationship with the world’s most short-sighted heart-eyes dope, Dolph Ziggler, who appears to have traded his brain and memories for chaste kisses and arm candy. The revelation here is that Lana and Ziggler read books together and discuss them? Is this true? Abusive Ex Rusev barges in uninvited shortly, and is still spouting the same old rhetoric: he’s going to change, he’s the only one who gets her, so on and so forth. Michael Cole gets caught in the crossfire and earns Rusev’s crutch-wielding wrath after Lana snubs him again.

Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler

It’s the nonsensical Kane punishment match!

There’s a moment here during Seth’s entrance, when he briefly glances behind him to the tron, where his backup would usually be following. He quickly makes a dismissive hand wave, and continues to head out alone. This last week has been the first bit of fresh character development for Seth in a while, and I’m excited to see where it takes him, because he’s been consistently my favourite character to watch for nigh-on eighteen months now, and he seems to rise to every challenge even amongst the most dire of storylines and inevitable nonsense happening around him.

This match is enjoyable, if a little slow paced in parts for what these two guys ought to be doing with each other. It’s at its best when they drop the rest holds, and it descends into flailing, leaping, frantic count-breaking and ringside tussling. Seth spends a lot of the match talking trash, which is always hopelessly endearing, because he has a voice so ill-suited to being threatening. An emphatic win would have been refreshing here (as always), to prove that Seth is at least theoretically competent enough to legitimately win a championship match prior to his main event on Sunday, but alas, it was not to be. Rollins got a controversial pin by holding Dolph’s tights.

Paige vs. Alicia Fox

Paige being gradually deconstructed from a feisty, serious competitor and Real Human Character on NXT into the generic bitchy, sarcastic, mercurial Diva character has left me ice cold and falling out of love with her wrestling, which once upon a time had me sweating on the edge of my seat and cheering during her match in the first NXT special against Emma. These women have no traits I identify with, so why would I care about what they’re fighting about?

Sean Flynn dropped some acerbic truth-bombs about WWE’s women problem in his Raw review this week , and while I ardently disagree with his most likely facetious comment that the only reason a woman would watch Raw is prurience, he cut to the core about female archetypes. Evil, weak, stupid, dependent: that’s all they can be in WWE.
This wasn’t awful. It was marginally better than Barrett vs Swagger, but that’s not saying much. Paige won with the PTO.

Roman Reigns, Randy Orton and Neville vs. Kane, Sheamus and Kofi Kingston

The non-Ziggler MITB participants are all rammed into this match, divided loosely by alignment. I don’t know where Xavier finds the energy and inclination to keep loudly spouting Kofi Kingston praise and support from ringside for the duration of this match, but I’m glad he does, because it’s supremely entertaining. This match is slightly fresher than the usual SmackDown main event, and I’m having fun watching Kofi more closely than usual after the news that he’s planned to main event the WWE Network special in Japan against Brock Lesnar.

There’s some dynamic, fast paced tagging, and Neville shines immensely in an awesomely fluid sequence of whips and strikes, before Kane destroys his momentum by tripping him off the top rope. This is a metaphor for Kane in general.

This whole match reminds me how little we’ve seen of Neville in multi-man matches, where he really seems to thrive; so I’m more certain than ever that he’s going to impress at MITB. Please stop calling him a “flying mouse”, though, commentary. It’s not cute. There’s a lot of great moments here, Sheamus dropping an impossible number of consecutive backbreakers on the limp corpse of Neville looks particularly impressive, and Roman throwing members of the New Day around like they’re irritating distractions was a joy. Unfortunately, this leads into the New Day piling in on Reigns and causing a DQ finish.

After the bell, Xavier drags out a previously prepared ladder from beneath the ring to help hoist Kofi up to reach the ominously lurching MITB briefcase, which has been there observing this whole match indifferently. Ziggler interrupts with his own private ladder he’s brought from home, and gets involved with a beatdown with Kofi et al. During the confusion, Neville grabs an opportunity, climbs the ladder that’s still in the ring, and splashes all of the other men at ringside in a truly dramatic fashion. While they’re still writhing on the floor, he climbs once again and grabs the briefcase.

What does this mean for Sunday? Maybe nothing, but I’m still thrilled that Neville’s being seen as a smart and skilled competitor, and it’s exciting to see a new face standing tall to round off SmackDown. I’m feeling positive, guys! Money In The Bank is my favourite special of the year; one of the few with real long term consequences. Check out our team predictions for more thoughts!

Final Thoughts: Skip the opening of this show if you don’t want to end up disheartened about Dean Ambrose, but catch the last half hour for an interesting sequence that might end up being significant on Sunday, and a very fun tag match with lots to enjoy.