Keeping up with WWE on a PPV week feels like a bit of an ordeal sometimes: especially when these WWE special events seem to be coming thick and furious, and even more so when Money in the Bank featured such a long, draining epic of a main event. I’ve taken to gamification to get through some of the more tiresome parts; trying to do a wall-sit for the duration of an undercard match, ranking outfits with Meltzer stars, or playing commentary bingo (Jerry Lawler misremembering someone’s name is the free space). For the weeks when work is stressful, when life pressure is overwhelming, and SmackDown comes round just too darn quick, I hope I can offer some solidarity to you folks who are supernaturally compelled to just keep coming back to the blue brand.

He still looks stupid

SmackDown kicks off with a sinking feeling when I realize that Sheamus winning Money In The Bank means he’s been added to the pool of people who are officially allowed to kick off shows with a promo. This is a tragic downgrade from the usual Rollins/Ambrose combo, and even further from the halcyon few weeks back in January when it looked like Daniel Bryan was going to be the face of Smackdown.

Sheamus laboriously recaps the significance of Money In The Bank, asks a lot of rhetorical questions, and makes the dubious claim that “(we) will be entertained”. Dean Ambrose interrupts, making his way up the ramp with a limpy swagger, dismisses Sheamus’s inanity as “Irish gibberish”, and takes umbrage at his claim that no one can beat him. I feel like having endured an emotional battle with a longtime blood rival who is holding a championship unjustly on Sunday, Dean is hitting the rebound (lariat) unreasonably quickly by fixing Sheamus in his crosshairs. It’s disappointing; I thought we had at least another week of pouty brooding from Ambrose, rather than him bouncing back in quite such a carefree manner.

If you were feeling a bit lost and alone with this deviation to the usual SmackDown opening three-part promo, fear ye not, because Kane’s here to round it off in his traditional manner: dice-roll booking.

Sheamus and Kane vs. Dean Ambrose

It’s quite impressive for a sub-90 second match to still feel plodding. Roman’s music hits, because these boys just can’t keep apart from each other! DQ finish when Roman starts throwing Superman Punches.

Brie Bella vs. Paige

This is preceded by a lengthy recap of Paige’s weird soapbox speech from Raw. Paige’s new dominant character trait appears to be “unlovable”, which she has directly inherited from AJ Lee. Remember when nobody but Tamina would go to AJ’s Longest Diva’s Reign party? And she cried and threw cake around?

This is a super awkward match. It seems like there’s less chemistry between these two than other recent Divas matchups, and those haven’t been that great either. Nikki chooses not to come to ringside to prove that the Bellas can beat Paige solo, so we have nothing to distract from Brie’s weird slow-motion low dropkicks, and an odd moment where she decides to start kissing/smelling Paige’s hair. Also, Jerry Lawler tries for an extremely tenuous reference to current affairs, by saying that Paige is like Donald Trump. Honestly. It sounds like I’m making that up.

Alicia Fox emerges from nowhere to drag Paige from the turnbuckle, facilitating a Bella Buster for the win.

“Are you a big MGK fan, Renee?”

Renee is sporting a super-cute braided up-do. If anyone knows where I can get a pinterest tutorial for that thing, tweet me: @doctordala. She’s here to quiz Kevin Owens about his hilariously brilliant/unforgivable actions against MGK on Monday, which he has since offered a half-hearted, misspelt twitter apology for. Kevin deflects criticism and blames John Cena for everything, which is a good default position to have. Kevin continues to be the realest guy on this whole roster, and it’s so pleasing just watching him talk, seeing him have totally natural and genuine feelings; like wanting to powerbomb a musical performer and feeling resentful at being asked to explain why.

Cesaro wanders in, and a large subset of wrestling fans sharply inhale, because this is a very exciting dynamic and the potential for excellent matches between these two is just sizzling. Cesaro drops some terse, rhyming words and BAM there’s the best match of the night set up right there. Marvellously, Cesaro ends the interaction by touching his palms to Kevin’s shoulders: “Just so there’s no miscommunications, I put my hands on you first,” he chuckles. Excellent.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Bo Dallas

Dallas is incapable of wrestling a match without having an opinion about something beforehand, so here he is mansplaining to Lana that she’s on the rebound and that she’s a despicable harlot for abandoning Rusev. Then he drops the zinger that “if Dolph Ziggler’s profile popped up, I’d swipe left, and keep looking for a real man”, which drops the uncomfortable truth bomb that Bo Dallas exists in the same kayfabe universe as Tinder, and that Dolph Ziggler would apparently be in his target demographic of potential matches.

Another match that doesn’t make it 90 seconds. Dolph gets the win with a neckbreaker.

Neville vs. Xavier Woods

Neville’s ring gear kind of makes him look like he should be in The New Day. Every man in this match is looking very swish, they really made an effort; not like Ryback coming out in joggers on Raw, that was a travesty.

This match starts with Xavier doing a series of stomps to the rhythm of “New Day Sucks”, a move he has reclaimed from Cesaro. Neville is just regaining control and getting into things when the New Day get him cornered: no fear though, because newly christened Tag Team Champs PTP have his back!

This match wasn’t really anything, it was one of a series of Nothing Matches on this episode. Near the end, Xavier flops on his back in the corner of the ring to trick Neville into setting up the Red Arrow, then grabs him for the roll-up, which is the cute kind of self-aware. Soon after, Titus prevents interference from Kofi by just chucking him wildly into the barricade. Has anyone made a YouTube compilation of Titus just throwing men around? Eventually Neville manages to execute the Red Arrow successfully for the victory.

The Diamond That Shines Brighter Than Ever

It must suck to be a wrestler struck with a dumbfounding cliffhanger confrontation on Raw, and having to stage your rebuttal on SmackDown, which no one watches. It sucks even more to have to listen to ten minute Seth Rollins monologues where nothing is actually said, though. I wish he would have brought his “Seth Rollins” list from Raw and just read from that some more. The purpose of this segment is mostly to put Brock over, like that was necessary, and provide a body-language translation for Brock’s ring-standing on Monday.

Rollins claims that he is under such intense scrutiny that everything he does gets magnified. A lesser reviewer would make a dick joke here, wouldn’t they? Aren’t you glad you have me, a beacon of repute, an individual of chastity and true strength of character?

Here is My Handle, Here is My Spout

Roman is backstage, doing some blue-eyed brooding, presumably wondering where Bray got that screenshot print-out from his teapot ad, while Dean is in the middle of a heated rant about Sheamus’s hair. Ambrose twigs that Roman’s mind is elsewhere, and tries to finger-snap him out of reverie, but Roman isn’t in the mood.

No matter how you felt about the MITB show — whether you were distraught by Kofi failing to grab the briefcase, or unreasonably irked by the length of Rollins vs. Ambrose, or sent into incandescent smarky rage by Cena proffering his hand to Owens — surely, one thing we can all agree to feel happy about is that Reigns and Ambrose are still friends? My prophetic black cloud of worry about their bro status turned out to be totally misplaced, and they are still the best of buddies.

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

When the sad news about Tyson Kidd’s spinal injury hit wrestling news sites, there was a genuine outpouring of sympathy, followed rapidly by a rumble of nervous excitement that this could mean new and fulfilling things for Cesaro as a singles guy. It’s not controversial that Cesaro is one of the best workers on the roster, and I’d go further and add that I’m of the opinion he can’t ever really have a truly bad match. He always gives 100 percent effort, whether he’s taking a hurricanrana from Torito, or channelling Kota Ibushi and pouncing, catlike, to the top rope in one smooth movement.

It was weirdly exciting to see Cesaro playing de facto babyface in a matchup like this, when it wasn’t too long ago when he was the one terrorising Sami Zayn and uppercutting him into tiny pieces. Cesaro looks excellent throughout, hitting a beautiful springboard uppercut early on, and teasing back and forth apron suplex spots. It’s a cliche to say it, but Owens’ agility is always a surprise even if you’re a long-time fan: I feel genuinely frightened when he bounces off the middle turnbuckle for a tornado DDT,  it looks so smooth and brutal all at once. The mandatory sarcastic taunt spot, where Owens sets up the Neutralizer with arm-cannons, is a delight, but has to be reversed so Cesaro can maintain his dignity and go for an Alpamare Waterslide, another terrifying, power move of which I am never bored.

There’s a credible back and forth right up until the inevitable Pop-Up Powerbomb. An extremely satisfying match that leaves me feeling really damn good about wrestling. My only complaint is the obvious one: at just a smidge over seven minutes, it was over too soon.

Kane and Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose

This is your typical SmackDown main event and a total downer after Owens vs. Cesaro, but there’s a script for making an episode of SmackDown and it always ends like this. Dean is back to being underwhelming after his fight to the death on MITB, Sheamus and Kane are a posterboy couple for boring tag match performances, and this match feels like it’s killing time because it is. Roman Reigns finally gets his hot tag and injects a bit of energy into this thing, but I’m unconvinced that he needs to roll his arm to charge up his cocking-fist taunt, which is supposed to charge up his ground-punch, which is all a prelude to the Superman Punch. There’s three phases to this taunt now. Not even the Undertaker has that.

Wyatt appears on the tron with his YouTube print-out to lay the heebie-jeebies on to Roman just as he’s poised for a spear. Sheamus capitalizes on fear paralysis and hits Roman with the Brogue Kick for the win.

Why the dickens have they booked the Wyatt/Reigns blowoff for five weeks time? That’s an impossibly long time to have to wait for something that isn’t even that interesting anyway, and it reinforces Reigns being stuck in this sort of purgatory where nothing he does will have consequences. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of these times where a guy’s opportunity is scuppered by inexplicable feud-starting distraction, the dude just said “hey, man, whatever. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I don’t even want a match with you”? Imagine how impotently annoyed that’d make Bray. For that matter, why is Bray happy to leave the confrontation until Battleground? Does famed bayou-dwelling spooky-man Bray Wyatt care about things like PPV paydays?

The thing that’s unconvincing to me about this beef is that Roman has already looked Bray Wyatt in the eye before and shown no fear. You can almost believe that Dean Ambrose’s fragile mental state after the Shield break up could make him susceptible to being easily spooked by tricks and mind games, but Roman’s a stalwart attack dog, a sassy badass who responds to fear with merely a raised eyebrow and a cocked fist.

A final note:  it irks me that they’ve implied that the theme of the Bray/Roman feud is fatherhood, while steadfastly ignoring the obvious Fathers Day feud: Kevin Owens vs. Titus O Neil for the Celebrity MegaDad title.

Let’s round off with some SmackDown stats!

Tonight’s episode:

  • Clean Wins: 2
  • Distraction/Interference Finishes: 3
  • DQ Finishes: 1
  • Shortest Match: Ziggler vs Dallas at 1 min 21 sec, but a close second is the opener Sheamus and Kane vs Dean Ambrose at 1 min 26 sec.
  • Longest Match: Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs Sheamus and Kane: 9 min 20 sec

Final Thoughts: If I had to assign a complimentary adjective to this week’s SmackDown, it would be “watchable”. This episode is light on wrestling and heavy on rambling promos, general exposition and filler. The only can’t-miss is the Owens/Cesaro match, but you already knew that.