It’s inarguable that storylines and ideas in WWE are cyclical; they follow patterns year-to-year, and also larger trends of tropes over a big-picture view, but one of the most frustrating issues with WWE TV in the last year or so is the tendency towards hamster-wheel stories. Two weeks ago, I was intrigued and interested by Seth Rollins coming to the ring solo and talking with conviction about being able to survive without backup. On his next television appearance he’s back snivelling to the Authority again.
In a macrocosmic view, this is exactly the long, drawn out “tension in the Authority” plotline they did when Randy Orton was Authority golden boy; constantly having to prove himself, it never being enough. There is so little forward momentum with plotlines, which is why more and more longtime viewers aren’t feeling compelled to catch the WWE weekly shows with regularity any more; stories will bounce back and forth around a pivot for months before there’s any progress. This happens at champion-level, but also way down in the card, like with Adam Rose and the Bunny. There was tension for months, then full-on punches thrown between the two of them for months after that, with them seemingly reconciling behind the scenes every single time, and then Justin Gabriel got fired and that was that with no pay-off.
“Change is a necessity”
I digress. My point is, the show starts with Seth Rollins accompanied by Joey Mercury and Kane, cutting a deliciously ironic promo about change. I guess the one saving grace of Jamie Noble’s horrific shoot injury at the hands of Lesnar on Monday is that it’s forced Kane to play “Big Jamie Noble” for Rollins, and therefore is physically incapable of interrupting this segment. As if we weren’t disorientated enough by this development, Jimmy Uso is inexplicably at the commentary table to replace Byron Saxton.
Rollins treats us to a recap of Brock’s beatdown on Monday, and I remain disappointed that Jimmy doesn’t chip in with any hot takes over the headset throughout. Seth Rollins seems to be operating under the assumption that Jamie Noble is basically shoot dead, so dedicates SmackDown to his memory, and adds “he would want us to celebrate”.
Kane takes the mic (groan), and draws attention to the least popular feud currently on WWE television: Ryback vs Big Show. Although he does make me giggle when he refers to Big Show as “an extended family member,” as if he’s taken Rollins’ laboured family metaphor and run with it.
My fantasy is that when Daniel Bryan is finished up charming the world as a lovable judge on Tough Enough, he will come back and become General Manager of SmackDown. This would put an emphatic end to the Kane booking, balance the dynamic of having a heel-heavy show, and be a much more welcome sight interrupting our mandatory SmackDown expository promos. Then perhaps there would be some chance of maintaining our memories of Kane as a fearsome demon, and not just the guy who comes out in dress pants but no shirt to plan nonsensical main events because he’s jealous.
“There’s a difference between a champion and a sellout”
Ryback joins the fearsome threesome in the ring, and Jimmy Uso does have opinions at this point, but it seems to be mostly nonsense words and repeating the phrase “itty bitty boy”? If you have a transcript please let me know.
Ryback responds to Rollins’ accusations of employee endangerment by growling “this is what a champion looks like” and tearing his t shirt off, which is so fantastically retro that I can’t really complain about it. Kane is getting itchy Director of Operations hands though, so cuts off a fairly decent Ryback promo by booking himself into a match with him and exiting to his own music.
Not to be outdone, Seth decides he wants to give this whole “deciding main events on a whim” thing a shot, and halfway up the ramp demands a rematch with Dean Ambrose.
Dolph Ziggler vs Sheamus
Well, at least there’s not an arse-related stipulation this time. This matchup is irrationally annoying. Sheamus looks stupid in his new splash graphic holding the briefcase, and Dolph is chewing gum open-mouthed while he aggressively coaxes Lana to pull down her hair-bun, while she vacantly fawns at him. It’s all just annoying.
The match doesn’t hit a minute of action before Rusev hobbles down the ramp, hoarsely crowing “Lanaaaa!”. Here’s another example of hamster-wheel storytelling. Lana didn’t want Rusev back the first time he asked, or the time he asked on Miz TV, or the other times; so he’s here again, interrupting this wrestling match to ask Lana for forgiveness once again, while she stands there with her brow furrowed and reflections glimmering off her coral pink outfit. He says “I will kiss you the right way”, which sounds unspeakably sleazy, and Lana turns her back on him, so he starts the shouting and insults again. It’s the same “abusive ex” script from all the other times.
Shockingly, this distraction doesn’t derail the entire match into an insta-roll-up, and there’s a few more minutes of passable action. At one point Jimmy Uso gets enthused and starts whooping “Superkick party, baby! Superkick party!” and I was worried I’d fallen into an alternate reality and forgotten what promotion I was watching. One kick doesn’t make a party, Jimmy.
Sheamus gets the win with a Brogue Kick. No parties involved.
Naomi vs Alicia Fox
The first time in the night that Jimmy Uso on commentary becomes relevant! So, Jimmy, do you have any insight into the turmoil in the Divas division? Spoilers: he doesn’t. None of us do, not even the women damned to compete in it. While King previously accidentally revealed that he doesn’t watch Raw anymore, he now lets slip that he doesn’t even watch Main Event (which is taped directly before Smackdown), by exclaiming awkwardly “this must be the first time you’ve done commentary for one of your wife’s matches!”, which Jimmy has to correct.
This match is a shambles, featuring phantom selling, trips and stumbles, and a cringe-worthy ringside confrontation. They’ve started filming Tamina’s superkick from as obstructed a view as possible so there can be only whispered speculation about whether it made contact or not. Even Alicia Fox’s usually solid crowd-pleasers; like her tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, fall flat and look clumsy.
A Sermon of Strength
If Kofi’s building nerves about going one-on-one with the Beast Incarnate in just over a week, he’s disguising it very well here, as the New Day have some choice words for Jojo backstage about positivity. Prime Time Players interrupt and tiny Jojo (who is so far down the frame I can’t give you an accurate dress ranking) bursts into beaming joyful smiles. This is a typically enjoyable segment, with Titus busting out an uncanny Big E impression, while E pouts furiously to the ceiling and Xavier flails in a frenzy. In a move I’m shocked we’ve not predicted up til now, Bo Dallas appears, having requested to the Authority that he join the New Day in some positivity-themed tag action. Bo hasn’t nailed the clapping yet, but I think Xavier has faith.
Kane vs Ryback
Ryback gets jumped by the Authority’s favourite third cousin, the Big Show, before even the second bar of his theme. Then there’s a prolonged ramp beatdown, where Big Show gently kicks Ryback on the ground for about six hours. After the novelty finally wears off, he dumps Ryback into the ring for his match with Kane, but even with Ryback presumably on half HP, Kane struggles to put him away: Big Show gets involved for a DQ finish.
Prime Time Players & The Lucha Dragons vs The New Day & Bo Dallas
Jimmy Uso describes the latter pairing as “so positive it’s almost negative!”, which is still a more reasonable statement than JBL is ever likely to make in an average night, so I won’t be too scathing.
This is a lot of fun, although for one of the first times ever, I wish the ring was actually mic’d up better, so I could hear all the wild trash talk from the Bo Day side. Bo Dallas is at his most sinister and otherworldly, and Xavier going for the sarcastic lucha taunt is inexplicably tickling.
While the wrestling’s nothing special in the main, Kalisto does successfully pull off a super cool flippy sequence culminating in a facebuster, which is good, because I unintentionally stop breathing whenever he gets tagged in. The story of the match here is which man of the New Day is going to end up stood at ringside for the tag team titles match at Battleground, and commentary keeps on emphasising the phrase “weak link”. Kalisto gets the pin on Xavier Woods, perhaps answering that question, and that’s our first match of the night that didn’t involve distraction or interference! Now that’s something to feel positive about!
“Real Cincinnati-style nasty stuff”
Cut to Dean mentoring Roman in the locker room. For the extremist he’s painted as, Dean is giving some very sensible advice to his brother in arms; to ignore the spooky mind games, to search Bray out in the arena, dig him out of the shadows and end the weirdness together with some violence. Roman is too pretty to listen to recommendations, so he dismisses Ambrose’s plan, saying that Bray is his business. He goes to pick up his combat vest, but there’s a super scary Bray message rolled up in one of the utility pockets! You know, Roman, you could solve this problem by not wearing ring-gear which has room to secrete notepaper in. You could just go shirtless. That would solve lots of problems.
Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins
Whatever you thought about the gruelling epic of a ladder match between these two boys at MITB, I feel like it was obvious that it was the end of a chapter. While it didn’t end with a wholly definitive finish, because these things never do, it was supposed to be closure for a year long passionate battle between two estranged brothers. There’s not going to be a moment more impressive or an image more vivid than the two sweaty and exhausted foes entangled with each other, plunging from the top of the ladder, grasping desperately for the championship belt.
So why have them tussle it out for a throwaway SmackDown main event before the dust has even settled? I feel hypocritical complaining about this , because I love Dean and Seth’s chemistry and story deeply; but the more they get thrown together week after week, the more they seem to lose the energy and passion that used to exist in kayfabe between them, and they end up wrestling bored and listless matches. There’s nothing on the line here, what’s anyone’s motivation? Additionally, SmackDown is just booking Raw style main events, but with the guarantee of them having no consequences. I want there to be room on SmackDown for unconventional main eventers to have a chance to shine. I want Cesaro vs Luke Harper. I want Torito vs Xavier Woods. I want any number of amusing stipulation matches being treated with reverence, because you can, because nothing matters on SmackDown anyway.
Ambrose is wearing one of his new batch of myriad t shirts (voicesofwrestling.com/wweshop), specifically the one which says “Ambrose Asylum” with the date of the Shield breakup on it. Maybe Rusev’s not the only crazy ex in the arena tonight.
After all my complaining, this match is actually perfectly fine. Seth is whacking out some more submissions lately, which I’m all for: he’s been needing to diversify his moveset since the Curb Stomp fiasco, and while he’s no Daniel Bryan, it’s still cool to see. There’s a fun flurry of reversed rollups. The match just suffers from what every SmackDown main event featuring plot-heavy characters (which is all of them) suffers from: you’re just killing time in a breathless haze until the interference happens. It’s less egregious than usual in this example, with Joey Mercury ducking and weaving on the apron til the referee misses a pin attempt from Dean, and eventually proving a fatal distraction.
Seth gets the win with the Pedigree.
Final Thoughts: I guess every week can’t be full of unexpected gems like Cesaro vs Owens, but this episode felt like a real, unmemorable disappointment. No daring booking, no interesting segments, and no plot progression of any variety. No wonder they had to drag Jimmy Uso out for the novelty factor.
Matches that involved distraction or interference: 4 out of 5