WWE SmackDown
July 9, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center
Milwaukee, WI

Few notices before we dive in. Firstly, puro expert and all-round awesome person Kevin Wilson (@purocentral) is raising money for ALS, and he’s offering some awesome wrestling-themed prizes for donations! Check out his fundraising page here.

Secondly, I’ve been trying to think of a new gimmick for my SmackDown reviews. Any ideas? I’m not sure I have the guts for erotic fanfiction, and Sean already has the poetry slam theme nailed. Currently I’m rolling with the “scrappy babyface” gimmick. I’m not sure it’s working for me.

Thursday Night Rollinsdown (or SmackRollins)

Back when the Shield were in their prime (which, in case you’re wondering, was their entire run), it was unthinkable to imagine that the future Seth Rollins would be responsible for opening week after week of WWE TV with lengthy promos. When the boys in SWAT gear were triple-powerbombing the Undertaker, did anyone imagine that Rollins would be the one with more mic time than the others combined? Even accounting for the fact that Roman Reigns should obviously only be allowed to say “believe that”, and that only infrequently?

I’m sort of agog at how much Seth has improved on microphone since his weird, stilted, role in the Shield promos, where he always rambled on too much about nothing, and wasn’t sure what to do with his face. He’s perfected his character, he nails the exposition, and he has an easy confidence behind the microphone. He does all this just fine, but it’s never amazing, is it? No one ever excitedly tweeted their friends to check out a Seth Rollins promo. It’s not his fault. The format of SmackDown means he’s required to talk at length about nothing every single week, and to find passion and verve to make that interesting must be nigh-on impossible. CM Punk would manage it, maybe. But Seth’s not CM Punk.

My issue here is that now it’s almost guaranteed that the first ten minutes of SmackDown are always skippable nonsense, where nothing of value happens. What is the business sense, the entertainment sense, of opening your show with your most boring section? Just once, I’d love to see a peppy six-man start off the show. Save your recaps and your drawling explanations for somewhere in the late first hour. Or even better: just let the video packages do the talking, and fill the time with more wrestling. Interestingly, I’ve now actually managed to mimic the SmackDown format by making the first segment of my review full of rambly self-indulgent babble, so that’s a pleasing sort of symmetry.

Rollins is here to say that Brock Lesnar is a coward! REAL men beat each other up, they don’t trash cars and hassle bodyguards. Seth spends some time dwelling on the $56,000 price tag of the vehicle in question before catching himself and clarifying that the real reason he’s furious is because Brock Lesnar has affronted his family. This tired old rant is interrupted by the mangled car entering the arena via flat-bed truck, and much more excitingly, an appearance by Paul Heyman. Now here’s a man who can make repetitive explication enjoyable. There’s some very heavy handed over-explaining of the car as a metaphor, and I can’t help but think that they’re hyping this Lesnar/Rollins match (which has been anticipated since January, and could be a match of the year candidate) in an incredibly weak and inefficient way. I would rather just see Rollins and Lesnar pressing their foreheads together and glowering at each other for ten minutes on every Raw and SmackDown.

Time elapsed before first match begins (not including commercial breaks): 17 min 14 seconds

Dean Ambrose vs Bo Dallas

In the absence of Summer Holiday Kane, who’s booking SmackDown? It isn’t noticeably better or worse, so maybe he left notes. This is exactly the sort of weird mismatched matchup that I want to see on the blue brand (I’m ignoring that it’s a rematch, maybe my new gimmick is that I pretend Raw doesn’t exist?), and I’m charmed by Dean gasping in mock horror at Bo Dallas suggesting he needs a shower.

Just when I think that Dallas has reached peak delusions of grandeur he manages to notch it up just a tiny bit more. This week it’s him suggesting that he personally inspired the Rock to greatness: “…and look at him now! Starring in a hit TV show on HBO!”. The Flanderization of Bo hasn’t been subtle since departing NXT, but at least it’s been consistently entertaining.

Bo’s main offence here is a combo of terrifying shrieking and ramming Dean’s head into various ringposts. Dean manages to turn the tides by making a scary face and throwing some chops, and eventually pulls off a quite majestic running bulldog. Ambrose gets the pin with Dirty Deeds.

Rusev vs Fandango

Jerry Lawler stumbles over his words introducing this segment, and accidentally says “Rusev’s angle has healed!” instead of “ankle”, which is maybe Freudian slip wishful thinking. It would be great if this angle had healed.

Rusev’s back in action! He’s got these super cute little puffy boots which make him look like he’s from Build-a-Bear workshop. I’m not sure whether he’s wearing them because of his shoot injury or because character development, but it’s noteworthy either way. Fandango takes time out of this match to aim gratuitous hipthrusts in Summer Rae’s direction, which she meets with derision. Fandango was a caddish layabout of a partner but a positive gentleman compared to arch-misogynist Rusev, so I’m not sure where Rae’s life decisions are heading at the moment.

Fandango and his Jackson Pollock pants have a pretty fun, albeit brief, showing here! I’ve missed Rusev’s boisterous superkicks, and the two men throw themselves wildly about until it’s time for the Accolade.

Roman Reigns vs The Big Show

Show is wearing a high-necked compression vest underneath his singlet, which is like one of Chris Hero’s weirder fashion decisions. I think Big Show’s feeling insecure, hence trying to flatten his stomach a little, and yelling “I’m a giant!” sulkily mid-match.

This match-up has always left me cold, and I know people spoke volumes of unexpected praise on their Last Man Standing match, but I can’t gather the energy to be excited about Big Show. There’s too much lumbering and not enough emphatic offence.

After a few minutes of bumbling time-wasting, Roman cocks his fist and Bray Wyatt’s music hits. In a subversion of all tropes, when the lights go up and Bray appears on the apron, Roman’s Superman Punch is still primed and he hits it clean on Wyatt. Wyatt interferes for the DQ anyway.

Big E vs Titus O Neil

This whole “Athletes Gone Good” award thing is so amusing. It’s funny because it implies that athletes are naturally vindictive and evil-natured, so therefore them “going good” is unusual. I really hope that Titus wins it so he is Super Dad of the year AND Athlete Gone Good of the year. His gimmick should be that he collects random internet awards.

We missed you, New Day! Big E’s clapping and fancy walk brings me more joy than the whole rest of SmackDown put together. Okay, no, actually, Xavier Woods doing little sarcastic barks at Titus from ringside, that’s my favourite thing ever. I’m glad that the encounter in Japan hasn’t sucked any of the optimism out Big E, and he certainly seems in fine form here. Clapping on Titus’s vulnerable midsection while he has him in a stretch is an inspired move.

The unfeatured New Day members get ejected for shenanigans, and O Neil wins with Clash of the Titus.

A Side Note, Uce

Jimmy Uso isn’t nearly as offensively bad on commentary as my initial reactionary squawking might have implied. He’s mostly quiet and reasonable, he holds a pencil studiously, and he tries to contribute bland match-enhancing soundbites, like “he’s using the whole ring to his advantage!”. Once I established his idiosyncratic grammar is not an affectation, he became quite endearing. Summer of Jimmy is fine, but I doubt there’ll be any YouTube montages of his best lines. I’m pretending he’s a work-experience commentator, or someone who won a competition.

The Viper is here!

It’s always nice of Randy Orton to grace us with his presence on SmackDown; he hasn’t done so for over two months now, when he got his bare sweaty legs all over a leather chair in the Payback contract signing. He’s here to cut a promo about how stupid and annoying Sheamus is, which is fish in a barrel, really: but then, confusingly, The Ascension come out.

All the booking seems to have been thrown into a mess in the absence of any organised authority figures. The Ascension reckon this is their scheduled match time and Orton is wasting it by talking trash boringly with no trousers on. I am tickled by the idea that there could be a logistical double-booking on SmackDown, and I think it would be funnier if they just agreed to share the TV time, maybe with Randy Orton cutting his promo over commentary while the Ascension wrested something inconsequential.

What really happened was that Orton dropped the mic and started throwing RKOs everywhere. That’s cool too.

Brie Bella and Alicia Fox vs Tamina and Naomi

It’s a long running gripe that WWE has only a very limited amount of cookie-cutter templates for female personalities, but to just copy and paste the Bella mould straight on to Alicia is cheap, even for them. I already ranted about this last week, but that’s like the last gimmick you can just choose to adopt. They’re not the Bella Triplets.

It’s Total Divas season, which means there’s less chance than usual of meaningful women’s plotlines or decent clean finish matches, and also means that the Divas have to pretend to be emotional about things which happened and were recorded months ago, which seems like a particularly weird piece of kayfabe. Someone’s got a glittery sign in the crowd which says “CAT FIGHT”. Can you imagine someone sitting down and making that? Cutting the letters out of different metallic card that they bought from a craft shop?

Nothing to say here, it’s a flailing clumsy match, with lots of Nikki posing and flouncing. Alicia got the pin.

Champion vs Champion: Seth Rollins vs Ryback

There’s a lot of rumblings amongst the critics that Seth Rollins is a weak, uninteresting champion with no star power. If you do subscribe to that train of thought, maybe Kane booked this match for you! Now you can see the contrast between Seth Rollins and the absolute most uninteresting champion.

It’s heartening to at least begin a main event with no potential match interference catalysts at ringside. Rollins gets frustrated early on and takes a moment to pace around on the outside, steeling himself and plotting. I like this side of Seth, someone who bears some resemblance to the description of “architect”.

Ryback hoists Rollins up for the delayed vertical suplex. Why does this move almost always paralyse the victim? Why isn’t Seth wriggling his little legs and crossfitting his way out this glorified mid-air handstand? It’s an extended chance to admire Seth’s tight trousers from a lot of upside down angles, though, so I’m not complaining. The spot also reminded me that this is actually, in some ways, a Shield flashback match; because Seth came face to face with Ryback in the Shield’s debut outing at TLC 2012. Rollins launched himself memorably off a ladder on to Ryback through two tables. It was a blast.

*long sigh*

Rollins goes for some Brock-mocking as soon as he gains the upper hand, but Brock Lesnar guy is right there in the front row, so I think Seth gets stage fright, because his Lesnar impression is terrible.

Despite my continued Ryback scepticism, this is a super enjoyable match, where Seth makes Ryback look legitimate and powerful, and gets enough of his flippy business in to keep the match pace engaging. One of the many things I enjoy about the way Rollins wrestles is that I’ve never felt like he’s just going through the motions. He always seems really involved with what he’s doing, and if he’s wrestling Ryback, he’s going to at least try and make that seem important. Before you get too invested, however: Rollins teases the walk-out with his belt midway through, only for Ryback to march him back to the ring: but Seth is too slippery and escapes from a different direction into the crowd. There’s a count-out victory for Ryback.

Big Show and Roman get physically involved for a end of show melee, and a well-timed spear allows Ryback to hit the Shellshocked on Seth. Roman and Ryback stand tall.

I was sweating nervously on the edge of my seat, genuinely believing that we might be heading for a SmackDown main event clean finish, but scuppered again!