July 16, 2015
There’s a very important Cesaro match tucked away in the middle of this humble Smackdown!
As Summer of SmackDown rolls on…
The current grapevine gossip doesn’t spell good news for the next six months of slogging through SmackDown: word on the street is that SmackDown is going to continue coasting inconsequentially until it gets renovated for its relaunch on the USA Network in January. Then, ostensibly, it will be rehabilitated into a show with a relationship with Raw: a show where things happen that hold significance. Granted, I’ve been watching SmackDown with an unprecedentedly attentive eye over the last three months, and not much WWE TV holds up to that level of scrutiny; but my general sinking feeling about SmackDown being largely pointless appears to have been vindicated by this gloomy news.
The problem at the moment is that SmackDown exists in a weird sort of half-life, in between being a place where things matter, and a place where nothing matters. It doesn’t have the freedom and flexibility that Main Event and Superstars have: to cobble together fun undercard wrestlers and give them seven minutes to do their thing, to shine the spotlight on the Superstars and Divas too unimportant for Raw. So it tries to recreate a ghost of Raw, with long-winded promos and screwy main events: but with a much smaller talent pool and without the props of star power like John Cena to lend it gravitas. It doesn’t dare to be distinct or break the mould, so it just endures as this shadow-puppet version of Raw.
Still, at least there’s a time limit on this depressing phenomenon, and the powers that be have some plans going forward. I don’t feel like it would take an awful lot of effort to book SmackDown more confidently in the meantime, to let it maintain a little momentum, so that it isn’t a complete embarrassment when January rolls around, but what do I know? I’m going to try and keep positive about what we’ve got until then. It’s the go-home show for Battleground! Yay!
“Bringing The Big Fight”
Someone had the intestinal fortitude to let Roman loose on the mic to open the show tonight, and he manages admirably for the brief moments he’s allowed, although he does stammer a bit. He’s developing the skill of just smiling charismatically after he stumbles over his words, which goes a long way in building trust with the audience. It’s infinitely preferable to Worried Eyebrows, which was his previous reaction to cumbersome promos.
In a show so tediously formulaic I try to get my kicks in the little differences. I play detective and look out for the minutiae. With Kane out, Roman decides to book the main event himself! This is pretty outrageous in recent SmackDown canon. Unfortunately, it’s a rubbish main event. He should have just kept quiet about it, because nobody is going to stay watching through another 90 minutes of this to have the pay-off be a Sheamus and Big Show tag team.
“The Perfect Combination of Brutality and Brains”
You see that subtitle right there? That’s what Bray calls Roman when he inevitably interrupts this segment! Can you believe that? They’re certainly not the first two words that spring to mind when you think about Roman Reigns. Has Bray got him confused with someone else? “Spears and Pouting”, sure. “Brooding and SWAT Gear”. Even something more abstract like “Brotherhood and Justice”. But “BRAINS”???
The rest of this Bray ramble has totally lost me because I’m too busy thinking about catchy pairs of adjectives. He’s angry about Roman’s amazing brains and astounding brutality, he’s tired of being made a fool of, and so on. The metaphor of choice today is that Roman is a monument and Bray is a hammer. There’s always something Freudian in these metaphors, you don’t have to look too carefully. Roman displays that MENSA intellect that everyone’s always talking about by demanding that Bray brings the hammer down to the ring.
There’s some more metaphors, some veiled threats, and I don’t know… this feud’s been burning for five weeks now and I still don’t know what it’s about. I can understand Roman’s side of it. He’s a simple man who’s had this creepy dude leaving notes in his vest and printing out screenshots of his daughter, and his uncomplicated manly reaction to this is to want to punch Bray in the face to stop him being so spooky. Bray, though? I’m not sure I’ve understood any of Bray’s motivations for anything since he fought Cena. He’d be really good at filibustering, though. Maybe he’s wasted here.
The New Day vs The Lucha Dragons
Turquoise and silver for the Dragons tonight. I swear that 90% of the SmackDown ring-fenced budget must go on new attire for these guys. My younger brother, who is a massive Fandango mark, is still bitter over the discontinuing of Fandango’s long gone light-feature silhouette that used to be suspended above the ring for his entrance. Every time I watch wrestling with my brother he points out literally any example of expenditure and says “they could have cut that, and kept the Fandango statue”. Now I can’t help noticing things myself. Do we really need all that pyro? Where is Fandango anyway?
Prime Time Players on commentary here, and Titus O Neil gains an early nomination for best dressed on the show. Amazing tie, really special. Speaking of which, I’ve been musing on it for a while, and now that Sami Zayn is out of action for the foreseeable, I think Titus might be the closest thing we’ve got to the ideal of a babyface. He’s likable, he’s sincere, he delivers in the ring, he has values (fatherhood, charity), and an enduring friendship with Darren Young. The WWE alignment problem has been complained over endlessly: top faces like John Cena constantly display immature, petty, bullying personality traits, and then often heels show brotherhood and courage and honesty. It’s nice to see a personality lining up in the right way, and Titus is a joy to have on commentary.
Some permutation of this match is almost always the highlight of SmackDown and tonight is no exception. Lucha Dragons manage to hold it together for a fun blast of action, Big E looks especially coordinated and motivated, and Kofi is bouncing around the place wildly with the greatest of ease. These guys make it worth it. Why can’t we have a SmackDown just full of these type of matches?
The New Day are victorious, and cut a spirited post-match promo about the Tag Team Titles, and start a “New Tag Champs” chant to the beat of “New Day Rocks”. Feeling more and more confident about my Battleground predictions by the second.
King Barrett vs Jack Swagger
Divine right is poorly understood in the WWE Universe, and earning something fairly through a wrestling match seems to be an even more alien concept. Lawler kicks off this match up by boldly stating that R-Truth has just as much right to the title of King of the Ring as Barrett does. This idea is really bothersome, but I go into way more detail about that particular pre-show match in my imminent VOW Battleground Predictions, so I won’t retread that here.
Jack Swagger is around so very rarely that it’s easy to forget he exists. He’s such a strange shell of a person, existing trapped inside a gimmick which has crumbled around him. No Cesaro, no Zeb, no flag-waving or matching jackets. Just a man, and a singlet, and a thousand yard stare. Now he’s deleted his twitter, too. He may as well not exist. What if we watch this back in a few weeks when it’s on the Network, and Jack Swagger just isn’t there? It’s Barrett air-wrestling for four minutes. Being suplexed by nothing. That would be weird.
Barrett gets a clean win with the Bullhammer.
CESARO vs RUSEV!
Ouch, and just like that, Titus O Neil’s “Ru’s Best Dressed Award” dreams are scuppered! Summer Rae’s sporting a seasonal black lace crop-top with a high-waisted coral pencil skirt; an understated but flirty look, complemented by a loose ponytail. Yes, I get that they’re trying to dress her like Lana-lite. She’s rocking it, though.
Cesaro is never an unwelcome sight, and I am thrilled seeing these two impressive heavyweights slog it out in a proper singles match without the dark cloud of John Cena overshadowing the action. Rusev’s new teddy bear shoes don’t seem to be holding him back any, but my burning desire to see him kick Cesaro’s head clean off doesn’t get fulfilled tonight.
This match seems to be frustratingly artificially slow, with Cesaro bending over like he’s winded after every punch and irish whip, when we know he’s a superhuman who can casually wrestle 30 minutes high-octane action without worry. I want to see more zooming and dodging: the things that are best about both men are their uncanny agility, speed, and accuracy. Anyone can be strong.
Even a slow and relatively dull Cesaro match beats the hell out of any other match on SmackDown. The last segment involves a top-rope Rusev being caught by an artful uppercut, and, then, excitingly, Cesaro gets the pin with the Neutraliser! Because Dolph Ziggler and his NXT match with Rusev have been erased from all WWE history, that makes Cesaro the only man other than John Cena to ever have pinned Rusev!
THIS IS SERIOUS!
Neville vs Stardust
Who’s doing the illustration for these Neville/Stardust splash images? I dig it. Let wrestling be a bit cartoony sometimes. If you differentiate the mid-card frivolities from the serious blood feuds with fun graphics, then you make your product deeper. The sound effects dubbed over the comic-book recap are brilliant, and the whole video package for this match is so stylish. I didn’t think I could muster any enthusiasm for Stardust again, but this is perfect for him.
This is a brief but feisty match, and Neville gets his win back with a hurricanrana roll-up after Stardust gets distracted ranting to the referee.
Sasha Banks has the title with her this time! Her, Naomi, and scary-eyeliner Tamina talk trash backstage about the newly formed Diva alliances to tiny Jojo. Naomi reveals that they are BAD: Best At Dominating. This seems like a step down from Sasha’s last collusion, Team BAE (Best At Everything), but maybe specialisation is valuable? All Sasha says is “You can bank on that”, but that’s all she needed to say. Remaining cautiously optimistic about Banks’ adventures on the main roster.
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs Big Show and Sheamus
As previously mentioned, this is my 11th week of reviewing SmackDown for Voices of Wrestling, and so far there hasn’t been a single main event which hasn’t involved an ex-Shield member: most have involved more than one. Considering all the talented wrestlers that have appeared in various roles in this time, it’s really a testament to the lack of imagination surrounding SmackDown. They’re stuck in a rut of recycling the same few matches in different iterations with diverse interference, ad infinitum. It could be a whole lot worse, I find Rollins unconditionally very watchable, and the other two to lesser degrees can be welcome presences in a main event too. This main event, though, is hard to love.
Dean and Roman are the cutest best friends ever and a part of me almost wants to see them slide down the card a little bit and see how they’d interact with the current tag team division. It’d be miles more fun than being stuck ambling around with Big Show and Sheamus. As soon as this match gets some sort of momentum (and Roman is trying his darnedest), Big Show slows things right down, and kills the mood of everything. Sheamus is slightly better, but his gimmick, which I assume now is that he collects facial beads, is the absolute opposite of compelling.
The match culminates in Big Show scooping up Dean Ambrose for a chokeslam, and aiming him towards the commentary table: but in one of those spots that doesn’t really make any sense, Dean manages to somehow reverse it in the air into a DDT. They both end up in a pile of monitors and table panels looking worse for wear, either way. This leaves Sheamus and Roman to fight one-on-one for a few moments, but Bray Wyatt truncates the finishing Superman Punch sequence by interfering for the DQ finish. Roman hits a spear on Bray and stands tall.
Final Thoughts A SmackDown I initially felt very negative about managed to turn around into being above average and having some real enjoyable moments. The Lucha Dragons/ New Day match delivered on energetic flippy action, and then Cesaro’s victory over Rusev followed by falling backwards into the adoring crowd warmed my heart and gave me a flutter of optimism for his future. Sasha Banks is always a pleasing sight, and there was only one screwy finish on the whole show!