WWE SmackDown
August 13, 2015

“This is unparalleled greatness… This is: me”

The show opens with a Rollins promo, and I let out an involuntary muttered “thank you” when it transpires that there isn’t going to be any photoshop jokes, funny voices, or similar, because I don’t trust myself to be as optimistic as Sean was about that excruciating RAW opening. I love silly, campy fun; but something about that interminable focus on the grotesquely misshapen face of Cena with Seth Rollin’s weasley, bearded mouth superimposed upon it made me feel like I was trapped in some sort of body horror nightmare. Luckily, they don’t have that kind of budget or forethought for SmackDown. Instead we get Rollins coming out, smiling smugly for hours, and starting a promo with “I wanted to slow things down a little” to (what I imagine is) a collective groan from the present live crowd.

Rollins’ ability to drawl on and on about nothing is clearly a feature, as indicated by long lingering shots of crowd members holding aloft  “SHUT UP SETH” banners. My confused cynicism after trying to analyse SmackDown (and in a more casual way, WWE in general) for months now has led me to never truly believe that WWE does things on purpose: rather stumbles into them by accident and then retcons what their purpose was. Is this really the character trait they want pinned on their champion? An athletic, dynamic high-flyer at the nigh-top of the internal hierarchy, with the highest accolade around his waist, who was the brains behind the most dominant faction in years… and his uninteresting, rambly promos are his selling point? Why are they purposefully making their champion boring and annoying? By rights he should be the coolest person on earth, even if it’s a kind of evil conniving sort of way.

This promo isn’t just tedious and repetitious (nearly identical) of the last few weeks since The Nose Incident, but it’s also inaccurate. Picasso was a Cubist, not a Surrealist. If Seth had mounted some melting clocks on the disfigured body of Cena, I’d allow it. Other than that, one line in particular gives me pause: “One day you will be able to tell your grandkids: you saw Seth Rollins in his prime”. Is this it? Is this really it?

Rollins gets to the crux of the matter, which is that Cena responded to the Summerslam challenge on Tough Enough, as if the WWE plotlines aren’t already spread across enough disparate television programmes. It’s frustrating that Rollins is clashing with these exciting, fresh faces on TV (like Cesaro, Owens…) and yet he’s going to get stuck with Cena anyway, confirming that nothing matters and 99% of everything is just filler until John Cena decides to appear. Anyway, talking of fresh faces…

“I’m disappointed by the details you decided to leave out”

Neville bursts out! I love that Neville has just temporarily shrugged off his feud with Stardust and decided to jab his finger at the champion instead. I have a great fondness for that small-show, Lucha Underground/NXT feel, when all the wrestlers are just a hair’s breadth apart from each other in terms of interacting, and everyone’s only one opportunity away from the biggest prize. The stifling unspoken tiers in WWE are frustrating when it means stale main events and talented fan favourites getting stuck in meaningless undercard rubbish.

Before Neville is allowed to talk much, he’s (wisely) interrupted by my other favourite European Cesaro, who gets about seven “on and on”s in before Owens stealths up and whacks him on the back of the head. The ensuing brawl is brief but satisfying, with the heels standing tall. Owens slopes off wordlessly back to the forest, leaving Rollins to take credit for the whole beatdown.

Charlotte vs Naomi

Tag team naming on the WWE main roster is notoriously lazy. After already having one three word acronym in “BAD”, PCB looks even more stupid. They didn’t even attempt to make a portmanteau. I had a kind of respect for the linguistic cuteness of  “Rybaxel”. Remember when the Shield debuted and there was that marvellous sit-down interview on stools in some abandoned warehouse where Ambrose explained that they were “a Shield…against injustice”? Imagine someone asking Becky Lynch the significance behind “PCB”. IT’S THEIR FIRST NAMES IN A LIST.

Anyway, I’m keen to wipe the slate clean after a confusing and uncharacteristically awful match from the recently ascended NXT Divas last week. This is a much cleaner (albeit uninspiring) performance than whatever happened then, but I feel like these three new tag teams all emerging as tag teams at the same time has led to a big problem with ringside company: every singles match looks like a lumberjack match. The hair-pulling and leg-sweeping and grabbing really distracts from anything close to dignity.

Charlotte gets the win with a stylish Figure Eight. It looks good with flashing shoes in the mix.

“I Shellshocked that staph infection”

Ol’ Weird-Knees Ryback is back, and disappointingly, some medically-prompted time for reflection hasn’t seemed to dissuade the creative team from their Big Show/Miz triple threat plans. They’ve had all these weeks to come up with something better, or just bump all three men from the card and replace their match with Summer Rae getting a showcase spot. I don’t even like Summer Rae that much, I just feel like this is HER DAY, guys. Incidentally, I excitedly committed to pulling a rare all-nighter to live-review SummerSlam this year with the VOW team before I heard about this match.

We actually get treated to a super-sized full screen HD photograph of Ryback’s horrible knees on the tron, along with a PSA about staph infections and their lethality. Dramatic irony only ever happens by accident in WWE, and I wonder if Ryback is recalling any childhood wisdom about “not saying anything that isn’t kind or useful” now that he’s experienced being incapacitated by a staph infection similar to the one he criticised CM Punk for not being able to work through. Probably not.

Nothing of consequence in this segment. Ryback acknowledging (and dismissing) the Intercontinental title’s reputation as “cursed” is interesting, but only because I got immediately distracted thinking about how cool it would be if it was rebranded as having a proper spooky occult curse on it, and people only talked about IC championship matches in hushed, fearful tones.

“I will bring my brother, and you bring your lunatic”

Talking about spooky business, here’s more talking from the Wyatts, and any idle thoughts I had been harbouring about Luke Harper maybe secretly being a really awesome promo are shattered. He used to be kind of funny and charismatic, pre-WWE, didn’t he? Did I dream that?

The Bray Wyatt segment of this is absolutely just a recap of what he said last week, almost word for word. I don’t understand, in kayfabe terms, why Bray is keen to stick to PPV schedules for his weird indoctrination rituals or whatever he thinks wrestling is. He’s been trapped in some very long, very monologue-y feud builds this year: the most egregious example being the Undertaker build which he carried solo for something like five weeks. This thing is nearly as bad, because, Roman.

There’s an interruption from Dean Ambrose, who appears to be there purely as Roman Reigns’ personal ring announcer.

Roman Reigns vs Luke Harper

This match seems worse than usual for wild veering camera shots and sea-sick zooms, which is a shame, because there’s some legitimately cool power moves going on early-match and it’s nice to see that stuff from a clear angle. It turns into more typical grounded rest holds fairly rapidly though, set to the ambient track of “Jimmy Uso tinged with sadness and regret as he mentions “brotherhood” and there’s a catch in his voice”. There’s some slapping and chopping back and forth that fails to impress if you’ve been watching guys elbow each other in the face for 20 minute matches lately.

My favourite bit from this match is late on, when the referee tries to pull Roman from the ropes. He’s got his tiny arms wrapped around Roman, tugging and tugging, and Luke Harper goes for a superkick, and the referee sort of guides Reigns to the mat. Jerry Lawler described this as “Luke Harper nearly got a win with assistance from the official!”. It looked like they were doing the most genteel tag team move ever.

Inevitable Wyatt interference that loomed over this match since the bell rang comes into play for the DQ finish.

The New Day vs The Primetime Players

I love Big E. I love the way he wears such weird 90s clothes in his normal life. I love the way his head is like a perfect cube. I love that he had the most pithy and cutting response to the whole Hulk Hogan business.

More than any of that, though, I love watching Big E doing his prancing clapping to the ring with the New Day. It just makes my heart feel good. I needed to get this off my chest. I had a whole thing I was ready to write about how we’ve seen this match so many times and blah blah blah, but then I saw Big E and I just got overwhelmed and forgot it all. I don’t think there’s been a tag team that have made me laugh out loud so much since Team Hell No. I miss Saturday Morning Slam, wouldn’t The New Day have been great on that?

Talking of genuinely funny moments, Darren Young’s mis-hearing of Titus’s exclamation “big round here!” as “big round hair” and adding “…like an afro!” made me crack up, and it’s only partially my long work hours and sleep deprivation contributing to that.

Xavier Woods is in this one for a change, which means we miss out on his charming ringside banter. You’ve seen this match by now; and this one doesn’t innovate on the formula, but it feels fiery and enthusiastic and I’m enjoying Darren Young’s casual over-the-head suplexes more and more.

The New Day tease a walkout, but are interrupted by Los Matadores and the Lucha Dragons reminding everyone they exist, which seemingly pauses the count, giving Titus a chance to drag Xavier back to the ring by the ear. Darren Young gets the win with the Gut Check.

Cesaro & Neville vs Kevin Owens & Seth Rollins

This match is previewed throughout the night with silent shots of the two tag teams strategizing backstage, which are unintentionally adorable. Kevin Owens sat crosslegged on a storage box while Seth Rollins wildly gesticulates to him is a particularly excellent tableau. I am crazy about the concept that it’s taken the last hour of SmackDown for them to be able to formulate a plan for this throwaway consequence-free main event that’ll probably end in a DQ anyway. It makes me wonder if they just started chatting about random stuff, and doing the gestures only when the cameras came past.

Even if it is sort of meaningless in the larger scale of SummerSlam and the future, I don’t ask for much, and it’s awesome to have a main event like this: something to be proud of over here nestled on a Thursday evening, while everyone else is catching up on the G1. Thank goodness, I nearly slipped into an irretrievable depression after last week.

This match starts out dramatically, with a delayed vertical from Cesaro on Rollins, followed swiftly by a standing moonsault from Neville. I hope that’s the combo they were discussing backstage for an hour. They certainly seem very proud of it.

This is the first time face Cesaro has felt a little jarring, because it occurred to me that Neville was bouncing around during the memorable Zayn/Cesaro clashes on NXT, and now everything is very different. Expecting consistent internal logic to go back literally years is unreasonable, of course. I’m just interested to see what happens if Zayn and Cesaro cross paths again when Sami’s healthy: I hope they don’t forget everything.

This is a fun, show-off match that is exactly what you want from a ten minute romp featuring Cesaro. At one point Cesaro has Rollins effortlessly horizontally aloft above his head, and marches to the edge of the ring to throw him to the outside, where Kevin Owens is bumbling around, dazed. Upon noticing Seth’s silhouette hurtling towards him, Owens just turns around and walks away, letting Seth crash to the outside. These little breaks from the script; these personal touches that defy the WWE nonsense logic; add so much to Owens’ character and make every match he’s a part of richer.

Rollins gets a sneak roll up on Cesaro after a boisterous sequence of reversals, and Owens continues a beatdown after the bell. Cesaro recovers with renewed vigor to hit an Alpamare Waterslide on Owens, which is topped off by a Red Arrow.

Final Thoughts: After briefly losing all the best members of the roster to Australia, things are looking up this week. This is a premature SummerSlam preview card, and promo-heavy, but that’s an improvement on whatever last week was.

Oh wait, quickly, before we finish….

  • Best dressed: Neville, the whole ensemble with the t-shirt makes him look like an adorable Cadbury chocolate bar.