Preview: Got a bunch of SummerSlam preview matches here, so if you’re thirsty for seeing these interactions before Sunday, you’ll love this. Otherwise, wait for SummerSlam to disappoint you instead.

With SummerSlam rapidly encroaching, let me remind you that for the first time ever I’ll be joining the fine folks here at VOW on Sunday night (or the wee hours of Monday morning, in my case) for their live roundtable review. I’m hoping it’ll be a blast, but please feel free to tweet me encouragement (@doctordala), especially during the Intercontinental Title match. If there’s a moment where there’s a real risk of me dropping off face down on the keyboard, that’s it.

My fingers nearly already typed “Seth Rollins opens the show” out of pure muscle memory before Ryback’s theme hit and I did a comical double take. SmackDown opens with a match, which has completely messed up my usual review format where I spend 800 words musing about Rollins as a warm up to actually having to comment on any wrestling.

Ryback vs The Big Show

Early nomination for worst-dressed: Ryback in his airbrushed shark singlet. Despite this valuable spot on the show to grab attention, the start of this match is really tedious: extended headlock spots where Ryback feebly pumps his fist to try to arouse even the shyest of encouraging “feed me more” chants, lots of of bumbling around, and Lawler trying to impart some sort of fable wisdom about size not mattering apart from when it does. There’s also a great moment where Big Show illustrates how you can do a spear without actually having any forward momentum personally: just sort of crouch facing forwards and wait for Ryback to run into you. Jimmy Uso’s frantic enthusing about “..two car wrecks: no, two train wrecks!” is possibly more accurate than he intended.

Eventually a sequence of doddering around at ringside leads both men to collapse into the timekeeper’s area, and there’s an anticlimactic double count out.

I’ve been looking for a platform to rant about this for weeks now, and now seems like it might be my last opportunity, so I have to say: how ugly is that SummerSlam font? It looks like they just picked the first font they found on a free font website and then said “Ok, let’s jazz it up with some lurid orange and bright blue”. It doesn’t lend any sort of gravitas to matches like The Undertaker vs Brock Lesnar: although the photo of The Undertaker from about five years ago isn’t helping much either. Skilled designers are an investment, and so often WWE seem to cut corners on that front. Aesthetics are important, especially when it comes to marketing your second biggest event of the year! Go for broke! Make it feel important, not just like something scrawled on a teenager’s foolscap pad during a boring maths lesson.

The New Day vs Los Matadores

Tom Phillips won’t stop saying “six being tag match” instead of “six man” with a particular sort of offensive smugness that is usually reserved entirely for Matt Striker. Look, I get it, El Torito is a kayfabe animal, and I’m on board with that sort of zany stuff: but is there another thing that’s different about El Torito, the man, that might make dehumanising him a bit misguided? Jimmy Uso reinforces himself as my favourite member of the commentary table by vehemently replying “My money’s on Torito any day”. That’s smart! I just looked it up and he has a 91% win rate in singles matches, which is the highest in the whole of WWE history. Who’s laughing now?

Jerry Lawler manages to hit a trifecta of irrelevancy with his most inexplicable comment of the show during this match, which I will reproduce verbatim for you right here: “I like the Lucha Dragons! I went to go see their new movie this weekend: Dragon Ball Z? But they weren’t in it!”. This is such a definitive piece of SmackDown commentary that they should frame it for the physical Hall of Fame some day. It’s got everything: reference to wrestlers not in the match, totally random pop culture reference, and then unexpected, underwhelming anti-punchline.

Anyway, from the bell it’s clear that this match is just killing time until the Big E/Torito confrontation that we all want to see. It doesn’t disappoint. When Torito gets the inevitable hot tag, he goes wild, clearing the ring with hurricanranas and sweeping bystanders off the apron. However, Big E manages to gain an advantage, and drops Torito for a brutal backbreaker, following it up with a Big Ending for the win.

After the match, Kofi Kingston brings out a fancy bouquet for the New Day, and presents it to Xavier as they all jump victoriously up and down, sending vibrating shudders through the lifeless body of Torito, still limp on the mat. I think SmackDown has peaked here. I may as well not even watch the rest.

“The last six weeks or so have been a little rough for me..”

Aww, this SmackDown was getting all feel-good for a second there and now I have to deal with this nonsense. Dolph kicks off with a tone-deaf reference to Rusev as “the Bulgarian Baboon” and I’m once again just completely aghast. Do WWE writers live in a fantasist utopia where it doesn’t cross their minds that referring to Torito as “a being” and Rusev as “a baboon” could be misinterpreted as horrendously offensive, building on years of systemic oppression and racism? Or are they just shameless in using these tropes unironically? Either way, I don’t care if you had to drink your dinners through a straw, Ziggler, my empathy is exhausted.

My interest piqued somewhat when Lana explained that her response to being put in The Accolade by Summer was to say “We need to crush those bastards!” rather than something more dainty or ineffectual, but it was negated immediately by Ziggler commenting “Damn that is hot! How hot is that?”. Ziggler is every man on twitter who can’t pass by an opportunity to comment on a woman’s opinions. He’s every guy who gives unwanted and patronising validation to women making choices and having thoughts. Every boyfriend who simultaneously takes credit for his girlfriend while undermining everything she does. I want to swat him like a fly.

Lana goes on to recap what she did on Raw, slapping Rusev etc., and Ziggler chimes in “…that proves you’re strong and independent!”. You couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.

The merciful Rusev flag booms open to interrupt this segment, and the other dysfunctional couple in this feud emerge. Rusev cuts a wordy promo with some quite colourful description about torturing Ziggler to the point of near-fainting, but then releasing him so he can stare into Lana’s eyes as she gets simultaneously Accoladed so he can “feel her agony, see her tears, feel her screams ringing in your ears”. Yikes.

Neville vs Bo Dallas

I saw the Red Arrows the other day. They flew past my house. I looked up into the sky, and saw the planes twisting and twirling, and thought of Neville. His jaunty grin, his muscular torso, his fluttering cape as he dashes up the ramp. This isn’t really related to this match, I just don’t often get WWE finishers circling above me in my day to day life, and I wanted to share.

Bo Dallas is in a weird sort of limbo at the moment. Much to my surprise, the WWE YouTube uploaded a backstage fallout of Bo Dallas from SmackDown last week, despite the fact that Bo Dallas didn’t appear on my edit of SmackDown at all. I cross-referenced with other reviews from other time zones, and no one has any mention of Dallas. The Youtube video insists that he interrupted Ryback’s Staph Infection Promo and ended up getting Shellshocked. It seems like a weird thing to selectively edit, and I felt highly bemused afterwards. What else am I missing on SmackDown? Does Bo Dallas maybe actually interfere in every promo?

This match is only a couple minutes of time-killing back and forth before a clean Red Arrow, and I stare wistfully out my window again, offering my silent support for the Jumping Geordie.

“Red and green turns black and blue”

Stardust takes over the tron for a post-match rambling threat, and as much as I keep on saying I’m going to retire the best dressed award, here’s King Barrett with ostentatious sequinned metal pauldrons and no shirt. That sort of thing can redeem an entire SmackDown for me. What a daring look.

I’m still kind of confused by this whole feud, and my grasp on American pop culture is tenuous at best, so I’m just going to take this whole thing at face value and offer the opinion that this sort of bonkers silliness is pretty damn endearing. If Barrett can be reincarnated as a competent comedy character with bedazzled plate armour then I will care less about his win/loss record, maybe.

“She’s the best twin sister in the world!”

One year on from “I wish you died in the womb”, Team Bella cut a really distressingly bad promo about squashing the new influx of Divas and that Bellas will reign supreme, and so on. Team BAD surface to throw in their contribution, but for some reason Naomi is their unelected mouthpiece, rather than the more obvious choice, so it’s just layers of unconvincing nothingness. Brie calls Sasha a bitch, because here in WWE the men insult the men with sexist slurs, and the women insult the women with the same, because being a woman is basically like being pond scum in the hierarchy. Sasha exacerbates this by saying “Brie, I should just call you Daniel Bryan’s wife: all you do is ride his coattails”, which is another hateful thing to say; apart from the amusing image of Daniel Bryan ever wearing a coat with tails. I find all this incessant griping and digging so completely tiring: how are the fans supposed to respect the women’s division when they refuse to respect each other?

Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch vs Brie Bella

Of course Brie does Yes chants throughout the opening segment of this match, because it’s still easier than having your own identity. Then Sasha starts doing sarcastic Yes chants, so in essence you’ve got a women’s match being based around the personality of a male wrestler who isn’t even wrestling anymore. Sigh.

There’s a lot of camera cuts at the point of impact during this match, which at least leaves the ambiguity that some moves might have hit, but other than that it’s another in a series of underwhelming women’s matches from the last few weeks. It also falls into the annoying way that triple threats have of incapacitating each participant in turn so it’s majoritively a straight singles with a floppy third member watching dazed from ringside. Brie gets a roll up on Becky Lynch.

Recap City

The second half of SmackDown is dominated by a lengthy recap of Brock and The Undertaker’s confrontation on RAW on Monday, which I would normally recommend to skip straight through, but there’s a bit where The Undertaker’s low blow is accompanied by cathedral choir style music, so that’s worth catching.

Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Cesaro vs Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Sheamus and Kevin Owens

They’ve shoved three matches from the SummerSlam card into one ultimate uber eight-man tag for the main event, which theoretically should be an excellent way to develop tension and excitement for the respective individual matches on Sunday. Having ⅔ of The Wyatts vs ⅔ of the Shield facing eachother on Sunday is just begging for comparisons to be drawn to their previous, more high-profile feud, and I can’t help but recall how electric it felt just having the men stare each other down in the build for their first PPV match. Sometimes presence, and charisma, and knowing when to say less, are the magical ingredients to build an indescribable level of investment in a match. Sometimes, they don’t get it quite right, and you switch off with an overwhelming sense of “who cares?”. Like this match.

I feel a bit proprietal over the Cesaro/Owens feud. It’s not that the build has exclusively been here on SmackDown, but it’s been given more focus and main event time over here on Thursdays and for that reason I feel like it’s something that’s been specially nurtured by stalwart SmackDown viewers. Let us be smug about something. Kevin Owens gains nuclear heat here by depriving us of the Luke Harper Cesaro-swing we didn’t know we wanted. I hope Cesaro uppercuts him into the rafters on Sunday.

The teams here are really odd bedfellows, and not with the sort of interesting uneasiness that sometimes comes from unconventional team-ups, just in a weird clash of larger than life personalities. Sheamus grasping his briefcase and doing suggestive eyebrows doesn’t have the drama that it might have if we knew Seth Rollins was anywhere near the building. Wrestling-wise, this is a melange of all the various other tag matches and singles matches and triple threats that these men have had over the past few weeks: it feels like there isn’t a single fresh moment in the match, it’s just all sort of “there”. Roman Reigns headbutting Kevin Owens then effortlessly scooping him up for a Samoan Drop was quite fun, but the pace instantly slows down again when Bray Wyatt gets in the ring. I don’t really blame them for not making this an epic show-stopper: assuming they’re saving themselves for memorable performances on Sunday (and Saturday, in Owens’ case).

Dean hits the Dirty Deeds on Harper for the win.

Final Thoughts: The lack of Seth Rollins or a proper weighty singles match main event always makes SmackDown feel slightly spineless, like it’s bouncing along from thing to thing without a grander idea of structure, but overall this was a watchable show with some fun moments. Nothing unmissable, and nothing that will have any influence over SummerSlam in the slightest.