It’s very rare that WWE SmackDown breaks the script and something fun and exciting from RAW manages to spill over. Back in 2013, there was a memorable RAW where The Shield, at the peak of their popularity, arrived in London by helicopter to wrestle Team Hell No and The Undertaker. Then on Friday, The Undertaker faced Dean Ambrose in the main event of SmackDown, in a singles match. This sort of daring booking that complemented an ongoing story without dwarfing it, and provided a fun reason to watch both main WWE shows, was so refreshing. The Undertaker wasn’t there to humiliate the Shield and Tombstone them all over everywhere (although he did beat Ambrose, one-on-one, reasonably): he added interest and excitement to a week’s worth of shows, and made the top heel stable seem suddenly even more important.
This year and for most of the last, things have happened on RAW, occasionally, on good weeks — but SmackDown has remained the same. SmackDown has been an impervious alternate universe that steadfastly refuses to book anything noteworthy or with even a whisper of plot significance. Their go-home shows for PPVs don’t influence the outcome or even start intrigued conversations about the upcoming matches: they’re the televisual equivalent of acting out the feuds with action figures, or simulating the matches on the WWE 2k16.
All of this is a preamble to saying that the Dudley Boyz are on this episode, which I wasn’t expecting. It was nice of them to find the time.
“Bray Wyatt’s truth will give you new life..”
The Wyatts are here to give Braun Strowman the proper official SmackDown welcome. Jerry Lawler talks all the way through the Wyatts’ entrance, yelping buzzwords like “sadistic!” and “perverse!” and I was genuinely worried he was alone on commentary because nobody seems to be shushing him, or responding to his frantic “guys, guys!” questions.
Wyatt drops the same old lines about family and brotherhood: it transpires that his new bête noire is Reigns using the word “brother” flippantly, and he feels it is devaluing his own family of forest-dwelling weirdos. This is silly, for lots of reasons, but mainly because no one in WWE loves each other like Reigns and Ambrose. Also, dude, someone else being happy doesn’t make you less happy, Bray. That’s like therapy 101.
I fear “black sheep” may be one of those phrases — like “lunatic fringe” — that a WWE writer has taken a fancy to by looking at the composite words and not actually understanding the meaning of the idiom. I get it: sheep, because of Rowan’s sheep mask, and black, because…they’ve painted it black. That’s not actually what that means, though. A Wyatt family black sheep would look like Fandango.
My 1.5 pennies on Braun: firstly, he’s a wrestler solely named for “brains and brawn” puns, right? I sometimes think most WWE decisions are based around potential puns. Secondly: Braun is super big and wrecked Reigns and Ambrose on RAW, which would be a troubling predicament going forward, unless… he has a secret Achilles heel. That would be a good story! Braun is unbeatable apart from one fatal flaw, one weakness. Whether it’s a arcade-style flashing vulnerable body part, or just an inherent trait, like dyslexia, or lactose intolerance.
“Your big ‘un right there: he whooped our asses this past Monday.”
Ambrose and Reigns interrupt and Roman immediately drops that impressive zinger. See, I told you they loved each other. There’s no way Ambrose would voluntarily let Reigns have the microphone if he didn’t absolutely adore him. They then spring into the ring for a staredown, which is an astoundingly stupid and foolhardy move for the Shield boys, because one Wyatt choked out both of them without breaking a sweat on Monday! Come on! There’s fighting spirit, and there’s this. Luckily, Bray calls off his team, and everyone slopes away anticlimactically.
The Dudley Boyz vs The Ascension
I think it’s fair to say that I’m not the target demographic for the Dudley Boyz; but everyone else seems very excited to see them, so I’m happy for them and I’m not going to grouch about it. Jimmy Uso gets so overwhelmed he gets genuinely lost for words, I can’t hold that against him: apart from that it gives Lawler more space to fill. I think that eventually we might forget that Jimmy Uso used to be a wrestler, and will retcon him as being someone who won a competition to be on guest commentary.
Bubba Ray gets Konnor in the corner and yells quizzically “Do you know who we are?” with the tone of a man who’s perhaps not entirely certain himself. The rest of this match is sort of compelling for the novelty factor, and has the main crowd-pleasing stuff, but everything in between is sluggish nothingness. The Dudleys get the win, of course; and make moves toward setting up a table before getting interrupted by The New Day.
“SAVE A TABLE, BREAK A DUDLEY”
My mind constantly boggles at how The New Day got redeemed from being a borderline-racist embarrassment six months ago, to the glorious highlight of every show they’re on. They’re funny in a really good-hearted, joyful sort of way, and it’s been awesome the way that they’ve stepped up their gimmick by adding new brilliant elements rather than relying on the same routine every time. They emerge here in tracksuits wielding various humorous anti-Dudley signs, and waggle them furiously while the Dudleys laboriously send the broken body of Viktor through a table for them to witness. I’m finding it harder than usual to understand why the Dudleys are the faces in this relationship.
Neville vs Kevin Owens
Eden pronounces “Owens” like she’s suddenly understood a joke halfway through and she’s exclaiming “Ohhhhhhhhh!”. The “…wens” is an afterthought. Ring announcing is a sort of art, isn’t it? Like it’s not as easy as it seems.
It’s the ex-NXT Champions showcase match! There’s no preamble to this match, no explanation, just these two going at it. It suffers a lot from going to an ad break about thirty seconds in: the crowd are already underwhelmed after the Dudleys commotion, and a three minute headlock right at the beginning of the next match is a bit of a downer. This match sort of struggles to get going and is over in five minutes, which is gutting, because when I saw it on paper I was certain it was going to be excellent. You can’t blame the booking though, they have got to fit five entire matches into this two hour SmackDown. That’s one more than RAW on Monday. Kevin Owens gets the win with the Pop-up Powerbomb.
“We have respect, integrity, and loyalty!”
There’s a backstage hullabaloo going on between ⅔ of PCB and ⅔ of the Bellas (admittedly, the blood-relative Bellas, ie, the True Bellas) and it really hits all the key points of hateful bitchy rubbish that WWE loves to put in the mouths of its female roster. Nikki transparently trying to turn C and B against P with the use of patronising hand waving, Charlotte sarcastically referring to the Bellas as “ladies”, accusations of still being in high school…oh come on. I’ve heard better conversations between women in adjacent toilet stalls.
PCB vs The Bellas
When your tag team name explicitly refers to all of its members, it makes you look very silly when one of your members is too important to come to SmackDown and the commentary still has to call you by your tag team name. Just an FYI, apropos of nothing.
In a bizarre display of Ethics in Wrestling Commentary, Jimmy Uso decides to leave the table when Team BAD come out for commentary, because of what Rich Brennan calls “a bit of a conflict of interests.” Amazing. Jerry Lawler starts off commentary by exacerbating more bitching, asking Naomi what she thought of the Bellas’ singing on Total Divas. Can you imagine a match involving a WWE men’s champion where their singing was discussed? Some critics have told me to stop complaining about women’s matches and treatment in WWE now that we have “#DivaRevolution” and everything is fine now. I’ll stop complaining when I see anything revolutionary.
This is a clumsy mess with not much to love. Three minutes from bell to bell. Charlotte gets the pin with a bridging roll up.
“None of you have any idea what greatness is,”
Lawler kicks off this segment by confessing “sometimes I just envision him with duct tape over his mouth!” as Rollins walks to the ring, giving presumably an unwelcome flash of insight into his bedroom preferences. The champ’s bitter, feeling robbed of the great unboxing of his creepy statue, and I feel him, you know? If there was a ceremony to unveil an effigy in my likeness, and it was all ruined by some irrelevant old dude in facepaint, I would be miffed. I lose sympathy rapidly though, when Rollins elaborates “let me explain who I am!” and I sigh and settle in for a monologue longer than all the matches on this show put together. As Seth promos go, this was fairly bearable because it was emotional. He’s spitting feathers over Sting daring to think he was comparable to himself, and the animosity feels real.
Ryback and Dolph Ziggler vs Big Show and Rusev
For those of you who enjoyed it last week, Big Show brings back the standing-still spear that he innovated. Dolph also drops some extremely dainty dropkicks, which are aesthetically pleasing but very unthreatening. I’m struggling to find anything else to comment on here, because this match is only a meandering context to the finish: where Rusev has the Accolade on Ziggler, and Big Show ambles to the ring to deliver a shocking KO punch to Rusev, which makes him fall over sideways in a comical fashion. Big Show then abandons the ring full of bodies, allowing Ziggler to drape his arm across Rusev for the win.
Sheamus vs Dean Ambrose
Oh, we’re at the main event already! It’s amazing that a two hour show can fit in 17 hours of SummerSlam recaps. Quite something. If this was a WrestleMania main event, the subtitle they would use on tshirts would be “The Battle of the Worst Haircuts in WWE”. Or something better than that, suggestions welcome. Maybe just “Mohawk vs Fringe”- that works on two levels.
Dean is vulnerable and obsessive — more so than usual — and required reassuring head-pats and pep talk from Reigns to even get to this match; Sheamus is spoiling for a fight because people keep on insulting his style and he’s never going to win that much coveted SmackDown Best Dressed award. This combination of attitudes makes for a very violent first few minutes, with the brawl spilling out of the ring, Sheamus stomping Ambrose against the barricade, and Dean generally getting thrown around like a Beanie Baby. Dean is very much acting like he’s being wrestled at, rather than with. He just sort of tolerates Sheamus manhandling him without much complaint. Eventually Dean summons some energy to throw fists, but he still has the demeanour of someone who’s just been awoken from an unplanned afternoon nap. I’ve referred to Ambrose as the canary in the coal mine for telegraphing screwy finishes before, and this is possibly the textbook example.
As expected by everyone who’s ever seen WWE before, the Wyatts interrupt this match; not physically, though. They just stand around menacingly and this shocks Ambrose so much he allows himself to be Brogue Kicked for the finish. Thankfully, Roman cares enough about his idiot friend to teleport to the ring and throw Superman Punches to the Wyatts circling Ambrose’s limp body like vultures. It doesn’t end well though, as Braun Strowman scoops up Reigns into his scary chokehold submission from RAW. The Wyatts stand tall to end the show.
Five weeks straight we had clean finishes in the main event of SmackDown. It was something beautiful. I was reluctant to draw attention to it after the first couple of weeks, like it was something fragile, a butterfly- something that might be harmed if I tried to grasp it. Now it’s gone. Ah well.
Best Dressed Overall: Rollins, wearing one of those “Architect” basic lineart tshirts with the black and gold trousers, adorned with both belts. You can’t argue with that look.
Final Thoughts: This SD looked so great on paper: I was ready for a really solid bunch of fun matches. Pretty much everything under delivered apart from the main event which I predicted would be rubbish. Nothing over two stars on this show, for those of you keeping track. The New Day involvement was far too brief, and Owens vs Neville disappointed. Watch for the Dudleys if you love them, but I gather they’re sticking around, so that’s not essential either.