“Roman, there’s nothing wrong with being scared!”
After Reigns spectacularly failed to explain his motivations and increasingly convoluted reasons for his ongoing spooky halloween feud with Wyatt, he didn’t seem like an obvious choice to open the show. Roman Reigns appears to get exponentially less popular the more he’s allowed to talk; and people who were previously clutching their cheeks with awe at the hang time on his Superman Punch are reduced to “what”-chanting morons determined to derail him. Isn’t it okay, in wrestling, to have people who look cool, and act cool… but aren’t necessarily ever going to be able to explain anything in a cool way? It feels more and more like WWE nailed Reigns’ perfect role straight away — as burly silent badass and handsome sidekick to the more natural promo of Ambrose. Wisely, Reigns doesn’t say a word here.
Before Roman can open his big stupid mouth, Bo Dallas interrupts. Dallas still dining out on getting suplexed by Brock Lesnar; having a transformative, almost spiritual experience from his visit to Suplex City; is such a bizarre and charming concept. Sadly, it hasn’t evolved or developed in any way since the last time he came out to interrupt someone on SmackDown. “There’s only one way you’re leaving Hell in A Cell,” smiles Bo, “and that’s on a stretcher.” What is Bo’s motivation here? Does he genuinely just want to remind as many people as possible that he survived a sequence of suplexes? Does he harbour a fantasy that his appearance will result in anything other than him being immediately beaten down into a pulp on the canvas?
Roman Reigns vs. Bo Dallas
This plays like a house show match, desperately manufactured to make Reigns seem tough and charismatic. It’s a three minute squash with some opportunity for Dallas to try some cheap tricks that Reigns doesn’t fall for; and ends with a very beautiful, albeit inevitable Superman Punch- Spear combo. It feels more like a transparent vehicle for Reigns’ ego rather than a compelling or snappy opening to a show.
“When I look into Bray Wyatt’s eyes, I see nothing but pure evil,”
Reigns hastily, breathlessly starts on the mic before he seems properly ready to, and tries a sideways, more concise version of his RAW flop promo. “The only way to stop the devil,” Roman asserts, looking directly into the in-ring camera, disconcertingly, “is to ride straight into Hell.” Mic drop. I’m not entirely sure that line sounded as cool as Reigns may have imagined in his head, or whether I’m just feeling a vast amount of residual second-hand embarrassment for him.
Bray interrupts via foggy atmospheric tron video, and claims that it does not suit him to come down to the ring tonight. Maybe everybody should have this attitude. Just not bother to turn up to SmackDown; send apologies and vague video promos instead. On RAW, though, Wyatt will deliver “a prophecy”.
Cesaro and Neville vs Sheamus and King Barrett
Everyone’s got a preference for what they enjoy from a tag-team. Some like tag-teams where the participants are very similar to each other, but interact skilfully, and make their team stronger than the sum of its parts: like the Young Bucks. Alternatively, others like tag-teams where each member has a different skill and brings something different to the table, and the match feels very different depending on who’s tagged in at that time. Everyone likes matching gear and rad tag-team finishers.
I’m a simple person with uncomplex tastes, so I like it when tag-teams are contrasting; when one member’s really big and one member’s really tiny, for example. Here we have the combination of deceptively strong aerial athlete Neville and deceptively quick strong-man Cesaro, and it’s really just immensely pleasing from the second they walk up the ramp. A set of complementary traits, an almost perfect partnership on paper.
Stardust and his Cosmic Wastelanders are sat front row in the audience for this match, with Stardust holding up a delightfully handmade “Stardust Section” sign decorated with gold stickers. As heinous heel tactics go, that’s quite lovable, and shockingly, the team don’t interfere.
Neville’s skill of being able to manipulate people by jumping on their shoulders– like he’s some sort of golem-master or mech-rider– is one of my favourite things ever. As long as no one in WWE is doing the Styles Clash and he stays friendly with Cesaro, dangling uselessly by the thighs from aggressors’ necks and then proceeding to impossibly toss them away with his body weight is a failsafe and extremely enjoyable tactic.
Sheamus and Barrett play their role here; throwing power moves, stomps, and elbows, but Barrett grounding Neville wears thin quickly in such a short match, and I would have preferred more of a relentless onslaught of a match, something really impressive. Barrett hit a surreptitious Bull Hammer allowing Sheamus to pin Cesaro.
“That’s not the first time I’ve had to put a man in his place, and it won’t be the last,”
Being betrayed has been the catalyst for the return of strong, self-aware, confident, resilient (albeit, yes, bitchy, and catty) Summer Rae: goodbye to downtrodden girlfriend Summer Rae.
This whole thing is really weird, isn’t it? The lines are blurring more than ever between real life and kayfabe — what media is credible within the kayfabe world of the WWE universe, and when and why creative decisions are made in response to real life things. If TMZ is “real” in the internal logic of WWE, then what else is? Is voicesofwrestling.com real?
I can’t say I’m unhappy to see this lingering, virulent, mess of a plotline get prematurely truncated into an appropriately anti-climactic blow-off, but for the full-force months-long commitment to the DZ/Rusev Love Quadrangle thing to just abruptly end seems marvelously fickle on the part of the decision-makers here.
Summer Rae’s here to reassure Renee that she’s capable of keeping her professional and personal lives separate in her role as Special Referee later in the night. I’m usually a big fan of customised Special Referee outfits (Fandango’s was a particular favourite), but Summer’s lacks imagination, and just fits in the tired old Sexy Version template.
Kevin Owens vs. Zack Ryder
The last time we saw hapless Zack was back in June against the very same man, in response to an open challenge for the NXT title. Zack Ryder hasn’t changed or developed in that time; so he sort of makes the perfect SmackDown mascot.
Ryback sits ringside for this match, arms flexed and fists extended in front of him as if he were miming holding a knife and fork. Owens makes short work of Ryder, Pop-Up Powerbombing him after a sarcastic “finish it” taunt.
Ryback scoops up an upset Best Dressed here, for matching his sky blue t-shirt (with orange accents) to his equally sky blue jogging bottoms, making him look like he’s wearing an athletic onesie. Jojo’s wearing such an unnecessarily frilled and fussy flamingo-pink long-sleeve dress tonight that she gets disqualified from the Best Dressed just by trying too hard.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev (Special Referee: Summer Rae)
I already spent a lot of time on scathing words about the language Jerry Lawler uses to describe women in last week’s review, but I think it’s fascinating here the almost fetishistic way that Lawler keeps describing Rae as “humiliated; embarrassed; taken advantage of”. It’s as if he can only view her as a babyface character in the context of her status as tragic victim; someone who has suffered a fall from her own impropriety. Then Booker T goes on to generously push the narrative of women “pushing men to new heights”; as an accessory, or a power-up for the men they belong to. It’s insulting to the vast amount of (female) chumps like me who watch SmackDown every week and buy merch and go to live events; but this sort of casually sexist narrative is most damaging to the little girls watching. What ideas are WWE passing on to young female fans about the role of women within WWE; and thus, the world in general?
This is a far weaker match than the two have had before in this seemingly never-ending feud, and is punctuated with Rae’s shrieks, hair-flipping, and gesticulating. She slaps Rusev in the face which allows Dolph to hit the Zigzag; she goes for a fast count, and Ziggler gets the win. Rae makes an awkward romantic proposition to Ziggler after the match, and, hilariously, Ziggler responds “I don’t play those sort of games,”.
Luke Harper and Braun Strowman vs. The Prime Time Players
Fun Athletic Big Man Titus O’Neil squares off against Boring Lumbering Big Man Braun Strowman firstly here, and it’s an uninspiring clash of styles which doesn’t really make anyone come off well. Wrestling Braun Strowman seems more like throwing yourself repeatedly against a brick wall than facing a monster; and there’s a reason why there’s not a television market for the former activity. Relying on Darren Young to inject some energy and drama into this otherwise quite plodding encounter isn’t massively wise; and this match seems to expose the weaknesses in all its players, even usual safe pair of hands Luke Harper. There’s a lot of what I assume are miscommunications; weirdly timed-sells, people in the wrong positions, and the whole match feels like it’s in slow motion. Eventually Strowman scoops up Young for the choke-hold finish.
Charlotte vs. Alicia Fox
Alicia Fox has been overshadowed, both personality and wrestling-wise, during the recent months of development in the Divas’ division, and her few SD matches have been brief and disappointing. She’s on much better form here, and this is a totally competent sprint of a match, ending with a well-executed Figure Eight.
After the match, the Bellas grab Charlotte for a beatdown, but are interrupted by Paige running in and half-heartedly helping Becky clear out the Bellas. It looks like there might be some sort of plot development, or explanation, or interaction between the on-off-on again faction of PCB, but Charlotte’s music hits and everyone’s left in the ring looking bemused and raising their eyebrows at each other.
Moments later, PCB stumble across an injured Natalya backstage; the heavy-handed implication being that duplicitous, devious, Paige, swelling with motiveless malignancy, laid out Natalya before playing nice with Charlotte and Becky in the ring.
Dudley Boyz and Dean Ambrose vs. The New Day
The New Day emerge for another of their excellent, tightly choreographed, unison promos about everyone they’ve dominated. They have a knack for playing with their formula—never falling into Enzo and Cass levels of repetition, just spouting crowd-pleasing one-liners—but evolving and adding more quirky catchphrases. Here, Kofi explains that their philosophy is a type of geology: “because New Day Rocks.”
Dean Ambrose doesn’t have much to do with anything to be in this match, other than being a hometown hero, but sometimes that’s enough. In fact, everyone seems to be happy to be here; and I’d rather an energetic match by the New Day than a lazy, lethargic one by Roman Reigns any Thursday of the year. This is all great fun and so much more refreshing than the occasional 8 minutes of pointless time-killing that we occasionally get. The Dudleys are, dare I say it, even quite charismatic; Big E gets a chance to show off his power-moves on the veterans, Ambrose keeps on dropping elbows from the sky; and it’s generally very enjoyable chaos. Xavier breaks up a pin with his trombone for a DQ loss.
The trombone interference was charming and whimsical, but then Xavier goes on a rampage, battering the Dudleys with it. He’s caught a hit to the face and has a burgeoning nosebleed, which makes him look even more malicious, and his attitude gets nasty. Big E throws D-Von in Woods’ direction and he hits him with a trombone blow (no pun intended) so vicious that it bends the instrument out of shape.Then Woods drops a series of enziguris on Bubba Ray, til he falls, limp, to the mat.
Xavier’s had an important, but much less physical or threatening role in the New Day as their popularity has escalated: usually taking the role of ringside motivator and general trash-talker. Here, he looks genuinely hostile, a man driven by bloodthirsty aggression, and even spawns a few wary glances from Big E at the extent of his frenzied assault. Finally, Woods demands the tag titles be brought in the ring, and the New Day hold them aloft, eyebrows furrowed, as Ambrose still writhes agonisingly at ringside.