Preview: The only thing more unpalatable than turkey mascots interrupting matches is Sheamus as WWEWHC. Tonight we have shades of WrestleMania 29, Big E in an apron, an awesome ICC Number 1 Contenders match, and much more.
As a Brit; as a vegetarian; and as someone with a blanket moral objection to festivities based around colonialism and genocide, I find Thanksgiving entirely baffling, and it’s one of the few exceptions to my wholehearted support for seasonal wrestling gimmicks. Thanksgiving-themed wrestling sits uneasily with me, with its obsession with eating to excess, turkey mascots, and troubling imperialist apologism.
Regardless, with the requisite social justice disclaimer out there to set the tone: SmackDown is here, Sheamus is champ, everything is terrible, and we’ve got a job to do!
“This was just a dream… until this past Sunday.”
Broken hero Roman Reigns opens the show, still favouring the long way round to the ring; through crowds of gleeful detractors and the occasional sympathetic, pitying face. Is it perhaps poignant that despite all the accusations of being fast-tracked to stardom, being favoured by the company, Reigns steadfastly refuses to ever take a literal shortcut? Despite being heavily armoured, muscular and handsome as always, Reigns’ confidence looks thinner than tissue paper here, less substantial than the heap of confetti he cried in on Sunday.
Roman tries to open with a human, identifiable anecdote from his youth. About him and his Uso cousins scrapping over the family house, breaking coffee tables, getting told off. About the young ne’er do wells finding joy in wrestling on the trampoline. Something which should be endearing; charming. Somehow, Roman’s never excelled at these sorts of stories: no matter how from the heart they may really be (and I suspect that’s not very), they feel thrust upon him, awkward, strained. Still, I’d take a whole Roman Reigns Storytime Hour over being hit with the interrupting My Holiday In Ireland Tron video that signals Sheamus is about to unwelcomely invite himself into this segment.
“You need to get over this, fella! I’ve been in elevators longer than you were champion!”
Sheamus has some quips about the length of time that Roman was champion at Survivor Series before being robbed of his title. Sheamus makes the length of the reign 5 minutes 15 seconds by his count, and then drops a few statistics about things you could do in that length of time. Most interestingly, he claims: “If I started reading a book when you became champion, I wouldn’t even have finished the first page by the time your reign ended!”. This statement intrigued me, so out of interest, I took an average book: Dubliners by James Joyce (for a bit of cultural relevance) in this instance. I counted the words on the first page: 286. Apparently the average reader can read 300 words per minute. So has Sheamus really revealed that he reads at less than 20% of the speed of an average person? Does this snide aside perhaps reveal more about our new champ than it does about disgraced star Roman?
Sheamus recaps Survivor Series at some more great length, getting increasingly hysterical, shrieking “basking in adulation” in a manner that really needs subtitles. Roman eventually tries to bait Sheamus down to the ring, but notorious slow-reader Sheamus is actually a little smarter than that, and isn’t rising to it. Roman resigns himself to my least favourite form of expository promo: the one in which he gives play-by-play as to what he intends to do at the next PPV. Very few people are any good at this sort of speech, but Reigns pointing to a chair and explaining “First, I’m gonna fold this baby up and break ya back with it!” is the least menacing thing I’ve ever heard. Believe that.
The Dudley Boyz vs Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman
In the VOW Survivor Series preview, I asked a lot of confused questions about where the Wyatts are supposed to go after facing the Brothers of Destruction. Either they end up looking like impotent idiots, or they have no one to fight and nothing left to do. Turns out that both of these things came true! Are the Wyatts just unbookable?
“Tonight on SmackDown, the Wyatts are gonna taste some Dudley wood!” spews Bubba Ray, angrily. I search his face for signs of any kind of flinch, any sort of unconscious glimmer of embarrassment. Nothing. The man’s a machine.
This is a match full of grunting and grasping and headlocks, and though it’s well under five minutes, it feels like an eternity. The Dudleys retrieve a table from under the ring, because they have a pathological obsession with furniture that WWE are refusing to confront with the psychological help that’s so desperately needed; yet somehow it’s the Wyatts who force the DQ when Harper boots D-Von in the face.
Paige vs Becky Lynch
The main roster has been throwing these hotly anticipated NXT-school women’s matches at us with little in the way of hype or aplomb this week. Becky gets her proper entrance here, with the spurting smoke, and starts this match by throwing armdrags with the confidence of someone who knows she only has four minutes to impress. Paige has got less and less endearing over the last few weeks of on-off heel, and that has less to do with dead-brother-heat and more to do with the fact that her character can’t keep up. She yells on the apron but there’s no conviction. She says bitchy, unpleasant things– but there’s no proper malice, no deep hatred to underpin it. Her wrestling is irrational, never seeming to focus on what would actually inflict pain or damage.
Becky Lynch is a flurry of showcase offence here, giving a better performance than we’ve seen in a women’s match on SmackDown for months; but Paige slows it down, getting her in a stretch, milking it for ages, screeching. Why does Paige hate Becky, anyway? Is it jealousy? It’s usually jealousy, when it comes to Divas booking.
By the end of this match Lynch has lost all love for life. She attempts a Dis-arm-er with no sort of self-assurance, and then just falls back, like a kitten off the couch, and lets herself be rolled up.
“Welcome to the first annual New Day Potluck Dinner!”
One of the best things in wrestling (I’m not even caveating that with “my favourite”, like I usually do. This is objective) is heel stables being friends, and Team BAD being besties with the New Day is no exception. This is a flourishing relationship mostly only seen on instagram up until this point, and even the most cynical of herbivores would find it hard to resent these pals in a room decorated with Thanksgiving-themed stencils, enthusing about what they’re thankful for. Big E looks marvellously natural in a pink apron and chef’s hat (#bestdressed), and he starts a rousing “Thanks For Us” clap chant which Sasha & co adorably join in with.
Heath Slater turns up with a dish he calls “Slater’s Slop”, and then sinister anti-party Adam Rose turns up with rabbit stew (too many unanswered questions here. We really need a Main Event reviewer). Just as Big E is on the verge of a full blown meltdown at these uninvited guests with their inedible meals, he turns around to the materialisation of the Ascension, who claim they’ve brought “desperation and destruction” to the potluck event.
Xavier turns up belatedly, clad in the infamous Gobbledy Gooker costume, and rightly asserts that we should forget about the 25th anniversary of the Undertaker in light of a much more important birthday.
Jack Swagger vs Alberto Del Rio
Shades of WrestleMania 29! Del Rio is here, with a body looking like it was sculpted from butterscotch Angel Delight, to face down-on-his-luck stubbly Swaggs.
Zeb accuses Swagger of “blind American loyalty”, which is so mind-boggling and meta on like three different levels that I can’t even begin to unpick it. I used all my research budget for this review on the reading-speed exercise.
Swagger’s not angry, he’s just hurt: and the thing that’s upsetting him most is the betrayal from Zeb. It sucks to not be someone’s favourite any more. To be loyal to the end, and then impotent to stop your mentor, your father figure, from deflecting to patron of a more athletic foreign protege. Jack stalks towards Zeb, unreadable, but ADR hits him with the steel chair rather than let Colter be in risk. Swagger beats Del Rio down with the chair after the DQ.
The Lucha Dragons vs The New Day
The New Day’s entrance here has to be seen to be believed: Xavier in full turkey attire with the trombone in tow, Big E still in his apron (with the belt fastened over the top of it), Kofi just looking fantastically happy to be here. It’s almost the wrong side of over-the-top wacky, but I think the New Day are just about holding it together with their earnest enthusiasm.
This has some solid wrestling; Kalisto dropping a beautiful Sin Cara-assisted Senton; Kofi throwing smooth headscissor takedowns with the greatest of ease. Even when the Gobbledy Gooker starts (literally) shaking his tail-feathers on the apron, Sin Cara regains composure for a Tope that sends Big E crashing into the announce table. Kalisto massively impresses in the last sequence, executing a corkscrew elbow into a rapidly following spike rana on poor Kofi; but when Kofi tries to get a pin with the ropes as leverage, the Gobbledy Gooker bashes his legs out of the way! This distraction allows Kalisto to get the win with the Salida del Sol.
What happens next IS rather the wrong side of wacky for my personal tastes, as Jimmy Uso emerges blasting an air horn and escorting a trussed-up duct-taped Xavier Woods wearing only his boxer shorts. Not exactly stellar babyface work. Of course, Jey transpires to be in the turkey costume all along. The Dragons and the Usos beat down the New Day to much mirth from the commentary table.
Dean Ambrose vs Tyler Breeze vs Dolph Ziggler (Number One Contenders match for the Intercontinental Title)
I don’t require an awful lot of backstory to completely buy into a character’s motivations for wanting something; really just the bare minimum that makes sense within the already established universe and I will happily roll with it. Breeze explains via selfie-cam that he wants the Intercontinental title because it’s the “ultimate accessory” for his wardrobe, and you know what? Fair enough. That’s a valid reason.
Dean Ambrose looks like a man who hasn’t washed his hair in months; at least in the Shield he got a guaranteed pre-match dousing alongside his brothers-in-arms. Dean has some thoughts about luck. “Luck is winning the lottery, and I never made a buck off a scratchcard,” he spits at Renee before this match; bitter, hopeless, lowest-ebb Ambrose is my favourite sort of Ambrose.
Kevin Owens is on commentary here, and manages to nail it more perfectly than the people whose job it is. One of the first things he says when he’s settled in his chair is “I almost fell asleep with my eyes open as you were talking, because I couldn’t care less, Jerry! Let’s talk about me?”. He easily aligns himself with the other heel in the match: “Tyler’s biding his time, I respect that”; then “Tyler and me are both gorgeous. Me and Dolph have nothing in common”; while throwing scathing irrational insults to the babyfaces.
This match is AWESOME. It’s a wild ride, start to finish, with all three men throwing their energy into making this feel urgent. It feels like an even battle, with everyone getting a chance to shine. The Ambrose and Ziggler segments are a particular joy, with Dean seemingly grabbing every superkick with ease, forcing Ziggler to rethink. A highlight is the “Breeze sandwich”, where Ziggler and Ambrose throw concurrent clotheslines from opposite sides of the ring to both crash into hapless Tyler from opposite directions. You could remove a man’s head that way.
Tyler sells Dean’s jabs and chops like they’re literally dizzying him, forcing him to recoil, keeping him suspended in the air with the sheer force of impact– making the swift recovery into a Supermodel Kick even more impressive. Tyler breaks up a ZigZag pin on Dean which I almost thought was it: then Ziggler and Breeze trade smooth rollups back and forth, reversing at 2.999 each time. The finish happens when Tyler staggers out of Ziggler’s grasp only to run straight into a Dirty Deeds; bam, Dean gets the clean win.
Make an effort to catch this match, if you can!
The show ends with Dean staring down Owens, neither man flinching, the tension electric, big grins on both of their faces.
Final Thoughts: 5 matches on this card; three ended with DQ or interference, one with a roll up. Still, the main event was very worth watching, and the New Day tag match (before the finish) was good too. A cute, seasonal episode that was an easy watch.