It’s been a crazy, long week of wrestling. TLC over-delivered, RAW shocked the world, then on Tuesday, I ill-advisedly roadtripped (on a school night!) to Wales to see NXT Cardiff. With my heart still full of conflicted emotions regarding how much I love Sami Zayn versus how much I hate his new haircut, SmackDown felt a little less urgent than it might have done. Then I saw how enthusiastic new blue-brand commentator Mauro Ranallo was for a fresh start for SmackDown; new perspectives; a new voice. He really believes in us, you know? I think we can do this. Let’s limp through the remaining Thursdays of 2015 together, stalwart SmackDowners.
In case you missed it, Reigns had a change of attitude on Monday that captured the imaginations of the Philadelphia crowd and even the diehard cynics of Wrestling Twitter. All the heavy-hitters of the Authority confronted Reigns, but he overcame the odds, and now he’s a champ on the run. A triumphant hero, balanced on a house of cards.
“There’ll be repercussions on Monday. But does this look like Monday?”
SmackDown is a place to decompress from the stresses of a Monday. If RAW is a trip to a theme park, SmackDown is when you visit your grandparents the next weekend and explain how much fun you had at the theme park. You have some videos you took, of your favourite rides. You have to speak quite loud and over-explain things, because they’re getting on a bit. I was losing faith in this analogy right up until Roman said “I speared Triple H!” and Jerry Lawler shrieked “OOOH YES HE DID!” and I realised that Jerry Lawler is the grandad and the metaphor works perfectly.
Roman is determined to undo all of my last 9 month’s worth of hard work of trying to convince people that things happen on SmackDown; that anything here matters at all. “This is SmackDown, baby! Let’s have fun!” he grins broadly. Why would the Authority wait til RAW to rain down consequences? Roman Reigns is acting like SmackDown is filmed in secret, in people’s garages, invite only. In that case, why even bother to maintain any sort of appearances? Turn up in jeans. Hug the heels. Have a dance-off.
“You have upset a lot of important, powerful people.”
Sheamus is here, flush with fake outrage. He’s here to announce, in his roundabout, Irish, rambly sort of manner, that the Authority have launched a “formal investigation” (???), which means Roman is banned from wrestling: nay, the very building! Shouldn’t someone ought to have informed Roman this before he arrived? Roman’s not leaving, of course, because who needs rules or threats when you have big muscles and great hair? In response, Sheamus summons an army of anonymous-looking security gents, who seem to be available in great surplus backstage at WWE: like unexploded pyro and waterbutts.
Roman dispatches the security guys (spot your favourite local indie guys and Wrestle-1 superstars!) like so many binbags, flinging them off him like they were tiny puppies accosting him at the dog shelter. With that obstacle thwarted, Reigns proudly raises his belt, and stares down a furious Sheamus.
Alberto Del Rio vs Ryback
Del Rio impressed at TLC, managing to drag a really quite enjoyable match out of Swagger in one of the most underwhelming stipulations of all time (the “chairs match”, where ringside is set up with seating for ghosts, presumably). Ryback retained his tough guy status by passing out in the Accolade rather than tapping; it’s unclear where that places him on Tough Guy hierarchy, exactly.
There’s not a great deal to enjoy here, even with your most optimistic outlook. Ryback makes ADR’s offence seem weird, jarring; I find myself wishing it was Tyler Breeze selling Berto’s kicks to the back of the knees, instead. Ryback is wrestling like he’s an over-stuffed armchair, absorbing the kicks, rather than reacting to them like an ordinary human. At one point Ryback drops what looks suspiciously like a sort of lackadaisical missile dropkick, but it’s hard to tell, because the camera is glued to Ryback’s boots and can’t zoom out.
The highlight of this match is a really unexpectedly beautiful German Suplex from Del Rio into a perfect, gorgeous bridge, that comes so out of nowhere and looks so smooth it makes all the hairs on my arms stand up on end. After this, Del Rio gets into that really grumpy mode that he usually saves for matches with Sin Cara, where he’s frustratedly stomping and huffing around the ring and kicking Ryback for real now. The match is just getting interesting when the League of Nations’ music hits, which is so incredibly grandiose that it’s hard not to giggle. The distraction allows Del Rio to lock in the Cross Armbreaker for the win.
Titus O’Neil vs Tyler Breeze
Breeze is sporting cherry pink faux-fur trim with burberry backstage, and it oughtn’t to work: but I know when to defer to a more informed opinion on these matters, so that’s a sweep of the #bestdressed award for Tyler right there. Summer Rae postulates that after this match, Titus will need his “millions of dollars” for reconstructive surgery. Graphic. The long errant Goldust then interrupts this dressing-room heart-to-heart to creep around Breeze and make disconcerting noises. More here as this story develops.
Summer Rae’s in her VIP area and she represents all women when she shrieks “DON’T TALK TO ME!” at Jerry Lawler; a stance it’s impossible to feel anything but sympathy for. Lawler quips “some women play hard to get, she plays hard to get rid of.” Those are the two types of women. Objects of sexual desire and wanton harpies. Sometimes it’s a Venn diagram.
This isn’t much of anything in-ring, apart from Breeze making Titus look immensely impressive, hair whiplashing back out of its bun with every chop that O’Neil throws. Goldust saunters out from the stage to plonk himself next to Summer in her VIP area, and helps himself to some of her grapes. His disruptiveness continues as he takes the fur-clad selfie stick hostage and starts some photographic shenanigans. This understandably upsetting diversion draws Breeze’s attention to ringside, which gets him suckered into a Clash of the Titus.
Lucha Dragons vs New Day
The weird “olive branch” segment on RAW illustrated that it’s not okay to celebrate your accomplishments, and any sort of pride ought to be knocked down a peg or two. Thankfully, their draconian beatdown on Monday hasn’t dampened the spirits of the New Day, who emerge here as exuberant as ever. It occurs to me; as Kofi waves a poster of their faces with a rainbow background; as Xavier sports a unicorn horn; and Big E sensually gyrates his hips; that while the New Day’s playful flamboyance has always been part of their act, they drifted into Gay Icon territory so slowly that no one really noticed. It wasn’t just one thing.
Big E yells “that man doesn’t have a face!” as Sin Cara leaps into Xavier at the beginning of this match and I have to take a few moments to compose myself. This match is completely overshadowed by Big E urging Booker T to read out a pre-prepared list of nicknames for the New Day, all of them alliterative, in loosely alphabetical order, including the Pastors of Prance, the Tutors of Titillation, and the Gesticulators of Jive. Booker delivers them all, at great length, with a patient kind of avuncular tolerance.
Unfortunately, any Dragons match that doesn’t involve a Salida Del Sol off a ladder is going to feel a little bit lacklustre til the TLC memories fade. It’s a fun backdrop to the far more interesting ringside antics of Big E, with lots of frantic action, and it ends when Kalisto throws himself over the New Day taunting on the apron, allowing him to roll up Kofi for the win.
Becky Lynch vs Brie Bella
Fresh from the NXT live experience: where women are allowed different personalities and motivations, and aren’t defined by the feudal system of being the property of their father, it’s hard to go back to main roster WWE women’s wrestling.
“I just love to see Divas disagree with each other! I just love it!” Lawler cackles.
When asked to elaborate: “Because it means they’re showing their true colours!”
Things’ll be better when Ranallo gets here. I hope. Please.
This match goes all of a couple of seconds, until a “wait for interruption” hold gets locked in. Charlotte’s music hits and she marches down to ringside to interfere. Charlotte sweeps Brie’s leg from ringside, which allows an opening for Lynch to lock in the Dis-Arm-Her.
Dolph Ziggler vs Kevin Owens
With both the active ex-Shield brothers champions now, they seem to have been freed from their endless purgatory of being trapped in the SmackDown main event. I’m conflicted about this, because there was always a certain level of guaranteed enjoyment from having Reigns or Ambrose around, but this does mean that fresh faces get that coveted SmackDown guaranteed-screwy-finish main event space.
Owens’ mind is still on his lost Intercontinental Championship, but if he has to wrestle his way through Ziggler, so be it: as he says with chilling, deadpan, Quebec twang, “I’m not stopping til I put Dolph in a hospital.” There’s so much potential for Ambrose and Owens to be a really compelling, human feud. It hasn’t been, quite yet.
Without the crutch of being able to abandon the match with his title, Owens has a newfound urgency which becomes him: especially when the narrative here is that Ziggler is just body, an obstacle between him and his prize. He tosses him around, viciously kicking him when he’s down, dragging him up by the hair, not giving him a second’s space. I’m not quite sure what got Ziggler in this predicament or what he has to gain by winning this match, but he wrestles like his life depends on it too: luring Owens to the barricade, create space wherever he can. He tries to hit his superkick but Owens barely ever lets them be a leg’s width apart. He’s body-to-body.
When Ziggler gets a chance to flip out of a suplex attempt, he wriggles into frantic roll-up attempts, without a moment of hesitation. He throws clotheslines, trying to move too fast for Kevin to scoop him into a headlock again. When he get Owens grounded, Ziggler throws his jumping elbow drops, but with a height and decisiveness we haven’t seen for a long time. If he was trying to penetrate Owens’ ribs and crush his heart with these elbows, this would be a fairly efficient way to do it. When he’s finished, Ziggler is wheezing asthmatically; Owens is crumpled and dazed. This match has an anger and aggression to it so far away from Ambrose’s lazy killing-time rebound lariats and Roman’s mid-match mat naps. There’s a fury here.
Owens pushes it too far, but it’s believable. The ref calls for a DQ when Owens throws Ziggler into the announce table one time too many. Dean runs in with his belt flapping wildly in his fist to join in the brawl with Owens.
A gift of a main event. ***¾
Final Thoughts: This was shaping up to be a Nothing SmackDown until the last half an hour where a great, violent, main event made me sit up and pay attention.