“I’m a little over a week away from putting an end to this so-called Divas’ Revolution…”
Charlotte and omnipresent overbearing predatory father Ric Flair open the show. The promo’s barely started before there’s a baffling statement to unpick. What is the Divas’ Revolution, as it exists within the remit of kayfabe? Regardless of any cynicism for its genuine real-life motivations or execution, it was presented as an opportunity for women to have better opportunities within the universe of WWE; to be treated with the respect that they deserve; to be acknowledged as equally talented to men and more time to showcase their skill. And Charlotte wants to put an end to that.
Is it that the definition of the Divas’ Revolution has just slowly nebulously shifted towards just meaning “Sasha and Becky being popular”, or is Charlotte’s character now that of one of those strange self-hating female men’s rights activists who thinks that society is sexist towards men? As she stands there wearing a belt that she must at least partially believe she gained through merit, that seems somewhat mind-boggling. Within five seconds of SmackDown being on air it’s hit two of the most egregious WWE writing problems: no one knows what words mean, and no one knows what motivates women.
The promo rapidly disintegrates into a fever dream nightmare where Charlotte claims that at WrestleMania the crowd will only be chanting one thing– what follows is the most grating and interminable sequence of Charlotte/Flair tandem “woo”s I’ve ever witnessed. It’s awesome that they’re both so convinced of fan support for Zack Ryder’s inclusion in the Intercontinental title match, but it doesn’t seem wholly relevant at this point.
Sasha Banks def. Charlotte
Banks in Boston is a treat, and she’s all the more gratefully received for putting an end to Charlotte’s weird noises and ramblings of internalised misogyny.
Sasha’s fun here: cocky and arrogant and full of disrespect, which I prefer infinitely to pouty, stroppy Sasha. She throws a chop on Charlotte’s chest which succeeds in getting the champ flustered; riled up. Charlotte waits til Sasha’s distracted and then scoops her up, cradling her around the neck and slamming her into the mat, over and over again, grunting and gasping with fury. For a brief second, Charlotte is Brock Lesnar, and Sasha is CM Punk. If Charlotte cut out theatrics, cartwheels, posing and strutting, and just used her immense size to flatten people, I would be far more enthusiastic about her matches.
Becky’s on commentary being not-very-good at rallying up support for her own scrappy babyface story. “Either I beat the best, or I’m beaten by the best! Either way, it’s a win-win! Being at WrestleMania at all is a win!” Come on Becky. If you don’t believe in yourself, how are we supposed to invest our hearts and minds in your victory?
This is a strong-ish match that refreshingly showcases the differences in wrestling styles between Charlotte and Banks: their different strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, Sasha’s gear here picks up the dubious honour of an early #worstdressed. Red, white and blue paisley? What is that? I miss the classic gold– it worked with her skin tone, and it suited her personality.
Charlotte drops a booming spinebuster and then hesitates too long in setting up the Figure Four. Sasha gets a roll-up win.
Sheamus def. Kofi Kingston
I never thought I’d be saying this, but maybe the New Day could do with a little less mic time. Regardless, if you can ignore the increasingly cringe-worthy “booty” mentions, this promo employs one of my favourite language techniques ever: the simile.
“If the League of Nations were an event, they would be…going to the DMV!” confides Xavier. “If they were a Star Wars character, they would be Jar Jar Binks!” adds Big E. The fact remains, though, that even similes can’t beat the pure unbridled ferocious friendship power of the international brutes. Firmly #teamlads here.
The Rusev vs Big E match exceeded expectations on RAW; both men casually flinging each other around with little regard for personal safety or reasonable limitations of physics. This one doesn’t have quite that level of drama, but spurred on by the infectious enthusiasm of ringside Rusev, Sheamus is hitting harder than ever, and Kofi’s head threatens to detach from its shoulders several times. Kingston rises to the occasion too, dropping devastating top-rope springboard double stomps on to the standing chest of Sheamus.
After a confused ringside distraction, Sheamus hits a Brogue for the win.
The Usos def. The Ascension
It’s probably little surprise how this match goes down, considering that the Ascension have been losing advantageous-handicap matches on house shows. This match is essentially a squash in terms of duration, but in practice it makes very little sense at all. The Ascension get 50 seconds work of heavy, aggressive offence. Then the Usos hit superkicks. The Usos win.
After the bell, the Usos pull out tables from under the ring and drape the limp, lifeless bodies of Konnor and Viktor over them. They drop stereo splashes and shatter the tables, leaving the Ascension in a heap of splinters and regret. In WWE, babyfaces “send a message” to their enemies by hurting other people not related to their feud. In WWE, some people are characters, and some people are just props.
Sami Zayn and Dolph Ziggler def. The Miz and Kevin Owens
Sometimes it’s beneficial to lean back in your chair and bask in how unexpectedly satisfying and surreal it would have felt to see this match on a card two years ago. To have heard it announced for SmackDown. 2016 is shaping up to be one of the weirdest and most exciting years for wrestling maybe ever, in terms of talent shifting and migrating; new hungry wrestlers taking the place of yesterday’s indie darlings.
I know it’s really damn cool that we’ve got Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens wrestling at Mania. I just wish that the onslaught of injuries would have given WWE creative decision-makers the confidence to book a singles match, rather than transparently dig deeper down the dregs of the roster to pull out Zack Ryder and Sin Cara to be thrust in a match clearly above their kayfabe skill level. That’s not a WrestleMania moment.
It’s interesting to watch Sami and Owens’ different attitudes to being in this match. Sami seems frustrated that these other men are getting in his way between him and his goal– both Owens and his belt. He’s taking everything with painful earnestness, typical Sami sincerity. He wrestles the Miz like his life depends on it, taking it down to the mat immediately for thrilling reversals and low, low armdrags. Owens, however, is keen for anything to distract and deflect from a confrontation with Sami. He’s yelling obnoxious things from the apron, avoiding tagging in. Whenever the camera catches his face though, he’s giving occasional worried sidelong glances at his former best friend across the ring.
Things break down between the Owens and Miz, which gives Sami a chance to unleash a barrage of frenetic opportunism, clutching Owens and forcing him into the ring with him. The assault is far too brief though, as Dolph tags himself in for a flurry, all flying peroxide-damage and coiled-spring knees.
A Blue Thunder Bomb on the Miz looks like it’s going to end the match, but Owens’ interference thwarts the attempt. Owens stomps off with his belt after this, but the unthreatening flank of the remaining participants of the IC match are waiting on the ramp to disrupt Owens’ exit. In the confusion, Sami gets his pin. Aside from the finish, an unlikely combination of gratifyingly good wrestling and burgeoning emotional storytelling right in the middle of SmackDown. Strange times.
Roman Reigns vs Bubba Ray Dudley (no contest)
This was set up previously in the show when Roman interrupts Bubba Ray squeakily insulting the Usos to top-knotted Renee. Roman’s not got enough on his plate, and being around Ambrose has evidently given him some of that foolish “more guts than brains” short-sightedness, so he aggressively asserts “Imma shut your mouth tonight!” He adds “I don’t want a match. I want a fight.”
I understand that they’re trying to reincarnate Roman as a badass, and as much as the imagery of his silhouette framed in the garage door when he assaulted Triple H on RAW was cool as hell and gave me tingles, I’m not convinced that this is the right tack for the babyface we’re supposed to cheer at Mania. He’s being presented as unlikable and unpleasant; violent and unhinged. You want to root for someone because they respect the institution of wrestling, not just because they think it’s a socially acceptable way to hurt people. There are enough scary, violent men in real life.
This match is declared a no contest before it even really begins, with the bell ringing frantically as soon as it becomes clear Roman isn’t going to stop slamming Bubba’s head against the announce table any time soon. Roman’s assertion that this would be a “fight” transpires to mean that he refuses to enter the ring, instead tossing Ray around at ringside; into tables; into barricades; punching him against the ring steps; methodically abusing him. When D-Von runs out for backup, Reigns dispatches him with Superman Punch, and ring steps to the face. “He’s an animal!” screams Byron. A spear ends the segment.
“Your spotlight is the size of a flashlight”
Kalisto and Ryback meet backstage in the most aggressively Freudian segment for a while, in which Ryback lists the ways in which he is larger than Kalisto, using increasingly more florid metaphors which become unambiguously phallic.
AJ Styles vs Tyler Breeze
The match that has been in my heart ever since the two briefly faced down in the Royal Rumble; this encounter is far briefer than it’s been granted on house shows in the last few months, but still enough to make me preemptively reach for the ventolin.
Tyler’s in his brown and gold velvet gear which if I was the sort of strange obsessive person who read hidden meanings into ring gear, I would view as a clear shot at erstwhile nemesis Hideo Itami. Byron recounts that Breeze told him that he was embarrassed for AJ Styles: “he has the name Styles, but he doesn’t have any.” Tyler Breeze is a precious gift and not-so-secretly the best character that WWE have ever nurtured.
This match is around two minutes of not-much, and seriously marred by Lawler doubling down on his rampant racism from last week, interrupting Ranallo when Styles mounts the turnbuckle to mumble “He’s going for the okey dokey artichokey again!” Lawler is actively trying to sabotage Ranallo calling the match. It’s hard not to descend into an incoherent mess of frustration as a WWE viewer sometimes. Springboard forearm finishes the match.
What with the match for control of RAW rapidly hurtling towards us in merely 10 days time, it feels like now would be a good time to muse on the future of SmackDown. Despite SmackDown continuing to improve in terms of interest and quality, it hasn’t been in the conversation. Shane doesn’t want it. The Undertaker doesn’t want it. Presumably Vince barely wants it either. So who ought to take the reins and grant us blue brand booking decisions post-Mania? I asked the people:
Who do you think should have control of SmackDown after WrestleMania?
— Ru (@ru_gunn) February 23, 2016
While the results present a firm draw, sadly the latest news regarding Daniel Bryan is that he has been pulled from upcoming events and the international tour due to “requesting time off”. As much as we all adore that bearded rapscallion and his contributions to SmackDown have invariably been beloved, if he needs peace at the moment then that leaves a clear Face Of SmackDown going forward. And that face is gorgeous.
“Ladies and gentlemen…this is your main event for the evening,”
It’s serious business when even SmackDown falls to the lengthy talking segment to finish the show. It’s something of a special occasion, because Heyman and Brock have graced us with their presence. Heyman is here to laboriously explain the concept of a street fight, and itemise the last few weeks’ worth of lethal toolkit Ambrose seems to have amassed from various old-timey wrestlers. As Heyman’s hysterical cadence escalates, he calls for Ambrose to confront Lesnar right here, right now.
Instead, the Wyatts respond. A disappointing outcome for all. In turn, however, this inspires the ire of Ambrose to run out and start frantically flailing his kendo stick. Brock throws an F5 on to Dean. He stands tall.
Ambrose’s collection of increasingly eccentric weapons has been a rather delightful feature of the build for his Mania match. Lots of people have got opinions about what the finishing touches to this arsenal ought to be, and who should bestow them upon Ambrose.
On the 2012 flagship show for wacky Japanese wrestling company DDT, DDT founder Sanshiro Takagi wrestled combat sports legend Minoru Suzuki in what was described as a Special Weapons Rumble Handicap match. Every few moments, a buzzer would sound and Takagi was granted a new contraption to implement in his struggle. At one point, the buzzer rang and legendary Japanese wrestler (and prolific artisan potter) Yoshiaki Fujiwara emerged. I think in terms of weapons to have on your side, you could do worse than to let Ambrose have Fujiwara.
Still, even with all these resources on his side, Takagi lost. And so will Ambrose.