Another week…in wrestling: SMACKDOWN, August 31, 2016
Smackdown was very good overall. It is becoming increasing clear that there are certain elements making SDLive the more interesting production than RAW, week in and week out. Although RAW’s eventful conclusion may have been more exciting than anyone moment on Tuesday’s show. Smackdown’s production was more consistently interesting throughout.
Daniel Bryan and Renee Young
Bryan has Renee have been a huge source of joy brought on when watching Smackdown and of course, the related Talking Smack. They are both very credible in the enthusiasm they bring to whatever they are talking about and into interactions with anyone they work with. It is easy to believe in their characters and can often forget there is a distinction between their pro wrestling roles and actual personas.
Bryan and Shane talking Talking Smack
This quick opening segment was evidence of the above with Bryan calmly and believably bringing us back to the amazing verbal throw down between him and The Miz on last week’s much buzzed about Talking Smack. It also showed a much needed distinction between SD and RAW, often promised but little seen, when Shane reprimanded Bryan for getting in The Miz’s face. It’s a marked direction from what you associate with Stephanie who is all about management being overbearing and hostile to its talent. There was also a hint of dissent between Shane and Bryan, nothing overblown, subtle enough to be realistic and lead to some interesting shading to the show down the line.
Heath Slater and Rhyno, Home on the range
I liked this weird pre taped segment in the home of Slater and his trailer trash wife’s home for the most part. It was a bit overly stereotypical at times and I didn’t care for the level of crudeness they had to resort to. But then you had Rhyno adding this hilarious and simple element to it all by just sitting there eating and decorating chips, near oblivious to the others. Subtle humor on the part of elected official that I would not have imagined possible when he reprised his role as the master of the GORE on NXT. And then there was Renee, excellent at playing straight man, err woman, and bearing the silliness of it all without breaking out of serious journalist mode once.
Slater and Rhyno VS The Headbangers
With the unlikely assistance of some former wrestlers from back in the Attitude Era who were never all that interesting, in my opinion, Slater and Rhyno managed to capture this lightning in a bottle momentum of two guys forming an unlikely team to win a tournament, become the first NXT tag team champions and get Slater a WWE contract. Here the big impact move of a Gore had a perfect place to end the match. There was also the awkward appearance of blood, stranger still for its occurrence the same way Lesnar drew it from Randy Orton in their infamous Summer Slam match; with a sharp elbow to the temple. It was almost too reminiscent to be coincidence. But whatever led to it, it helped take the unlikely team that much more seriously in their quest. Which is always more compelling than WWE’s desired goal to position talent to be ridiculed.
The Booking: AJ Styles VS Apollo Crews; Dean Ambrose VS Baron Corbinn
These matches were fine for the most part, but what was most pleasing was this simple, easy to watch formula of booking that I’ve long wanted to see on RAW and Smackdown. Take your top program wrestlers, have them face wrestlers lower on the card, and put together matches that a) assert the dominance of those at the top and b) give a shine to the lower card combatants for their valiant effort or devious tactics or what have you. Interest in the upcoming collision between top guys (or gals) increases as their momentum builds, yet they’ve been kept apart so it will be something new (unlike, say, Rusev and Reigns having a 15 + minute match days before being booked for a match at Summer Slam). Of course veering off the course is needed at times to keep things lively, with say tag team encounters, interview face offs, etc but this is a good solid way to build a show. As far as the mid card guys getting over, Crews hit an incredible Moonsault off the apron to Styles on the floor, high and in a narrow space. His character really needs some pizzazz to get people’s attention, even if it’s just a flashier look. I can see giving him a hot streak of wins against jobbers, not unlike with Strowman and Nia Jax over on RAW, helping considerably. Corbinn did not seem quite as interesting. He continues to be unlikable but his physique is a bit too noticeably loose in my opinion. He should bulk up that physique to credibly come off as the monster he is being pushed as.
The BAD (or just OK)
Shane, (please) not vs Lesnar
A leftover note from the week before, it was not great that Shane claimed his business with Brock Lesnar is ‘far from over’ only a bit after Orton cut his promo on Lesnar and expressed hopes for a rematch. It was not illogical and they did not do much with it this week so it is safe to say for now that Shane’s angle with Lesnar is not getting blown out of proportion. But Shane’s claim overshadowed Orton’s and put his contention with Lesnar on the same level as the Viper’s, which should not be the case. Something should have been done to make it clear the true intrigue in ring is between Orton and Lesnar. Shane should at this point be in NON-WRESTLER status and it should be made a bit clearer that he would not dare enter into physical combat with Lesnar, and that his course of action should be based in the legal or business sphere.
The Miz and Dolph Ziggler, and then…they talked
The interaction between these two on the mic was OK, nothing terrible. But it was a bit of a disappointing follow up to the volatile confrontation between The Miz and Bryan on Talking Smack the week before. On the one hand, it is credible and a marked difference from RAW to have Bryan and The Miz kept apart for professional reasons. But things could have been a lot more heated and compelling if Bryan and The Miz did meet in the ring again, if the apology they spoke of (was that it right there in the opening segment??) was delivered in person with The Miz not buying it. Ziggler’s challenge to the Miz made sense and will hopefully be a step along the road to a character change, the needed catalayst perhaps. This would make it worthwhile instead of Ziggler continue to languish in a losing role. Ziggler’s rationale for the Miz to fight also did not make that much sense and would have been easy for him to counter, but he remained silent. Perhaps it pays off with The Miz attacking Ziggler next week; something to keep Miz a dislikeable character with that edge he presented the week before.
AJ Styles, gosh golly
Let’s be clear right away, AJ is good. AJ is GREAT. But I am mentioning him here because he is getting a tad to hokey in his demeanor. A bit of cartoonish bragging and aloofness is OK, but what rocketed AJ to this spot is his amazing wrestling. He also summoned a serious fire in his promos when challenging Cena, and should keep that element in play to go along with the in ring excellence.
The ending of Ambrose VS Corbin with AJ interfering…awww nuts!
As stated above, I loathe the idea of Styles becoming a silly character. So seeing him reacting to being crotched with the exaggerated moaning and groaning did not make for that potential intense build toward their match at Payback. Ambrose’s reaction, giving him a little condescending handshake, while different than the norm and maybe even some improvising on Dean’s part, took me right out of the scene as well. Here is a threat to your title reign, interfering in your match and trying to do you harm; a harder strike back was called for, even if was just dismissively pushing Styles to the floor.
How to follow up the previous episode’s viral momentum? It would be unrealistic to think they should try to do something more intense so I didn’t mind the more mellow scene at all. But instead of staying mostly in character, as it seemed was the case the week before with the Miz and also Carmella, who just flat out rushed the set and attacked Nikki Bella, the talent this time came off much more like their actual selves commenting on their wrestling personas. Not always but sometimes. But it was far from terrible, more like a good weird. There was still building on the stories on the show taking place, like Rhyno and Slater discussing their aspirations to win the tag team championship tournament. But their unscripted conversation led to real life tidbits leaking in, making for an interesting mix of in character and real life on display. The same goes for Styles coming out, overselling the crotch situation, but getting into less heel-ish details of his goals, such as taking on celebrity status and doing charity appearances. This might have seemed like it would not meshed well with his kayfabe villain but in this setting it was fine. Bryan’s being there and being genuinely interested and experienced in many facets of wrestling also led to talk of wrestling outside (gasp) the WWE. The respect Renee and Bryan have for their roles, again, makes for such easy enjoyable viewing, and so when Bryan talks up the matches on the upcoming Payback special, the enthusiasm feels genuine. And it does carry over to us, the viewers.
The WHAT IF…
The hostility between Bryan and The Miz was allowed to continue. Bryan apologizes, but maintains his criticisms. He declares that although he cannot step back in the ring and bring prestige to the Intercontinental Championship title, he can find the best talent in the world to do just that. A battery of challengers is unrolled, not unlike Cena’s US Championship challenge, but an unwilling one with a heel persona doing he defending. It leads to a special where the surprised challenger is Samoa Joe. The very legit shoot style capable wrestler takes to the ring, decimates the Miz and rides the momentum of fan appreciation for new call ups. Perhaps this could shift after a little while with Joe reprising his role as a monster, and goes on to a hot undefeated streak.
What do you think? Questions, comments, criticisms…bring it.