By John Moore
Last week’s WWE Smackdown Live was more old than new as far as freshness and innovation is concerned. It looks like we’re taking the slow game and hopefully they slowly progress towards being on par with Raw, maybe even an alternative. The keys given the tools that they have at their disposal to make this vision a reality seem to be to slowly shift the production towards being different and another is to take a more simplistic approach towards storytelling.
The opening segment this week on Smackdown was really. The first positive came before the promo when the wrestlers entered the ring. I called for Smackdown doing vintage Smackdown things and they freshened vintage up. They brought back the sideways name plates with the added twist of adding some wrestler “facts” and stats. I joked that now everybody gets “Matt Hardy facts” but overall I see this as a positive. Why didn’t we see this last week? Maybe WWE did put the edict on Smackdown for one week to not outshine Raw with the “new era” thing? I don’t see that as likely, but I would like to see WWE make both Raw and Smackdown prime pro wrestling destinations.
-The meat of the opening promo between Dolph and Dean was solid. Dolph is still walking on thin ice as a character and they can easily blow it, but so far so good with their rebuild of Dolph Ziggler. This was a segment of self awareness for him as both Dean and Dolph addressed the major flaws in the Dolph Ziggler character throughout his entire career with Dolph focusing more on the show aspect as opposed to the sport aspect. Dolph even invoked a Spirit Squad self-reference, though it would have been fun if he referenced being a caddy to Chavo Guerrero Jr’s Kewin White.
Hopefully Ambrose is slowly shifting away from his zany mode and this simplistic promo had more flashes of the old Jon Moxley than “Ketchup and Mustard Cowboy” Dean. Bray Wyatt’s involvement was a surprise but an effective one, not a contrived one. If we have more promos like this down the road, I don’t think people would be complaining. It was simplistic, just like the NXT of 2015 was. Maybe we are starting to see the influence of former NXT head writer turned Smackdown head writer Ryan Ward on the main roster with innovative storytelling that takes steps back to move forward.
-Apollo Crews vs. Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto was good, but two of the competitors involved in that match really need storyline development similar to what they are doing with Ziggler right now. Kalisto is a bit tough, because he’s coming off a push where he didn’t look great from a promo perspective. He delivered the most generic luchador promos ever. It’s sucks when his best promo was him telling everyone to “Make a good Lucha Thing… Goddammit!” WWE didn’t do Kalisto any favors by trying to hide his weaknesses and it’s more on them for the failure of the Kalisto experiment. Meanwhile, Crews is another symbol of a generic hero. He just looks like a guy who’s happy to be there. The potential is there and the announcers made that obvious when they did mention that Apollo fights because of the struggles that his father went through in getting Apollo and his family out of poverty and struggle. NXT did this well on the onset of the Apollo push, but they even ditched it there and now we’re just left with generic Apollo.
-Even though we got two ditched women’s matches this week, at least the first one was done well. In fact, the current push of Eva Marie is one of my pro wrestling guilty pleasures. That entrance is amazing, dare I say beguiling. I do miss Corey Graves going into JBL mode for her because JBL going into JBL-mode just sucks these days. A cool little thing they did was in her Eva Marie “Facts”. It said she “won the 2013 Diva Search”. There was not a 2013 Diva Search, which makes this great! That was an awesome miss-fact. The real fear, of course, is that Eva simply is a danger in the ring and I was honestly fearful when she stepped in it. WWE did the simple thing of mitigating this fear in having her fake an injury. I don’t know why I’m becoming an “all red everything” fan? Is it because I’m on “Team Valor” on Pokémon go? No! This is just entertaining to a few and heat generating to the masses, it’s great.
-They followed up with a Carmella and Natalya segment. Well? They tried at least, but it’s going to take time with these two. Carmella is just doing a light version of the Enzo act which just draws accidental apathy from the crowd. Natalya is still trying to find herself as a heel. Both women are works in progress. I did like more of the self-deprecating references with Nattie referencing Bret Hart as the focal point of her gimmick.
-The Alpha match was good. It was an enhancement match and it’s always fun to watch Alpha. The poor tag teams being stuck in a tag team division without a title. Hopefully they intend to fix the tag and women division motives after SummerSlam.
-Smackdown did a good job hyping a talking segment for the top of the second hour with AJ Styles and John Cena having a verbal sparring match, even though it would have been better if the effort was given to physical sparring matches. Styles was in uber-heel mode on the microphone. He was a bit over cartoony. He’s not as nervous as he was in his early TNA days and his confidence is really shining through. It was similar to how Low Ki took a shot against TNA a few years ago on WWE TV. AJ’s shot against Nashville came off as a shot against TNA management. You can’t blame AJ since Dixie is a poster child for weak pro wrestling minds. AJ attacked the Cena fans and drew ample heat from it. This was good.
Cena was good on his end as well, albeit a bit too pandering to WWE at points. The best parts of his pandering promos are when he points out the kids in the crowd. When he points out the passion that people have in cheering and booing him. The eye-rolling parts are the rah-rah WWE parts. Like WWE is this cult that the world needs to subscribe to.
-From the Orton vs. The Dango match, we got a tune up match. We also found out that WWE cares about Smackdown for at least the moment since Brock Lesnar cared enough to show up on the blue show.
-The main event with Dolph Ziggler and Bray Wyatt was a really good match as well. I like the story of Dolph trying to reinvent himself and they were slowly building layers to Dolph by having him seek the exposed turnbuckle win. Even though I like how Dolph was putting his title shot on the line because he was trying to prove something to himself, I couldn’t help but feel like Dolph was a bit of an idiot for doing so especially since I believe he’s done this before as Mr. Money in the Bank.
-This was a better show than last week. Smackdown is still a work in progress but It’ll probably take some time for Smackdown to develop an identity for itself. There was better usage of the limited roster this week but there is still a need for more talent on the roster.
Additional Smackdown Notes
-Smackdown might find itself being the “WWE Character Rehab” show if that’s what I’m getting after this week. Ziggler is the primary subject of character rehabilitation this time. Maybe we see a similar thing with Bray Wyatt and even Shelton Benjamin down the road.
-My fantasy booking scenario for the Cena vs. AJ match at SummerSlam plays into Shinsuke Nakamura possibly picking up the NXT Title the night before at the Takeover special. AJ taking jabs at TNA made me think about this one. What if WWE is using this to somehow introduce Samoa Joe? I don’t want to see a TNA faction or invasion or anything like that, but I do like possibly finding a way to attach John Cena to Samoa Joe given how they trained at the same pro wrestling school. Down the road, you can break up AJ and Joe somehow.
-The Smackdown broadcast team are still trying to find a chemistry. JBL hasn’t been terrible, but his days on Raw have built him a bad reputation that might take time to wipe away. It’s tough to do that in a three man booth. Mauro Ranallo is Mauro Ranallo. He’s amazing! Enough said. David Otunga is still green as a color commentator, but I like how he’s not taking the overt heel approach and the way he brings logic to the broadcast team and even plays devil’s advocate for both sides of any argument.
MVP of the Night: Dolph Ziggler for showing some fire.
Dud of the Night: Carmella for not finding herself yet. She has it in her to be good. She just has to drop the abridged Enzo and Cass routine.
Name plate fact of the night: Eva Marie as the 2013 Divas Search winner.