By Jason Powell
WWE Smackdown Hits
John Cena and AJ Styles: Strong and well delivered lines from both men, but I can’t say that Styles acting petulant and Cena dressing him down left me looking forward to their match any more than I was going in. I hope Styles is eventually allowed to play the role of a credible and revered champion minus some of the childish insecurity that the character often exhibits. I also hope this is the end of Cena talking about whether he could hang on the independent scene. How silly would it be if an elite MLB player who went straight from the rookie league to the big leagues because he was so talented had to argue about whether he could hang at the AAA level? Replace “independent scene” with “Japan” and it becomes a more realistic debate and plants the seeds for a Cena showdown match with Shinsuke Nakamura someday. While the promo segment certainly held my interest and made for good television, I also came away feeling like they were creating a personal issue rather than focussing on the WWE Championship. And I suspect this was by design, as if Cena was going to win on Sunday, they would be playing up the possibility of him tying Ric Flair’s record for most title reigns.
Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz in a lumberjack match for the Intercontinental Championship: Most lumberjack matches are pretty standard in terms of what happens outside the ring, but they did a better job than usual of working the lumberjacks into the match. For instance, I really liked the way the heels pulled Ambrose to ringside when he went for the Lunatic Lariat. The match outcome was suspenseful, as they’ve done such a great job of making Miz feel like a threat to win when he’s facing top wrestlers (even if he usually wins by cheating). It wasn’t all that long ago that an Ambrose vs. Miz result would have felt like a foregone conclusion, so this is a great example of how Miz went from pest heel to a real heel player since he was drafted to Smackdown.
Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper: An intriguing match given the dynamic of both men being Wyatt Family members. The various camera shots of Bray Wyatt reacting to the match were well done. The post match attack by Wyatt on Harper was easy to see coming, but what it actually means from a storyline standpoint is unclear. Did Wyatt side with Orton or was this “tough love” as JBL questioned. Could we see Erick Rowan return from surgery and team with Harper or replace him? The placement of Orton in the Wyatt Family hasn’t done much for me, but I look forward to seeing what the latest development leads to in the Rumble match.
Mickie James interview: The concern that fans would like James too much to root against her seems unfounded after two weeks, though we’ll see what happens once she gets in front of a die-hard crowd on Sunday at the Rumble. WWE certainly could have framed her return differently and made her a strong veteran babyface, but she was such a terrific heel in TNA that I’m all for her playing this role to start in WWE. It’s just a shame that the live crowd was caught up in “What?” mode because they missed some quality mic work.
Alexa Bliss and Naomi: Bliss continues to impress with her promos and great facial expressions. This segment created a reason for Naomi to be in the six-woman tag match on Sunday, and it may have also been the first step toward setting her up for a title match at Elimination Chamber.
WWE Smackdown Misses
Battle Royal: The one-time heroes of WWE Main Event had a battle royal for a spot in the Royal Rumble, and it concluded with a winner that only Rob Gronkowski could love. That said, the Rawley who speaks calmly on Talking Smack is a likable guy. I wish they would find a way to bring that version of him to Smackdown, as it was touching to hear him talk about how meaningful getting this spot is to him and his father.
James Ellsworth and Carmella skit: I want to love Ellsworth as much as I did when he was feuding with AJ Styles, but this was one of the campiest skits to appear on WWE television in a long time.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto: The match was fun while it lasted thanks to that cool kick from Kalisto, but it feels like they just breezed through the Ziggler vs. Kalisto feud in one quick and decisive match. It was surprising to see JBL stand up when Ziggler continued his attack after the match. It was one thing for JBL to come to the defense of his buddy Jerry Lawler last week, but the fact that he was upset by Ziggler again this week left me wondering where this is headed.