By Will Pruett
I was lucky enough to attend this week’s Smackdown at the Honda Center, so these thoughts are straight out of section 209.
– Attending wrestling shows is one of the most enjoyable things I get to do as a writer for this site. I’m continuously grateful for the privilege and ability to do so. No matter how good or bad a show is, it’s better experienced live.
– I got into the arena with little trouble yesterday, having walked over from a local brewery instead of parking at Honda Center. I was surprised by the lack of crowds around the place. The parking lot seemed emptier than I expected, as did the security line and concessions lines.
– Inside, most of the upper deck was closed, aside from the area directly across from the hard camera. Seating was sparsely populated on the floor on the same side as the hard camera.
– This brings up one of the many challenges of attending a WWE TV show on the West Coast: It starts around 4:45pm. One has to take a half day at work or school to make it to the arena.
– After a fun comedy dark match featuring Heath Slater and Rhyno beating Tyler Breeze and Fandango, Smackdown itself started.
– The crowd was more enthusiastic about Bray Wyatt than I expected. It felt like Wyatt’s adoration from live crowds diminished in the last couple of years. To me, he was just another guy. This crowd greeted him as a conquering hero, proving my internal narrative about him wrong.
– Speaking of being greeted like a hero, I love experiencing the entrance of John Cena live. People love Cena and love to hate him. At this point, I don’t believe anyone is angry at Cena and I can’t believe anyone thinks of him as truly undeserving. Much like chanting “You suck” with Kurt Angle’s music, the “John Cena sucks” song is merely a way of greeting Cena. Whenever Cena is present, there is an extra level of intensity in a crowd. It’s a wonderful thing to see.
– Seeing AJ Styles, John Cena, and Bray Wyatt in the ring was interesting. To me, all three seem like protagonists/babyfaces. This is a major issue for Smackdown. Wyatt isn’t trying to garner heat. Cena is John Cena. Styles does the best job at being an antagonist, but he’s far too skilled. People love him because he’s skilled. He will be greeted as a hero because he’s very good at wrestling. How does WWE combat this? Who could be a lead antagonist on Smackdown when Styles abdicates this role?
– Daniel Bryan is terrific.
– American Alpha vs. The Ascension was certainly a match that happened. Smackdown hasn’t developed who Chad Gable and Jason Jordan are, and because of that, people don’t care when they’re in the ring. The writing team for Smackdown needs to find a way to make people care about American Alpha and they need to do so soon.
– A feud with The Usos is a nice start for making people care about American Alpha, but it can’t just be The Usos showing personality. Let us see Gable and Jordan react to challenges and grow because of them.
– Why exactly did an explosion happen just before Dean Ambrose’s body hit some of the WWE production road boxes? Is everything in the arena rigged to explode at the slightest touch? This worried me. Was my beer suddenly going to explode if I drank it? I DID NOT ORDER AN EXPLODING BEER!
– Nikki Bella and Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere match could be great fun. Their effort on Sunday was good and I’d expect them to have an even better/more exciting walking brawl through the arena.
– Dolph Ziggler is an older relative’s facebook feed complaining about those damn millennials. It’s ineffective.
– Mickie James and Becky Lynch had a better match on Smackdown than they did at Elimination Chamber. They also had a better crowd response. I didn’t mind their Chamber effort, but this was great to see.
– Also, it’s just great to see Mickie James live again! She’s great.
– It was weird to see Naomi not get to make a triumphant entrance on TV after winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship. When Naomi limped to the ring, I was really worried. Was she about to forfeit the title? Was the story I had been imagining where she has to overcome obstacle after obstacle to achieve her WrestleMania dream about to be ruined?
– Thankfully, it seems like Naomi will be able to defend her title. I assume WWE would have had her forfeit it here had she been super seriously injured.
– Alexa Bliss is an awesome character. She seems completely fully formed and she seems to know her character well. This is important when she’s standing across from someone like Naomi. I like Naomi, but hope she has some defining moments along the way to Mania.
– Smackdown seems to have an easier time defining their antagonists. This is generally true of wrestling. It’s easier to make people hate you than love you.
– Time during Smackdown flew by. I was surprised when Wyatt, Cena, and Styles made their entrances for the main event.
– The surprise attack from Luke Harper on Bray Wyatt was great. It gave us all a chance to revel in the goodness of John Cena and AJ Styles one-on-one. It made viewers think the WWE Championship was actually in jeopardy of changing hands. It gave me a reason to sit forward in my seat hang on every moment of the action. It also further developed the story of Luke Harper. Wasn’t he reluctant to do anything to Wyatt when he teamed with Cena against Orton and Wyatt?
– The closing four minutes of Wyatt vs. Cena vs. Styles were a really fun sprint. I’m surprised to see Cena lose clean again to Wyatt, but it does help make Wyatt look stronger.
– The end of Smackdown was confusing from where I was sitting. I couldn’t quite make out what Orton was saying, let alone interpret it. Now, knowing the story, I get it. Randy Orton seeming to forgo his WWE Championship shot feels like the last part of the intricate (and very coincidentally planned) deception Orton is committing. This feels like him just waiting for the ring moment to strike.
– Randy Orton’s video wall says “In His Veins” and I have no idea what that means. What is in Randy Orton’s veins? Should I be concerned? What do his veins have to do with anything anyways?
– It feels like WWE is going to go the Triple Threat route at WrestleMania now with Harper vs. Orton vs. Wyatt. I enjoy Harper getting a marquee slot and feel like he deserves it. I don’t love how little winning the Royal Rumble seems to mean. I also don’t love how low this match will likely be on the WrestleMania card (both in importance and in when it happens).
– Guys, I also watched 205 Live live (that’s challenging to say), so have some bonus thoughts!
– A friend of mine who was in the arena (shout out to Mike, who I went to high school with and saw for the first time in like a decade last night) had no idea 205 Live would be happening. WWE needs to do a better job at educating their audience about this show.
– The changeover from Smackdown to 205 Live was impressive. The guy taping the ropes to make them purple is a true artist.
– There was a mass exodus of people as Smackdown ended, then the exodus settled during 205 Live. It became a slow trickle as people lost interest. It was sad to see talented wrestlers losing the interest of so many fans.
– Rich Swann is a delight.
– Gran Metalik was awesome live. His match against “The Man That Personality Forgot” Drew Gulak was great. Introducing Metalik’s flashy style in a squash was necessary. I hope WWE can tall some compelling stories on this show now with both Tozawa and Metalik finally around.
– I really enjoyed Neville vs. TJ Perkins, but it should be noted how little those around me cared about it. This match seemed to re-trigger a mass exodus. People who didn’t know this show would be taped were confused. WWE did a poor job running down how the night would go from the beginning and it almost feels like a surprise bonus show, but with wrestlers people care about less. I want 205 Live to be good, but as long as it is taped in front of the Smackdown crowd after Smackdown ends, it won’t be. I’m not sure what the solution to this is (that isn’t just having more massive Full Sail tapings in front of that less-than-delightful crowd), but WWE needs to find one.
– The show concluded for live fans with The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose in a fun dark match that mostly featured Miz singing to Maryse for Valentine’s Day.
– All things considered, this was a pretty fun way to spend a Tuesday night.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.