By Will Pruett
Many current and former wrestling writers focus on one thing when looking at how talent is presented: positioning. What is the promotion doing on the television show to demonstrate to all of us how big of a deal something is. I find looking at positioning to be a fascinating study of what promoters care about and what they’re prone to ignore. On Smackdown, we saw the highest of high positioning and the absolute lowest, all in one segment.
WWE finally gave us the major angle for Shane McMahon and A.J. Styles’ expected WrestleMania encounter. It involved Shane’s head, a roll up door, and a car window. It was a decent moment where Styles seemed to let his temper get the best of him and Shane played the late arriving commissioner getting torn to pieces rather well. This was presented as the biggest possible event on this episode of Smackdown. It didn’t just get replayed, but it was replayed over and over, plus analyzed with added angles.
Another anticipated event happened on this show, The Usos took on Smackdown Tag Team Champions American Alpha. If one were to glance back in time (or if they were in possession of a time turner), they’d see that American Alpha vs. The Usos seemed like the signature tag team feud for the Smackdown brand coming out of the draft. It didn’t happen right away, but some time was spent positioning both teams.
About a month ago, The Usos and American Alpha began the proper road toward this feud. Things seemed to be getting into high gear, with a couple weeks of “It’s not paranoia, it’s The Usos” speeches from the antagonists, but then both teams disappeared. For the last two weeks, The Usos and American Alpha were noticeably missing from Smackdown. Where had they gone?
This week, after Bray Wyatt gave himself the ol’ cremated ash rub down, we found out Alpha and The Usos would meet (without a word from the announcers). This match was positioned as nothing. It was positioned almost randomly. It wasn’t the anticipated showdown between the two best teams on the show, it was just a random match. It could have been any match. It could have been another Mojo Rawley match for no apparent reason.
Despite this being the best match the division had to offer, neither team was given any promo time. Neither team was given a chance to establish stakes. Neither team got to remind fans who they were after two weeks off of television.
This seemed fine, because once the match started, I was confident in The Usos and Alpha’s ability to capture my imagination. My confidence was misplaced, but not because the teams were bad. My confidence was misplaced because these four athletes never got the chance. Jimmy, Jay, Jason, and Chad were routinely interrupted by the excitement of a concussed and bleeding Shane McMahon wandering the backstage area.
Instead of a main event tag team match getting the chance to entertain the masses, we were told Shane McMahon’s stumbling was a bigger deal. Instead of four talented performers getting an opportunity to entertain, we got an authority figure slowly meandering. This was truly disappointing.
I know Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles is the biggest Smackdown match at WrestleMania (Let’s not pretend anyone cares about Randy’s weird viper analogies or Bray’s dead body facial). I know the positioning of this match is important. I don’t have an issue with it being the most important thing on the show. I just wonder if the Smackdown Tag Team Champions and the biggest match in the Smackdown tag division needed to be downplayed in such an extreme way to demonstrate it.
Positioning is key and this wasn’t just Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles being positioned as the top program, it the was downplaying (to almost nothing) of the already struggling Smackdown tag team division.
And now for some random thoughts:
– This was, overall, an awkward show. It felt far longer than the two hours allotted and nothing seemed to flow. It was a disjointed series of matches and segments presented in seemingly random order. This didn’t resemble the Smackdown we were seeing just two months ago. It seems like interference in the normal Smackdown storytelling process has happened. I’d guess it’s the big boss (Vince McMahon) getting more involved during WrestleMania season and not letting the skilled story-tellers on Smackdown tell their stories. Then again, I’m just guessing. It could just be bad stories.
– What the actual swear word is up with Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton? Wyatt decided to smear the ashes of Abigail (a body exhumed by Randy Orton two weeks ago, then burned) all over himself. Why? Abigail is now the spawn of satan as well? This is all too much. This is just absurd. I sat on my couch laughing at this entire segment. Wyatt isn’t a character that inspires fear and now he just seems to weirdly festishize ash baths.
– Randy Orton is settling into his standard role of uninspiring babyface. “If you can’t beat ‘em, screw ‘em” is one the weakest lines I’ve ever heard WWE’s writers try to get fans excited about. With the repetition of it this week, one has to wonder if there will be awkward t-shirts with the phrase. Will WWE roll out some truly cringe-worthy merch that most people will somehow think is referencing genitalia?
– One highlight of this awkward episode was the Miz and Maryse Miz TV segment along with the John Cena and Nikki Bella. This was a nice verbal exchange leading into their match at WrestleMania. It left me more excited for this mixed tag many have mixed feelings about. Daniel Bryan positioning this as his revenge on The Miz also delighted me.
– Daniel Bryan calling WrestleMania “The Ultimate Face Punching Extravaganza” was great. Anyone calling WrestleMania “The Ultimate Thrill Ride” makes me want to die inside.
– I honestly believe John Cena proposing to Nikki Bella after their match at WrestleMania would be one of the greatest moments in WrestleMania history. I’ll basically be that human in a red shirt crying after Elizabeth reunited with Randy Savage, but at home. I hope and pray we aren’t robbed of this by Cena’s desire to never get married again.
– Alternately, I will hate John Cena with a passion should he not propose to Nikki. Damn it, John, your time is up, Nikki’s time is now.
– The randomness of Smackdown’s women’s division was on display here with Alexa Bliss losing to Mickie James and Becky Lynch defeating Natalya. Bliss and James having a match here felt weird. James returned to back of Bliss. Fans didn’t know who to cheer, so they were silent. It was awkward. Natalya and Lynch didn’t have this issue.
– Smackdown continues to give the women on the show a significant chunk of time. This is good. The WrestleMania story disappoints me because it’s not a story, but a lazy excuse to throw everyone together.
– Mojo Rawley sure does stay hyped. Dolph Ziggler sure does fail to inspire any emotions inside me.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features the WWE Survivor Series audio review co-hosted by Jake Barnett. Normally exclusive to ProWrestling.net Members, Jason and Jake discuss the full show including Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler vs. Bayley in a non-title match, Brock Lesnar vs. Rey Mysterio in a No Holds Barred match for the WWE Championship, "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Universal Title, and more...