I’mma be straight with you right at the start: This was the first episode of WWE television I have watched live in literal years. As noted previously, I maintain my love of WWE with a steady diet of watching Pay-Per-Views and Network Specials ONLY. It’s better for everyone that way. I read the day-after Raw and Smackdown reviews and see how upsetting everything sounds. Who needs that in their life?
That said, I did manage to watch tonight. Between wanting to kick off my new site that launched on the same day with some actual new content, finding out I have access to stream Fox live, and being genuinely curious because years of Fantasy Football have taught me that “draft” is, like, my fifth favorite word in the English language… it seemed like a good bet.
So… my first Smackdown experience in years. What did I think? Let’s break it down:
Smackdown opens with shots of the Thunderdome, a structure that Michael Cole refers to as “visually pleasing”, and… okay. Those are some words you can use, Michael. That dorky turn of phrase aside, I’m going to say I actually still find The Thunderdome underrated and undervalued. In the current environment, I think it’s a damn good idea, and a lot more appealing than the cardboard cut-outs that sports teams are putting in arenas for their piped-in cheers. I think people get so used to bagging on WWE, that this hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.
From there, we get Stephanie McMahon clad in… some kind of black faux-denim number? I do not believe this was visually pleasing, but Michael Cole didn’t alert me, so how will I know? Being that I have watched so little Raw and Smackdown, I’m not as tired of Steph as many others, but… it would have been nice to have two opposing sides making the picks and bickering like the old days. When Stephanie tells us the “Raw” picks someone… what does that mean? Who is “Raw”? Has Monday Night Raw become self-aware? Is WWE going full Skynet?
Anyway, the picks:
RAW SELECTS: Drew McIntyre
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Roman Reigns
RAW SELECTS: Asuka
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Seth Rollins
RAW SELECTS: The Hurt Business
REACTION: Underwhelming. Obviously you can’t wholesale swap both rosters because then you just have the same two shows but on opposite nights, but ONLY Seth changed programs here. Without knowing who he has to work with yet, it’s hard to judge much, but given both are main event talents, could we see some mini-Shield tag team action as heels? (And yes, I know, I’m a mark who still cares about Shield reunions).
MATCH ONE: SHEAMUS VS BIG E (FALLS COUNT ANYWHERE)
I LOVE FALLS COUNT ANYWHERE! It’s one of my absolute favorite stipulations. Maybe only The Royal Rumble or multi-man ladder matches surpass it in my eyes. Why bother fighting all throughout an arena if you just have to drag your foe back to the ring? How tedious! Pin him in the snow!
Question, though: Why are Falls Count Anywhere matches inherently also No Disqualification? Shouldn’t that be an additional stipulation? Why not “You Can Pin Him Anywhere, But It Must Be Within The Boundaries Of Fair Play”?
Anyway, E and Sheamus killed it here. This was a PPV quality match on free TV between two guys just putting each other through hell. If you told me this was the best match on TV in quite a while, I might be disappointed, but I could also see why that might say more about this match than the others.
Fun fact: Catering just has flour and eggs lying around in case the wrestlers need to… bake a cake? “Well, I have 20 minutes before my match tonight; better get these cookies started”. Weird.
Whatever. Loved this match. The first round of the draft was a flop, but I was all the way invested in this show again.
After the match, the New Day reunited! Xavier Woods is back! I am excited but also scared there will be a heel turn by the end of the night.
There is then a promo spot between Jey Uso and Roman Reigns. It turns out their Hell In A Cell match is going to be the first ever HIAC I Quit match. Curious! Thoughts:
-Well, is it TOO obvious that the ending is going to be Roman threatening to destroy Jimmy Uso, leading to Jey having to quit to save him?
-Roman as this Godfather type character is working for me, but he showed he’s still not stellar at scripted work, as the first several moments of his promo felt so stunted. He got into it by the end, though, and I was engaged.
It was then time for MORE DRAFT PICKS!
RAW SELECTS: AJ Styles
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Sasha Banks
RAW SELECTS: Naomi
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Bianca Belair
RAW SELECTS: Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax
REACTION: AJ moving was foreseeable based on the rumors about him and Heyman. Naomi had nothing to do on Smackdown, so the change of scenery might be good for her. Bianca is the most intriguing pull here, as she was Main Event (the show, not the match status) fodder on Raw. She could be Main Event (the women’s match status, not the show) fodder on Smackdown. God willing.
MATCH 2: MATT RIDDLE AND JEFF HARDY VS THE MIZ AND JOHN MORRISON
This was a quick nothing match to give Riddle and Jeff a W over the continually floundering Miz and Morrison, who deserve SO MUCH BETTER. Anyway, this was just an extended angle to reintroduce Lars Sullivan. Lars Sullivan and Matt Riddle being in the same ring reminds me that Velveteen Dream is still prominent on NXT, and why is WWE still using all of these unsavory people? I’m all for forgiveness, but Riddle and Dream’s problems seem far from resolved, and Lars… has he issued much in the way of remorse for his past? I know WWE issued some statements for him, but I don’t remember seeing much from him (but I might have missed it, so feel free to correct me).
RAW SELECTS: Ricochet
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Jey Uso
RAW SELECTS: Mandy Rose
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Rey and Dominick Mysterio
RAW SELECTS: The Miz and John Morrison
REACTION: Oh god, the Seth Rollins/Mysterio family angle continues. It’s things like this that make the draft feel irrelevant. You’re just moving a drawn-out feud from one show to the other; that’s not “landscape altering”. I was promised altered landscaping!
MATCH 3: SASHA BANKS VS BAYLEY
Yeah, this had the obvious quick DQ ending we all knew it was going to. Who cares? You can telegraph results like that and still have it work. Sasha’s work here made a LOT of sense. She was fierce and fiery (none of that WWE “I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE YOU, so let’s do a lock-up to start”), but she was also going for a lot of quick pitfalls on crucifixes and roll-ups. It plays into the narrative that Sasha isn’t 100% and may hate Bayley, but knows the best way to enact revenge is to win quick and take the belt.
These two are so good at storytelling.
The result here is a surprise to no one: Bayley will defend her Smackdown title against Sasha in Hell In A Cell. Because Sasha is bound and determined to win one of those matches some day! Bet she fails again.
MATCH 4: NEW DAY (WOODS & KOFI) VS CESARO AND SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
UpUpDownDown’s #DaParty EXPLODES as Cesaro and Woods start off! Taking that UpUpDownDown vs LeftRightLeftRight rivalry into the ring!
(You know… it’s entirely possible I watch too much YouTube)
Xavier Woods lost his pointy-toe boots in his triumphant return to Smackdown, and how weird is is that I spent the opening minutes of this match looking for THAT? #BringBackThePointyBoots
The match was nowhere near as good as these teams are capable off, but I guess WWE gave us our fill of PPV quality matches with Big E vs Sheamus.
Damn… I forgot how crisp and high quality Xavier Woods is in the ring. It’s SO GOOD to have him back. If he was about two inches taller, man…
Kofi and Woods win the SMACKDOWN Tag Team Titles, which is weird because…
RAW SELECTS: Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Big E
RAW SELECTS: Dana Brooke
SMACKDOWN SELECTS: Otis
RAW SELECTS: Angel Garza
So… I know the WWE and Universal Titles have swapped brands in recent history, but those aren’t bound to a show by their name. The New Day are now the Smackdown Tag Team champs, but are going to Raw. Presumably they could drop the belts in a week or so (or even at Hell In A Cell), but if they don’t… will Raw have the Smackdown Tag Team Titles? I have to admit… I kind of want to live in that world.
Additionally, WWE found a way to dissolve the New Day without resorting to what would have been an unbuyable heel turn from any of them. They obviously have big things in mind for Big E, but what will Kofi and Woods do as just a team? And, wow, Kofimania feels like a decade ago already, doesn’t it?
Also… that Otis pick! There is no mention of Tucker. So there are a few things in play here:
-First, Tucker will end up on Raw, thereby signaling the end of his relevance as he becomes a Jobber To The Stars.
-Secondly, Tucker could just end up on Smackdown later and WHATEVER.
-Thirdly, Tucker could end up on Smackdown later (maybe as a free agent after the draft) and turn on Otis because he has become an afterthought who wasn’t even considered worth drafting.
Obviously, only one of these is worth doing. Otherwise this mysterious pick is pointless. Stay tuned!
Speak of the devils, we cut to Otis and Tucker practicing their legalese when they get interrupted by a notice of their trial getting a continuance. Fine.
MATCH 5: KEVIN OWENS VS THE FIEND
I can somehow find it in me to care about The Fiend as long as he isn’t involved in a title picture. But is Bray Wyatt one of the biggest cases of character quality to in-ring quality disconnect in history? He’s an A+ character, but, like, a D worker. Owens, meanwhile (who I would rate as an A vs. A- in those regards; he’s snazzy) does his level best, but Fiend matches are so… something. They just don’t connect with me. Oh look, he no-sold three straight super kicks. Who does he think he is, Johnny Gargano?
The Fiend wins clean because even I agree he should have, and like I said… KO worked hard to get an engaging match out of him, even when Fiend couldn’t get up properly for a Pop-Up Powerbomb through a table. It was fun, but is more about the story, with these two hopefully ending up on the same brand after Monday. Fiend and Aleister Black could make friends; I’m here for that, WWE.
And that was it. I’ll tell you what, it was a pretty breezy show. It didn’t feel the two hours that it ran (to me, at least), and I enjoyed it. There were some curious draft selections to balance out the plethora of picks that were of no note whatsoever. Big E vs Sheamus was a genuinely great match, and the matches after it were pretty much storyline builders, which is all TV matches need to be sometimes.
Either these shows aren’t as bad as I’ve been told over the last few years, or I came back on a good night!
(Or I’m a hopelessly optimistic sucker, which is also a possibility)