Joseph Hegarty: Smackdown Review 2-08-13

Joseph Hegarty

[Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to be a traditional review of an episode of WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown, you can most likely find hundreds if not thousands of them across the internet so I see no purpose in retreading that same ground, instead this blog intends to use this week’s episode of Smackdown to inspire analysis of more general themes and issues in the professional wrestling industry.]

This week’s Smackdown began with the appearance of Alberto Del Rio to announce, in true John Cena style, (well except Cena wouldn’t be seen dead on Smackdown these days outside the Raw Rebound) his opponent for his World Heavyweight Championship defence at Summerslam: Brock Lesnar! No.. Booker T! Isn’t he a tease? No in fact it’s Ricardo Rodriguez, who saw that coming? Yep, Vickie Guerrero did too so she instead announced this week’s Smackdown main event, the quite scintillating match up of Randy Orton, Christian and Rob Van Dam, with the winner claiming a World Heavyweight Title shot at the WWE’s biggest event of the summer. As I wrote in last week’s blog, I see Alberto Del Rio carving out himself a niche where he’s not only booed by the kids but also the smarks, since he isn’t the likable cool heel that say Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry or CM Punk have performed as during the last year or so, albeit they have all recently turned face. Either that or he isn’t very talented (barring his in ring work), something I don’t fully believe. Anyway, his heelwork continued this week, heck he even made Vickie seem likable or at the very least respectable. If they managed to pull off a babyface turn for the heat machine that is Vickie Guerrero, would it be the most impressive turn in WWE history? Returning to Del Rio, due to the real lack of investment in his character from the fans it could be argued that his promo centering around a complaint that the fan’s don’t support him, takes on a whole other level of significance regarding generating heat throughout the fan base.

However Del Rio’s appearance wasn’t what most interested me the most in the first segment of Smackdown, instead it was a new face in the WWE, or more aptly an old face in a new role. Alex Riley, the ex-lackey of The Miz during his main event WWE title run, sat at the announce table next to the perennial Michael Cole. And you know what? He wasn’t bad. The former NXT series 2 contestant got his chance on commentary due to the absence of the regular heel colour commentator and ex-WWE champion John Bradshaw Layfield, who was away on his quest to climb the highest peaks of the seven continents of the world for charity. Surprisingly, considering the experience of the announce teams of both of the WWE’s major programmes this week, I found JBL’s absence much more obvious and lacking on the flagship show Monday Night Raw. I would put this down to a combination of the following three factors: firstly, it may be obvious but that makes it no less true that it’s harder to stay entertaining for three hours rather than just two. Secondly, he may be a legend in the wrestling business but in my eyes Jerry Lawler is very much passed his best; these days he seems to lack any passion for the programming that he is supposed to be presenting in its best form for the audience at home and he just seems completely out of touch. Pairing this up with the square (but talented) Michael Cole without the fresher and more dynamic JBL, and you have a rather uninspiring announce team who failed to engage me with the product. Thirdly, A-Ry proved to bring a somewhat refreshing and insightful approach to one of the most underappreciated aspects of a wrestling broadcast, the commentary. In an industry with such a history of transgenerational success, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Riley has a talent for presenting a sports broadcast with his father being a former ESPN sportscaster. With little experience of calling wrestling matches on television, it’s hard to say whether Riley will be a successful announcer in the future or not, but with his work on Smackdown being the first I’ve heard from him in this role, although he has been commentating on Superstars and NXT, I’m reasonably impressed. Time (and WWE’s utilization of him) will tell if he has a particular talent for the role or if I’ve found enjoyment from his performance largely to the freshness who brought compared to old hands like Lawler and Cole. It could also be pointed out that without JBL there was no heel to keep the commentary balanced and root for the bad guys, in turn putting over the babyfaces. However, A-Ry for the most part played a babyface role in work on Smackdown so in this way the presentation dynamic was no different to Raw. The difference between the presentation of Raw and Smackdown was that very fact that Riley was something even very slightly different compared to the monotony of the bland commentary on Raw. JBL offers a similar effect; he’s by no means brilliant but he breaks the status quo. Perhaps however it should be considered that much like Alberto Del Rio can be seen as an unentertaining but effective heel, an argument could be made for the possibility of Jerry Lawler being effective in what Vince McMahon wants in a commentator (I don’t claim to know what is good for the business of the WWE, only give my own personal insight and opinion of what I enjoy), effectively good at his job but nonetheless not entertaining or likable. The main problem here however is that as a face Lawler is supposed to be likable, Del Rio doesn’t suffer from the same problem. So in contrast to Del Rio I don’t think Jerry Lawler is good at his job in terms of entertaining me. He may however be good at his job of what we don’t see or hear on a WWE broadcast; listening to McMahon’s feedback on his headset and reacting to it delivering the presentation that his boss feels is needed for the product. Otherwise talented mic workers such as Mick Foley have failed to adapt to performing on the announce table to having McMahon (or other production staff) in his ear relaying the desired product direction. Therefore, if a man of the verbal talent and wrestling intelligence of Mick Foley cannot pull it off, I can understand how much of a challenging job it must be for Lawler (or any other commentator). However, from a viewer’s perspective the sooner he is removed from the announce table the better.

Smackdown continued with a recap of the feud so far between Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes, followed by a quick match pitting Rhodes versus Jack Swagger preceded by a Zeb Colter promo running down the people of Texas that was cut short by the former Intercontinental champion knocking the microphone out of Colter’s grasp before going after his charge. The match didn’t last long with its main aim seemingly to put over Cody’s technical wrestling ability, much like in his match against Wade Barrett on Raw, Rhodes countered his opponents powermove for the win. The sunset flip roll through pin out of Swagger’s gutwrench powerbomb wasn’t quite as aesthetically pleasing as his reversal of Barrett’s pumphandle slam into his Cross Rhodes finishing maneuver on Monday, but it was still a nice finish nonetheless. The narrative of the split of Team Rhodes Scholars continued after the match backstage where Josh Matthews was interviewing Cody, until Sandow interrupted them delivering a brutal looking beatdown on his former best friend. This was a relevant opening match for our new commentator, who offered some insight comparing his own experience carrying the briefcase of former Mr. Money in the Bank, The Miz, to Damien Sandow’s offer to Cody Rhodes to be his “keeper of the case”. Although his comments on this during the match didn’t quite make perfect sense, after the match he summarised his insight much more coherently.

During the next match, Sin Cara versus Big E Langston, Riley brought perhaps his most unique insight to table with his experience of the WWE’s developmental system. I found it refreshing for WWE commentary to acknowledge a part of their company that we rarely hear about on their television. Perhaps this sort of discussion wouldn’t be deemed entertaining enough for the flagship of Raw, but hearing of Riley’s experience of Langston in developmental improved the watching experience for myself. A-Ry offered similar knowledge of WWE wrestlers’ pasts in development during the night next matchup, a first time meeting between Fandango and CM Punk. As Riley’s time in the WWE developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling overlapped with both Langston and Fandango (then known as Johnny Curtis) he was able to offer knowledge and understanding of their characters and abilities that other commentators so far have not. Both these matches did their job in the ring, with the former being somewhat of a squash match to put over how successfully Langston could use his power game to combat the agility of his opponent, much like he will have to in any match against his current rival Dolph Ziggler, with the impressive finish of catching Sin Cara’s springboard moonsault and turning it into his Big Ending finishing maneuver. In fact well executed finishes is something all Smackdown’s matches of this week and last seem to have in common, with whoever is booking Smackdown (or perhaps the road agents) seemingly to connoisseurs of admittedly slightly spotty but pleasing on the eye finishes. The finish to the third match of the night being no exception with CM Punk’s beautiful float over Anaconda Vice from a top rope superplex.

AJ Lee and Kaitlyn continued to have the most engaging women’s feud in the WWE in a very long time, particularly with arguably some of the best WWE diva in ring action in the history of the company, although this match did not live up to the heights of their pay-per-view bouts at Money in the Bank and particularly Payback. Not that it needed to as the purpose of this match was to continue building the rivalry between AJ and Kaitlyn through the latter’s friend Layla turning on her and aligning herself with The Black Widow. It will be interesting to see where this betrayal leads to, perhaps a stable of dark haired heel divas led by undoubtedly the most over woman on the roster, AJ Lee, to build sympathy for the babyface character of Kaitlyn.

While this week’s Smackdown felt a little emptier than last week’s episode, the show really came alive during the final segment featuring the match of the night, pitting Randy Orton, Christian and Rob Van Dam facing off against each other to decide a number one contender for Alberto Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Championship. I’d recommend anyone reading this to watch this match if you haven’t already caught it, one of the better WWE television matches of recent memory. It felt well paced with some great spots highlighted for me by Randy Orton’s breathtaking reversal of RVD’s rolling thunder into his signature snap scoop powerslam. After numerous near falls the match finally finished with Christian reversing Orton’s RKO attempt into a backslide pinning combination for the three count. After the match, both Christian’s fellow competitors put him over with a nice show of respect shaking his hand, cementing him as a legitimate threat to Alberto Del Rio and his championship, before that very man rushed the ring and levelled his challenger with a superkick to finish the show. In general, this week’s episode of smackdown wasn’t quite as enjoyable as last week’s however this week’s main event eclipsed anything we saw on the previous week’s show, and for this reason I am tempted to hand this week’s Smackdown Superstar of the Week to Randy Orton for his crucial role in the execution of the main event but for the surprising nature of Alex Riley’s success at the announce table I shall award that accolade to him.

Until next week Smackdown fans, feel free to tweet me your opinions on this week’s blog @HelloHegarty.