Joseph Hegarty: Smackdown Views
One of the most important elements of this week’s Smackdown was in fact something that had already happened and indeed something that was shown on Friday night before Smackdown’s opening titles had even rolled. This was a recap of the main event happenings of the previous episode of Monday Night Raw and more importantly the Summerslam pay-per-view the night prior. Now don’t get me wrong, usually the WWE’s incessant practice of perpetually recapping previous action is a major gripe I have with its current presentation, but considering the magnitude of this week’s events on the stories that the WWE is telling, the action of this Friday’s WWE output was never going to live up to the big changes in the the sports entertainment landscape earlier in the week. That is not to say that the 23rd August episode of Smackdown lacked quality or did not further the general narrative, in fact for once the WWE’s headline feud (now that of Daniel Bryan versus the machine) featured on the B show in more than just the Raw Rebound recap segment. This week’s episode of Friday Night Smackdown began with general manager Vickie Guerrero in the ring cutting a promo firmly nailing her colours to the McMahon mast after a few weeks of ambiguity regarding her heel/babyface status due to her arguments with heel World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio. The self-professed Cougar then introduced the new WWE Champion Randy Orton to the Californian crowd, before shaking his hand and leaving. The Viper then delivered a hefty chunk of exposition and character work in a reasonably enjoyable fashion, getting under the skin of the fans in attendance by promising to be their role model and give them what they deserve. Seemingly the most important thing he told us in this promo was that he at least claims that he didn’t know Triple H was going to Pedigree Daniel Bryan after the latter’s victory over John Cena at Summerslam, he just made the most of the opportunity. However, the WWE’s Apex Predator is interrupted by the wrestler he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against this past Sunday night, who receives his usual raucous reception mainly consisting of “YES!” chants. Bryan classily (both kayfabe and otherwise) takes a moment, before turning to the subject of Orton, to thank John Cena for their match at Summerslam, particularly since he was wrestling through injury with a torn tricep. Bryan then brings the conversation back to the self-proclaimed new face of the WWE, claiming it’s already time for that face to change; cue “YES!” chants. He then went on to cut an amusing (although at one point a little close to homophobic) promo based around how “pretty” Randy Orton is, before taking a more serious tone claiming, “I am not tall and I’m certainly not pretty, but I can wrestle and I can beat you!”, announcing his attempt to enact his rematch clause on that very same night. However, Orton informed the challenger that he would have to wait until the WWE’s next pay-per-view, Night of Champions, before attempting an RKO which Bryan countered before kicking the champion out of the ring; Orton retreated down the entrance ramp to close the night’s first segment.
This segment reminded me of the days before the brand extension, where the WWE’s major narratives would often spread across the week’s programming rather than being confined to the flagship programme, Monday Night Raw. While, the days of the WWE being split into two distinct brands are now behind us, in recent years Smackdown has remained to rarely include continuation of the major feuds from Raw, which usually feature superstars such as The Rock, John Cena, Triple H, Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. Whether this is a one week thing to continue the momentum of Summerslam and the heel turns of Randy Orton and the McMahon family or a glimpse of the structure of future WWE programming, it seems symbolic of the changes WWE (presumably under the influence of Triple H) is making, seemingly returning to a style perhaps more comparable to the more distant past rather than that of recent years. This week seems like an announcement of change to the structural direction of the WWE to a mode more based on angles than the structure of feuds in recent memory has largely consisted of. Most major rivalries of the last few years in WWE have consisted of the following direction: “You are the champion, I want to be the champion! However I am the bad guy so I will cheat in my attempts to beat you.” and that’s about it. Recent feuds between Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, CM Punk and Brock Lesnar have had a degree of more creative direction than the above archetype. Additionally, while when it comes down to it the headline rivalry between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton is still built around the fact that Orton holds the championship that Bryan believes should be his, it is the angle that surrounds that foundation that makes it feel like a more creative angle rather than two guys having matches because they want to be champion. A change in the WWE landscapes seems to be taking place, which can mainly be seen through this increase in a more angle based narrative as well as an increase in more leftfield gimmicks, such as Fandango, the Wyatt Family and the soon to be redebuted team of Primo & Epico under the guise of matadors (a gimmick seemingly plucked straight out of the last millenium). It also seems this slight increase in gimmick based wrestlers isn’t about to stop, with the myriad of creative gimmicks featured on the WWE’s developmental television show NXT, ranging from a wrestling equivalent of Derek Zoolander to a mellowed out hippy, and much more. The Daniel Bryan versus the McMahon family machine (or the Corporation if you’re feeling a bit 1998) feud continued backstage with recent stooge of Vince McMahon himself, Wade Barrett, asking Guerrero for a match tonight with Bryan in which he could put the fan favourite on the shelf before he had the opportunity to have his rematch for the WWE championship; she agreed and booked the two competitors in a cage match in tonight’s main event.
The night’s entertainment continued with our first in ring contest, pitting the Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel against the recently moustacheless Cody Rhodes. The two third generation wrestlers had a decent outing highlighted by two pleasing maneuvers from Rhodes, a springboard dropkick and the same beautifully fluid sunset flip pinning combination from the corner that the son of a son of a plumber had used earlier in the week to knock off his rival Damien Sandow. However, it was his opponent Axel who would come out of this match with the victory, gaining an advantage after a distraction from his manager Paul Heyman, then hitting his new finisher, which unfortunately looks worse than either of the Rhodes maneuvers mentioned above; I personally think he’d be better just using the Perfect-Plex or a variation of it, or just any other move that isn’t this one… (that’s how unaesthetically pleasing it is). After the victory Paul Heyman got on the microphone and talked about the physical and emotional pain his former protege CM Punk had brought to him, he then handed the mic to his new client who challenges Punk to a match next Monday night on Raw. From this segment we can perhaps see another positive of a move to a more angle based product, with the heat created by the angle between Lesnar and Punk translating into a feud with Axel to not only make the third generation grappler a bigger star but to also restore some prestige to the Intercontinental Championship, with the threat of a true top tier star in CM Punk.
Next up was a contest between Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston for what seems like the umpteenth time. The match was preceded by a recap of the Show Off’s match on Raw which saw him up against The Shield for criticizing Triple H’s action at Summerslam in an interview on WWE.com; an angle I am much more interested in than a rivalry between Langston and Ziggler which has seemed to have disappointingly petered out recently. Friday’s match in this series started off with Langston blindsiding Ziggler before the bell had rung and impressively throwing him across the ring before the match was officially started. Big E showed some imposing powerhouse offence against Ziggler, although the highlight of the match consisted of a sequence where Ziggler got the upper hand: hitting a Stingeresque splash into the corner and following it up with a neckbreaker before going for a Fameasser that was countered into a powerbomb attempt by Langston, which Dolph countered himself into a falling facebuster. After some more back and forth action in which Big E almost hit his Big Ending finish, Ziggler managed squeeze out of the big man’s grip to hit the Zig Zag on his former tag team partner, defeating him for the second time in a week. While I appreciate both men’s work in the ring, I’m half-hoping this is the end of this feud at least in an independent capacity, although it could work as part of a larger angle involving the McMahon’s as was hinted at during this week’s Raw.
The next segment brought us back down to Smackdown’s bread and butter, a feud over the World Heavyweight Championship. In another rematch, we see the champion taking on the Canadian veteran Christian. While the match didn’t have the intensity of the big fight feel that their Summerslam match benefitted from, the two excellent workers produced an above average television match, featuring a couple of big bumps to the outside and some exciting high flying and technical offence from both competitors. They even managed to slip in a few spots that we haven’t seen in either of their two previous matchups of the past few weeks, most notably Del Rio’s rolling Cross Armbreaker variant out of the corner from the turnbuckle, which led to his victory. After the match, the champion declares how he knows all the fans want to be the next Alberto Del Rio, before informing them that they cannot because they are all peasants. However, the Mexican Aristocrat is interrupted by his former personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez who in turn announces his new charge Rob Van Dam, who he tells Del Rio, stands up for the people instead of looking down on them. Before Alberto can respond he is hit with a missile dropkick out of nowhere by Christian, RVD makes the most of this opening and runs down to the ring to hit the Rolling Thunder on Del Rio to end the segment.
Before the main event we see tag team wrestling comes to the fore with matches pitting the newly formed team of Mark Henry and the returning Big Show against all three members of 3MB (baby), as well as Darren Young of the the newly babyface turned Prime Time Players facing the Real Americans’ Jack Swagger, with their partners at ringside. The first match saw 3MB isolate Henry before he managed to take down Slater with an absolutely huge shoulder tackle that the former one man band sold to perfection. The World’s Strongest Man then managed to get to his partner for the hot tag before the match broke down into chaos with a chokeslam and a World Strongest Slams before Show hit Drew McIntyre with the WMD knock out punch for the win. Business then picked up when the WWE Tag Team Champions appeared on the titantron to take issue with the victorious team, claiming “A new era has dawned and the two of you need to go.” This promo saw Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns continue to evolve their gimmick into that of arrogant youth doubting the abilities of those who came before them. This slight change in direction as well as their new association with Triple H and the McMahon family should hopefully freshen themselves and US Champion Dean Ambrose up after their star had faded slightly over recent months. Next up, Cesaro and Young had a decent match with the very short time given to them (strange due to the appearance of a “From The Vault” match later in the broadcast); Cesaro showed great strength and agility before Young came back with a babyface flurry of offence featuring a belly-to-belly throw, a Northern Lights suplex and his Gut Check finish, pinning the former US Champion for the three count. I’ve heard complaints levelled at Darren Young’s sudden push after his coming out on TMZ last week, but NEWSFLASH this is the WWE, if someone gains mainstream exposure they push them to maximise that exposure (See Fandango prior to his injury or the Bella twins) and therefore benefit their business. Plus on top of that The Prime Time Players are much more natural babyfaces than heels; the fans love to yelp (or however else you’d describe that noise) along with Titus O’Neil and do the “Millions of Dollars” dance. Both these matches did what they needed to do, continuing to cement the teams into slightly newer roles.
And now Ladies and Gentlemen, your main event pitting Wade Barrett vs Daniel Bryan in a steel cage match. The match certainly delivered, edging out ADR and Christian’s earlier contest to claim the match of the night, with various unique uses of the cage by both men, with my personal highlight being a breathtaking sunset flip powerbomb by Bryan, while the two combatants were battling on the top rope near the corner, sending Barrett crashing down to the canvas below. Bryan then managed to decisively overcome the Barrett Barrage with the same KENTA-esque running single leg high knee that he won the WWE championship with on Sunday. Once again, cue a raucous “YES!” filled celebration, although once again a celebration cut short by Randy Orton, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere (most probably from under the ring) to deliver a hard RKO to Bryan on the outside. Bryan and Orton started and finished the show and it worked well to continue Bryan’s downtrodden run to fuel his underdog potential.
In issue 96 of Fighting Spirit Magazine, Michael Campbell discusses the positives and negatives of the history of the McMahon family’s on screen involvement, chiefly how they can create great television at times but at others prove detrimental to the development of non-established main event talent. There is always possibility for failure but so far into this most recent run of McMahon orientated television, the signs look very positive for the future in this angle (and indeed a more angle based structural approach to their programming) benefiting the whole roster, from The Shield and their challengers, lower/mid card wrestlers such as Wade Barrett, to upper mid card talent like Dolph Ziggler, right to the top in Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton,especially with the absence of overbooked stars such as John Cena and Sheamus due to injury.
Overall this week’s Smackdown, while not living up to the very high level of this week’s Summerslam and Raw shows, was a good show that benefitted from an underlying narrative based around the fallout from the new McMahon family angle. Unsurprisingly, Daniel Bryan is our Smackdown Superstar of the Week, performing well both on the microphone and in the ring.
Until next week Smackdown fans, feel free to tweet me your opinions on this week’s blog @HelloHegarty.