So much of last week’s SmackDown Live was in service of this week’s show in Las Vegas. Not unlike the seemingly arbitrarily named “Wild Card Finals” from last year, there was the sense that Tuesday’s show would feel special. Not only did WWE schedule three championship matches for the night, it also promised an appearance from Mr. McMahon, the first time he’s been on SmackDown in four years. It’s a lot to promise, especially when your show is actively suppressing anything to do with the WWE Championship in an attempt to distract people from how atrocious it all is, but for the most part, SmackDown Live delivers while in Sin City.
The Kevin Owens Show is here
SmackDown Live sets itself up nicely by using a simple structure for this week’s show. There’s a framing device that allows Owens to both open and close the show, pushing him even higher on the card and in the eyes of the fans, if that’s even possible considering the tremendous work he’s been doing ever since…well, ever since he came to NXT if we’re being honest. Framing the show that way achieves two important things: it teases what’s to come later in the night while also making sure that the night gets off to a hot start. Normally I love when WWE’s shows start with a match, but having Owens in the ring talking about how he’s going to change SmackDown Live when he’s the boss is the perfect way to get the crowd going, and to signal to everyone that this week’s show is, as advertised, more polished than the last.
So, it’s no secret that Owens has been doing incredible work, and it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that New Day and The Usos put on yet another classic later in the night. But that doesn’t mean SmackDown Live is without its issues. In fact, much of what’s bookmarked within the two Owens segments falls somewhere between “good with some problems” and “why did I just watch that?”
I prefer Dog Ziggler to this mess
Falling firmly into the “why did I just watch that?” category is whatever the hell is going on with Dolph Ziggler. Last week he was clowning on the entrances of John Cena, Macho Man, and Naomi, and now he’s doing the same with Bayley and The Ultimate Warrior. I have one question: why?
Okay, I have two questions: why is this happening, and what is it supposed to accomplish? I legitimately don’t understand what the angle’s supposed to be. I mean, Ziggler is getting some heat, but mostly because folks are bored. So far, this Dolph repackage is an empty, toothless shtick masquerading as some sort of deeper comment on the commercialization of the business, like this industry hasn’t long been a home for the weirdos and the most colourful characters.
Jinder Mahal makes poop jokes (seriously)
As bad as Ziggler’s lengthy, rejected-by-SNL sketch is, it’s nothing compared to Jinder Mahal making poop jokes while holding the WWE Championship above his head. We’ve (again) reached peak absurdity with Jinder and his run as WWE Champion. We’re at the point where he finally doesn’t cut the exact same promo…and instead shows pictures of Shinsuke Nakamura making weird faces, using the stills to tell his Hell In A Cell opponent that he looks constipated. Oh, and he makes a Godzilla joke because, you know, why not?
What’s worse is that the promo is structured in a way so that Jinder can have his cake and eat it too. When Mahal begins walking back the comments, suggesting that he only said them to exemplify what American audiences think of Nakamura, it exposes just how little thought is going into this feud, and really anything Jinder Mahal is doing at this point. In essence, WWE wants Jinder to get heat off of the juvenile, borderline racist remarks while also allowing him to hedge his bets and put the blame on the American audience. Everything about Jinder’s reign is tainted with storytelling that embraces the worst kind of nationalistic rhetoric and imagery, and there’s seemingly no end in sight.
An Open Challenge not worthy of the name
Falling more into the category of “good but with problems” is the United States Open Challenge that sees Tye Dillinger face off against AJ Styles for the United States Championship. It’s a decent enough match with one hell of a false finish when Baron Corbin gets involved, but I fail to see how it does much for anyone involved. It’s essentially a longer version of the match Dillinger had with Styles last week, including Tye tapping out to the Calf Crusher. The spirit of the Open Challenge is in putting over new, unfamiliar, or stagnating talent, and that’s not the case with the Perfect Ten in this match.
The Usos and New Day can do no wrong
Now, if you’re looking for an example of how to build off of previous matches while finding a way to make everyone look like a million bucks, look no further than the Sin City Street Fight between New Day and The Usos. Not only is the match violent and exquisitely paced—seriously, the way their matches build in momentum as the match time rolls on is a thing of beauty—it’s also a perfect encapsulation of everything that’s happened in their feud so far. The finish, where Kofi stops the Usos from hitting the double Frog Splash, calls back to their SummerSlam match while also changing the formula, and therefore the outcome. This is a perfect example of a match gimmick being used to enhance and deepen a feud, making sure that both New Day and The Usos continue to push the envelope and keeps things feeling fresh.
Vince McMahon, still taking bumps, still problematic
That takes us to the final segment of the night, and it’s one that I have some complicated feelings about. On the one hand, it’s pretty clear that this McMahon(s)-Owens angle is scorching hot. It’s a spot that Owens deserves, and he’s truly in command of every turn the story takes. He has the crowd and the story in the palm of his hand, and it’s beautiful to watch. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel icky about the alignments. I mean, Vince McMahon is out here talking about how he’s a billionaire who can do whatever the hell he wants without any consequence (legal or in the eyes of the people), and he’s being cheered by an arena full of paying customers.
What happened to the days of The Authority being bad? Why are we supposed to feel sympathy for the guy who believes his money gives him unchecked power, especially when you consider the current political climate? And if we’re really going to go deep on this, how can an arena full of people boo Roman Reigns on Monday night and then turn around and cheer the man who anointed him the new Golden Boy of WWE?
Yes, I know that Mr. McMahon is a nostalgia act at this point. Yes, I know that Mr. McMahon is a character that must be separated from the real Vince McMahon. But I just can’t do it. Owens should be Stone Cold Steve Austin in this angle, and yet the face-heel alignments aren’t there.
Let me be clear: I have all the faith in both Owens and Shane McMahon putting on a great Hell in a Cell match, and it’s beyond encouraging to see Owens considered so highly within WWE. From a storytelling perspective though, there’s much to be desired, and I’m hoping that by the time Hell in a Cell is in the books, we’ll have a better understanding of where everyone stands in this feud.
- Owens’ first order of business when he takes over SmackDown Live is to fire Sami Zayn. That’s even before Shane McMahon. He hates him so much, and it’s delightful.
- Less delightful? Threatening to cancel the Fashion Files.
- I didn’t mention the third title match above because I can’t really figure out a way to express how little SmackDown Live is doing with its Women’s Division right now. Where’s Charlotte? Where’s Becky? Where’s a coherent story?
- So Gable and Benjamin basically stole the Hype Bros’ finisher, right? No wonder Ryder was pissed.
AJ Styles (c) defeated Tye Dillinger (United States Championship match); New Day defeated The Usos (c) (Sin City Street Fight for the SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships); Natalya (c) defeated Naomi (SmackDown Live Women’s Championship match); Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin defeated The Hype Bros.
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