I feel pretty comfortable saying that this week's SmackDown Live is one of the strangest in recent memory. There are all sorts of weird narrative turns, the episode itself is segment-heavy and short on matches, and everybody on the Blue Brand seems to be going off the rails. On the one hand, it's always fun to see one of WWE's shows descend into chaos. On the other hand, that doesn't always make for compelling television. This week's show is stuck somewhere in the middle, delivering some memorable moments while also failing to really put together a coherent two hours.
Kevin Owens is really good at his job
The show starts off well enough, and that's because it starts with Kevin Owens, the most reliable person on the entire WWE roster. Seriously, Owens has been doing deity-level work for well over a year now, elevating every single half-assed angle he's been handed by creative. The guy is indestructible, bringing his brilliant blend of nastiness, comedic timing, and dominant in-ring presence to everything he touches.
Here, he's saddled with WWE's plan to run yet another Shane McMahon story, and somehow he turns it into something vicious and unique. Where Styles-McMahon suffered throughout its build only to turn out a truly great match at Wrestlemania, Owens-McMahon is off to a hot start. That's because Owens immediately makes things personal, telling Shane that it would have been better for everybody, including his wife and kids, if he'd died in that helicopter crash. That's some old school pro wrestling heelin', and by god it works. It forces Shane to snap and beat up Owens, which then forces Daniel Bryan to suspend him at the behest of Vince McMahon.
It's so silly and over the top, but it really, truly works as a way to anchor this feud. Rather than just go the same route they did with Styles, WWE is shaking things up and giving this story more depth and a lot more possibilities. With Mr. McMahon showing up next week, we can only assume things are about to get a lot more unpredictable.
On top of all that, Owens is now in master manipulator mode. He's been creating chaos for weeks now, and there's no end in sight. He's a thorn in the side of SmackDown Live, and that's a perfect position for him to be in. There's no ceiling for where Owens can take this, and I'm beyond excited to see him take next week's show in Las Vegas and make it all about him.
WWE can't stop thinking about Las Vegas
Speaking of that episode-ending tease, it's representative of the problems with this week's show. While Owens and Shane get their feud rolling in an exciting way, and Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura have a solid main event match, the rest of the show suffers from one huge flaw: selling next week's SmackDown Live as much more important.
Throughout this week's episode, the commentary team, the backstage segments, and the various title cards and stills tell us about all the great things happening on next week's SmackDown Live in Las Vegas. There's obviously nothing wrong with promoting your upcoming shows, but what's troubling is just how much of it happens. This week plays out like a commercial for next week's episode, and that means that there's a certain amount of complacency on display.
In other words, too much of this SmackDown Live feels like a throwaway show, not unlike the ones WWE airs during the holidays or when they're competing with some huge NBA or NFL event. Outside of the main event and the opening segment, this is a SmackDown Live defined by filler and meaningless segments. I mean, Sami Zayn loses to Aiden English in less than two minutes and it's not even the worst part of the show!
The Show Off struggles to take off
No, the worst part of the show is Dolph Ziggler. After a few weeks of teasing his "re-debut," Ziggler is finally here to give the WWE Universe what it wants. And what does that mean? It means Ziggler comes out mocking the entrances of John Cena, Randy Savage, and Naomi because…well, that's where things get tricky. Ever since Ziggler turned heel he's been peddling the same line of thinking, saying that he's been overlooked in favour of young talent and nostalgia acts.
That's a decent way to heel it up if, 1. other superstars on the roster weren't already doing this, and 2. Ziggler had some sort of proof to back it all up. Rather than show up with any receipts about his wrestling ability—how great would it have been if Ziggler hired his own hapless jobber just to show off his skills?—he just clowns on other WWE superstars. There's no heat to be had in the gimmick because the best reaction anyone can muster is indifference. It's hard to see anybody thinking Ziggler is being meta or scathing when he's insulting a dude on Raw, one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time (R.I.P. Macho Man), and a beloved champion from the Women's division. Those are your targets, Dolph? It's too broad and too dull to work, so let's all start preparing for the "re-re-debut" coming in a few weeks.
While the Ziggler segment is just bad all around, much of the rest of SmackDown Live falls into that category of being nothing other than fine. Again, there are interesting moments within the chaos of the segments, like Carmella firing Ellsworth only to then take him back and kiss him, but there's not enough to keep the show from feeling like a placeholder for next week's Las Vegas blowout.
But hey, at least Nakamura is going to beat Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship at Hell in a Cell, right? RIGHT?!?
- That moody Randy Orton promo that started the show had me laughing.
- "I'm going to take this show down." I really, truly believe Kevin Owens.
- So where are we headed with Carmella and Ellsworth? I'm kind of baffled.
- Imagine being Dolph Ziggler and thinking you could clown on John Cena when The Miz already did a pitch perfect takedown of the 16-time champ with a Total Divas spoof, and while Cena is doing some seriously great work with Roman Reigns on Raw.
- Is a Sin City Street Fight different from any other street fight?
- Lots of championship matches set for next week: Natalya vs. Naomi, The Usos vs. New Day, and AJ Styles vs. Tye Dillinger.
- Need another example of filler from this episode? How about WWE running a "let's look at Bobby Roode's debut!" package only two weeks removed from his debut.
- Welcome to SmackDown Live, Corey Graves, and a special welcome to his call of "KINSHASA!!!"
Natalya defeated Carmella; Aiden English defeated Sami Zayn; Baron Corbin defeated Tye Dillinger; Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Randy Orton (WWE Championship #1 Contender match).