Last night Monday Night Raw aired what may be its worst episode of the year. There have certainly been some other stinkers in 2017, but last night's drawn-out mess of a show underscored the tough spot it's in right now. With 10 weeks between Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble, and nearly four months between their own Red-branded PPVs, Raw is struggling to define itself outside of a few stories. I mean, this is the show that has the rising star of Braun Strowman, who has near limitless potential, and yet he's stuck feuding with Kane for weeks on end. When Kane is main-eventing your show, you know it's in a creative lull.
SmackDown Live seems to be in a better place, and that could be for a number of reasons. It could be because it had the more interesting story heading into Survivor Series, and therefore came out the other end with a lot more storytelling options. It could be because they own the Clash of Champions PPV coming up in just a few weeks, giving the show a pace and structure that Raw doesn't have right now.
With that said, it still feels like the Blue Brand is killing time. Even with Clash of Champions on the horizon, there's the sense that not much matters until we're at the Royal Rumble and barreling down the 'road to WrestleMania'. Take, for instance, the fact that we're headed towards another AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal match for the WWE Championship. That's a feud that despite the kayfabe "rematch clause" should be settled by now. Styles beat Mahal. Styles has beaten his cronies, the Singhs, on numerous occasions. Tonight, he beats them both at the same time. Rematch clause or not, AJ has established himself as the rightful champ. Another match against Mahal just feels like WWE putting the brakes on any relevant, more exciting feud until the 'road to WrestleMania' is a little closer.
Much of this week's SmackDown Live feels like it's in the same holding pattern that's defined by AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal feuding once again. There's some movement in a few storylines, but overall you can feel the show stagnating. That's especially true of the tagteam division, another thing SmackDown Live has in common with Raw. Tonight's show makes the curious choice to have Benjamin and Gable lose clean to New Day. Now, normally that's no big deal, as New Day are clearly the better, more established team. But for the last few weeks SmackDown Live has been building up Benjamin and Gable as the next contenders to The Usos' tagteam titles. Their slowburn heel turn has worked wonders for them, and while a match with The Usos will almost certainly still be a show stealer, tonight's loss is deflating. It's a move in the wrong direction for a division that's already struggling to tell multiple stories.
Of course, that's only going to get harder now that the Hype Bros are no more. After what seems like months of WWE teasing a split, Mojo Rawley finally gets sick of his super tanned brother Zack Ryder and attacks him after another quick loss to The Bludgeon Brothers. While this could prove worrisome for the tagteam division, it's a much needed change in direction for Mojo and Ryder. Ideally, this gets Breezeango and The Ascension into the mix sometime soon.
The Mojo turn feels like a good representation of this episode as a whole. It's a necessary bit of plot movement, but it also feels like just the first step in something larger. That's great for storytelling, but doesn't necessarily result in a compelling episode of SmackDown Live. So, the women's division falls into that same in-flux category. It's good to see the division expanding, and much like Raw an invasion angle is a good way to go, but the execution has been off. Where Monday's segment suffered from being overlong, SmackDown's segment suffers from the relative greenness of Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan. The match is structured in a way that makes a lot of sense, but Morgan and Logan are clearly thinking through their spots. You lose the flow and the viciousness that way. That's not necessarily a knock on them or their potential, and Ruby Riott (who's gained an extra 't' on her way up from Orlando) is certainly ready for the main roster, but rather a necessary note about how the stable could struggle to retain its legitimacy when going up against talents like Charlotte and Becky Lynch.
Looking to the positive though, the show's best, most promising angle continues to excel by employing nuance and intrigue. What SmackDown Live is doing with Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shane McMahon, and Daniel Bryan feels fresh and revelatory. It's a twist on the tired Authority angle, and so far it's working. You have the continued hazy motivations of Daniel Bryan. You have Shane really mugging it up and showing that, no matter his "legitimate" reasons, he really does have it out for Sami and Kevin. You have both Owens and Zayn sneaking out wins in difficult situations. All of this is so combustible, and so compelling, that it almost doesn't matter what else is happening on SmackDown. These four can carry the show for now, and it'll be just fine.
- You can't bar someone from ringside in a No DQ match, Shane.
- I'm so happy that The Bludgeons Brothers are being given the indestructible hoss treatment.
- That was perhaps the most indifferent I've been to a Fashion Files segment. I really hope they get in the ring sometime soon.
- That Owens-Orton match was shockingly brutal for the weekly show.
New Day defeated Benjamin and Gable; The Bludgeon Brothers defeated Hype Bros; The Riott Squad defeated Charlotte, Naomi, and Natalya; Kevin Owens defeated Randy Orton (No DQ match).
What did you think of this week's SmackDown? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!