On Monday night, Raw put together a near-perfect episode. Compelling matches, meaningful backstage segments, and a hilarious Braun Strowman and Elias segment gave the night everything it needed. It's part of a roll that Raw's been on lately. For the last few weeks nearly every show has hit its mark, moving pieces in interesting directions to set up not only Elimination Chamber feuds, but also those that will last until WrestleMania. It wasn't all that long ago that Survivor Series seemed to make a mess of everything Raw had going for it. Now though, it's back to being the must-see main roster show of the week.
Need more evidence? After weeks and weeks of SmackDown Live failing to define the relationship between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, while also jumbling the motivations of AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn, what does the show do to entice viewers to tune in this week? Run a commercial that promotes Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler as the signature match of the night. That's right, the Blue brand is so far off base at this point that it thinks the selling point of their show should be a match between the guy who lost all momentum after losing his Money in the Bank briefcase, and the guy who hasn't had a steady character in ages, and also left the United States Championship behind so that he could unceremoniously enter the Royal Rumble at #30 and then lose.
A show without a purpose
What's incredible is that SmackDown Live doesn't even run the match, and yet the change in plans might be worse than what all the commercials offered. This is an episode of SmackDown that is so formless, so devoid of any charisma, momentum, and sense of fun, that it makes the halycon days of the Blue brand post-split feel like ancient history. In the main event match, Sami Zayn and Dolph Ziggler put on one hell of a show. It's a match that feels like the SmackDown of old, and yet, it's ultimately a match that's simply a piece of a larger, confounding puzzle that leaves everyone feeling lost and confused.
Let's ignore for a second that this week's SmackDown Live does little with the tag team division, only rolling out a rather meaningless match between New Day and Benjamin and Gable where the babyface team cheats to win. Let's ignore that SmackDown Live once again throws all of its women into a single segment that hinges on the idea of Charlotte beating every member of the Riott Squad, a faction that's lost the majority of their matches since coming to the main roster. Let's ignore that SmackDown Live is doing the blasphemous work of making Daniel Bryan an insufferable presence on my TV screen. Instead, let's simply focus on the main event story, because it tells you everything you need to know about how badly the show is struggling right now.
Who is Dolph Ziggler? Who are we supposed to cheer for?
Dolph Ziggler is the first person we see to start the show. His record-scratch theme music hits, followed by silence, followed by the theme music we all know so well. He ambles to the ring, in no rush, as per usual. He's still heeling it up when it comes to entrances. Then, Baron Corbin's music hits, but he doesn't come out. He's attacked by Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, who don't like the idea of their title odds being decreased at Fastlane. They come to the ring and lay out Ziggler too. It's all fine and well, a decent enough swerve after SmackDown Live spent the last few days building up the Corbin-Ziggler match.
Here's the trouble though: what's the narrative arc? Who are we supposed to cheer for? This is four heels trying to find their way into a championship match against a babyface champion who seems to be continually screwed by the giant egos of the people in charge. One minute Ziggler is his usual heel self, the next minute he's cutting a babyface promo about how he wants the one thing that's eluded him, the WWE Championship. In that promo, he fails to even mention why he left the United States Championship behind, instead regurgitating the same words he's been spouting for years. Similarly, Corbin goes from the man who people literally chant "dumpster fire" at to someone worthy of sympathy because he got attacked backstage. What's the logic here? Why is anybody doing any of this?
I honestly wish I had more to say. I wish SmackDown Live was giving me more to work with. But right now, this is an abysmal show. It's a slog to sit through—anybody else fall sleep while Bobby Roode, Randy Orton, and Jinder Mahal blabbed on about Top Ten lists?—and completely devoid of any solid storytelling. Shane continues to be a dick. Daniel Bryan isn't a whole lot of fun to watch. The women's division is an afterthought to the creative team. The tag team division, once the pride and joy of the Blue brand, is now a shell of its former self. Then there's the main event scene, which is a mess of unclear motivations and shoddy booking. The "land of opportunity" desperately needs some semblance of structure, and a lot more Rusev Day.
- Why does Dolph Ziggler essentially have two entrances? I'm very confused.
- Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Naomi deserve so much better than being enhancement pieces for a struggling faction.
- So Byron Saxton says that Daniel Bryan is biased for making the AJ Styles title match at Fastlane a triple threat, but then has no comment on Shane giving Corbin and Ziggler an opportunity to get into the match?
- Cause and effect: SmackDown Live can't seem to tell a coherent story, and therefore commentary is nothing but insufferable arguing.
- Literally shouted "that's not an open challenge!" at my TV when Roode called out Orton.
- Zayn vs. Ziggler is great. The top rope exploder is one hell of a spot, as is the near-fall off the Zig Zag.
Charlotte defeated Sarah Logan; Baron Corbin defeated Kevin Owens; New Day defeated Benjamin and Gable; Dolph Ziggler defeated Sami Zayn.