A few questions before we start.
– Do you know the enemy? You know your enemy?
– Are you familiar with the Best And Worst Of Raw? This is going to work just like that, only for the super special live edition of Smackdown. I don’t normally do these recaps for Smackdown because 1) I am a cool guy in real life who is probably busy on Friday nights and 2) With Leather doesn’t update on the weekends, and if I put it up on Saturday afternoon it will get four hits, and three of those will be from Upstate Underdog. If you like this write-up and share it around and leave me a comment, I’ll try to make a point to work it out somehow.
– If you haven’t read yesterday’s column, please do so before clicking through.
Enjoy our inaugural edition of The Best and Worst of Smackdown by clicking through, and stay tuned for our loosely-related slideshow, The 16 Most Outrabulous Teddy Long Jackets.
Worst: The Assassination Of Ricardo Rodriguez By The Coward John Cena
One of the things that made the Best And Worst Of Raw column controversial when I brought it to With Leather was my insistence that The Rock was an overrated, hateful weirdo and John Cena was an under-appreciated franchise player with good intentions. I justified a lot of his actions as those of a champion trying to be a good man in a world of badness. I still think that people only like Rocky because he’s a big enough star to do a racist Chinese voice or call somebody a cooter but not enough of a tabloid presence to get in trouble for it, but Cena … I don’t know. He’s going through a high school thing.
That’s weird to say about a 34-year old 11-time World Champion, but yeah, he’s turning into the kid from the I Learned It By Watching You commercial. Cena had been wrestling his entire career against guys like Umaga and JBL, these wacky, over-the-top caricatures that threatened to destroy John Cena the Character, but never John Cena the Man. I think the decline started with Wade Barrett, funny enough. Cena got into a feud with a gang of guys from NXT who weren’t supposed to have contracts, but they kept showing up on Raw and beating him up … and eventually Wade Barrett got some sort of weird executive power and arranged for Cena to be his f**king literal slave if he lost a match, then warped that into Cena being fired for disobeying him. Cena, being John Cena, went along with it. Eventually it became too much and Cena attacked, sacrificing his career for nobility … but as it turned out, Cena getting fired meant nothing, because being fired didn’t mean he had to go away. He kept showing up, and by proxy of being around got his job back. Barrett was punished, banished even, and something in the back of Cena the Character’s brain said “Huh. Maybe none of this is real.” Like Truman noticing a light fixture falling from the sky. Cena the Character and Cena the Man started to smoosh together.
It got worse when The Rock showed up. Cena was okay wrestling The Miz, a dastardly blowhard with an evil high school jock familiar who took the WWE Championship under nefarious circumstances~. Then Rocky shows up, and Rock’s been gone for so long he’s forgotten that you aren’t supposed to bring up sh*t you don’t want the fans to think. He makes fun of Cena’s shorts, makes fun of the bright colors of his t-shirts, mocks him for being supported by women and children and more or less calls him a worthless f*ggot for like three months. So Cena has to face simultaneous attacks to The Man and The Character, Miz and Riley from one side, Dwayne Johnson “playing” The Rock from the other. It corrupts him further, and just when you think he’s going to settle into a feud about different sizes of Jimmy with R-Truth, he runs missed-leaping-shoulderblock first into a challenge from CM Punk. Punk costs him a match, sits down Indian style on the stage and disassembles the carefully placed world of kayfabe that John had already been struggling with. John has to lie there in a state of semi-unconsciousness and let it seep into his brain like a baby with Mozart held against his mother’s stomach.
And that has led us to John Cena, August 2011.
Cena is crushed between two conflicting personalities — he still wants to prance out to My Time Is Now and toss his shirt into the crowd, but now when someone tosses it back to him, he understands why. Two years ago he would’ve seen Alberto Del Rio and said “you’re rich and you think you’re better than people, but you aren’t better than people!!!” Now he sees Alberto and says “you don’t even own those cars, do you, this is stupid”. That’s why he’s gotten so childish, but can’t stop hurting people. He’s losing his mind. He’s turning into Kid Miracleman, a megalomaniacal superman becoming less and less bound by the mind of a mistreated but good-natured kid. He’s seeing the world around him for what it “really” is, so the guy who two years ago might’ve said “Alberto Del Rio, get out here right now!” sucker-punches the short, wimpy ring announcer who won’t stop talking when he says to as a “message”.
Worst: The Uh, Assassination Of Wade Barrett Something Something
And in a series of events I can’t compare to anything, John Cena beat Wade Barrett in like two minutes without breaking a sweat for no reasons. Barrett had just come off a big win against Daniel Bryan at Summerslam and sure, wins and losses don’t really matter in WWE, but looking like a chode nobody against the important people does. Couldn’t they have thrown a superplex near-fall or like forty additional seconds of chinlock somewhere in the middle to make Barrett at least look like he deserves to be in there? Cena beat him like he was an NXT week 2 Heath Slater. Although I guess it does further my Kid Miracleman comparison, as Cena calmly told Barrett they had unfinished business and punched him through the skull.
Best: The Dumbest Question Evah Asked
Mark Henry always sounds like he’s reading cue cards during backstage interviews and promos (or when he’s reading poems about it burning when you cry), but something about his Predator head and frank disposition makes them engaging. When Josh is all “MARK HENRY WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CAGE MATCHES” and Mark responds by calling him a dumb idiot and peppers it with phrases like “flesh is torn!” it gets pretty amazing. Jim Ross said something on Monday about Mark Henry “imposing his mighty will”, and I think he does that as well verbally as physically.
And I know we’ve all shared this thought by now, but how great is it that Sexual Chocolate, the guy who got his cock put in a vice by the Pretty Mean Sisters, had an incestuous affair with his sister, impregnated an old lady with a mannequin shard and was once considered the second most important gigantically fat horny black guy in pajamas on the roster has become one of the most dependable, dangerous dudes in the wrestling world? I hope he gets his Lifetime Achievement Award at Night of Champions, because man, I don’t want to see him get Joe’d by Serpentor.
Best: DAS MY BWAH D-BRYAN
For those of you joining the Best and Worst column for the first time, or for those of you who started reading recently and haven’t realized what a classically-trained ROHbot I can be, Daniel Bryan née Bryan Danielson is my favorite active professional wrestler in the world, and he has been since right around the time he grew a hobo beard, bought a cloak and started airplane spinning people. He also tops a lot of other personal lists, including my favorite title reigns (Ring of Honor World Champion 9/05 – 12/06), the nicest wrestlers I’ve ever met and my favorite famous or semi-famous vegans (a list that includes Billy West, UltraMantis Black, James Cromwell and adorable jazz pianist Nellie McKay). The major reason I’ve wanted to start doing Best And Worst Of Smackdown reports is because of how much I miss writing that “Bryan Danielson is awesome, guys” paragraph every week. Well, here you go.
Daniel Bryan has been on a losing streak as of late, but I’m not worried about it — nearly every loss has been in a good-to-great match, and that’s what I watch Daniel Bryan (and professional wrestling) to see. He’s gotten the best WWE match out of both Sin Caras now, and if I’ve got to see somebody lose to a winded developmental luchador in five minutes I’m glad it’s him. If he ends up losing Money in the Bank to Christian and gets eliminated by Michael McGillicutty in a pre-Wrestlemania battle royal I’m still happy that he’s around and getting paid big money to do what he’s better at than almost anyone.
But I do wish Booker T would stop saying “D-Bryan”, or at least stop calling him D-Bryan fifteen times per sentence. “MY BOY D-BRYAN RIGHT THERE, D-BRYAN COLE, D-BRYAN’S GOT A LOT A GOOD MOVES MICHAEL COLE AN I THINK D-BRYAN WILL WIN THIS MATCH RIGHT HERE.”
Worst: Michael Cole Thinks Hulk Hogan Sucks Because He Doesn’t Even Have Any Hair
Speaking of announcers saying things you hate, holy sh*t, the Smackdown version of Michael Cole, the one without Jerry Lawler to threaten him or Jim Ross to change the subject, is the least constructive wrestling personality of all time. He’s like wrestling’s Ray William Johnson, pointing out only the most obvious things and assuming that makes him a popular genius. I’m used to every aspect of Daniel Bryan being bad (using the Internet, owning a dog, knowing wrestling moves … all signs of a nerd), but he even made a point to say that Sin Cara doesn’t talk. It’s like the Cena thing from the last page, isn’t there somebody at WWE Headquarters who can point out that we shouldn’t say the stuff we don’t want people regurgitating? There was a reason nobody in the 80s pointed out that Hulk Hogan was bald and on steroids. They wanted us to LIKE HULK HOGAN.
If Daniel Bryan wrestles Sin Cara (actual Sin Cara, mind you) you’ve got one of the most celebrated and technically brilliant independent wrestlers of the decade, a guy who came up on your rookie show and made a name for himself with his incredible in-ring performances, going one-on-one on your free, easy to change away from wrestling program against Mexico’s biggest box office draw, a nimble acrobat who (pending him actually being able to do it) can pull off things nobody in your WWE Universe has seen. So why do you boil that down to “this homo nerd who can’t wrestle and sucks is losing to a sh*tty fake guy who can’t even speak English”? If you spent the first five years of the Hardy Boyz saying “these guys are drug-dealing rednecks who didn’t even go to wrestling school, they wrestled on trampolines in their backyard against their mumblemouthed friends, and Matt’s girlfriend has implants and an ugly face and paid for wrestling school by blowing Mexicans” you wouldn’t have sold a goddamn Team XTreme pendant one.
Seriously, there isn’t a wrestler in history who could’ve survived this. This so-called Jumbo Tsuruta, what a goof! He’s not even that big, and he’s got hepatitis, King!
Best: Sin Cara 1000% Rudo, or, WHUT DA HALE
In an attempt to get back to what worked on the show (with the help of a mute button, because christ almighty), Sin Cara showing sportsmanship to Daniel Bryan after the match only to turn on him like the world’s most Smurf-like Mr. Wonderful was fantastic and legitimately surprising. Hopefully (like a lot of people are going to point out) this will lead to the “real” Sin Cara returning in his Mistico white and gold to suppress his evil doppleganger and reclaim his mood lighting. It’ll be just as great as Dragon Kid and Darkness Dragon in Dragon Gate, Lance Steel versus other Lance Steel in CHIKARA, and player one purple gloves Undertaker against player two grey gloves Undertaker at Summerslam ’94.
Now I really want to see Brian Lee as the fake Sin Cara.
Still Worst: Air Boom
I spent the weekend in Bristol visiting my parents, so I didn’t get to do my normal Monday night ritual of settling in to watch Raw with Destiny and enjoying about 45 minutes of her commentary before she gets bored and goes upstairs. I got back into Austin late last night, so a part of our conversation was what happened on Raw, and what I wrote in Best and Worst. I tried to explain Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne’s “Air Boom” tag team name to her, and she responded beautifully:
“Air Boom? Is that like Space Jam? It’s exactly like Space Jam, they just used a different word for Space and a different word for Jam.”
I could not possibly improve on that.
Oh, and here’s another great idea, let them have a conversation with Matt Striker, the least cool person in American history.
Best: Aksana’s Porno Sax
I don’t know what ten year old decided the “sexy” characters should all have sexual 1980s saxophone playing in the background, but I can’t stop laughing about it. I want to give a worst to Aksana’s weird ring announcing and character (and her hair that looks like a wig, but isn’t actually a wig) but can’t for two reasons:
1. That time she got caught in a net backstage and it turned into a crazy character dance party, and she danced while still under the net
2. Do you remember the last two extraneous “host” characters who got added to Smackdown segments where they didn’t belong and did a terrible, expendable job? They were Maryse and The Miz.
Maryse even got the porno sax when she’d “walcome” us to Smackdown from through the vaseline-covered camera lens in her Phantom of the Opera-looking bedroom set. Miz never got porno sax, but he had to wear fingerless gloves and fedoras, which are the masculine equivalent to porno sax. Sorry, just seeing how many times I can type “porno sax”. Porno sax. Somebody’s gonna typo Googling for “porno sex” and end up here.
Best: Beth Phoenix And Natalya Are Doing Things!
My biggest complaint about the Beth Phoenix and Natalya “new era of strong style Divas” arc (besides a complete absence of Rachel Summerlyn) has been inaction — they attacked Kelly Kelly and AJ and declared the days of cute, perky champions over, but all they’ve done since is lose one match to Kelly and spend nearly a month looking off-screen while telling a camera they aren’t jealous. And they clapped some. That’s been it. They needed to go on the Kharma streak by just showing up whenever the Bellas (or whoever) appeared to wreck them and take their spots. So I was very, very happy to see Glamazon Hart Foundation beating Alicia Fox senseless in about two minutes and winning a match. It’s not hard to build up two foxy musclebound blonde ladies, you put them in sorta matching clothes and have them routinely beat the people they look like they should obviously beat. Sure, Kelly Kelly should get a win now and again to keep the sides unsteady, but if Beth Phoenix and her shoulderblades the size of my torso come across an Alicia Fox type, the Alicia Fox type should be Glamorously Amazon’d onto her massive forehead and pinned in moments.
The only complaint I have about the match is that it only went two minutes. I feel like Beth and Nattie really need a Midnight Express style extended beatdown of their inferior opponents to get their characters across. The MXE were glorious about that, they’d get into a match against Bill and Randy Mulkey or the Italian Stallion and have it won in about 40 seconds, but they’d drag it out and beat poor Bill senseless with every move in their repertoire before calling it a day and Rocket Launchering him back to Anderson, South Carolina. After the first GlamSlam Alicia Fox is dead in the water, so why not drag her around in front of Kelly for a while and really rub it in?
Worst: Wait, Alicia Fox, Really
I guess Eve was too busy to make this trip?
I was really hoping to see The Chickbusters when I tuned in to
The Pirate Bay SciFi for Super Duper Smackdown. AJ and Kaitlyn are two of my very favorites, and they only show up on Raw to get eliminated first in battles royal or stand on the apron while Rosa Mendes tries to figure out the mechanics of walking forward. Add to that my natural dislike for someone taking the Melina route to Diva allegiance, immediately becoming best friends with the people you’ve been cheating to beat because you’ve suddenly decided to stop cheating, and you’ve got a tag team partner spot that could’ve 86’d the Alicia Fox and subbed in someone uh human being wants to see. I don’t want to see Eve, but she would’ve made sense. So would AJ (who hasn’t gotten a lot of revenge since being punked by her mentor), so would Kaitlyn. Then I would’ve gotten to renew my quest to get the Chickbusters to notice me and be my friends in real life. And I could’ve put a picture of one of them in this report.
oh who am I kidding, I’m going to do that anyway
Worst: I Thought I Was Going To Get To Write About Smackdown
Yeah, picking “Super Smackdown” the day after Triple H nerfed the brand split might’ve been a bad call. I was all ready to write about the Chickbusters and Cody Rhodes and even Big Zeke and his World of Bodyslams, but what have I gotten? John Cena, Michael Cole, Air Boom (or “S.O.SSP”) and Kelly Kelly. CM Punk and Triple H have words about Kevin Nash on the next page. THIS is why the brand split needs to stick, guys — if you don’t like what’s happening on Raw, you can get something different on Smackdown. Now if you don’t like something on Raw, you’ve got to get a second helping of it here, and with material being stretched thin over one show, God help us on two. If I don’t like what I see on Raw or Smackdown, what am I supposed to watch? There are only so many episodes of Wrestling Society X, and nobody’s thought to put WOW Women of Wrestling on DVD.
Worst: Some Of These People LIKE The WWE!
I’m giving it a worst, here, but last night’s lengthy, verbose, constantly restated Triple H and CM Punk argument was a lot better than Monday’s. Punk made a more solid point than “Stephanie’s vagina be trippin'” and Triple H came across as himself, but logical and reasonable enough to want to kick CM Punk’s ass without it seeming shoehorned in. Frankly, that’s why this whole thing is starting to get a worst from me every week — I really want to see Triple H kick CM Punk’s ass, and I’m not sure that’s the intention of the angle. Like, I understand CM Punk is the bad guy and that his “Cult of Personality” act is to create the illusion of being a People’s Champion while solely benefiting himself, but when Triple H blatantly points that out, CM Punk continues on about how he wants change and everybody chants “CM Punk” I don’t know what to feel. I know that people are chanting Punk’s name and buying his t-shirt, but if Triple H punches him in the mouth and pedigrees him, do people boo? No, they’re going to cheer, because they like pedigrees and Triple H is tough. Punk has been running his mouth (way too much, and this is coming from a guy who gets excited every time Punk picks up a microphone) about nothing in particular, doing that “lol social experiment you FELL FOR IT” thing Internet trolls do where they run you down and act like irredeemable assholes for months, then call you a prick for noticing. That’s Punk here. I want to cheer for the manipulative faux-revolutionary, not the Aint It Cool News talkback commenter. Somewhere in the middle of this I was hoping the arena scoreboard would come loose and fall and crush everybody.
The “some people like WWE” line, followed by Punk’s “I want EVERYONE to enjoy WWE!” line was concerning, I think at best. I’m not 100% that the focus of this story should be how much everybody knows everything sucks. Punk’s initial cross-legged speech that made Jim Rome believe in fairies dipped into that, but not too deeply — it expressed concern for the future of a company with John Cena (the character) as its figurehead at the expense of some released wrestlers who were Punk’s on-screen friends and the very, very well-known hierarchy of Triple H Stephanie Vince Jesus God. It wasn’t news to us, it was fun because it was something we all knew being said outloud. We don’t all know that WWE is sh*tty wrestling or that there are better things out there. We don’t all know how the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations job works, or how and why people get hired, and we don’t … okay, I don’t know how anything Punk was raging against has to do with text messages and clandestine backstage meetings.
How many of you want to tune in on Monday to hear these guys continue their discussion? Raise your hand.
Worst In Capital Letters: Vince McMahon Took A Beating For Business
Near the end of the segment, Triple H explained the difference between him and Vince McMahon: the difference is that Vince would step into the ring with someone and take a beating because it was good for business. You can take that as “Vince would accept fights with people he knew he couldn’t beat up because if he’s going to resolve personal issues he might as well get ratings or sell pay-per-views”, but my first interpretation was … not that. Am I alone here? The way he phrased it it sounded like a big EVERYTHING ELSE IS FAKE, BUT THIS IS REAL, WE PROMISE. Vince got into matches for “business” and never for a personal reason, so I guess the whole feud with Austin that involved embalming attempts and Vince almost getting his own daughter crucified wasn’t because he hated Austin, it’s because Vince vs. Austin was a wrestling story people enjoyed. He didn’t wrestle Hogan because of their myriad of historically important issues, he wrestled him because people wanted to see it. The Wrestlemania match with his son that involved him drugging his wife so he could f**k Trish Stratus in front of her was business and nothing personal. But NOW, because Triple H is MAD, THIS IS FOR REALSIES.
I don’t know. I’m probably over-exaggerating it, but it was like a verbal fingerpoke that expected me to fall backwards and let it pin me. I can’t handle this fourth wall stuff anymore. The fourth wall is there for a reason, guys. Wrestling is not real, but it sucks unless you let us pretend it is. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air used to break the fourth wall all the time, but my enjoyment of the show didn’t hinge on Phil actually being Will’s uncle.
Best: Kevin Nash Makes It A Contract Signing
It’s not a contract signing until somebody flips a table. Nash had no reason to flip it, either, he just walked into the ring and decided he’d rather turn it over than walk around it. That’s funny. And he managed to show a ton of intensity, looking like he wanted to f**king murder Punk, but at the same time he took Punk’s kick and punches and made it look like the Short Order Cook with the Skinny Fat Ass could stand a chance to hurt him in a fight. The big boot to Punk and the Triple H shoving are probably for the sake of a video package and won’t go any deeper, but for once it was nice to see Nash look like a threat again, and not have to worry about him getting up the three outside steps without hurting himself.
If Nash can’t get cleared to wrestle again but has to have a WWE contract, let him use some of that intensity to make things better. If you took a wild guess at what Punk and Mister Ayches were going to say to each other and fast forwarded to the table flipping, you got a great segment. How is Triple H going to respond to Nash shoving him on his ass? Is this an example of how Nash feels about being taken out of the match? Both of those questions are more exciting than “how does CM Punk feel about Triple H’s family, show your work”.
Worst: Teddy Long’s Clothes
How hard would it be for somebody to find Teddy Long a shirt that fit? Doom and Rodney Mack only wore headgear and pants, so I don’t expect them to know. ECW general manager Tiffany (RIP) only wore clothes three sizes too small for her and I’m not sure Aksana even knows what clothes are, but somebody over the last 30 years should’ve pulled him aside and said “you do not need that much room for your torso, you look like the Kid In Me from the old Frosted Mini-Wheats commercials“. Also, somebody should tell him he looks and sounds like a California Raisin.