Previously on the Best and Worst of Smackdown: Bo Dallas celebrated Halloween by dressing up as a ghost and trying to scare everyone. It was delightful, and then Mark Henry punched him in the face. Also on the show, The Miz got beaten up with pumpkins. Like I said, it was Halloween.
Sharing the column keeps us in the business of watching and reviewing hours 4 and 5 of Raw, so if you dig it, click these buttons:
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown for Nov. 5, 2015.
Worst: Nobody Got Past The First Draft Of MexAmerica
“We’re bringing back Alberto Del Rio and putting him with Zeb Colter.”
“LOL good one”
[hides 1940s jokebook they use to write funny backstage segments]
“We’re gonna call them MexAmerica. It’s Mexico and America! Zeb has realized that there should be no borders, and we shouldn’t hate people from neighboring countries. Except he’s also still kinda prejudiced? We haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Cool. When are we doing that?”
“Like two weeks ago.”
“Yeah, we’re bringing back Jack Swagger to feud with them, because who better to hate a racist pretending to be non-racist than a non-racist who had previously pretended to be racist, pretending to be both?”
“OH MAN WE SHOULD OPEN SMACKDOWN WITH THE SAME PROMO THEY’VE DONE ON THREE STRAIGHT SHOWS!”
“So … what’s the next step?”
“What do you mean”
“After Zeb and Alberto say they think Mexico and America should be the same country, what do you do next?”
“Feud them with Jack Swagger I said”
“Right, but after that. What’s the point? What’s the end game? How do Zeb and Alberto’s opinions on border relations relate to pro wrestling, or anything that happens on it? At least when Zeb was xenophobic you could feud him and his Caucasian American Oklahoma-ass charge against Mexican guys in a clearly-defined battle of good vs. evil. Winning the U.S. title and changing it is literally the only thing you could do with ‘MexAmerica’ and you did it first. Now what are you doing? Making everyone ignorant and awful? Who are we even supposed to cheer for here?”
“sigh yeah all right”
Worst: The Legendary Alberto Del Rio Post-Match Attack Returns
Alberto Del Rio opens this week’s show against Neville, who is really too good to be playing the Sin Cara.
The match isn’t bad, but Del Rio’s absolutely terrible at making his opponents seem like they might have a chance to win. You just know Del Rio’s going to maul these dudes, then spend two solid minutes awkwardly setting them up in the tree of woe for his double-stomp. He’s been using that for two weeks and it already feels like an ordeal. On top of that, we get the return of ALBERTO DEL RIO HOLDS THE CROSS ARMBREAKER ON TOO LONG AFTER THE MATCH AND THE REF TELLS HIM TO STOP, BUT HE WON’T UNTIL SOMEONE RUNS OUT TO MAKE THE SAVE trope. We probably need a shorter name for that. But yeah, no, despite not using the armbreaker once since his return, he jumps Neville after the match, locks him in it and holds it until Jack Swagger makes the save. Big ups to Neville for going from “best NXT Champion ever” to “guy who needs Jack Swagger to bail him out.”
The funniest part of it all is that Swagger doesn’t do anything when he gets there. Del Rio’s got the armbar on, Swagger’s music hits and he rushes out to slide into the ring and … stare. That’s all he does. It’s not even a quick thing where he intimidates Del Rio and Del Rio flees. He hits the Padding Bear Hard Stare and they hold it forever. For a while there I thought it was a setup for Jack to go “yeah okay” and start stomping Neville too, but no.
Next week’s show should start with them in the parking lot of this arena, standing beside their open car doors, just staring at each other from hundreds of feet away.
Best: Welcome Back, Ooce
There will be plenty of time for me to complain about how the Usos only do three moves — jump, kick, and splash — and how they contribute nothing to the tag team ecosystem besides being split-in-half versions of one popular superstar, like Rikishi was a Zol from the The Legend of Zelda, got hit with a sword and turned into two little sh*ttier Gels. There will be plenty of time for me to make fun of them for wrestling in glistening plastic shorts, and thinking the call and response of “ooce/oh” before moves means they’re getting heat. Lots of time to laugh at the announce team not being able to tell them apart, and at Michael Cole (on Raw) for not knowing which one was injured.
That all said, I’m happy to have them back.
They aren’t my favorite team — and they’ll never be as cool as their entrance — but they have a defined, important role in the WWE tag-team division. If anything, they’re the team that should never, ever break up. You can split the Lucha Dragons and can (and have) split the Prime Time Players, but there’s abso-f*cking-lutely no value in splitting the Usos. They’re that rare team that can seem important in tag-team matches without ever causing a “which one is better” debate. The Bella Twins couldn’t even survive that. Nothing the Usos do make you go, “oh man, they should get rid of Jimmy so Jey can shine!” or vice versa. They’re only marketable (and therefore successful) as “The Usos,” and frankly the tag-team division needs a few teams you feel like might actually stick around.
They take on the Ascension, who keep drifting in and out of Stardust-related tangential relevancy but never really settle on one side or the other. It’s a fine match, especially if you’ve never seen the Usos wrestle, and a nice refresher for people who have. The Usos still don’t have anything but jump and kick and splash, but it works. In small doses. Next week when they have the exact same match, I reserve the right to complain at length.
Best: Dean Ambrose Sees Dead People
Dean Ambrose has long been established as a ghost whisperer — remember when he called out Andre the Giant’s ghost? — so having him communicate with John Denver on a vision quest or whatever is par for the course. What I loved most is that not only is John Denver still writing songs in the afterlife, but he’s willing to play them for pro wrestlers and has an intimate knowledge of WWE booking. What kind of world are we living in where the disembodied spirit of the dude who sang ‘Sunshine on my Shoulders’ knows Dean Ambrose is in a match before Dean Ambrose? Followup question: is John Denver now a SMARK GHOST? Followup question followup question: was this just Bo Dallas again, and Ambrose is an idiot?
If that all wasn’t good enough, we got Kevin Owens STANDING UP FOR RENEE YOUNG by telling Dean he’s annoying her. The fact that Renee just kinda shrugs about it is amazing, because it half reads as “I don’t mind talking to him,” and the other half is, “yeah, I guess I’d never really thought about it.” Dean Ambrose should only interact with people who are good promos and AREN’T obsessed with breathy promos about fear. Or conversations equating brotherhood to water temperature preferences.
Best: The Dominant Heel Squad Actually Acting Dominant
The centerpiece of the show is another traditional Survivor Series elimination tag-team match, this time 4-on-4. On one side, you’ve got the Prime Time Players and the Lucha Dragons, three talented lower-tier workers and Sin Cara. On the other, you’ve got a guy who literally just harvested the souls of the two most powerful supernatural characters in WWE history, absorbed their thunder and lighting and fire powers and uses them to now better lead a flock of meandering swampbillies. Team Main Event never stood a chance.
And, as it should be, the Wyatts dominate and win 4-0. There’s a solid chance that Undertaker and Kane will team up with Sting or whatever at Survivor Series and teach the Wyatts that wrestlers who have been around a long time always win, even when the new guys can explode people with lightning, but for now I’m enjoying a monster heel faction getting treated like monsters. Harper and Rowan have desperately needed to be taken seriously since arriving in the company, and aside from Braun Strowman’s only sell being “stagger and wipe my nose,” I continue to love him as their doomsday machine.
There’s something very fun about using a prestigious format like the Survivor Series elimination tag to do these middle-of-Smackdown character pieces, because it makes them instantly seem more important, even if they’re just extended jobber squashings. They should do that more often. Like, suddenly this Alberto Del Rio vs. R-Truth match is a ladder match. Bo Dallas vs. Adam Rose, Last Man Standing. If you’re gonna treat Raw and Smackdown like extensions of the video games, let’s play it like we play those.
Worst: Ryback Briefly Interrupts The Crowd’s Nap
Speaking of matches that desperately need a hook, here’s King Barrett vs. Ryback.
I’m not even sure what to say about Ryback matches anymore. As I’ve written a hundred times, he’s the kind of wrestler I want to like, not only because I see an upside in him, but because I don’t want to do that thing where I only think cruiserweights and guys with indie street cred are good. That’s a terrible perspective to have when you aren’t 17. That said, what is there to praise about a Ryback vs. King Take-A-Pin match where they don’t even build to the finish? There’s no real heat or comeback, Ryback just counters a sleeper into Shell Shocked and that’s it. It was kind of cool in a Saturn vs. Goldberg kind of way, but Barrett ain’t Saturn and Ryback ain’t Goldberg. So …?
I don’t know. I don’t want Wade Barrett to be a wrestler I instantly associate with hapless futility. I don’t want “Ryback is boring” to be my first response to Ryback. I just don’t have any ammo to help me fight those feelings.
Worst: The Worst Case Scenario
The highlight of this match is Tamina going for the Superfly Splash and Natalya countering it with a kick to the face, and that working because Tamina has somehow gone COMPLETELY VERTICAL with the splash. She turned it into the Alberto Del Rio “Jumping Nothing,” which might not be notably bad if it wasn’t so close to her usual form. If she’d just dropped to her knees and fallen thighs-first across Natalya’s legs, we wouldn’t have noticed.
Best: Team B.A.D., Though
If I have to pick an actual highlight, and Jesus take the wheel if I do, it’s the opening bit where Sasha and Naomi pretend to be jealous of each other because of Nattie’s request to fight “the leader” of Team B.A.D. You think they’re gonna be jealous, but then Tamina steps up and Sasha and Naomi are like HAAAAA WE AREN’T THE OTHER TEAMS, SORRYYYYY. I like that. You’ve got to give me one grouping of more than one WWE Diva that doesn’t instantly devolve into Catty Little Cats. I know you guys love the “THEY’RE WOMEN, THEY CAIN’T GET ALONG” JBL talking points, but some women in real life have managed to wrangle the concept of friendship, so give me something. I’ll cheer Team B.A.D. over everyone if they just DON’T undermine each other at every turn.
And also if they change Tamina’s finish to a DDT, which I’m 40 percent sure she can do without falling out of the ring.
Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought About Tamina Vs. Natalya
Join the conversation by using the hashtag “Divas Revolution!”
Best: Guys Who Should Be Main-Eventing Every Week While Everybody’s Hurt
Finally, we end the show with something you’d legitimately want to watch: Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose going 15 minutes, and Smackdown being creative enough to book a finish besides, “Owens gives up and walks out.” I mean, they still DO that, but they do a more reasonable-than-usual job of working it in.
Owens and Ambrose is a fantastic pairing, not only because they’ve worked together before and share similar styles, but because their WWE personalities clash so well. Ambrose is the “lunatic fringe,” and usually gets run against guys like Bray Wyatt, who try to out-crazy him. If not that, he’s paired with or against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, two guys who have one personality trait each — “whining” and “being confusingly mellow” respectively. Owens is a heel, but he’s got an understandable motivation: he’s got an inferiority complex and is here to support his family, so he gets frustrated when things don’t automatically go his way. He’s the kind of guy who will condescend on Ambrose for being weird, then get bent out of shape when that weirdness leads to him being challenged in a match. I love that. I love that Ambrose’s unpredictability could cause legitimate problems for an opponent based on their character, and not just because someone at the announce table’s screaming that it’s the truth.
As for the finish, it was the expected cop-out, but at least it was a little fresher. Ambrose boots Owens in the stomach to set up for Dirty Deeds, so Owens melodramatically collapses to the ground holding his junk. The referee saw the kick and saw Owens go down (and the boot to the stomach was black on black), so he’s forced to assume Ambrose went blatantly low and disqualify him. Owens wins, and Ambrose gets to beat him up after the match to send the crowd home happy. That also allows us to mark “Kevin Owens bails on a fight” on our Smackdown bingo card.
Still, great stuff. Let’s use the fact that everyone above guys like Owens and Ambrose (and Cesaro) are hurt or on vacation to actually get creative and do something worthwhile with guys like Owens and Ambrose (and Cesaro), instead of speed-dialing Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam to come back and kick them in their faces. Can we? Please? In January you can have Cena come back and win the Royal Rumble and build to a match with Triple H, I don’t care, just give me a little vacation where Smackdown and Raw pretend to exist in the same universe as NXT.