The Best And Worst Of Smackdown 7/23/15: Walk, Owens, Walk

For those confused, sorry, I don’t know what’s going on with Kevin Owen’s face here, either.

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Best: Getting To The Point

The writing for most episodes of Smackdown is about as creative as an Ikea instructional pamphlet, and yet most episodes still open with Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose or whoever in the ring talking for 10 minutes, like this Smackdown is really going to tell a story. I’m not necessarily knocking Smackdown for never telling a story, a wrestling show can sometimes just be a wrestling show, but if there’s no plot, spare me the wordy setup.

This Smackdown did just that. We got a quick recap of Raw, a few promo images for matches later in the show, and then we were off to the races. Yes, more of this.

Worst: Bray Wyatt Distraction Finishes For Everyone!

The show kicked off with Sheamus vs. Ambrose, which was about as dull as you’d expect. These two guys are two of the three most formulaic top guys in WWE (along with Randy Orton) and true to form, this was a match. I dunno, it’s hard to pin down what Sheamus has been missing since returning, but boy howdy, is it missing. I suppose Ambrose hitting a random tornado DDT onto the floor is worth mentioning, but that was really the only noteworthy thing about the body of this match.

Then came the finish. Sigh. Apparently, Bray Wyatt is now providing distraction finishes for Dean Ambrose matches, too. Roman Reigns constantly losing because of Bray is bad enough, but there’s no way Ambrose should be at all fussed by Bray. They’ve wrestled so many times, they’re practically an old married couple by now, and if you’ve ever caught one of his local morning show appearances, you know Ambrose smokes Bray’s ass in he crazy department. When Bray came out, Ambrose should have taken out his own cellphone, waved it along with the fireflies, then busted it over Sheamus’ head and pinned him while making a jerkoff motion in Bray’s general direction. That’s a Dean Ambrose I’d be fully behind.

Worst: No, It Does Get Old

While we’re on the subject of formulaic guys, let’s talk Neville. They have sapped any and all excitement from this guy’s act. Every match is the same. He gets beat down forever, before finally going on a tear with the same running kicks he always uses, then either goes up top and hits the Red Arrow, or misses and gets pinned. That’s certainly what happened in his match with Adam Rose. Neville isn’t wrestling real matches any more, he’s doing a over-rehearsed dance. He’s a more athletic Zack Ryder.

Worst: Starred Times

Okay, Cody Rhodes is still Stardust, and he’s still a heel, and that’s fine. I totally understand. That said, this was no good at all. After Neville’s match, Stardust pops up on the big screen in a party hat and dollar-store star glasses, while weird clown noises play in the background. He calls Neville the Caped Crusader, then segues into some tortured metaphors about crusades and green arrows, and it’s all pretty groan-worthy. Also, Cody has license to reference his dad’s Hard Times promo any time he wants, but I can’t help but feel it was wasted in this lame-ass segment. Pick your spots, kid.

Worst: The Return Of The King

Apropos of nothing, King Barrett sauntered out in the middle of Smackdown, and was basically, “Hey, could we all forget the R-Truth thing happened, and just reboot this king thing? Thanks.” I was waiting for R-Truth to back over Barrett with a garbage truck, bury his corpse in garbage, then light the garbage on fire, but nope, it didn’t happen. King Barrett just said his piece and left.

If I still had any faith in Barrett I’d give this a Best, but I don’t. Any segment that ends with Barrett retaining any shred of his dignity is just setting up a bigger, more shameful fall down the line. Just saying, if on Monday the Raw set seems like it’s been set up to accommodate some sort of large vehicle, you know what’s up.

Best: Think About Your Health

Before his match, Kevin Owens addressed tapping out to John Cena at Battleground, and it was a bit of a mixed bag. He bragged about giving John Cena the greatest fight of his life, which doesn’t really feel like something the Kevin Owens character should care about. Owens shouldn’t value anything related to Cena and his career. The only things Owens cares about are strictly Kevin Owens-related things.

That said, things got better when Owens got into why he tapped. Basically, he explained that he uses his body to support his family, so he’s going to protect his physical well-being, even if that means tapping out. Of course, that runs completely contrary to WWE’s weird main-event good guy Never Give Up ideals, but it’s a totally logical, defensible position. Owens also logically explained that he walked out on his team on Raw, because Sheamus had already left and the writing was on the wall, so why subject yourself to a beating? As always, I find myself agreeing with pretty much all the things Owens says, without actually liking him for saying them.

Worst: The Prize Fighter On Smackdown

Thus far, Kevin Owens has been portrayed as different, special, in all his NXT and main roster matches. Owens’ matches have been real showcases, what with him hitting all sorts of varied offense and kicking out of Attitude Adjustments left and right. Compared to that, this was kind of a let down.

Rumor has it Owens is set to become just another guy, and Owens vs. Rusev kind of felt like just another match. The action was fine, although a bit confusing (why was Rusev working as a face?) and ultimately didn’t feel like anything that special. In the end, Owens did another walkout, which made character sense, but was disappointing from every other possible perspective. Time to stop thinking about self preservation, and more about career preservation, buddy.

Best: Making Sacrifices

Thankfully, business picked right back up for Owens in the next segment. Backstage, Rich Brennan asks Cesaro about his recent career upswing, and Cesaro delves into his long, hard-fought career. About traveling hundreds of miles for a handshake, about not seeing his family at Christmas for over a decade and how it’s all been worth it, because he loves his business so damn much. I hope you’re paying attention to your own TV show, WWE, because this needs to be Cesaro’s new character. “Living embodiment of the American dream” is what makes him a main-eventer.

And then, Kevin Owens shows up. He doesn’t care about Cesaro’s dreams, and all he hears when Cesaro talks about his sacrifices and not being home for Christmas is a man who abandoned his family. Sheeeee-it. Now this is a good old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes personality clash. The the guy who will sacrifice anything for his pro wrestling dreams, and the guy who refuses to sacrifice anything and is appalled you’re even asking him to. Cesaro shoots back that Owens is the authority on abandoning things, because he walks out on all his matches, and Owens can’t even process it. Why the hell should he care about some random match on Smackdown? They almost lose the thread when Cesaro throws out a couple veiled fat jokes, but on the whole, this was excellent stuff. If only these guys had some sort of title to feud over [side-eyes in John Cena’s direction].

Best: The Bella Empire Strikes Back

First off, before we get into the match, Sasha Banks boogieing to Naomi’s theme music in her new bad girl black gear, is my happy place for this week.

Brie and Nikki Bella vs. Naomi and Sasha Banks was one of the most solid main roster women’s matches I’ve seen in a long ass time. Probably ever. Sure, some of the NXT women’s title matches have delivered more in terms of emotion and storytelling, but this was just a really tight, well-executed formula tag match. No wonky spots, no bits where you felt you had to judge the match “by Divas division standards”, just good pro wrestling. If things are really going to change for women’s wrestling in WWE, the ladies are going to have to deliver at the same level as their male counterparts, and tonight it was brought.

Now, there were a few oddities from a storytelling perspective. The Bellas worked as faces, which didn’t make a lot of sense. WWE is going to have to figure that shit out, because the Bellas can’t be heels when they wrestle Paige’s crew and faces when the go up against Naomi’s. But, like I said, this was a good formula match, with Naomi working Brie over with some pretty nice forearms, and Sasha doing lots of fun little character work. Eventually, Nikki got the tag, ran wild and got the win, which I’m sure will irk some people, but if we’re not completely trashing the old Divas division, you have to allow some of the old faces to look competent. So, yeah, the foundation is there, now let’s build a house of consistent characterization and good storytelling on top of it.

Best: Doing “Heel Champ” Right

The main-event between Seth Rollins and Cesaro was a total old-school Ric Flair match, which is, obviously, a good thing. Rollins needs to draw more inspiration from Flair than the school of Triple H and Randy Orton. I realize one school is more politically advantageous, but the other results in much better matches.

Rollins spent most of the match getting tossed around and helping Cesaro look good. Not that Cesaro needs much help, of course. Swiss Superman highlights for this match included Cesaro gorilla-pressing Rollins, then chucking him across the ring instead of just dropping him, and a bit where he put Rollins in a Sharpshooter, then seamlessly transferred to a crossface. In the end though, Rollins took advantage of a split-second distraction, thumbed Cesaro in the eye, hit the Pedigree and won. In the end, Cesaro looks great for most of the match, and Rollins looks like a clever, dangerous opportunist rather than a lucky failure. Again, classic Flair.

Best: This Owens Is Gonna Walk All Over You

After the Rollins match, Kevin Owens heads down to the ring to add insult to injury, as it looks like we’re got a full on Owens/Cesaro feud on our hands. Yes, please. I love you, Cesaro, but you’re going to live to regret those catering jokes, buddy.