I’m digging The Shield’s new look.
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Best: Tonight, I Call You Lana
Roman Reigns has seemingly stopped trying to be a good promo, which might be a positive thing. Roman’s spiel to kick off Smackdown was still plenty dorky, but he came off loose, unforced and generally likable. Much better than his deer in the headlights, “Oh God, I can’t screw up this fifth grade book report” delivery of the past. It also helped that the Sacramento crowd seemed particularly enamored with the guy for whatever reason.
Reigns kept the recap short, and jumped right to point, saying he was totally down for a family vs. family battle with Bray Wyatt. Before he could get to the fist cocking and belee that-ing, Rusev came out to interrupt him. As weary as I am of show-opening talky segments, I’ll admit I’m right back into them so long as somebody slightly unexpected interrupts the proceedings.
Roman Reigns’ American arrogance reminds Rusev of that cold fish Lana, so, for tonight, Rusev will call Reigns “Lana.” Ooooh, snap. That was actually mildly edgy by PG-era standards. Reigns pretending he couldn’t understand Rusev’s perfectly acceptable English was kind of rough, but him calling Rusev a sexist freak who should stop dressing his girlfriend up like a Barbie doll came off like an honest, unscripted reaction. I’ll take genuine over Jack and the Beanstalk any day. Reigns still has a long way to go with the whole speaking words thing, but this felt like a step in a good, less stilted, direction.
Best: Kings. Kings Among Men.
Um, guys, The New Day are now carrying around a mini basketball hoop and dunking on the heads of unsuspecting crew members. Holy sh*t, how have I never thought of this? I cannot express how badly I want to go back in time and spend a solid afternoon dunking on my little brother’s head. Hmmmm, well, I suppose I don’t have to time travel to do that.
Anyone know where I can get a deal on a mini basketball hoop? Also, if I could get two volunteers to carry me off like a king after the dunking, that’d be much appreciated.
Best: No Cutting In Line
The New Day vs. Prime Time Players and Mark Henry was super fun stuff. Big E was dropping verbal gold left and right, shouting “Just retire!” at Mark Henry (he’s saying what we’re all thinking!), and later insisting that everybody just chill out during a tense face-off on the outside. Xavier Woods’ defiant “Who sucks now?!” after doing an arm wringer was also classic.
The Prime Time Players were on their game, too. I’m calling it, Darren Young is officially an underrated guy in the ring. Partway through this match, Darren was just blasting around throwing wicked forearms, dropping Kofi on the apron and overhead suplexing Xavier on the floor. Dude was on a tear. This guy is ready to get out of the tag division and start wrestling real matches on his own. Titus and Mark Henry looked solid, too, and hey, Mark Henry actually got to pin a guy, so I guess that retirement isn’t happening just yet.
Supplemental Worst to Jerry Lawler for being particularly awful pretty much all night long. Dude actually made a joke about phonographs during this match, and was on his worst behavior whenever a woman was on screen. Well, okay, not his worst behavior, but worse than he’s been lately. That said, in the interest of balance, Jimmy Uso is gradually improving, and I chuckled at his comments about Titus knocking off Kofi’s nipples. Heh, nipples.
Best: Pop That New Day
And The New Day hits keep on coming. Rich Brennan/Rip Bronson accosts New Day backstage and asks whether they should go to the back of the line after losing to the tag champs, and they unleash some FURIOUS POSITIVITY on his ass. Of course they shouldn’t go to the back of the line, because Mark Henry pinned them, and he’s not one of the Tag Champs, so don’t point your filthy, nasty, disgusting, finger of negativity at them! Ohhhh, no, no, no!
Our heroes then tried to get a “Heeey, we want some New Day” chant going. Hmmm, that sounds vaguely familiar. Actually, the familiarity isn’t vague at all…
Sorry, guys. The last thing I want to do is get my favorite faction in trouble, but I have to assume somebody in WWE knows how to use Google.
Best: Now We Go To School
Naomi vs. Charlotte wasn’t a great wrestling exhibition, but it was satisfying in its own right. Basically, Naomi forgot everything she’s learned over the past six months and was once again going for Cena-esque springboard whatchamacallits, ugly monkey flips and the ol’ butthole to the head assault. Thankfully, Charlotte wasn’t about to put up with this old-school Divas division clowning, tapped into her Submission Sorority powers, and gave Naomi a (sadly figurative) spanking. She just chopped the crap out of Naomi, bulled her over, and slapped on the Figure Eight, and this match was done. But then…
Best: Lazy Booking Equality
Sasha and Tamina hit the ring before Naomi could tap, but instead of the match just ending in DQ after two minutes, the mysterious invisible Smackdown GM turned it into a tag TEAM match. That may not sound like progress, but it is. The women won’t truly be equal until they get to play with everything in WWE’s Big Box o’ Tired Wrestling Tropes.
Anyways, Charlotte and Becky Lynch vs. Naomi and Sasha was much better than the previous match. Also an improvement, Becky Lynch has dropped her Christmas elf look in favor of her hilarious/awesome frilly bloomers Final Fantasy gear. This outfit forever. Even though there haven’t been any real storylines since the NXT women got called up, they’re already doing a great job of subtly establishing their main roster characters. Charlotte is a monster, who’s tapped into her Flair genes and gained even more power and confidence since being called up, while Sasha is a little shook, and trying to find herself after being forcibly stuck with Naomi’s B-team. Just look at the “ohhhh, sh*t” look on Sasha’s face after Charlotte murders Naomi with a crazy sequence of headscissor suplex things. I’m not even sure how to describe what Charlotte was doing, but Sasha’s reaction was warranted.
I don’t want to give anybody in this match short shrift though. Becky was her usual solid-as-hell self, and worked great with Charlotte. Even Naomi got back on track halfway through the match with some nice heel mannerisms and nasty forearms. The BAD girls beat on Becky for a few minutes, but, eventually, she escaped, and Charlotte unleashed a hot tag barrage that Roman Reigns could take notes from. Unfortunately for Charlotte, she then found herself the victim of a (somewhat messy) roll-up by Naomi. I’m fine with that. I have a soft spot for Naomi, and am into her slightly tragic struggle to remain relevant in the new, more cut-throat Divas division.
Also, and from the beginning of the Charlotte hype package, to the end of this match, WWE devoted more than 20-straight minutes of TV time (almost half-an-hour with commercials) to women’s wrestling. Have they ever done that before? That’s what a revolution looks like.
Best: Use Your Time Wisely
I was tempted to give Stardust vs. Zack Ryder a Worst, for obvious Ryder-related reasons, but the match actually wasn’t bad. It was more back-and-forth than your average Ryder squash, and Stardust hit some genuinely innovative offense. That said, why the hell would you have Stardust wrestle Zack Ryder for five minutes, while this potentially career-making interview languishes on YouTube?
Get your programming priorities straight, WWE.
Best: Skin Masks And Bad Impressions
Hey, Big Show’s back! Was he gone? I dunno, maybe? Anyways, even though he’s just standing around backstage, he’s sweating so badly he’s managed to soak right through a hoodie. Show then launches into an extended Rocky impersonation, randomly segues into talking about the new Mission: Impossible movie, then goes off on how he’s going to rip off The Miz’s face and turn it into Halloween mask. So yeah, Big Show is doped up or dying or something, but, hey, it made for memorably bizarre 90 seconds.
Best: Roman Reigns vs. Rusev
Roman vs. Rusev was okay, in the way most Roman Reigns matches are merely okay. Both guys hit a lot of satisfyingly stiff shots, but there was no story, no build. Just “I’ll punch, now you punch, I’ll hit a clothesline, now you hit a clothesline…” for 10 minutes. It’s almost funny at this point. Roman came up as the guy who stood on the apron waiting for the hot tag, and he still doesn’t know what to do until he gets to run wild at the end of the match. Can somebody not take him aside and explain this? Can Eva Marie maybe let him take some of her classes with Brian Kendrick for the greater good?
But, hey, Roman is good at the running wild thing, and he does throw a good punch. Roman herking Rusev up for a deadlift German suplex and shrugging off a superkick to deliver the Superman punch were badass enough that I’m giving this match a marginal Best. Well, most of the match…
Worst: Trading Places
Way to ruin a potential all-Best Smackdown, terrible babyface Lana. We’ve come full circle — Summer Rae is killing it as the new Lana, and Lana has become Summer Rae from that dark era when she was trapped in an endless breakup with Fandango. Lana is now stuck running out to distract Rusev and catfight with Summer every night for no justifiable reason. Yes, Rusev keeps running her down, but he’s the bad guy. Be the bigger person. Or at least enact the kind of revenge the old Lana would be proud of. Don’t you still have Vladimir Putin’s email? Doesn’t he have any more Soviet Supermen who can teach Rusev a lesson? Playing the impulsive, weave-pulling woman scorned is beneath you.
Best: Welcome To War
So, Roman gets the distraction-aided win over Rusev, but we still have a couple minutes left on the clock, so here’s Bray Wyatt. Not exactly the show-capper I was hoping for, but Bray thankfully keeps things simple. Family vs. family is on for SummerSlam, and it’s going to be a war. Yeah, I can get into that. Keep exercising the brevity muscle, Bray.