Hey, Blue Team!
I really enjoyed this week’s Smackdown Live. It’s starting to look like the build to this year’s WrestleMania could end up being much better than we’ve seen in the last two years. Still not sure how this year’s Mania is going to be, but at least we should have fun getting there. And getting there is a percentage of the fun.
I also enjoyed the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. That show, along with this week’s Smackdown Live, did a great job getting everything going in the direction of Mania. And boy am I happy that that direction includes something substantial for Bray Wyatt. Not that high profile matches between John Cena and The Undertaker weren’t substantial, it’s just now finally Bray is at a point where whether win or lose, he could still come out of Mania with momentum.
But Bray Wyatt’s character isn’t fully saved yet. We’re still in the infancy of turning it around. But if everything goes right in 2017, then Bray Wyatt’s best years could be just ahead of him. And when we look back at the end of his career, everything from WrestleMania 30 until last year’s Survivor Series can be chalked up to his “lost years.” And we never need to speak of them again …
The Road to WrestleMania is a long one. To help us down the highway, why not take a moment to give The Best and Worst of Smackdown Live a share on your favorite social media platform. While you’re at it, follow With Spandex on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
And now without further ado, here is The Best and Worst of Smackdown Live for February 14th, 2017.
Best: The Eater of Titles
I wouldn’t usually recommend starting off Smackdown Live with a Bray Wyatt promo, but he kept it under fifteen minutes, so it worked out. Instead of the long rambling world destroying Bray Wyatt promo that we all once loved but eventually got bored of, Bray’s first promo as WWE Champion is clear and to the point.
It also made him sound a bit more like a counter culture hero who finally bested The Man than a cult leader who just wants to watch the world burn. In my opinion, this is the right place for him to be headed. And it seemed like it was working for the live audience too, as the majority of them seemed like they were squarely behind Wyatt, once again showering him with “you deserve it” chants. But there’s one man in the building not buying it.
Cue John Cena’s music.
Cena’s here to let Wyatt know that he in fact doesn’t deserve it. According to John Cena, nobody deserves anything. And since Bray Wyatt has only pinned John Cena once, he’s going to have to pin him about ten more times before John will begrudgingly admit that maybe, just maybe, Bray Wyatt has earned it. Even if in John’s mind, he still doesn’t deserve it. Just a remember that the “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” isn’t the respect John Cena has for other people, it’s the respect you are supposed to have for him.
At this point, the scheduled main for event for this week’s show in John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship. But that doesn’t last long as out comes AJ Styles to point out that he’s still owed a rematch for the belt. Out comes Daniel Bryan and suddenly your two man main event has become a three-way as Daniel Bryan adds Styles to the match.
Bryan’s decision angers Styles, angers Wyatt, and causes Cena to have some sort of childish joy fit like a six year old hyped up on caffeine and sugar who just saw a puppy. Overall, the segment wasn’t anything special, but it was fun to see Bray Wyatt get to bask in championship glory, and the rest of the segment managed to reach levels beyond what it was on paper due to how hot the crowd was for it. In fact, the crowd was pretty hot all night. If Anaheim keeps this up, maybe they’ll finally get a follow-up pay-per-view to WrestleMania 2000.
Best: A Slightly Better Ascension = A Much Better Ascension
Smackdown takes another step forward this week in reestablishing their tag team division by having a solid two-on-two match between American Alpha and The Ascension. It felt good to have a regular tag team match on Smackdown again, and competitive matches with dominant wins are a good look for Jordan and Gable. The slight improvement in the booking of The Ascension over the last few weeks does as much for American Alpha as it does for Konnor and Viktor.
Yes, I know The Ascension didn’t exactly look like the Road Warriors when they failed to capitalize on The Usos beatdown of American Alpha at Elimination Chamber, but I’m sure if that same exact match had taken place just a few months ago, Alpha would have probably bounced right back and destroyed The Ascension in under a minute.
Just a couple more minutes in the ring before laying on their backs does wonders for The Ascension. That’s why I’ve been so confused at the way teams like The Vaudevillains, Breezango, and them have been presented to us for the better part of a year.
Why should I be impressed by American Alpha winning matches if I’m constantly being told that their opponents are losers? The Ascension still doesn’t even look that good. But at least they have now one a match this year. So who knows, maybe they’ll win one more. Couple that with giving this match two segments of TV time, and WWE has managed to make American Alpha beating The Ascension feel like somewhat more of an accomplishment than it would have only a few weeks ago. Simple nuts and bolts wrestling booking almost always works.
That’s why it drives me crazy when they don’t do it. Now that Jordan and Gable have bested the ever-so-slightly new and improved Ascension, it’s time for them to go full speed ahead with competing against The Usos.
Last week I suggested that the best way to save the Smackdown Tag Team Division would be to get back to basics and focus on one feud between two teams, instead of continuing on with matches where every team on the roster is involved. Now that’s happened. Even though we’ve seen a lot of Uso/Alpha matches already, these two teams still have a lot they could do with each other, and a properly built Mania match between these two teams (and these two teams alone) could be a great one. Hey, you could even put Rikishi in The Usos’ corner and Kurt Angle in American Alpha’s, if you really wanted to draw some attention to their match.
As for The Ascension, my hope is they won’t be relegated back to the Wasteland now that they have helped heat Alpha back up for The Usos. Keep them on TV. Keep them competitive. Put them over some local talent and let them look stronger every week until it feels like their win last week wasn’t a fluke. Then eventually do the same thing with The Vaudevillains and Breezango. Then boom. You’ve got a tag team on Smackdown firing on all cylinders like the Women’s Division.
Best: The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment Today
I’m assuming WWE Creative’s intended goal for this segment wasn’t to get me to laugh out loud, but any reaction’s a good reaction. What was supposed to be a scheduled match between Dean Ambrose and James Ellsworth never takes places due to an attack by Baron Corbin.
As Ellsworth and Carmella wait in the ring for Dean, his music hits but he doesn’t show up. That is until after a couple of beats, when Baron Corbin drags a beaten and battered Ambrose out from backstage. If the segment had ended there with Corbin turning around and calmly walking to the back, leaving the beaten Ambrose on the ground, this would have worked great. Or even if Corbin had dragged Ambrose all the way to the ring, throwing him in for Ellsworth to pin, I would now be giving this segment an unironic best.
Unfortunately I’m giving it a best for the worst reasons possible. Instead of the segment ending there, Baron and Dean fight off to the side of the arena where we have been told over the years that all the pyro and electrical stuff resides. Corbin hoists Ambrose up in the air with the Deep Six, throwing him over one table and into another causing something in the facility of the table to explode. Except it didn’t exactly go down that way, because the explosion happened right before Ambrose went through the table.
There are three possible explanations for this:
1. The force in which Corbin swung Ambrose during the Deep Six caused a powerful gust of wind that blew over a nearby piece of pyrotechnic, causing it to go off.
2. Ever since being electrocuted by an exploding television, Dean Ambrose’s body has a constant electrical current running through it, which under the right circumstances can cause nearby electronic devices to spark or explode.
3. Baron Corbin’s werewolf powers allow him to blow up things with his mind.
Accidents happen, and I’m not going to let a pyro guy with an itchy trigger finger ruin an otherwise good segment. Funny thing is, this week’s show is in Anaheim in the same building where the first on these kind of spots took place. It was Mankind vs. The Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble in a match that’s become known way more for it’s unprotected chair shots than it’s use of pyro. At least, that’s the first time I remember it happening.
Best: From G.L.O.W. to Glow
The middle of this week’s show focused heavily on the Women’s Division, including an Elimination Chamber rematch between Mickie James and Becky Lynch, an in-ring interview segment with new Women’s Champion Naomi and Alexa Bliss, and a backstage segment with Nikki Bella and Natalya where Daniel Bryan loses it and books the two in a falls count anywhere match that they have been building toward for months.
Headed into Mania, the blue portion of the Women’s Division is in excellent shape. Sure, Raw may get the splash of the epic match-ups with Bayley, Sasha, and Charlotte, but Smackdown has become the real testament to the success of the Women’s Revolution. We just had three one-on-one matches at Elimination Chamber, and now those feuds have all rolled forward, leading to three pretty strong segments on this week’s show. Two out of three of those even pass the Bechdel Test. That’s real progress.
Mickie and Becky’s rematch was pretty good. I liked the ending, even though we’ve seen Becky fall for the fake injury act before. I’m a little confused why the ending of this match and the ending of their match at the pay-per-view weren’t switched. But I guess that won’t matter anyway once we get to their tie-breaker.
My favorite of the Women’s segments this week though was probably Naomi’s interview about her title win and her injury during the match. It was the first time on a Raw or Smackdown that I really connected with Naomi on the mic. Follow that up with some blazing heel work by Bliss in what may have been her best performance on the mic today. I know I’ve called a lot of these Alexa Bliss promos the best, but she just keeps getting better week after week.
As the Mania card starts to come together, the question still remains of what exactly are the women going to be doing. I know the main spotlight will on whatever the Raw women are involved in it, but you can’t tell me that show’s not long enough for a high profile Smackdown Women’s match too. Please WWE, don’t fall back on another throwaway multi-women match for the blue brand. Why not have a one-on-one match for the Smackdown Women’s title at WrestleMania? It’s been way too long. Naomi vs. Alexa, Alexa vs. Becky, Becky vs. Naomi … any combination would work.
Worst: Take My Spot, Please
We have a new reason for Dolph Ziggler to be a heel, and it could have kind of justified the two-on-one match last Sunday, if they had only decided before Tuesday to have this be his motivation. Ziggler has now waged a one-man war on the New Era in order to protect his spot from up-and-comers like Kalisto and Apollo Crews. If I were those guys, I’d be shooting for a bit of a better spot than Ziggler’s.
The funny thing about this whole “protecting his spot” angle is that it’s almost the same motivation Ziggler has for feuding with Baron Corbin last year when Ziggler was a face. Corbin was new on the main roster, a young up-and-comer trying to make a name for himself by showing up the show-off. But Ziggler fought to protect his spot and prove that even though he’s now a veteran, his career is far from over.
For some reason we are now supposed to boo Ziggler for doing the same exact thing we were told to cheer him for last April. I guess the difference is now he is using heel tactics against Kalisto and Crews, but everything he did against Corbin was fair and square.
Oh, I guess not.
Best: A Valentine’s Day Threesome
Wow. This was great. Bray Wyatt vs. AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship was great. Cena did seem like he may have been a little off, and yes this match was another nail in the coffin for finishers meaning anything, but I don’t care. This was so much fun to watch. I know this is sacrilege, but I kind of loved the way they burned through finishing moves and false finishes in this match.
These men have had a hell of a two and a half weeks, between the Royal Rumble, the Elimination Chamber, and this, they’ve traded the belt around, gained and lost respect for one another … Cena’s probably even hosted a couple of morning shows. There’s a real sense of desperation in every man to win this match. It’s so important to each of them to be the champion headed into WrestleMania, so they’re pulling out all the stops. This actually feels like that mythical Road to WrestleMania that has only felt like hype in recent years. Every kicked-out finisher just drew me into the match more and more.
And Styles. What is even left to say about Styles at this point? The MVP once again. Flying around that place, into frame, out of frame, from out of nowhere … and the bit where they come out of commercial break with AJ standing on the barricade, about to put Wyatt through the table – just perfect. When the table didn’t break the first time, Styles goes right back up to the barricade and comes back off with a more impactful move to get the job done, like a Valentine to all of us. A beautiful, painful Valentine. Then Wyatt pins Cena clean. Yes, Cena had just received a Styles Clash, but still what’s fair is fair, and that’s a pretty clean pin as far as John Cena goes. Crazy.
If you didn’t see it, go watch it. It will help take your mind off our insane world right now. Can you really ask for anything more?
Potential Best: Love Triangle
The main event on this week’s Smackdown Live was Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt having a little chit chat. Randy refuses to wrestle Bray in the main event of WrestleMania, and not just because Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar is the main event of WrestleMania. Orton won’t wrestle Wyatt because Bray is his master and he is his servant. Looks like someone caught a showing of Fifty Shades Darker on his day off this week.
Later, on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan announces that he talked to Shane (who was apparently at the White House), and they’ve decided that to find a Mania opponent for Bray, they’re going to have a Number One Contender’s Battle Royale on Smackdown Live next week.
My guess is Luke Harper’s going to win the Battle Royale, at which point Orton will reclaim the Mania main event spot he won and make the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania a three-way, in order for him to “protect” Wyatt from losing the belt to Harper. Once the Wyatt/Orton/Harper match is set, then you can have the mind games start back up with Harper planting doubt in Bray’s head of whether or not Orton is really on his side. That has all the potential in the world.
I’m a hundred times more interested in this feud now than I was going into Elimination Chamber. I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with this Wyatt/Orton storyline. It started out as some of the stupidest TV WWE has produced and has been full of ups and downs since then, but where we are now is good and the future looks bright. So I’m going to hope for the best going forward and forget that the only reason we have gotten to this place is because Orton once shrugged his shoulders and said, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Until next week, I’m Justin Donaldson, and if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Shoulder shrug emoticon.