The Best And Worst Of WWE Smackdown Live 2/21/17: Slowlane


Hey, Blue Team!

Overall, this week’s Smackdown Live was pretty good. There were a couple of glaring technical difficulties, both in front of and behind the camera, but for the most part it’s a thumbs up. We welcome back an old friend, the “you must defend your title within thirty days rule,” and say goodbye to our new friend, “logical Smackdown episode conclusions.”

But my main takeaway from Tuesday night is how Smackdown seems to be taking a detour on the Road to WrestleMania. They’re taking their sweet time revealing who exactly will be facing Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. I get the feeling that we’re going to be stretching for time until Fastlane, as we wait for Raw to catch up and put its final pre-WrestleMania pay-per-view in the rearview mirror.

Oh, and apparently AJ Styles is at the very least open to the idea that the Earth may be flat. How ’bout that. Y’learn something new every day.

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 21st, 2017.

Best: Of A Bad Situation

The first half hour of this week’s Smackdown Live is great. It all revolves around the blue brand’s Women’s Championship and was perfectly executed by everyone involved. It starts with Naomi being forced to relinquish her recently won title due to injury, and ends with Alexa Bliss beating Becky Lynch in a match to crown a new champion.

We begin with Daniel Bryan coming down to the ring and giving an emotional speech about knowing all too well how what he’s about to ask of Naomi feels like. It’s followed by Naomi coming out and giving and ever more emotional speech about the ups and downs of her past few weeks before handing the belt over the Bryan. Now look, other than Roman Reigns, you don’t want to see any of these athletes actually get hurt. But in the long run, this could end up having a huge upside for Naomi.

I’ve always liked Naomi. Even back when she was a Funkadactyl. But up until now, I’ve never had a reason to root for her. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a real life tragedy before WWE is forced to produce a piece of television like that that actually gives you a reason to root for the good guys.

As fun as her neon entrance dance is “feeling the glow,” it’s not exactly enough of a personality trait to make me connect with a character. But now I can’t wait to see her win that belt back. Or it’s going to be absolutely heartbreaking if she doesn’t.

As long as WWE keeps playing this right, they have a slam dunk feud on their hands for the Women’s Title when Naomi returns. And if she somehow manages to return in time for WrestleMania, then you have a way more powerful reason for Naomi to win instead of just “she’s from Orlando.”

One of the many smart things WWE did in the first thirty minutes of the show was to keep Alexa Bliss out of the arena until after Naomi was done saying “bye for now.” It allowed both Naomi and Alexa to get the spotlight and go to completely different ends of the emotional spectrum in the same segment.

“This may have been Alexa Bliss’ best promo to date” is becoming somewhat of a catchphrase for me. I say it so often I should sell it on a shirt at Pro Wrestling Tees. It’s time to put on the broken record, because this may have been Alexa Bliss’ best promo to date!

She’s starting to exude confidence no matter what she’s doing, and with it she’s doing some of the best heel work not just on Smackdown, but in the whole WWE. Bliss demands that Bryan hand the title over to her, but instead of doing so he gives her the opportunity to fight for the belt against Becky Lynch in a match that starts … right now.

Not the best overall Alexa/Becky match, but it was definitely the best match for them to have at this point in time. Their previous matches have had more memorable spots and more impressive move sets, but this one was exactly what it needed to be. Nothing felt overwrought. It wasn’t too long or complicated, just a very well wrestled and simple match. It was also the first one of their encounters where Alexa didn’t feel like the lesser competitor of the two. It seemed like she could have just as easily won the match fair and square. But of course being one of the best heels on the brand, she played fast and loose with the rules to get the job done.

The end sequence was a great finish. While trying to get away from Lynch on the mat, Bliss grabbed onto the ring apron, pulling it into the ring. Once both women are on their feet, the ref turns his attention away from them to fix the ring apron and while he’s distracted, Alexa hits Becky right in the throat and rolls her up for the pin with a handful of tights.

Classic heel stuff done very logically and believably. They could have easily phoned this one in and had Becky get distracted by Mickie James at ringside. Or even worse, just Mickie’s music hitting. You know, the kind of ending that helps no one. But this way, Bliss gets to look like she outsmarted the referee without making Becky Lynch look like an idiot.

So Alexa Bliss is once again your Smackdown Women’s Champion. And that is 100% the correct move right now. The big question is, who will she face at WrestleMania, and on the rest of the Road to it if Naomi doesn’t make it back by April? Even though the division has been going strong, it’s still painfully shallow. And losing someone as valuable as Naomi is sure to even more expose it’s lack of depth. You could turn Mickie James on Alexa, but she’s got unfinished business with Becky. I guess you could bring Tamina back to feud with her, but who really wants to see that? It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Best: When I Say “Uce” You Say “Ooooooo”

American Alpha vs. Breezango is up next. Not the two segment match the fashion police deserve, but then again not every Smackdown Tag Team can be treated as well as The Ascension. Breeze and Fandango did manage to get in a little more offense than normal on their way to firmly putting over Gable and Jordan. So, baby steps. Meanwhile, American Alpha looks to have gone full Steiner once again using the Steinerizer as their finishing move. Ok, maybe not full Steiner. That would require getting all juiced up and opening up a Shoney’s. But baby steps.

The real news in the tag division this week isn’t American Alpha’s win or even the amazing Fleet Week Meets Fashion Week Disco Milkman outfits Breezango were sporting, complete with “Fashion Popo” on the ass. No, it was the post-match promo from The Usos. Could they talk like this the whole time they’ve been here? Did WWE just find this out? It was very impressive, and if they keep it up, I could totally see them getting more over with this than they ever could as personality-less neon Samoans.

The Usos weren’t just good, they were downright cool. Or hip. Or whatever you millennials use for what I called “cool” and “hip” when I was your age. On fleek? Were the Usos on fleek? I kind of feel like I’m appropriating when I use “on fleek.” Should I not being using that?

Anyway, The Usos have never been better and can only keep going up from here. It’s very exciting to see a team that’s been around as long as they have totally reinvent themselves and add new life to their careers.

Worst: Falls Count In These Specific Areas We Have Planned Our Spots In

Natalya and Nikki Bella’s Falls Count Anywhere match failed to live up to the three month build up to it. I don’t know where the passion went that they showed in all their pull-apart brawls, but you won’t find it here. This thing was all over the place.

At times it felt overly staged, but then started to feel like it wasn’t thought out enough. Some spots came off as almost too safe, but then the action would become dangerously sloppy. But none of what went on between the two competitors was anything near as sloppy as the writing.

In a coincidence on par with being twice struck by lightening, Maryse somehow manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and just so happens to get hit by a falling Nikki Bella as she walked backstage. What are the odds? Of all the ways the Road to WrestleMania could lead to that mixed tag match, they’re going with “by accident.”

So Nikki and Nattie wrestle out from backstage and back into the arena, where just when it looks like Nikki has the match won, Maryse runs out and hits her with a pipe repeatedly, allowing Nattie to pin Nikki. The best part is The Miz comes out to stop Maryse, pulling her off of Nikki and taking her to the back. But there’s no sign of Nikki’s significant other, who has now shown more on-air affection toward AJ Styles than he has to his girlfriend. We still have five more Smackdowns until Mania. So maybe this feud will gain more substance along the way.

But probably not.

Worst: Everyone Loses

The Smackdown Live main event this week is a ten-man Battle Royale to determine a new number one contender to face Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania. Yeah, that’s right. TEN-MAN. If you’re a regular reader of this column, or have simply had casual conversation with me in real life, then you know that I am not a fan of a battle royale with less than twenty participants. Sure, Smackdown doesn’t have twenty male singles competitors on it’s roster, but they could have filled it out with some tag team guys, like Slater and Rhyno.

The person I really feel bad for is Curt Hawkins. They put Mojo Rawley in this but not Curt Hawkins? I throw a lot of shade Hawkins way for his horrible character, but damn WWE! Leaving him out of this match was cold. Other than James Ellsworth, Hawkins was the only other active male singles competitor on the roster who was left out. I’m not counting Kane, who has returned to Hell for the winter. Or Jack Swagger, who I assume is off helping to build Trump’s border wall.

I would be remiss to not mention the many pre-tape promos they ran throughout the night from all the battle royale participants other than Cena. I liked the idea behind them, but the execution was weird. Ambrose’ looked like it was shot at the ECW Arena circa 1998. Harper is still in Bray’s room where he keeps his collection of hanging lightbulbs and smoke machines. And Ziggler has a very strange piece of business where he is clearly in front of a green screen with his logo superimposed behind him, but he’s able to kick the logo. I … I just … I don’t know. Hey. Here’s to trying new things at least.

Proving that size doesn’t always matter, this half-sized battle royale turned out to be pretty fun. Not as fun as last week’s main event, but not bad. Everybody got the spotlight for a bit and all the current feuds took a step forward. It was like watching half an episode of Smackdown play out in one match. It was all going well, right up until the end.

So it comes down to Luke Harper and AJ Styles. They both spend some time hanging off the ring, teasing that they’re about to fall. They teeter back and forth on each side of the ring post until Harper falls knees down on the apron. He then grabs Styles, pulling him over the top turnbuckle. So now they’re in an awkward position where Harper’s sitting on the ring apron and he has Styles kind of up in the suplex position with Styles still balancing his legs on the top turnbuckle. What I think was supposed to happen next was that Harper suplexing Styles to the floor with them both hitting at the same time, a la Bret Hart and Lex Luger in the ’94 Royal Rumble. But what ends up happening is Harper gets momentarily caught on the edge of the apron mid-suplex, allowing Styles to fall and hit the floor clearly before Harper does.

Now I’m not putting any blame on Styles and Harper, because accidents happen and frankly there’s no way for us to know whose fault this was. But where I am going to place blame is with literally everyone backstage who could have just called an audible and declared Harper the winner, when y’know, he clearly just won the match. You could have still ended up having a one-on-one match between Harper and Styles for the Mania slot next week after Styles throws a fit about it being a bad call. But for now, just call the match the way it happened. Let Harper win it and save face.

Instead, you have the referees standing around out there looking like some of the stupidest characters that have ever been on television. You have Mauro Ranallo looking like an idiot because he continues to follow the script, even though Harper clearly won. And Daniel Bryan doesn’t look much better when he can’t call a winner either. It’s ridiculous and didn’t need to happen. It seriously took away from what was otherwise an enjoyable match.

Luckily the show ends on a high note because Bray Wyatt appears on the screen and laughs at what he’s just seen. I know storyline wise it was supposed to look like he was laughing at there not being a winner of the match, but it kind of felt like he was laughing at the botch. Now every time something goes wrong on WWE television, I want Bray Wyatt to pop on the screen and laugh at it. Y’know, times like when you can clearly hear Nattie tell Nikki that she’s doing a good job. Cue Bray Wyatt laughing.

Until next time, I’m Justin Donaldson and Chrisley knows best.