The Best And Worst Of WWE Smackdown Live 3/14/17: The Styles Smash

Hey, Blue Team!

I enjoyed this week’s Smackdown Live, mainly due to the AJ Styles/Shane McMahon storyline kicking into hyperdrive. The rest of the show had its moments but the Styles/McMahon storyline was the star.

This week’s show felt a little bit different due to the loss of their signature four-man announce team. Both Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga were missing, leaving Tom Phillips and JBL on their own. Going in, I assumed this was going to be a gigantic improvement. But it turned out not to be the case. JBL and Phillips brought a sort of flatness to the announce table, making me appreciate for the first time the energy that Ranallo brings. The kayfabe reason they gave for their absence was Otunga out shooting a movie and Mauro stuck in the bad winter weather. But I think we all know it’s because Tom Phillips won’t stop texting them.

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And now without further ado, here is The Best and Worst of Smackdown Live for March 14th, 2017.

Best: AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon At WrestleMania 33

AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon will be the best match at WrestleMania 33. It may even buck the trend of NXT usurping WrestleMania and be the best match of the weekend. Is it a match I particularly want to see? No. If I was putting together my pitch to Vince McMahon on what this year’s WrestleMania card should have been, that match would be nowhere on it. I would have put AJ against Orton in the World Title match, or have AJ defend the World Title against Cena as he tries to break Flair’s record. The list of possible opponents for AJ Styles goes on and on, and Shane is not on that list.

But here we are. Less than three weeks away from WrestleMania and AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon has the greatest chance of being the best match on the card. Sure, Owens and Jericho will come close, and we still don’t know exactly what Joe, Sami, or Bálor are doing just yet. But AJ/Shane has the most potential for two reasons:

AJ Styles is the best wrestler in the world, and Shane McMahon can do whatever he wants.

Anything. Literally anything. Other than perhaps The Undertaker (and even that may be pretty doubtful), Shane McMahon has the most control over what he does at WrestleMania. Whatever he wants, happens. He didn’t just marry into McMahon-hood like Triple H. He is the Second Coming. And he picked AJ Styles because he knows, like the rest of us, that AJ Styles is the best in the world.

The A-story for this week’s Smackdown Live revolved around setting up this match. And even though it had a couple of bumps in the road, overall it was very well done and contained a lot of great television.

The show starts off with Daniel Bryan backstage, pretending to talk on his cell phone. AJ Styles interrupts his call, demanding to see Shane McMahon right now. Styles is all worked up and about to reach his breaking point. He tells Bryan that he’s headed out to explain to the audience what’s going on.

AJ hits the ring and delivers a very well-written promo explaining exactly why Shaniel Bryan has screwed him, and airs out some of my own personal grievances with Smackdown in general over the last few months. It did a beautiful job explaining the reason behind his actions, but without justifying those actions. He talks about the insanity of how they went about finding an opponent for Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, as well as not getting a one-on-one rematch with John Cena, and the fact that Randy Orton was not arrested for burning down Bray Wyatt’s house, but instead rewarded with the “Main Event” at WrestleMania.

Now usually I would hate a promo like this. Yes, it’s well-written and AJ did a solid job performing it. Typical modern WWE … having the bad guy be the most rational character on the show. Having the heel be the one who speaks the truth. I could sympathize with everything AJ Styles said. He spent a year being the highlight of the show, and now that we’re at WrestleMania, him not wrestling for the WWE Championship is frustrating.

I’ve been there man, it IS frustrating. Well you know, not there. But in similar situations. The point is that I can identify with AJ Styles. I feel his frustration. And that’s why this promo did such an excellent job in leading to what was about to happen next.

AJ Styles conducts a premeditated attack on Shane McMahon and puts Shane’s head through a car window. This is not your typical good guy/bad guy wrestling stuff. It has a little bit more depth to it. And even though the whole thing isn’t pulled off perfectly, it’s an amazing step in the right direction for WWE’s writing.

Even though he turned about a year ago, it wasn’t until this week’s Smackdown Live that AJ Styles actually truly became a heel. And not just in the one-dimensional regular wrestling bad guy way of turning on another good guy or turning on the fans and saying “I’m a bad guy now, boo me.”

AJ Styles was treated unfairly. He worked his ass off and got screwed in the end. Like the hardest worker in the office who gets passed up time and time again for the promotion. We can all sympathize with Styles. What we can’t sympathize with is the way AJ decided to handle it. Instead of continuing to work hard and prove to them that he deserves that World Title match at next year’s WrestleMania, he decided to take his frustration out on Shane McMahon’s head. That’s a real heel thing to do! He was given the choice between the right and wrong way to react in a real world scenario and Styles chose the wrong way. He acted like the bad guy.

Styles’ actions are made worse by the fact that we all know AJ’s better than that. Not only that, but we know how much Shane McMahon supported AJ Styles up until this point. I kind of want to boo AJ Styles now.

Congratulations WWE, that is a job well done.

Worst: WWE’s Special FX Team

There are two odd things in the segment where AJ jumps Shane. The first being before he starts sneaking up on his prey, AJ is being interviewed by Renee Young only about a car length away from Shane McMahon. Why didn’t Renee yell out to warn Shane that AJ was about to attack him? It was really clear what AJ’s intentions were when he was walking away from the interview. I could see a rule where the WWE’s journalistic staff isn’t allowed to get involved in disputes between Superstars, but this is her boss. You’d think she’d wanna yell out and stop the man from being assaulted.

Maybe she’s pissed that Ambrose isn’t in the World Title match at WrestleMania, and this is her way of sticking it to Shane? Let’s go with that.

The more noticeable gaffe though came when Shane’s head broke the glass of the car window. The tape that was used to gimmick the fake glass onto the open car window stuck to Shane’s jacket and fell to the floor with him in the aftermath. It looked really weird, and did a bit to damage the moment for me.

This is the second time on Smackdown’s Road to WrestleMania that a big spot like this was hurt by the FX crew. You all remember Dean Ambrose’s magical electrical powers from a few weeks back, I’m sure. What’s goin’ on you guys? Is this one of the situations where the FX guy is some old timer who’s been with the company since Vince Sr. owned it, so they feel obligated to keep him even though he keeps messing up? Is this one of those many jobs with the company that’s done by a former wrestler who doesn’t really know what they’re doing? Is Hillbilly Jim in charge of gimmicking this stuff?

Maybe they just need to start spending a little bit more on these stunts. I don’t know, but it would be nice if they put a little more effort into that side of things.

Best: Enough Is Enough

Later in the show, we see Shane McMahon backstage with a bleeding head wound, refusing to go the hospital. He must really be interested in the outcome of that Mojo Rawley/Dolph Ziggler match that was up next. Oh, and because McMahons drink their own blood for breakfast and have testicles the size of Bradshaw’s hat.

From there we see AJ Styles in the locker room, putting on his jacket and gathering up his stuff. On his way out of the arena, he’s stopped by Daniel Bryan and some local talent impersonating police officers. Bryan puts on his serious voice and reads Styles the Riot Act. Bryan tells him he doesn’t care how good he is in the ring, he’s lost all respect for him, then Daniel Bryan fires AJ Styles from Smackdown.

I completely bought into this segment as well. If I was Daniel Bryan, I think I would have done the exact same thing. Imagine you’re running a professional sports franchise and over the course of the last three weeks one of your top athletes attacked one of your champions with a forklift and one of the biggest stars on your roster burnt your champion’s house down. Yeah, another one of your athletes throwing one of the owners through a car window would be about where you would draw the line too.

Best: Tell The Network We’re Going Long

Hey remember how I just said Shane McMahon can do literally anything he wants? In case you didn’t believe me, tonight’s AJ/Shane storyline wraps up with Shane McMahon coming out into the arena about a minute into Chrisley Knows Best to book himself in a match against AJ Styles at WrestleMania. That’s how much power Shane McMahon has. If he wants to spend a little more time selling his head wound before making his announcement, not even Chrisley’s gonna stop him. Something tells me Kevin Owens doesn’t have the power to change a television show’s start time.

I like the way all this stuff played out. I liked the chaotic nature of it, I liked going into overtime, and I really like the way it was shot. The presentation felt like it wasn’t planned out, like it wasn’t just another segment in the show. That’s the kind of stuff from the Attitude Era that I miss that I wish would be incorporated into the modern product. Yes, I wish it would have been in the small box while the American Alphas/Usos match was in the big box on my TV screen, but that’s just me being nitpicky.

And The Rest Of Smackdown Is Kinda Meh

A lot of the non-Styles/McMahon moments on this week’s Smackdown Live were a bit underwhelming, including the first match of the night which was Nattie vs. Becky Lynch for the billionth time, in another one of those good but forgettable matches. The match essentially happens just so Carmella could get involved afterwards and in turn add her to the Women’s Title match at WrestleMania that we all assumed she was already going to be a part of.

Carmella superkicks Becky shortly after Lynch wins the match, and then follows it up with a superkick to Nattie for good measure. It’s all good, just not great. Just another step in setting up the WrestleMania card. It’s not really a “worst,” but I can’t give it a “best”… let’s call it “serviceable.”

Best: Maryse TV

These days it’s not easy to upstage The Miz if he’s across the ring with a microphone in his hand. But Maryse managed to do it on this week’s Miz TV. Either Maryse legitimately hates Nikki Bella, or her acting chops have actually improved since her last WWE run. Either way, I’ll take it.

She lays out a story that I didn’t fully understand but sounds like it much have been a thing on Total Divas, the only WWE show I don’t follow. Her story had to do with Nikki screwing her somehow over a contract, but the most important thing I got from it is just how pissed Maryse is. She talks about how she’s going to make Nikki suffer, and after a little name calling, out comes the WWE power couple, Cenella.

John Cena is here to introduce the presenters of the award for best animated feature. But before he has a chance, Nikki takes the mic from him and cuts a promo on Maryse that’s everything Maryse’s promo wasn’t. Nikki managed to suck the believability out of the situation by totally lacking the passion and reality that Maryse had. Nikki has greatly improved in the ring over the years, but her acting remains all kinds of unbearable.

Just when I can’t take anymore Bella, Daniel Bryan comes out to deliver a pretty fun promo about how much he wants to punch The Miz in the face. But because he can’t, he books The Miz and Maryse against John Cena and Nikki Bella at WrestleMania.

As a whole, the segment wasn’t great and this feud is still lacking a lot. But DAMN, Maryse!

Worst: TWICE!!

If you are a frequent reader of With Spandex, you know that high on the list of WWE pet peeves around here is the sin of a champion being pinned in a non-title match. This week’s Smackdown Live really ups their game in that department and does this twice in one show. First, with Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James, and later with American Alpha vs. The Usos.

Bliss and Alpha were both pinned clean even though Mickie James and The Usos are heels who could have easily cheated to soften the blow of the champs being defeated. If you’re going to have American Alpha pinned clean, why not just have it be a title match and put the belts on The Usos? It’s not like they’re trying to protect some New Day-esque streak of Gable and Jordan’s. WWE has already shown with the Women’s Title on Raw that they don’t mind playing hot potato with a championship. So just let The Usos win the title, and American Alpha can try to win the belts back at Mania.

Neither match was great, but the tag match was even more hampered by footage of Shane McMahon wandering around the building being shown at the same time, as well as the crowd’s want of Kurt Angle.

Doing this in the Women’s match made even less sense. At least by pinning American Alpha, The Usos have probably earned a two-on-two championship match with them at Mania. They’re not even sure what kind of match the women are going to be in at WrestleMania yet. There’s a chance that Alexa Bliss won’t even have to be pinned to lose the belt. So why do this?

Best: Utility Players

The Mojo Rawley/Dolph Ziggler feud that you forgot started last week continues this week in the form of a match. They do a very good job of building towards the Andre the Giant Battle Royale by making the focal point of the match be all about Mojo throwing Ziggler out of the ring over the top rope with ease over and over again. It was short and to the point. But guys did a good job, and the match was well put together for what it was supposed to do. It’s a “best,” just not a very exciting one.

Best: The Lord Of Lords … maybe?

Randy Orton cuts an in-ring promo that makes it sound like he is as bored by his storyline with Bray Wyatt as I am. He tries to explain his actions over the last few months — why he joined The Wyatts, why he committed arson … you know all the beats. But Orton is so insincere in his words that it comes off more like he’s making excuses for what he’s done rather than actually explaining his actions. I imagine Orton being handed this script by some geek backstage, Randy takes a look at it and says to the guy, “I don’t understand any of this magic shit, but I’ll go out there and read it.”

Randy’s promo is interrupted by Bray on the big screen. He is coming to us live from the crime scene, and as it turns out, Randy burning up Sister Abigail’s remains has made Bray Wyatt even more powerful. Bray is the Maryse to Randy Orton’s Nikki Bella. Bray Wyatt has enough emotion in his promos for a thousand Ortons.

Wyatt says he is born again and goes about baptizing himself in the ashes of Sister Abigail. He literally rubs Sister Abigail’s ashes all over himself until he looks like Double Rowdy Piper at WrestleMania VI. Not a delightful image, but a good promo. I’ve been burned too many times to really believe this is the beginning of a more powerful Bray Wyatt. But he did pin Cena clean last month. And just in case you forgot, he is the World Champion. So who knows!

If Wyatt truly now is the Lord of Lords, then this whole journey will have been worth it. The arson, the bad haunted houses, the plans that make no sense … I can forgive all of it if Bray Wyatt beats Randy Orton at WrestleMania and goes on to be a true force in the WWE and not just a man of forceful words.

Until next time, I’m Justin Donaldson and “The Ultimate Thrill Ride” is also how Tom Phillips refers to his penis in text messages.