Previously on the Best and Worst of Smackdown Live: Tea-generation X got passive-aggressive with each other, Samoa Joe LOL’d, and New Day won a tournament to be number one contenders to the Smackdown Tag Team Championship at SummerSlam. Also, Daniel Bryan punched Miz in the face, and Miz brained him with a vase.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live for August 14, 2018.
Best: Destined To Do This Forever, Or At Least Until Sunday
Before we talk about anything this week, we have to talk about what might’ve been the greatest series of video packages WWE television’s put together in years: The retrospective on the past eight years of Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz, from NXT Pro vs. NXT Rookie to world title runs to their one-on-one match at SummerSlam. It’s one of two one-on-one matches on the 13-match card that doesn’t have a title or some kind of object as a prize, and in my mind (and everyone else’s, I’d imagine) it’s still the main event, no matter where it ends up on the card.
If you missed Smackdown, take 15-ish minutes out of your day and watch these. They’re incredible.
I use up a lot of (free) real-estate in these columns venting my frustrations on how WWE seems so terrified of being viewed as “old” or alienating to its audience of babies and America’s Heartland™ or whatever that it rarely ever accepts its own history, or use it to make the current product better. There are so many rivalries that could be improved by simply going back and explaining where they came from and how they came to be; establishing clear, consistent character motivations to allow us to, you know, actually feel shit about these fiction people and want one of them to beat the other in a wrestling match. You don’t need dates and match times and star ratings, you just need to sometimes say, “Here’s what you need to know about the rivalry at play and its stakes, and isn’t it cool that the history goes back farther than the last couple of months?”
Alternately, they’ll do stories like Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar where there aren’t really any character motivations, and despite them wrestling several times over the past several years, the story and people have never evolved past, “I”m going to kick your ass at [next show]!” Lesnar has never cared about this dude, and because of that, Roman doesn’t have anything new to say when his next title shot rolls around. Compare/contrast that with Bryan vs. Miz, which not only lives as the first-ever story on what became WWE’s most critically-acclaimed brand, but draws very real, tangible contrasts between not only the characters, but the men performing them. You believe what they say, because they are (say it with me) clear and consistent. They skip a lot, but these videos touch on the three most relevant touchstones for the feud: NXT season 1 and Bryan’s jump to the main roster, the retirement story leading into Bryan as GM and Talking Smack, and his return to set up this match.
It goes even deeper than something like Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, because almost all of the character development and action in that happened before they got to WWE. Miz and Bryan is a WWE feud, built around the very idea of what WWE is. Over the past eight years, WWE’s gone from a place where indie darlings are “put in their place” (NXT season 1) to a utopia for nearly any independent wrestler worth their salt (current NXT, NXT UK, the Performance Center, Evolve, however far you want to go) where they’re beloved, at least in the short term, and celebrated. Almost everyone currently killing it on the NXT roster is there because Bryan Danielson made that horrible shit work. If he wasn’t there at the beginning and didn’t eventually connect with a larger base, we’d be living in a world of Kavals.
Absolutely beautiful work from everyone involved, and the kind of videos I’ll go back and watch every few months whether there’s a match to promote or not. Probably their best video since “Monster,” which coincidentally covered much of the same ground. It’s proof that doing the work pays off in the long run. Keep embracing and promoting your history, WWE. Don’t be ashamed of it. A lot of it’s a mess, sure, but a lot of it is magic. You aren’t old, you’re alive.
Best: The Most Biting Statement A Flair’s Made On TV Since FIRE ME I’M ALREADY FIRED
Speaking of remembering your history, Charlotte Flair ice-burns Carmella on this week’s show by declaring her “a Diva living in a women’s era.” Carmella’s response is to more or less turn into Scarlett Bordeaux for a minute with, “LOOK AT MY BODY, LOOK AT MY BEAUTY,” and sadly Charlotte never follows up with a deadpan, “what I’m trying to say is that you’re bad at wrestling.” It’s a good character to have as your top heel when your division’s all about competition and advancement of in-ring equality. Who’s easier to boo than an Eva Marie Type, you know? Carmella’s “I’m tired of your faces” is pretty good though, and sounds like me describing most of the booking.
That ramps directly into a tag team match (player), with Paige — who is really shining as maybe the only truly objective GM I can remember seeing on these shows in a long-ass time — teaming up Merida and Aurora against Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. The hook of the match is that when they get into the home stretch, Becky Lynch stays in and doesn’t tag out to Charlotte, choosing instead to finish the match handicap style. Not only does this give her a proper workout before Sunday, which she cites, it sends a clear message to Charlotte.
And that sets up a really nice, easy-to-understand triple threat dynamic: Charlotte and Becky are friends, but Becky’s got an inferiority complex going and wants to prove to herself and everyone else that she can beat Charlotte. Charlotte was born overconfident, so she’s being nice about it … but also she’s a Flair, so there’s always a 55 percent chance she’s going to go full-on heel and break your hand with a baseball bat in the parking lot. Meanwhile, both of them are underestimating Carmella, who plays up the “Diva” thing and all the bullshit shenanigans to keep it that way, and positions herself to take advantage of all the distraction and rivalry and leave another pay-per-view match she should’ve easily lost as Smackdown Women’s Champion.
Best: It’s A Good Match, Yes It Is
Match of the night goes to the New Day, who are turning “New Day had the best match of the night” into a straight-up copy-paste. These guys are absolutely murdering it in the ring over the past … what, year? Year-plus? They get another strong, exciting, and creative six-man tag team match win over Sanity, which is bonus great because it’s an actual established trios team beating another established trios team. It feels like competition, and not, say, the Bludgeon Brothers beating up a trio of jobbers with a funny name several times a month to show they can beat child-sized fake wrestlers.
Not only that, but the Kofi Kingston birthday stuff allowed New Day to inject some fun and personality into what would otherwise be a normal match. They make you remember their matches, even when those matches aren’t particularly important to the narrative. Smackdown is pretty good, y’all. The only improvements I could suggest would be, “Nikki Cross would be there, because why the hell isn’t she already,” and, “is Killian Dain’s singlet really the best look for him?” WWE loves hiring these big hairy dudes and then shading them for being big and hairy.
Also On This Episode
Less important this week is Jeff Hardy vs. Shelton Benjamin, in the battle of a guy who’s spent the past month getting his dick stomped versus a guy I legitimately forgot was part of the show. They’re helping Hardy build momentum™ (and create separation™) heading into his championship rematch at SummerSlam, but they’re also continuing to make Shinsuke Nakamura the least threatening guy in the world by having him do a run-in and get his ass kicked by a tired guy. It’s not the best story. Nakamura and Asuka should pull somebody aside backstage and be like, “are you guys doing this on purpose, or what?”
Meanwhile, Randy Orton lurks, which seems like the natural state of Randy Orton.
In other news, Aiden English gets more or less squashed by Andrade “Cien” Almas to further his issues with Rusev Day. As much as I love English, and as dearly as I adore his version of the frog splash and wish he’d use it as a finish, this is what it should’ve been. Almas should wreck Aiden English. Like, he should do that feint kick back elbow and English should explode into Mega Man particles.
The post-match promo was a little disappointing, though, because they had Rusev stick to the “catchy phrases” (™ Zelina Vega), and Rusev’s always better when he’s talking off the top of his head. Of all the people on the show, he’s the guy most immediately improved by loosening the corporate reins a little. Still, even though it’s on the Kickoff show and a WWE mixed tag team match, any time we can get Handsome Rusev and Also Very Handsome La Sombra in the ring together, it’s a good move. Goddamn, can you think of a more beautiful mixed tag team match?
Worst: A Flat Ending To An Otherwise Great Episode
Finally we have another Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles promo battle, which is hilariously uneven before they’re even talking. Styles is a competent promo but not a very good one — he was killing it for a while with his Beat Up John Cena stuff, but WWE top babyfaces only get so much material to work with, and if you don’t try to emulate the Rock you end up emulating Bobby Lashley — and Joe should just go to the ring and kick the guy’s ass instead of reading fan-fic letters from his wife. This comes across very much like a TV-PG Claire Lynch story, and I have no idea why AJ Styles loves these family drama bits so much. I don’t care about the families we’ve never met of these fictional characters. I’m not gonna get all up in arms if Paul Heyman puts Triple H’s kids’ names in his mouth. We’ve never even met them. It’d be like Game of Thrones building season 8 around The Mountain insulting The Hound’s wife and three children, who he got off-screen between seasons.
The saving grace here is that it’s more “flat” than bad — there just isn’t much to it—- and Joe vs. Styles at SummerSlam will (God willing) be brilliant. If Samoa fucking Joe can’t get a good match out of WWE Champion AJ Styles, something is irrevocably wrong with the top of the card. Let’s hope those seven Shinsuke Nakamura matches, all those corny Kevin Owens affairs and the past year and a half of Smackdown booking have just been anomalies. [counts on fingers] Yeah, that’s a lot.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
I kind of wish Joe’s entire promo was a scientific explanation about how the Earth cannot possibly be flat.
Damn, but I thought Joe was going to say Dixie Carter.
Roman is so overpowered he can ruin a SmackDown match from Raw.
The Real Birdman
Joe looking like a main event mafioso
Randy Orton is a Milford man
Jeff Hardy kinda looks like sad candy.
IC Champion PdragolphZiggler
Killian Dain sitting here looking like a “where are they now?” version of Kassius Ohno in 10 years.
“The Miz stole my moves.”
*Hideo Itami side-eye intensifies*
Killian Dain in a singlet is three types of all wrong.
1) He is not known for his college wrestling skills
2) He is a member of SaNitY, a stable known for chaos and power and leather scraps.
3) Everyone knows he rocks a bikini.
Even Sting can see this Flair turn coming.
That’s it for this week’s column. Thanks for reading, as always. Be sure to join us this weekend for NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV and SummerSlam 2018, in which Raw puts together just as many exciting matches and angles as Smackdown.
Okay, not really.