Previously on the Best and Worst of Smackdown Live: We got the season finale of our redneck anime at WrestleMania 34 (make sure to read Brandon’s Best and Worst!) The Bludgeon Brothers clobbered the Usos and the New Day, Queen of the universe Charlotte ended Asuka’s streak, Naomi now has a trophy that looks like a uterus, Jinder Mahal won the US Championship, the GOAT Aiden English shaved his head between the pre-show and the main show, and Big Match Nak disappointed me and then immediately low blowed his way back into my good graces. Oh, and our GM and Commissioner got in the ring and neither of them died!
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE SmackDown Live for April 10, 2018.
Best: Some Say Paige Is The New Smackdown Live General Manager
The show begins with a Shane McMahon talking segment. He quickly manages to dispel my annoyance at him not taking that promised leave of absence by announcing Paige is the new Smackdown Live General Manager, taking over for Daniel Bryan, who is now a full-time in-ring competitor. If Paige ends up being able to get back in the ring, they should give the job to Edge and keep up the trend of the GM being a person who had to go into management because they destroyed their neck/head area too badly to fight people on TV anymore.
It was heartwarming to hear the “This is your house” chants from her retirement speech on Monday recur. I’m very interested to see what happens the first time she has an in-ring management-talent confrontation with AJ, a dude who claims to have constructed this house and uses catchphrases for 85% of arguments. (“Okay, so maybe pilots have flown around the earth’s circumference. But were those pilots phenomenal?”)
Paige’s first order of business is to book Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles in the main event, so she’s doing a great job so far!
Best: Big Epilogue
Actually, as commentary points out during this match, Paige might kind of suck at this GM thing, from the roster’s perspective. She booked The Usos vs. The New Day in a number one contender match to face the Bludgeon Brothers for the tag titles at the Greatest Royal Rumble, but the Usos should have automatically gotten a rematch against them anyway.
The final chapter in the Usos vs. New Day rivalry was great, with both teams fired up and extra aggressive. It also felt a little bittersweet because I’m assuming one of these teams (most logically the New Day, although they could pull what they did with Orton vs. Wyatt last year) will be Superstar Shaken Up over to Raw, and we won’t see them interact for a while.
The match featured a lot of the typically fantastic tag team action we’ve come to expect in this rivalry. I especially liked the smooth, quick sequence of Xavier Woods whipping Jey to Big E for that tandem backbreaker move. One of the things that’s made this rivalry so fun to watch is that these teams make the effort not to repeat themselves, and to break out something new every match. This time it was that Xavier vs. Jey slug-fest against the ropes, which was very strong style and different for them.
After the Usos celebrated their win, the Bludgeon Brothers came out, (both wearing scary masks like they did at WM34, which I think works well for their image) to point their “massive mallets” (just kidding, that is still the least scary word choice) at their challengers. Graves says the mallets weight 30-35 pounds, so the first time someone gets hit in the head with one, that person should die.
Wait, actually, has there been any medical research on the anomaly of Pacific Islanders (at least from Samoa and Tonga) having extremely strong skulls? I may have just figured out Jimmy and Jey’s path to victory.
Worst: Midcard Middle School
This match felt like Becky Lynch vs. Carmella a few weeks ago, a brief bout with minimal set-up to let the babyface shine. Except the backstage segment prefacing it was infinitely dumber, and the commentary banter between it and the match only made it worse. Having adults talk disdainfully about seventh grade that much makes them sound like eighth graders.
Naomi’s wrestling can be so fun to watch. As much as that “one of the best pure athletes on the roster” phrase is such a cliche, it seems true in her case. She’s in incredible shape and makes impressive moves look effortless. That split leg moonsault for the pin was gorgeous, and so was the Scorpion Kick earlier in the match. Natalya’s relative stiffness in the ring was glaring.
Naomi is such a natural babyface and so easy for kids and adults to like. Okay, maybe not the ones in the topsy-turvy post-Mania crowd (Who the heck were these people cheering Natalya? For what?), but to most people! I think she’s one of the performers who could stand to benefit next week by either being moved to Raw or from some kind of major revamp of the Smackdown women’s division. She needs something to do. She needs some stakes. She can only carry around the trophy she got from the new Janelle Monae music video for so long.
Best: An IIconic Cash-In
It looks like that revamping of the women’s division might already be underway, because last night we saw the main roster debut of Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, aka THE ICONIC DUO, aka… we’re really calling them the IIconics now. With that spelling. With that capitalization. Which I am going to have to type so many times.
The IIconics (WHY ARE BOTH OF THOSE CAPITALIZED?) interrupt Charlotte’s lukewarm promo about her anything but lukewarm, and possibly MOTN, match with Asuka at WrestleMania. They are immediately perfect, calling themselves “a couple of wizards” who will make Charlotte’s title disappear and making fun of her wooden mic skills. That brutal beatdown put them over as not only fun characters, but as a real threat, too. Kay and Royce got Beloved NXT Call Up cheers at the beginning of the segment, the exact thing they tried to swerve by giving us a face Bobby Roode, but by the end they had legitimate heel heat.
The already great segment somehow gets even better after the IIconics exit, because CARMELLA CASHES IN. It really seemed like she was going to Baron Corbin her shot for a while there, but she finally did it. Charlotte was so beaten up, even after the ref infuriatingly took about five years to start the match, that Carmella could pin her after one (1) superkick. And she claims to have successfully cashed in with no help from anyone, so the Queenslayer is definitely feuding with, or at least getting beaten up by, Kay and Royce now, hopefully with the help of James Ellsworth. This has the potential to be really fun.
Worst: RKNo Please Stop Don’t Do This To Us Again
What’s the opposite of fun? Is it Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal for the U.S. Championship at Backlash? I think so!
There wasn’t anything wrong with Orton vs. Roode vs. Rusev from a wrestling standpoint. All the wrestlers did a fine job, so I hate to give this a Worst. But we’ve seen this combination of people so many times. The Orton vs. Mahal rematch works from a storytelling standpoint, sort of, because Backlash is where Orton lost the WWE Championship to Mahal last year, so it’s kind of poetic, I guess? But I don’t know who wants to watch it.
There were good, fresher-feeling things in this segment: Jinder having a great time being the champ at ringside on his gold carpet, Corey’s continued inexplicable support of the Maharaja, Aiden English getting better at his MC role with every appearance, and Rusev being booked like a babyface and still wearing his USA gear from Mania. Basically, a Rusev vs. Jinder feud for this title could be really fun, especially since Jinder cancelled Rusev Day. It’s still possible we could get that after Backlash, but I feel like Rusev’s going to Raw. He’s fighting the freakin’ Undertaker in Saudi Arabia, so I don’t think we have to worry about him anymore, even if he doesn’t get a good feud right away.
Best: King Of Dong Style
Speaking of turns, Renee Young interviews Shinsuke Nakamura outside his dressing room about his post-match attack on AJ Styles. Her serious tone and the way Graves later sincerely says Nakamura’s “motives are shrouded in mystery” are the absolute most entertaining way to talk about how one guy just will not stop punching another guy in the balls. Shinsuke will NOT explain himself, but he WILL give a very WCW Jericho apology and then claim not to speak English. The dude finally has the main roster character he deserves.
Allow me to theorize about Nakamura’s mysterious motives for a sec. People have been talking about Styles vs. Nakamura like Shinsuke shoot dropped the ball, but I think the match was just booked way differently that we were led to expect. Shinsuke got his epic Michael Jackson entrance and he tried to work his mind games, but he miscalculated about AJ. AJ was right – his emotions made him stronger; they didn’t make him screw up.
I think Shinsuke was so thrown by how wrong his strategy was that he psyched himself out and got dominated pretty much the entire match. By the time he lost, he was finally mad enough that he stopped trying to get the over with the crowd in a new country through good behavior and reverted to his true Founder of Chaos self. Complete with a low blow, the signature move of his faction co-founder Toru Yano. Basically, Shinsuke screwed up, he knows it, and he doesn’t care about being a good sport about it or anything anymore. Or maybe it’s something else; I don’t know; I’m not on creative. But that’s how I’m reading it right now.
I’m still a little nervous about how WWE will handle a heel who isn’t from America and doesn’t speak English as a first language. On the one hand, they had those recent missteps with Jinder, who is way less obviously “foreign” than Nakamura. On the other hand, Shinsuke got Alice Cooper’s guitarist for his WrestleMania entrance, a respectful and nuanced documentary about him on the WWE Network, and a new heel turn t-shirt referencing his work in Japan. So I have mostly a good feeling about this.
Best: Living In A Fantasy World
The night’s main event, Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles, was very, very good wrestling. These guys are undeniably experts at what they do. They pulled out submissions and counters as only they can in a competitive match that was so excellent it was weird to see without a feud or any real stakes. It felt like a preview, more so than the tag match at WM, of how exciting it is to have Daniel Bryan back, especially on the current WWE roster.
And now we have a reason to expect Styles vs. Bryan again relatively soon, because the “fantasy match” (Does Vince not like “dream match” anymore? Does he realize it’s a thing people say and “fantasy match” has too many syllables?) was derailed by ol’ Dick Punch Nakamura.
Guys, barring significant Shake Up, our Smackdown main event scene right now is Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura. I think I’m having the vapors. I think this is what the vapors feel like.
Best: Top Ten Comments Of The Night
Insert Clever Name Here
Wow, Shinsuke really doesn’t want AJ to add anymore tattoos to his side.
Baron Von Raschke
Bobby Heenan: That wasn’t a low blow! Nakamura was going for a fireman’s carry! It’s that goofball AJ’s fault for not just going for the ride!
That rug is $3,000 per square yard? What’s it made out of? Jericho’s scarves?
IC Champion Pdragon Dark
Announce table- 413
OH MY GOD BOBBY ROODE GOT CALLED UP FROM NXT!
Wait, he’s been here? For several months? I don’t recall anything like that.
it’s getting really obvious what items the end-stage bosses drop when you beat them.
Somewhere an Ellsworth gets his wings
The Real Birdman
Aj won’t appreciate that some chick has just moved into his house
Paige: Give it to me Smackdown Live!
(backstage, Big E and Kofi look ominously at Woods)