Previously on the Best and Worst of Smackdown Live: Asuka and Charlotte respected each other, AJ and Shinsuke also respected each other, and Kevin and Sami broke new ground in the fields of Shane McMahon Face Redness and Shane McMahon Weird Selling Noises.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE SmackDown Live for March 20, 2018.
Best: You Deserve It
This episode of Smackdown began with the moment we’ll remember it for: Daniel Bryan’s speech about his return. A few hours earlier, WWE announced that Bryan had been cleared to wrestle after two years of retirement. The news blew up the wrestling internet. After what seemed like eons of watching this guy suffer in Shane McMahon Mutual Respect Purgatory, we now know we’ll finally get to see him return to what he loves to do and what we love to watch him do.
Bryan’s speech produced that special kind of professional wrestling magic that happens when the kayfabe dimension (the WWE Universe, in this case) and the actual real life dimension get so close we get The Cloverfield Paradox effect, if The Cloverfield Paradox was a good movie.
After a brief montage of the emotional rollercoaster that was Bryan’s WWE in-ring career until now, the Smackdown Live GM entered the ring and gave an eloquent, sincere speech. He talked about his fight, physically and emotionally, to get cleared, which has been going on pretty much since he had to retire.
If you want an overview of just how tumultuous the will-he-won’t-he of this has been, you can scroll through our “Daniel Bryan” tag for articles on the comments he’s made about the situation over the years, and the variety of tones he’s taken about it. Sometimes it felt like he would definitely stay with WWE and perform there again, sometimes it felt like he’d be running to Ring of Honor ASAP.
Due to his marriage into the Bella family/brand, we have a lot of visual aid for the part of the speech where he talks about his depression and anger and how Brie supported him through it. On Total Bellas, we’ve seen him speak frankly about his depression and break down and cry when his return to the ring seemed impossible. We’ve seen Brie go off on people who she perceived as putting Bryan down and struggle with how to best support her husband while dealing with her own retirement.
As someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, seeing this type of stuff freaked me out. Bryan was clearly in a really dark place, and sometimes he would look extra tired in an Instagram post or dumb Smackdown segment and I would wonder if this guy was going to be okay. I don’t know if, given the choice, Daniel Bryan would have shown the world as much of his struggle as he did. But it’s out there, and we can see how Daniel Bryan, a strong, talented, smart individual, needed all his fighting spirit as well as the support of his loved ones the make it through a very difficult period of his life. He found the strength to get his dream back, and he didn’t do it alone.
Anyway, back to the wrestling show! We all joke about Signing Pointing Moments this time of year, but I for one secretly (well, not so secretly now) love them, and Bryan gets one of the best ever here. When the crowd chants for him to return to the ring at WrestleMania, he looks at the sign, and it’s one of the many moments in this episode where we can see all his emotions right there on his face. He doesn’t point. People in the crowd point for him. That’s the Yes Movement.
Best: Nakamura Day
After that, we still had pretty much the whole episode of Smackdown! You’re going to see a lot of Best/Worst headings in this article, because I had mixed feelings about almost everything in it.
Our first match of the night was Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura with AJ Styles hanging out by the announce table. It was a short match that made Nakamura look cool. It also not at all what Rusev deserves. I thought after last week I wouldn’t feel the need to say that again unless he doesn’t get a push after WrestleMania, but here we are.
Commentary says Rusev is now obsessed with derailing the main event for some reason. Is it because of fake holiday theft? Is it because he’s not on the Mania card? Is it because he thinks if he injures one of the wrestlers, he’ll get put in the match? (Hey, if a similar thing worked for Jinder…) If Rusev’s going to be in this temporary star-power-squandering position, I would at least like some clarification about his motivations.
Shinsuke, however, does get to look like a star. Rusev and Aiden English attack him after he wins the match and AJ tries to copy what he did last week and slowly go for the save. Shinsuke ends up not needing it, and (at 2:04 in the video above) gives AJ the greatest mocking grin. Their exchange backstage later in the episode (“I know, I know, you’re going to beat me at WrestleMania.” “You should have more confidence.”) is delightful too.
These guys have great chemistry and I wish Smackdown had devoted more time to building up this rivalry, maybe instead of giving us all John Cena-induced panic attacks. But I’m still enjoying that it’s an actual fun part of this still not super fun show, and am crossing all of my fingers and toes for WWE Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. He would be such an obnoxious asshole and it would be the best.
Best/Worst: Squash Rehab
Hey, so are the battle royals at WrestleMania going to actually mean something this year? Because people are sure cutting very bad promos about them like they are. Is winning still just a prestige thing, or is there a reserved parking spot on the line we don’t know about yet?
We watched what turned out to be a squash match between Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger, two men whose careers are not going the way they wanted. It looks like Tye might be a jobber with an unusually popular catchphrase for the foreseeable future, but Corbin seems to finally be getting it together after that terrible MITB cash in. Being a two-time Andre winner feels like a sad goal because, again, all you get is a trophy, but it’s somewhere to start. I still don’t trust Smackdown, but I’m glad it seems to be trying to undo some of the damage it has done to its characters over the past several months.
The Naomi and Becky Lynch vs. Riott Squad members Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan tag match was also very short and surprisingly turned into a squash. It wasn’t the most satisfying match to watch, but it was promising for Becky’s future, and maybe, just maybe, the future of tag team wrestling for women in WWE. Maybe?
Best/Worst: Ms. Meow-ney In The Bank
Charlotte and Natalya had the best actual wrestling match on the show. They had a classic face vs. heel in-ring dynamic, with Charlotte looking consistently strong as a competitor as well as physically strong, and Nattie getting outwrestled and having to resort to more clubs and kicks.
The set up for the match was terrible because it involved Natalya talking, but the whole thing ended up having more plot significance that the Queen of Harts just still not being over her title loss. Carmella runs out to attempt a cash in, something that was possibly planned out with Natalya beforehand, but Nattie ends up winning before the bell rings to start the Money In The Bank match. It looks like now that they’ve remembered Carmella has the briefcase, her cash in is going to be significant and not Baron Corbin, Part 2: In A One Piece Swimsuit.
I’d have rather seen Asuka show up to, you know, actually build to her match with Charlotte, but I guess we’re doing that via video package. Having both these women feud with other people to build to this match is an odd choice, but it’s different and I’m psyched enough for that match that I can just shrug about it.
Best: The Bludgeoned Brothers
So is Big E dead, or is The New Day just way smarter than the Usos and waiting for their whole squad to be healthy to challenge the Bludgeon Brothers again? I think it’s the second one.
Jimmy and Jey’s promo starts with Jimmy being a such a huge dork that the crowd kind of doesn’t know how to process it, but the twins quickly get back to form. The “nine years in the game” angle is still compelling, and they go super hard reaffirming their commitment to running the Uso Penitentiary. Despite their dominance as a tag team, this feud with the BBs has made them believable underdog babyfaces. You can’t help but be concerned for people wearing that much tape!
We have to talk about the Bludgeon Brothers for a second though. Harper is not a scary name. When I hear “Jimmy Uso vs. Harper” I expect uce to be fighting at best a high school sophomore on the gymnastics team. Rowan is also more of a teen girl’s name than anything, but at least I mainly associate it with Nic Cage’s daughter in The Wicker Man, and that works for this tag team aesthetically.
They announced the winner of the match as “Luke Harper,” but these guys are listed as “Harper” and “Rowan” in their official WWE bios. What’s especially baffling is that both of their bios also mention their former Wyatt family membership, so these two large men in their late thirties just canonically dropped their first names after escaping a cult. At first glimpse the Bludgeon Brothers seems like the type of team that should have minimal backstory in order to maintain their threatening mystery, but, no, actually, I suddenly need to know EVERYTHING about these guys.
Worst: When You Copy Off The Smart Kid’s Test But Still Fail Somehow
They really are just blatantly copying the IC feud. Jinder has now been added to Roode and Orton’s match at Mania because Daniel Bryan can wrestle again now and he really does not give a crap, which I get. But come on, creative, could you at least have Jinder go off about something other than “respect” when the Miz went full Rodney Dangerfield on Monday?
Meanwhile, Orton and Roode are in full Seth/Finn tentative ally mode. Except neither of them are cool, neither of them have any friends (Okay, Roode has Charlotte, but unfortunately she will not be able to help him with anything), and neither of them is tweeting fan art of them as a couple. Any one of these things would make this feud a lot more fun to watch.
A big ol’ Best to Jinder last night though, because he is really doing the most. Now that we know the Modern Day Maharaja thinks that being U.S. Champion makes you “absolute ruler of the United States” I am one million percent behind putting the belt on him. This dude is really dressing for the job he wants rather than the job he has, and I love that he played his own hype video during that backstage interview segment I just linked since he wasn’t able to get it on the show. Way to put yourself out there, buddy!
His incredibly egotistical promo was solid too. The part about how he could be vacationing anywhere and also be a movie star made me grin, and the whole thing was appropriately full of lies but with just enough truth (Orton is a status quo champion and many people did indeed disrespect Mahal’s WWE Championship reign.) Jinder can be a fun guy to have around. Nothing but respect for MY absolute ruler of the United States (except during a lot of his actual wrestling matches.)
Best/Worst: Ring Of Dishonor
This segment absolutely worked overall, and we’re all going to remember it as Daniel Bryan’s return to in-ring action. It wasn’t an actual match, but we saw Bryan wrestle on TV after over two years, and he looked amazing. That’s the most important thing here.
There were some little things that I thought helped this segment and some that hurt it. It was heartwarming to see Owens and Zayn hug Bryan while still trying to play heels. You could see real emotion Bryan’s face when Sami said that any show with all three of them on its roster would be a dream show, and you could see it on KO’s face when Bryan called he and Sami two of the best performers of their generation.
From a plot standpoint, I liked that Sami was more hesitant to beat up Bryan, and I liked Bryan pointing out that if these two hadn’t been so consumed by rage and bitterness they would have realized that Shane was essentially leaving them in the care of their biggest supporter when he took his leave of absence. They screwed themselves by beating him up and showing no remorse. Bryan even has a very plausible reason for firing them even though he has also been fired by WWE authority figures in the past: He always came back better for it.
I don’t think I like Kevin and Sami basically acting like sociopaths about how they beat up Shane; I could have done without the giggling. I’m also concerned about how they broke these two up for very good reasons that elevated the character of Sami Zayn, and now they’re back together like nothing’s wrong. Hopefully we see the Zayn vs. Owens aspect of this come back soon, even though they are once again united against a common enemy.
I also had to roll my eyes about how hard Bryan put over Shane as a good person who everybody should forgive immediately. Let me tell you something, WWE, if you do Shane and D-Bry vs. Sami and Kevin at Mania, I WILL root for the team Shane is on, but I will not be rooting for Shane as an individual. Only Daniel Bryan and the fact that he’s in a bonafide wrestling match. I can compartmentalize like that.
People complain about how WWE seems to value “moments” over “stories” and how that hurts their TV shows. Normally I agree with this, but this week was an example of a moment being so strong that it overcame months and months of terrible storytelling. Next week, however, it’ll be interesting to see how all these stories progress. Hopefully using more actual wrestling than there was this episode.
Best: Top Ten Comments Of The Week
1997-1998 Stone Cold Steve Austin: “I’m lucky to be back from my broken neck, but if I want my career to last and for me to retire healthy, I’m going to have adjust my moves and in ring style.”
2002 Shawn Michaels: “I’m lucky to be back from my broken back, but if I want my career to last and for me to retire healthy, I’m going to have to adjust my moves and in ring style.”
2018 Daniel Bryan (while nearly piledriving himself on four sell out dropkicks): “I’m invincible!”
Oh, great. Now the entire crowd wants a match at WrestleMania.
maybe start giving KO bad news over the phone.
The Real Birdman
Kevin Owens’ inner monologue is just Kill Bill sirens right now
It’s WWE, Daniel… you’re not supposed to get it.
Damn, I was hoping that Suneil Singh would hit Jinder with an RKO, revealing that it was Randy Orton wearing his skin.
“If you believe and never give up, you can achieve your dreams”
*Corey Graves breaks a pencil in half*
NOW AJ STYLES…get out here and get these knees!
VINCE: “Now tell them about how Roman encouraged you to fight too!”
Wait, So Bray Wyatt came out of the Lake of Reincarnation as a Medically Cleared Daniel Bryan?
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