Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live: Shane McMahon was suspended for putting his hands on Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler shit the bed with one of the worst segments we’ve seen in months, and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Randy Orton to become the number one contender to Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship. Still weird typing that.
Remember that With Spandex is on Twitter, so follow it. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter. And hey, be sure you’re listening to the brand new With Spandex podcast.
Hit those share buttons! Spread the word about the column on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you use. Be sure to leave us a comment in our comment section below as well. Your help and participation means more than you know.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live for September 12, 2017.
Best: The Kevin Owens Show
Here’s a creative thought I’m sure nobody else on the Internet has typed yet: Kevin Owens is great, and the “Kevin Owens Show” angle on Smackdown this week was stellar from beginning to end.
I think what I love so much about Owens is that he remembers the little things. He feels like a fully formed character who doesn’t just breeze in and out of backstage segments and angles … he carries them with him, like baggage, and uses them to fuel his future segments and angles. He has consistent character relationships. That’s such an underrated thing.
For example, when he believes he’ll be truly put in charge of Smackdown, his first order of business is to nonchalantly fire Sami Zayn. Because OF COURSE IT IS. And while that’s an obvious one, he continues by establishing his dominance in smaller character rivalries, like canceling the Fashion Files because Fandango and Tyler Breeze tried to help him out a few weeks ago and annoyed him, and making the announce team share a suit because they get on his nerves every time he’s on color commentary. It’s not just a throwaway angle where the heel’s in charge … Owens is in charge, and the show won’t just be run by a “heel,” but by Kevin Owens with his wants and hates and desires and pet peeves specifically. That rules.
I also really enjoyed the double fake-out involving Dolph Ziggler. We know Vince McMahon’s supposed to be on the show — and that Stephanie is there as part of the Mae Young festivities — so Owens starts talking openly about how there are “no McMahons in the building.” So Shane’s music hits, and everyone gets excited about it not being the McMahon they expected. And then it’s REALLY not the McMahon they expected, because it’s Ziggler pretending to be Shane. I think what made me love it the most is Owens’ deadpan read of, “thanks for entertaining us, we’ll see you later tonight.”
To continue the pitch-perfect depiction of the character, Owens has this big annoying “look at me” segment where he fires Sami Zayn for no reason, then goes backstage specifically to look for Zayn to rub it in. One of the things that truly makes a heel great is being a sore winner. If they win, they can’t just be happy with it. They have to keep on about it and keep on about it and keep on about it until it blows up in their face. Here, Zayn says he’d rather go back to the indies than work for Owens, and leaves KO making angry faces. That’s perfect, too. Sami has an indomitable spirit, and hell, he’s already dealt with wrestler GMs making his life miserable.
So what’s Kevin’s response? To go find the guy who’s been kicking Sami’s ass the past few weeks, Aiden English, and give him a ridiculous opportunity to sing the show’s opening theme. I love that Owens hates spirited guys he can’t get over on — Zayn, Shane McMahon, Breezango (because they don’t understand what’s going on) — and is buddy-buddy with middling jerks he can feel superior to, like Ziggler and English.
And that leads us to the show’s main event (segment), in which Mr. McMahon returns from the hyperbaric crypt they’ve been keeping him in to puff up his chest, juggle his grapefruits in Owens’ face, and get blasted between the eyes with a stiff headbutt.
First of all, God (or whoever) bless Vince McMahon for getting headbutted in the face for real, kicked in the guts and frog splashed at 72 years old. Vince always tries to make his segments count these days, and +1 to Owens for laying in and carrying the weight on his end. You know Vince was backstage like, “SCRAMBLE MY BRAINS, DAMMIT.”
Second of all, check out this Smackdown not only having a story running throughout the entire episode, but making it an important one with stakes. The Owens lawsuit story, which was fun on its own and led to Shane McMahon getting suspended, grew this week with a tying in of past Owens relationships, Daniel Bryan mentioning wanting to return to wrestling, Vince McMahon showing up and being Vince As Fuck, a 72-year old man getting beaten down, a Hell in the Cell match being made and a Smackdown appearance for Stephanie McMahon. That’s how you actually write an entertaining A-story with consequences, and I couldn’t have loved it more.
Worst: I Mean, I Could’ve Done Without This Segment Again
Sadly we do see Dolph later in the night, and it’s just so he can re-do last week’s segment with different entrances. He could’ve earned some heel points for shit-talking the Ultimate Warrior with Dana Warrior in the front row, but I don’t think they mentioned it at all. I did get to watch her stand up with her thumbs down about it.
But yeah, Dolph Ziggler’s point of “so this is what it’s come to” loses some steam when he’s doing a gimmick from 30 years ago, doesn’t it? And also when he’s still using his American flag gear and coming out to his entrance theme and all his fancy, corporately-designed IT’S TOO BAD I’M TOO GOOD graphics. I feel like the only endings for this are someone dressing up as Dolph and doing Dolph’s entrance to make him mad, or someone in authority noticing and being like, “you hate your job? That’s fine, go do comedy. Spoiler alert though, you’re probably better at wrestling, so good luck with that.”
Best: We’re Supposed To Be Hype BROS
Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin and their Wolverine font and their stock hip-hop entrance theme return to defeat the Hype Bros with a new finisher: Shelton holding a guy up for a powerbomb, and Gable coming off the top rope with an inverted bulldog. It’s basically the old Steiner Bulldog with the danger turned way down. It’s a lot better than “Chad Gable pushes someone into Shelton’s old finisher,” though.
The notable moment here happens after the match, when Zack Ryder refuses to shake hands with Gable and Benjamin and walks out on Mojo. Looks like the Hype Bros are gonna be the next victim of the Great Tag Team Purge of 2017. Eventually the tag team division’s just gonna be The Ascension wrestling themselves.
Best: Clash Of The Champions
To make the Owens stuff even better, the rest of Smackdown was really good. We got three (3) championship matches, and man, I know they can’t do this show every week, but if they could do something in the ballpark I’d never stop talking about how much I liked it*.
Up first was AJ Styles vs. Tye Dillinger for the United States Championship, built on the iffy idea that Tye Dillinger deserved a title shot for getting beaten up twice and losing to Styles in less than a minute. Regardless, Dillinger knows what he’s doing in the ring, and I think that nearfall where Corbin interferes, Dillinger tries a roll-up and Styles kicks out only to end up in a Tye Breaker, fight out and wander back into it was maybe the best nearfall of the year. I think everyone in the building bought it, not sure how it played at home.
And while I’m not chomping at the bit to see AJ Styles defend the United States Championship against Negative Momentum Baron Corbin, I appreciate that they gave this match a clean-ish finish and used the interference during and post-match attack to set up a match for next week. Stuff like that helps the show feel like it’s an actual universe of happenings and a-to-b-to-c situations, and not so much like a random semblance of unrelated incidents.
We also had Natalya vs. Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, giving Naomi a rematch she deserves and getting that out of the way so we can do … whatever it is we’re doing with the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
I thought the match was okay, but it lost steam as it went on. Naomi’s springboard to the outside was outstanding, but the longer things went the more aimless it all seemed. Still, it’s not actively bad. Natalya won by capitalizing on Naomi’s need to preemptive fend off the impending interference/cash-in attempt, which was at least nice.
The match also loses points for James Ellsworth literally being on a leash, though, because after last week’s kiss-and-slap, I need to be as far away as possible from an idea containing both “sado masochism” and “James Ellsworth.” If any former Braun Strowman jobber’s getting a FetLife gimmick, it should be Johnny Knockout.
Finally we have The New Day winning back the Smackdown Tag Team Championship from Los Usos. These teams have proven several times that they’ve got great chemistry together in the ring, and I think the biggest compliment I can give this match is that it was good enough for me not to be pissed that the Usos lost.
One thing I really appreciated was Xavier Woods staying in the back the entire match, and keeping it two-on-two. That means SO MUCH from a babyface standpoint. The Usos made the weird decision of being able to choose their own stipulation and choosing a no-disqualification match where they’d be outnumbered 3-2, so Woods benching himself completely evened odds that didn’t have to be evened and made New Day look not only tough, but like a team concerned with proving they can win these matches on their own terms.
Great stuff. As much as I want to see the Usos win back the belts, let’s give New Day a different team to wrestle soon so the feud doesn’t reach Charlotte vs. Sasha levels of “I like watching this, but I wish it was something else.”
Best: Jinder Gets Real
I’ve read some reviews of this show that said this promo was horrible, and I couldn’t disagree more. I haven’t been a big supporter of Main Event Jinder and his performance in the character — although I love the presentation, and the idea of pushing him — but this gave me a new perspective on him.
If you haven’t seen it, he basically cuts every WWE babyface promo ever against Shinsuke Nakamura. He puts up funny faces on the TitanTron, calls him “Pikachu having a seizure,” and says he makes wacky faces when he hears “GOZIRRA!!!” When he said that, like a third of the arena started tugging their collars and looking at each other. The other two-thirds, though, laughed. People were clapping. And then Jinder’s like, “hey, guess what, you’re all assholes and if Shinsuke won the belt, a lot of you would be thinking and saying this shit.” I thought it was PERFECT. Because damn, it’s true.
To illustrate the point, they advertised Jinder Mahal and Baron Corbin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton for the post-Mae Young, post-205 Live dark match main event. About half the arena stuck around for it, and when Nakamura and Jinder were in the ring, the crowd started chanting “USA.” Orton was on the apron like, “are you serious?” And I’m stuck finding myself IDENTIFYING WITH RANDY ORTON.
Jinder’s right, and whether he’s as good as he needs to be or not, I’m really into his character as a guy convinced he’s the sport’s Jackie Robinson … a man of color who is internally strong enough to “take the bullet” for everyone who’ll come after him by weathering the hatred, bigotry and fear of the fans he performs in front of. Some of that’s true, but he’s also got two young boys at ringside who cheat to help him win every match, and he’s not being a hero or playing fair. And that’s what makes a good heel. He makes sense and has these personal, sometimes admirable motivations, whether he’s right or completely wrong. Jinder manages to be both at the same time.