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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live for September 19, 2017.
Worst: Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff Repeat Stuff
Last week’s episode, I thought, was great. We got multiple title matches, a title change, an episode-long story that put Kevin Owens over as the most important guy on the show and brought in 72-year old Vincent Katsuyori McMahon to take a headbutt to the face. AND we got the Mae Young Classic finals.
This Sunday is No Mercy, which is a Raw pay-per-view. That means this week’s Smackdown is sandwiched between shows WWE cares about, put together with minimal effort, and more or less the “go-home show” for nothing. THAT means a lot of stuff we’ve already seen before, even if we saw it last week.
So. Gonna attempt to put this into some kind of context.
I wrote this in last week’s column:
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.
This week, they build on what I believed to be a relatively clever and purposeful promo by doing the exact same promo again, without the “I’m getting people to laugh at stuff I hate to prove a point” punchline. It’s Jinder going “too far” by upping the racism — instead of calling him “Pikachu having a seizure” and making fun of Godzilla movies, he’s straight up saying he eats cats and can’t say the letter L — but never really brings it back around to the point, other than saying “AND ALSO THE FANS ARE ACTUALLY XENOPHOBIC!” It worked so much less than last week because, like when Muhammad Hassan went from “everyone thinks I’m a terrorist, which is unfair” to having a bunch of terrorist guys try to behead the Undertaker, it appeared to contradict its own established point.
And here’s what makes it so hard to write about: I think it was a good idea.
One thing I write about way too much is how I think wrestling heels should be the worst people in the world and do shit that makes us actually viscerally hate them in real life, and the faces who are tasked with kicking their ass for BEING the worst people in the world should be their obvious opposite. That doesn’t mean they have to be boy scouts or goody two-shoes or whatever, but the bad guy who is racist should be extremely racist to make us want to see him get his ass kicked, and then the guy who isn’t racist should kick his ass to give us catharsis. It’s how my antiquated, Jim Cornette-ass view of how wrestling should work has always worked. The problem comes when the guy (or woman, I’m using “guy” as a general catch-all here) tasked with kicking the bad guy’s ass is just a more popular guy who does all the same shit. If the Rock is a bad guy and calls someone a fat hooker and gets booed for it, whether he’s entertaining or not, and the payoff is someone standing up to him about it whether they ultimately win the wrestling matches or not, that’s foundational pro wrestling storytelling. If the Rock is a good guy and the bad guy is like “I’m not doing anything bad but you don’t like me because I’m abrasive and annoying” and the good guy is like “hey you’re a fat hooker” and everyone laughs and cheers and then the Rock throws a pie in their face and beats them up and poses on their corpse while everyone calls them a roody-poo doo-doo booty or whatever, that sucks to me. It’s not that I can’t identify with an asshole, it’s that I go to pro wrestling for very basic cathartic storytelling and far too often get water-treading popularity contests so the most people can sell the most Spencer’s Gifts-ass t-shirts to the most people.
Some of you are gonna read that and say, “that makes sense!” And God bless, because I’m not even sure it does. Some of you probably stopped at the words “the” and “rock” and dropped down into the comments to Um Actually me about hypocrites and how one time I liked a thing and so on. That’s fine. I’m a flawed brain trying to make sense of a bunch of cartoon characters pretending to fight each other. Little differences in time and motivation and intention and context affect how I feel about shit.
The point I’m taking forever to get to is that I actually like what Jinder’s going for here. I like that he started off with a cogent point — “if I say a bunch of racist stuff about this Japanese babyface, the fans will laugh about it, because WWE fans have never been chill about foreign talent and other cultures and might cheer this dude, but they’re also gonna make fun of him, so why should he bother” — and, as a heel, took it “too far” by amping up the racist parts and forgetting his own point. It actually makes me wanna see Nakamura kick his ass MORE, because now instead of it being “a guy being a good heel who makes a valid point,” it’s Jinder being an actual heel by doing shit we would actually want to see people get their asses kicked for doing or saying in real life. There’s nothing you can do these days that validates a punch in the face more than racially-motivated hate, and sometimes racists start off with a warped, misguided point about something, lose it in the ballyhoo, and end up spouting nothing but hateful nonsense for the rest of their lives. That’s the progression of Jinder. And he should get punched in the face for it.
1. WWE does not have a good history of understanding complex points and cannot be trusted to continue taking it in the right direction. That’s why to many, the segment felt less like a valid “heel being an actual heel” moment and more like a “change the channel because the show’s awful” moment. You don’t give WWE the benefit of the doubt here, because they haven’t ever earned it. It’s just as likely that Jinder continues to be super racist and ends up the babyface by November, because why the fuck not.
2. WWE already does not appear to have done the segment this way on purpose. WWE removed all mentions of Jinder’s promo on Twitter, it’s not on YouTube like every other segment — Mojo and Zack Ryder backstage for 50 seconds is on the YouTube page, but not this main-event program promo — and there’s no video on WWE.com. What does that mean? That WWE saw the backlash, did not have any deeper purpose for running the segment than “putting smiles on people’s faces” or whatever, and pulled it to limit said backlash. If a character on Breaking Bad acts like a racist, AMC doesn’t pull the episode because people are gonna get upset, because that fictional character is being racist for reasons that are either impactful to or at least flesh out the universe of the story they’re telling. They have reasons. Every show or movie ever, good or bad, has reasons for including shit like that. WWE just does stuff and hopes we react to it, then gets worried if we react to it too much.
And, like I said, we already saw a version of it before. Chances are we’ll see another version of it next week that’ll end with Nakamura beating up the Singhs or something. And maybe we’ll see Nakamura laughing about Jinder making funny faces and cutting promos about him being in customer service or running a 7-Eleven or something because popularity almost always trumps good or bad. Or. Or. They understand what they’re doing and make an attempt to create the first main roster heel/face situation in modern memory to involve a hot button social issue to be the impetus behind an ethically correct ass-kicking.
Or, probably the better idea, stay in your publicly traded lane and don’t do ambitious segments like this with such a high percentage of turning to shit.
Best: RUSEV NUMBER ONE
In happier news, Rusev has … sort of redeemed himself?
Last week, he talked to a spooky robot lady about being a national laughing-stock and wanting to get revenge. This week, he challenges Randy Orton and beats HIM in 10 seconds … but only after Orton had already wrestled and won a match, he wasn’t prepared, and Aiden English interfered by getting up on the apron and causing a distraction. The “Baron Corbin” as it’s known. Plus, it happened at the beginning of a terrible Smackdown and not on WWE’s second biggest show of the year.
But hey, Rusev is PLEASED AS PUNCH about it, skips around in victory, and yells RUSEV NUMBER ONE, RUSEV NUMBER ONE in a backstage interview with Renee Young. He also doesn’t know what “elated” means, which is great. HE DID IT FOR HIS NEIGHBORS!
It’s not the best scenario, really, and will probably lead to Orton just beating him again on pay-per-view, but we take great (christian) joy in these brief moments of Rusev happiness, and celebrate them.
Worst: Dolph Ziggler Number Whatever The Last Number Is
It’s weird to see him imitating Shawn Michaels. Hasn’t he been doing that his entire career?
I don’t know what the end of this is going to be — why does Dolph Ziggler hate the fans so much when “the fans” are the only people who have ever liked Dolph Ziggler, and why does he still have his custom TitanTron and graphics and music and flashy dance moves and tights with US flags on them if he just wants to wrestle, and why is he protesting people who do flashy entrances by only doing flashy entrances and not wrestling — but I’m guessing it’s somebody Honky Tonk Manning him out of the company in October. Aleister Black, maybe? Aleister Black’s adorable cat? Sami Zayn?
Is it weird that I think they’d put Aleister Black’s cat on TV and put it over Dolph Ziggler before they’d give that spot to Sami?
Best/Worst: Hey, Charlotte’s Back!
The good news here is that (1) Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch are back in the Smackdown Women’s Championship picture, where they should always be, and that (2) a match comes together that gives Flair the number one contendership. The bad news is that (1) it’s in the same “everyone into the pool” Smackdown women’s match they always do, where everyone in the division is eternally equal, and (2) it’s build around Natalya holding a “Celebration of Women” that’s actually all about her that would be a GREAT bit for anyone more charismatic than Natalya.
Like most of the Smackdown multi-woman matches, it’s awkward and disjointed at first, but gets a little time and gets going by the end. The most frustrating thing about those Money in the Bank matches they did (besides the finishes) were that they stopped them right when they were starting to get good. In this one, Becky, Charlotte and Naomi do some stuff and try to keep Go-Bots Nia Jax Tamina Snuka from mucking it up. It mostly works.
And like I said, the good news is that Charlotte’s primed to return to the top, where she belongs. No women’s division with Charlotte in it should be built around anything but Charlotte as champion and people chasing her, as that is the natural ecosystem of a Flair. Also, if they’re seriously doing a Smackdown Starrcade in November, why WOULDN’T Flair be champion?
Oh, and her gear matches the belt. No more of Natalya trying to put pink logo sideplates on a blue-ass belt.
Eh: Hype-O Negative
The other championship-related thing on the show was The New Day getting a win over the Hype Bros, with the Usos sitting in on commentary. The New Day and the Usos are the only teams that get to fight for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, which is probably fine, because all of their matches are good-to-great.
There’s also this bit backstage with the Hype Brothers promising to make a “drastic” change, and I continue to weirdly love Mojo Rawley as an actor. Even if he’s not doing a good job of delivering the material, he really looks like he means what he says. I think a few improv classes could turn Mojo into a really dynamic performer. No joke.
Worst: Not A U.S. Title Match
A few weeks ago, AJ Styles was supposed to have a United States Championship match against Tye Dillinger, but Baron Corbin attacked him and interrupted it. Dillinger agreed to wrestle the match anyway, and tapped out to a Calf Crusher about 40 seconds in.
On Smackdown this week, AJ Styles was supposed to have a United States Championship match against Baron Corbin, but Tye Dillinger attacked him (to defend against a pre-match attack on AJ). Corbin and Styles got into it anyway, and Corbin tapped out to a Calf Crusher about 40 seconds in.
Worst: Shame McMahon
Finally this week, speaking of “not doing a good job of delivering the material,” we have melted Raisinet-headed Shane McMahon cutting a HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE promo about how Kevin Owens crossed the line by putting his hands on his father. They try to sidestep continuity by having Shane say that he and Vince “haven’t always seen eye to eye” but he loves him, which kinda sorta goes against that entire story of Shane trying to blackmail him out of the company with the contents of a mysterious lockbox, and Vince destroying a picture of him and Shane while yelling about how he has no son. But it’s fine. It’s a new cycle.
Also, did anyone else think it was funny that the match after this segment was Randy Orton vs. Aiden English, so the announce team with a straight face had to talk about how Shane had NEVER been put into a position like this where he’d have to fight someone who brutally attacked his father while Randy Orton was walking to the ring? Randy Orton, the guy who kicked Vince in the head so hard that Shane had to return and fight him about it?
Best: Keaven’s Gate
Kevin Owens’ response is great, though, because of course it is. He says that people who do things like he did don’t go to Hell (in a Cell), they go to Heaven, and now all I want is for Owens to show up to that match in all white acting like Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 26.
And that’s the show. Sorry, everyone!
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
I’m gonna get my collectible Daniel Bryan and Renee Young figurines and pretend they’re still doing Talking Smack.
Tom Servo: END! END! END!
Dolph Ziggler promo or drunken voicemail left on the ex gf’s phone.
Big Bad Smooty Daddy
I hope they accidentally play Benoit theme so WWE is forced to retcon this Ziggler storyline
The Real Birdman
They do realize they don’t need to do bad promos to get us to dislike Ziggler since we already don’t like Ziggler?
Baron Von Raschke
The War of the BROses is about to begin.
I think KO just bought a packaged shirt from Target and didn’t have time to iron it.
Shane is going to put Kevin in his own personal hell? So stuck in the back of a cramped car with Sami and a couple of refs blaring ska music on a trip through the back roads of America?
Kevin Owens is the most miserable kid at picture day
Becky heard Natty heeling on women in aviator goggles and said “hit my damn music”
And of course, be sure to listen to the McMahonsplaining podcast.