Previously on the Best and Worst of Smackdown Live: Elle Collins filled in for me so I could have strep throat for a week. Thanks, Elle! Go to Hell, whoever sneezed on my food!
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Anyway, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live for July 23, 2019.
Best, Mostly: Worst Of The World
All right, the Raw Reunion is over, let’s put our heads down and march straight into a show-opening Shane McMahon promo where he can’t get his lines straight and keeps no-selling the crowd response to the point of exhaustion. Maybe that’s why he’s always so winded and sweaty?
One of the most frustrating aspects of Shane (and Stephanie McMahon) as on-screen performers is that they’re trying to be Classic Vince McMahon and are honestly pretty close approximations, but don’t understand how and why Vince let the crowd and other characters “get to him” sometimes. If the crowd chanted “asshole” at Vince in 1998, for example — or Vince today, I’d imagine — he wouldn’t just go “pfft, whatever” and continue with his pre-scripted promo. He’d make a big face, turn his head all dramatically, and call them classless, or whatever. He’d react to them, which made them feel like part of the show.
Better yet, even though he’d maintain a sense of superiority over them, he’d give them just enough to let them know it bothered him. It was give and take. Ebb and flow. If Shane let the crowd knew what they were doing bothered him a little, they might be even more into the idea of supporting someone like Kevin Owens who could physically get to him. You’d let them know your weakness, and they’d root for someone to help them exploit it.
If I can give any aspect of this a “Best” this week, it’s that it appears someone in creative (or Vince himself) has finally figured out what they’re doing wrong with Shane as a dominating physical presence. A big wrestling trope from my childhood that doesn’t get used much today is the “five minutes alone with the manager” bit, where a hero would have to overcome the odds and win a match they don’t have much of a chance of winning in an attempt to get a match with the wormy, weaselly mouthpiece that pissed them off in the first place. Think of it like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express having to beat the Midnight Express to get five minutes alone with Jim Cornette, or Dusty Rhodes having to defeat the Four Horsemen to get five minutes alone with J.J. Dillon.
On Smackdown, Shane does the very obvious Evil General Manager Vince McMahon-ass thing of pitting two of his rivals against one another in a one-on-one match with “special” ring announcers, referees, and timekeepers intended to manipulate and hurt them. Here, it’s Kevin Owens facing Roman Reigns so they’ll beat each other up instead of attacking him, with himself as special guest ring announcer, Drew McIntyre as the referee, and Elias as the timekeeper. To their credit, Reigns and Owens figure out that this is a no-win situation from the beginning and quickly decide to just punch the bad guys in the face, because what other option do they have? Owens and Reigns taking control of the situation seems to surprise McMahon, and they’re able to use that element of surprise to be BIG DOG STRONG™, overcome the odds, and get at least a moment alone with Shane.
And again, to their credit, Shane cowers in the face of a Superman Punch and gets two Steen Cold Stunners. It’s finally treating Shane like he should’ve been treated all along; not as someone who should have three wins over The Miz, two wins over Roman Reigns, and a Best in the World trophy, but as an opportunistic coward who could never, ever win a straight-up fight with a young, powerful WWE Superstar.
Best: Wyatt Lines
The best part of the entire show might’ve been this bit between Finn Bálor and Bray Wyatt, where we find out that (obviously) Wyatt can do the Firefly Funhouse character live, and not need everything to be on tape. We know he’s a great performer already, but the haunted children’s show host with multiple puppet characters and a soundboard of cheering children and spooky background music isn’t a layup. Wyatt showing that he can transition from Steve Burns to Steve BURN IN HELL mid-promo is A+ work. I hope he eats Bálor’s next 35 lunches at SummerSlam.
The Problem With Shawn Michaels
I’ll skip my normal, “Dolph Ziggler is cold boogers on a paper plate,” routine in favor of discussing something I think we need to talk about: the problem with using Shawn Michaels as the emotional crux of angles that don’t actually involve Shawn Michaels.
Back in 2013, WWE attempted to use Shawn Michaels for some emotional and historical gravitas during the Daniel Bryan vs. Authority angle ahead of WrestleMania 30. You can watch a clip from that here. It’s great work, and it works in the story … but here’s the problem. If you get Shawn Michaels involved in an angle, he’s Shawn Michaels. People are going to want to see Daniel Bryan face Shawn Michaels now, not Triple H or Randy Orton. Shawn’s presence still pops off a bunch of dream matches in people’s heads, whether he’s going for that or not. 85 year old Shawn Michaels will show up on WWE TV to get in the face of Knash Wyatt or WWE Champion Nicholas Cone or whoever and people will still be like, “I bet Shawn’s got one more in him.”
So when you bring him onto Smackdown and use him to promote The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler for SummerSlam, and you have Shawn do good work against an almost impossible-to-do-good-work-against-right-now Ziggler, people aren’t gonna want to see Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler more. They want to see Ziggler vs. Shawn. I want to see it. You probably do, too. Miz could’ve been a potted plant in this segment, and I say that as someone who very obviously loves The Miz.
And Speaking Of Potted Plants
Pour one out for Samoa Joe, who continues to be (completely happy and artistically fulfilled, probably, I don’t know his life) jobber to the stars to more important characters. Here, he could’ve been Bo Dallas and it wouldn’t have been any different. He’s just out there to go through the motions with the champ, lose by disqualification without any agency, and then take an RKO so the champ doesn’t have to. He’s Joe. He’s great. I just wish he got to kick people’s asses and be awesome instead of basically being Gerald Brisco in gym shorts.
On the positive side, I really loved the promo battle between Randy Orton and Kofi Kingston. Orton’s such an interesting topic of conversation these days, because he’s very clearly preternaturally gifted at every aspect of professional wrestling action and presentation but has been so “Randy Orton” for so long that you barely even notice. He’s always felt like a guy burdened with glorious purpose. He doesn’t seem like he would’ve chosen pro wrestling if it wasn’t his family business, but he’s better at it than everybody else. He’s like the Jaime Lannister of wrestling. It’s why you can still count the number of truly great Randy Orton matches on two hands, and why you can count the number of great matches he’s been in that were great because of him on one. The snakey motherfucker can sure craft a great wrestling moment, though.
I like Kofi Kingston challenging him to a match instead of the other way around, and New Day on commentary putting over the idea that Kofi’s still haunted by his past. Not necessarily by what happened, or why, but because of the idea that it happened. He’s basically sticking his neck out and risking way too much for way too little in return to right a wrong from a decade ago, against a guy who barely cares. That’s a really interesting story.. If Kofi loses, he cost himself the championship with a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he wins … who is he, without the trauma?
Worst: Ember’s Boon
The most disappointing part of the episode has to be Ember Moon vs. Charlotte Flair, which is one of those matches you read on paper that makes Metal Gear Solid exclamation points pop up over your head. Instead of … you know, actually having that match happen in any definition of “having a match,” Bayley shows up immediately, causes an instant distraction, and gives Ember the garbage-ass roll-up win in like 30 seconds. After the match, Ember rolls Bayley into the ring and hits the Eclipse on both of them, because I guess someone realized Ember Moon hasn’t “looked strong” lately but is in a title match, so she’s suddenly gotta kill everybody with minimal effort.
Honestly, the most disappointed I ever get watching WWE isn’t when something doesn’t make sense, or when they run a booking decision I don’t like, or whatever … it’s when they promise a fresh or exciting match and then bait-and-switch it with some dumb creative stalling because they don’t think the wrestling parts of the wrestling show actually matter to anyone. It’s the Bryan vs. Sheamus at WrestleMania thing on a much smaller scale. They care about “moments,” not matches, and the content’s never worse than when that shows. Especially since it’s not 1998 anymore, and they aren’t exactly bowling a lot of strikes creatively. Long story short, they took what could’ve been a competitive match that reminds us how WWE women’s wrestling can be great and replaced it with a minute-long bit where Charlotte and Bayley both kinda look helpless and stupid.
They do a weird followup afterward where Charlotte insists she’s the Queen of every era of WWE and deserves a marquee match at SummerSlam. Which, you know, is all well and good except for the fact that we just saw her lose via roll-up in 30 seconds. Is nobody going to point out that maybe that is why she wouldn’t have a match at SummerSlam? Why do we need Trish Stratus to come out of semi-retirement or whatever to put Charlotte Flair in her place if Ember Moon and a Bayley distraction can do it in half a minute?
This is the kind of, “if yes, then what” storytelling WWE really needs to start paying attention to and stop insulting us by ignoring. I’m not asking you to keep detailed win and loss statistics and pretend it’s a real sport or whatever, but it doesn’t seem like too much to ask to not have the character about to cut an “I demand an important match at the pay-per-view” promo get beaten with minimal effort right before it.
Also On This Episode
Ali’s pre-taped Street Justice promos are still going well, and I like how he seems to understand his recent character history and how it should affect him going forward, but also … let’s get you back in the ring, man. I really hope the new executive directors and dedicated producers of these shows fall out of love with the concept of having someone just cut the same vignette promo for three months and counting that as “being on the show” instead of ever booking them in wrestling matches. Wrestlers need to wrestle sometimes on the wrestling shows, guys. Aleister Black’s probably in his janitor’s closet right now wondering why he doesn’t have four more matches with Cesaro coming up.
There’s not very much wrestling on this episode, but Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Apollo Crews was fun. It was competitive, which is nice, especially considering Apollo’s weird brand tour where he’s visibly trying to get someone to remember he’s great. Strong, competitive wins do more for WWE Superstars than WWE realizes sometimes, especially when they’re secondary champions who need to add some prestige to the glittery prop they carry around, ESPECIALLY when they’re heels in a world where all heels who aren’t non-wrestling authority figures or MMA stars are hapless cowards.
we got bayskitbaw prayctiss
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
“I didn’t have to fake a Jamaican accent & throw pancakes around”
Talk about a line that sums up Vince McMahon’s entire booking of black people since WWE began
How does SDL have 5 stunners & Raw Reunion featuring Austin have 0?
Yowie…and I can’t stress this enough….Wowie!
Elias as the timekeeper is not the best option.
Everyone knows that’s the drummer’s job.
ME: That’s how every segment lastt night should have gone.
WWE: Ziggler superkicking HBK?
ME: NO! A legend clearly putting over a current roster superstar to further storylines.
WWE: Gotcha. Ziggler superkicks HBK every segment now.
Randy, you did briefly pretend to be a Marine tho
Randy Orton as white privilege is on point character work
BUT CAN THEY KO-EXIST?!?!
Dave M J
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA HAS PINNED A GUY AS THE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPION!
Huh, they must have come up way short this week. They aired the dark match.
That’s it for this week’s Smackdown. As always, thanks for reading. Give us a share on social so I can stop asking you all the time, and drop a comment down below to let us know what you thought of the show. Oh, and thanks again for putting up with my illness. I don’t want you to have to go too long without hearing what I think about Shane McMahon. I [checks notes] don’t enjoy him.
See you next week!