Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Smackville: Nothing! This is the first WWE Smackville ever!
If you haven’t watched Smackville yet (What, you had something better to do on a Saturday night?), you can do that here.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Smackville 2019, which originally aired on July 27, 2019, on the WWE Network.
Wait, A Live Wrestling Show Streamed On The WWE Network This Weekend? And It Was Called Smackville???
— WWE Network (@WWENetwork) July 28, 2019
Why yes, hypothetical reader asking this question, there was! Less than two weeks ago, WWE announced that they would stream a live wrestling show on Saturday, July 27, starting at 9 ET/6 PT (it is the last hour of a house show) on the Network.
Yesterday, they tweeted about it and I realized I had completely forgotten about it despite having written an article about its announcement for With Spandex. And despite it being called SMACKVILLE! You are getting a Best and Worst article about this from me in between Best/Worsts about NJPW’s G1 Climax 29 mostly because seeing this show’s blue guitar logo pop up on my Twitter timeline yesterday made me question if I was having a stroke.
As random as Smackville seems, it didn’t actually come out of nowhere. WWE has aired a few of these non-PPV Network live wrestling events before. There was the one-hour cut of the 2010s house show revival of Starrcade in November 2018 and The Shield’s Final Chapter, part of the house show on which the Shield wrestled their final six-man tag, this past April. While these aired on Sundays like main roster WWE PPVs, the most recent WWE Network special, EVOLVE Wrestling‘s tenth-anniversary show, started a trend that continues with Smackville: WWE airing live wrestling shows that aren’t NXT Takeover on Saturdays.
To many who follow wrestling, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to link this to the fact that the new, gutsy kid on the block that will have a show on a major cable network this fall, All Elite Wrestling, has been running their events on Saturdays. Cody even referred to EVOLVE airing on the Network for the first time opposite AEW’s charity show as counter-programming at the end of said charity show. You could argue that’s being too conspiracy-minded, but this is the company that created Survivor Series to counter Starrcade and then told cable companies if they carried Starrcade they would not get WrestleMania. Higher-ups at WWE know that it’s all about the game and how you play it.
I’m not urging you to rise up and buy a Young Bucks t-shirt to combat the forces of evil or something, but before talking about this wrestling show I wanted to lay out the context of this wrestling show. Now let’s talk about this wrestling show!
Worst: Pre-Gaming For The Biggest Party Of The Summer
The question of why this show is airing is not that hard to answer from a business perspective – besides the possible counter-programming thing, part of WWE’s business strategy is creating unique content for multiple platforms, and this is unique content. Also, and keep in mind that I basically don’t know anything about anything, but it seems to me like turning a house show, a part of WWE’s business that has seen declining revenue, into Unique Content for the Network, could be a smart thing to do.
But from a fan’s perspective, unless maybe you’re a fan who’s also a stockholder, something making sense from a business perspective isn’t a compelling reason to watch pro wrestling. Wrestling fans get hooked by the creative side of wrestling, whether that be engaging storylines or performers’ in-ring work or, ideally, both. So for wrestling fans, is there creative and entertainment value to WWE Smackville, besides the name WWE Smackville?
I’ll let you know that this review ends on a positive note before I tell you that the opening segment/match of WWE Smackville has more sadness value than entertainment value and makes the case against streaming house shows on the Network and thereby entering them into WWE canon.
Smackville begins with Tom Phillips informing viewers of what WWE had announced about half an hour earlier on Twitter, that one of three events announced for the show, Finn Bálor vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, would not be happening because Bálor was not been medically cleared to compete. Nakamura, in his most comfortable-looking space pajamas, informs us that this means he wins the match by forfeit. I guess that’s because this happened so close to when the match was supposed to take place? Anyway, Ali heroically prevents Nakamura from taking the night off and challenges him to a match.
Ali is the most fitting person to step up to Nakamura here because they are feuding over the Intercontinental Championship and will probably have a match a SummerSlam. But that’s also the reason not to just air an Ali vs. Nakamura singles house show match shortly before SummerSlam! WWE loves to advertise “first-time ever” match-ups, but not this one, apparently. I know they run matches connected to past or upcoming feuds at house shows but they could have at least run this on Smackdown instead if they needed to give Nakamura a win over Ali before their title match to make him even more of an underdog than usual.
If Ali and Nakamura had had a really good match, this would be easier to shrug off, but they really didn’t. This is “house show wrestling” in a bad way. Of course, I understand why wrestlers don’t just go as hard on house shows as they do on more important types of shows, but that’s also why those matches should maybe stay on house shows. There are hints of a good future PPV match or maybe TV show main event match in there, but Ali vs. Nakamura is really not worth watching.
Another real bummer about this is commentary saying this is “Nakamura at his most brutal” during a very soft-looking heel control portion. I’m not going to be like, “Um, excuse me, WWE commentary, have you even seen his match at Wrestle Kingdom 9? How dare you say this when he had a real MMA fight and then unified the NWF and IWGP Heavyweight Championships in the same week in 2004?” but come on, this angle is not even the most credibly hard-hitting Nakamura’s been on the WWE main roster. At least balls-punching Nakamura and the President of Nakamerica gave Shinsuke some weird character stuff to do, but his character being Very Violent when he has not been looking very credibly violent lately is less than compelling.
Best: David Otunga Is Here!
The announce team for WWE Smackville consists of regular Smackdown commentator Tom Phillips and former Nexus member/espouser of the Gotta Have My Java lifestyle, David Otunga. Otunga tells us he is rooting for Ali because Ali is from Chicago, but thinks he is unprepared because he saw him eating a sandwich backstage before the show. This is the type of hard-hitting analysis I like to hear from my sports broadcasters! Can Otunga be on commentary more?
Really, the upside of this different announce team is that it’s not Byron Saxton and Corey Graves arguing, and more specifically it’s not Graves shrieking at and about everything constantly. Phillips and Otunga’s worst moment is when they do bring that regular main roster commentary vibe back briefly during Kevin Owens vs. Elias and decide to have a full-on argument.
Worst: Kevin Owens vs. Elias
— WWE (@WWE) July 28, 2019
Like Ali vs. Nakamura, Owens vs. Elias makes sense as a house show match – Owens beats up Shane McMahon’s lackey ahead of his match with Shane – but is not interesting to watch. Apart from Owens’ diving senton, this extremely short match makes it extremely easy to zone out.
Best: Elias Goes Electric
The segment that leads to that match, though, is delightful and a reminder of when Elias was the clear highlight of every episode of Raw. He noodles around on an electric guitar while wearing at least three scarves tied around each of his wrists, tights that can be seen through the holes in his athletic jeggings, and a merch shirt I didn’t even realize he was wearing at first because it had been modified to expose most of his chest not covered by another scarf. What a great visual. I’m so glad I tuned into the updated WWE Network this fine Saturday night.
Elias hasn’t lost a step when it comes to getting local crowd heat, as exemplified by his line about how Johnny Cash told him the Tennessee Titans will never win the Super Bowl. The crowd has fun alternately booing and cheering him on and off stage. Watching WWE TV can often feel like such a hyper-controlled version of wrestling that sucks out so many of the best things about it as a live medium, but here we see a segment that wouldn’t be out of place at a wrestling show at a county fair, minus the TV show continuity stuff, in a good way.
Best: The Alliance To End Kofimania
Though pre-match promos and video packages try to make Kofi Kingston vs. Samoa Joe vs. Dolph Ziggler for the WWE Championship seem like something more significant than a house show main event weirdly airing on the Network, a lot of its appeal is that it does feel more like part of a live wrestling show than many matches on more controlled, made-for-TV WWE programs. There are shenanigans, but with about a fourteen-minute match time and no commercials or convoluted match stoppages, they feel like organic parts of the drama.
The triple threat starts with both heels teaming up to weaken Kingston. Joe and Ziggler are entertaining as they work together and the crowd gets into rooting for the champ. But when Kingston makes a comeback, the alliance falls apart and while Joe and Ziggler don’t fight much, they do break up each other’s pins, helping Kofi stay in the game. Kingston doesn’t just look like he’s getting lucky, though; he shines every time he’s on offense. There are a few weaker moments between Kingston and Joe, but overall this match is fun and features quality wrestling.
As WWE reportedly looks to become edgier in some ways, Kingston vs. Joe vs. Ziggler is a glimpse at the ideal version of PG WWE. Tonally, it embraces being a live-action cartoon. It’s like a children’s movie that you wouldn’t mind watching with children. It’s not deep or intellectual, but it doesn’t insult the intelligence of people over the age of eight.
So, does WWE Smackville have creative and entertainment value? Some of it does! You probably won’t regret watching it if you do, but if you don’t, there’s no reason to regret that either.