WWE SmackDown hit Tucson, Arizona last night (June 23, 2016), amid a tumultuous week. Roman Reigns' suspension and the looming brand split are on everyone's minds, so how did the blue brand fare? For full results and the live blog, click here.
Two brothers, a Canadian, and a plant
Seth Rollins opened the show, recapping the events of both Money In The Bank and Monday Night Raw. He said he had beaten that "undeserving paper champion, Roman Reigns" only for Dean Ambrose to snatch the title away from him.
Rollins proclaimed that our parents are big fat liars for telling us that if we worked hard, we can achieve our dreams. Nobody works harder than me, and yet Ambrose had stolen the championship that Rollins rightfully won, fair and square, from Reigns at Money In The Bank.
It's worthwhile to note that while Rollins delivers the line as the smarmy jerk his character is, he's also not speaking untruths on a larger scale. It's a classic Millennial argument, and it's not wrong: we were told we could do anything, but became adults right in the middle of an economic collapse—and then were told by those who caused it that we were lazy.
It's a line that struck a strong chord with me.
Rollins wanted to prove that he could take on anyone at any time, and so issued an Open Challenge for a 1-on-1 match. Notably, the last time Rollins issued an open challenge, he tried to rig it to ensure he would face El Torito (he got Neville instead). Here, he offered to fight anyone, and meant it. Rollins may be a heel, but thankfully he seems removed from the total chickenshit that made many of his segments so insufferable last year.
It was Sami Zayn who answered the challenge, though Zayn wasn't able to speak even a word before Dean Ambrose's music hit and the new champion walked to the ring.
Now, Dean Ambrose isn't my favorite. His ring work is hokey and he frequently strays too far into wacky land.
But boy, is it nice to have a babyface champion that the crowd doesn't completely loathe.
Yes, the impromptu talk show is cutesy (though Rollins sold it well, practically screaming, "NO NO NO NO NO NO NO"), what with the bringing out the carpet and plant (at which Rollins amusingly shrieked, "Is that a cactus?!") and Ambrose drawing a very rough championship belt on his show banner. Maybe it's too much for some, but for me it stayed just enough on the side of "eccentric" rather than "ridiculous." The champion came across as mocking Rollins rather than making himself look like a dolt.
It's a stark contrast to the overt (and boring) Seriousness that was a hallmark of Roman Reigns' title ... reign.
Not having your face champion be hated makes the program that much more watchable. Who would have guessed?
It should be noted that the long injury break seems to have done wonders for Rollins' mic work. His show opening recap promo was concise but thorough, he was able to effectively belittle babyface opponents (as Zayn stepped into the ring, Rollins asked, "Your master Kevin Owens let you off the leash?"), and his exasperation at the Ambrose Asylum set was amusing. (It reminded one of his interactions with The New Day last summer and fall.) He came across well here.
Zayn and Rollins was set up as our main event.
What I enjoyed most about this TV match was that it didn't give too much away, but also hinted, especially toward the end of the match when the pace quickened, that given time and a story that Zayn and Rollins could make something special. It wasn't overly long, and didn't drag. Rollins eventually won clean with an opportunistic pedigree after Zayn had rolled him back into the ring.
Predictably, Rollins and Ambrose brawled to end the show, with Ambrose standing tall in the ring and Rollins yelling at him from the relative safety of the entrance ramp.
More of this.
(It should be noted that Roman Reigns' name was said as few times as possible on the night.)
Prior to his match with Rollins, Sami Zayn was stopped by Greg Hamilton and asked why he challenged Rollins. After reviewing the Zayn-Owens brawl from Monday, the Canadian noted that he believed he needed to get away from Kevin Owens for his career to grow. ("My career will never move forward as long as I'm obsessed with this guy, and that's why I accepted Seth Rollins' challenge. Tonight, I'm not worried about Kevin Owens, Seth should be worried about me kicking his face off.")
This was great. It's a fact true in-and-out of kayfabe, and shows that the writers do seem to have a better grasp on Zayn's character than we might think. It didn't hurt that the crowd gave extended, fairly loud dueling chants for Zayn and Rollins during their match.
The more things change ...
Becky Lynch used a Scorpion Death Drop.
Maybe she's Sting-level dumb, maybe she's not. But the efforts to build Lynch as a true babyface over the last 8 months or so have worked very well, judging by crowd response. In November, December, and January, Lynch got promo time every week, and it resulted in getting her very likable character over with many fans. If only we could get more stories like that in the women's division.
Renee Young approached the WWE Women's Champion, Charlotte, and Dana Brooke backstage to ask the champion about Sasha Banks' return on Monday Night Raw. Charlotte responded, "Sasha Sasha Sasha, what about Sasha? The only statement going to be made is her bowing down to me. Sasha might be the boss, but everyone knows I'm the queen." She exuded brashness, though her initial reaction to Young's mention of The Boss betrayed her true feelings.
Dana Brooke has many qualities. But a long injury layover set back her progress in the ring substantially. It's hard to impugn her character work, but she's something of a woman without a country sans Emma. Charlotte and her have negative chemistry, and she's not skilled enough to be pushed on her own.
That all being said, 70 second matches do nobody any favors.
Yes, that's right. 70 seconds. It ended in a roll up win for the heel protege off a distraction, because again, Becky is kinda-sorta Sting-level dumb.
The entire segment was just a set up for Banks to make a babyface save. Thankfully, Charlotte displayed fear on her face and scurried out of the ring as Banks took off her jewelry, ready to throw down. Brooke attempted a cheapshot from behind, but Banks countered with a forearm and slapped on the Banks Statement, all the while staring and smiling at the champion on the outside.
Yeah okay that's what I thought @DanaBrookeWWE #smackdown #legitboss pic.twitter.com/Gz4dvj3e1X— $asha Bank$ (@SashaBanksWWE) June 24, 2016
It's a little thing, but Banks' extreme confidence—and nonchalant ability to back it up—worked wonders here. Charlotte, as well, responded appropriately, clearly rattled at how easily her backup was dispatched.
Banks and Charlotte did well here with the very little time they had—but they were given way too little time. Please fix that, WWE.
All the rest
David Otunga was on commentary, replacing the suspended Jerry Lawler. He didn't act as the heel commentator, but he did well all the same.
Cesaro defeated Alberto Del Rio in a solid match. Both characters got inset promos before squaring off, which is a characterization method not used often enough. Cesaro rolled through the cross armbreaker into the Gotch Neutralizer for the pin.
AJ Styles defeated Jimmy Uso. You know what you're getting with an AJ Styles TV match, and it's never bad, and if the Usos style weren't so formulaic, this could have been a lot more fun. Styles won with The Phenomenal Forearm, after a ruckus on the outside between Gallows and Anderson and Jey Uso drew Jimmy's attention away.
New Day defeated The Vaudevillains in a short match. Afterward, Bray Wyatt appeared on the tron and once again appeared to be hypnotizing Xavier Woods, which the camera heavily focused in on. They might have something with this program. The Vaudevillains have put in good work since their call up, but it feels like they need to be more malicious.
Apollo Crews desperately needs character development, so instead he's 50-50'ing matches with heat vacuum Sheamus. While the spot that set up the count-out finish looked brutal enough, who does this result serve? It's baffling that for all his potential that Crews hasn't been used effectively at all, in either NXT or on the main roster, since he debuted at TakeOver: Brooklyn.
I was ready to grade this more harshly before writing this all out. The structural problems remain the same: the women's division is still a total afterthought, 50-50 booking is maddening, and characters aren't allowed creative freedom that would help them come across human. WWE television is a lesser program because of these sort of faults.
But inside those parameters, it was a solid B/B+ episode of SmackDown.