WWE Smackdown ran its last taped show last night (July 14, 2016) from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The brand split, draft, and move to live television promises big things for the blue brand in the near future. How did they handle the end of an era? For full results and the live blog, click here.
I'm of two minds about the brand split. My impression is that Monday Night Raw will be much like it has been for 15 years—staid, boring, stale, of inconsistent and frequently bad quality. Even when an episode of Raw is good, there's no faith that the next week won't undo all that progress. The show desperately needs a complete reboot, as the massive ratings decline (far outpacing the ratings decline for television overall) in two years demonstrates.
I have zero desire to watch that show when the alternative is, hopefully, a real alternative. Speculation is that Triple H would be running the blue brand, and, well, if it's anything like NXT or the Cruiserweight Classic, sign me right up. His approach is fresh, the characters are given real time to make their identities known and over, commentary is enormously better, matches are structured significantly better (Terry Taylor agenting women's matches on Smackdown is a dream), the women's division is treated as a significant part of the show rather than an afterthought, tag team wrestling is dynamite and fluid—I could go on for days. His vision of a wrestling show is demonstrably superior to those running Raw.
For the third week in a row, Smackdown starts with a series of short promos from several wrestlers. The outline of the show is laid out, bits of characterization are added and storylines highlighted, and it makes the show look like a cohesive program rather than random segment after random segment. Kevin Owens complains that he found an old birthday card Sami Zayn gave his son, and it only contained 20 Canadian dollars (Owens proceeds to pocket the money and throw the card away); Charlotte claims that Sasha Banks' victory over Dana Brooke on Monday wouldn't be repeated tonight (though really, can we stop focusing so much on Sasha's style and more on her motivation?); The Miz and Maryse do makeup together; and WWE Champion Dean Ambrose hypes his match tonight versus Owens.
This is great, it's something almost never seen on Raw, and I hope they keep this sort of thing on Tuesday nights.
If the split isn't significant—if it's mere window dressing, as the women's "revolution" has proved to be so far on the main roster—it will kill my enthusiasm for WWE. NXT has been so good as a product for about two years now, but there have definitely been lulls. The difference is that NXT has goodwill among its fans, because even in bleak times there are good stories or engaging characters, and it isn't long until it gets back into a groove—as it has been the last several weeks.
This is WWE's opportunity for a reset. If they continue the same old stuff, they'll lose a generation of fans. Permanently.
And lord, please put Sasha Banks (and when she's called up, Bayley) on Smackdown.
Teasing the future
The women's title feud opening the show is a pleasant surprise (and obviously going to pop me). They have the opportunity to build something special for Sashaslam ... err, Summerslam ... as a platform to establish an (actual) new era for women's wrestling in WWE. Hopefully they take it.
When this rematch was set, I was hugely fearing (because I'm a ridiculous mark) that they'd blow Sasha's first loss to Dana Brooke on a taped Smackdown after Charlotte interference. Thankfully, the bookers have enough sense to not do that.
Dana Brooke is not a very good wrestler. She was better tonight than on Monday, but a large part of that is simply the match being significantly shorter. While the call up to establish her as Emma's heater could have worked, pairing her with Charlotte hasn't worked at all. They have no chemistry together, and I'm pretty sure in the opening show vignettes Charlotte legitimately forgot who was standing next to her. Dana's far, far too green to be working on the main roster. Her character work is great, but she badly needs a lot more reps in the performance center.
(As an aside, it would be great if heels on the main roster could win matches through cheating on their own, rather than always relying on outside interference. It's tiring, and does nothing to put over a heel as clever and conniving.)
Sasha starts hot with a meteora, but a distraction from Charlotte on the outside lets Dana back into the match. Sasha hits a flying crossbody—a welcome addition to her moveset—off the top rope for a close two count. At the end of the match, Charlotte climbs onto the apron and eats a forearm. Brooke attempts a roll up, gets only a two count and then is immediately locked in the Bank Statement. She quickly taps, but Charlotte hits Banks with a big boot after the match. She then throws her rival over the announce table, and Banks lands hard.
Later in the show, Sasha is being tended to by trainers backstage when Charlotte and Brooke arrive. The Boss immediately pops up, ready to breathe fire, when Charlotte announces that she's been granted a match at Battleground—a tag match, not the singles match for the WWE Women's Championship Banks desires. Brooke states, "The so-called Boss, she doesn't have any friends" before the heels walk off.
Charlotte's post-match beatdown is a smart idea, and avoiding a title match at Battleground even smarter. (There is also a women's singles match on the card, it should be noted.) They should have put the belt on Banks at Wrestlemania, but once they didn't, it was always going to be Summerslam. Thankfully, they stuck to that plan.
Attacking her presumptive challenger and refusing a title match (by insisting Banks find a partner for a tag match) is classic heel maneuvering by Charlotte to avoid an opponent she's afraid to face. It also adds intrigue to Battleground, as there some enticing options for a partner. (For me, Bayley is not one of them. You waited this long to debut her, do it properly in Barclays after Sasha wins the title. That being said, both Banks and Bayley immediately took to Twitter, because of course they did.) I personally would greatly enjoy seeing Dana and/or Charlotte eat a proper Bellahammer at Battleground.
I was actually bummed out that WWE Champion Dean Ambrose didn't get significant talking time tonight. His promo on Monday was absolutely everything I wanted out of him. That Dean is a wonderful character—and the promo even put his goofiness in a more charitable light. More of that.
Tonight's main event was scheduled for Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens—a match that's always fine (though never great), but been run a trillion times over. Seth Rollins came out for commentary, and interfered in the match after maybe two minutes. Owens is initially perplexed, but when Sami Zayn's music hits the battle lines are drawn.
It's fitting that the last taped Smackdown ends with an impromptu tag match as the main event. All four wrestlers brought it, as well, sending the taped era off on a high note. This was a very fast, workrate-heavy match. It'll never be mistaken for a classic or a lesson in wrestling psychology—or even a standard, good tag team match—but it was fun. (Kevin Owens shouting, "I already said that!" after Rollins calls himself "The Man" was a treat.) This type of match became a Smackdown trope over the last 17 years—but sometimes even tropes can be done well.
Zayn misses a Helluva Kick on Rollins after The Architect is pulled out of the way by Owens. Rollins soon hits a pedigree, and the heels are victorious. After the match, Owens attempts an apron powerbomb on Zayn but is stopped by Ambrose. The two pairings square off again—Rollins calling Ambrose into the ring, and then quickly fleeing when the champ obliges—and the faces stand tall to end the show.
The WWE title match on Monday between Ambrose and Rollins should be very interesting.
All the rest
It really is quite amazing that we're getting the (Bullet) Club on WWE. 2016 indeed. Just seeing AJ Styles come out to the ring with his new jacket with Japanese lettering embroidered on it is a sight to behold.
We get a quick overview of John Cena's performance at The ESPY's from Wednesday night, and then the Realest Guys' music hits. Enzo Amore and Big Cass do their always fun promo work, and Styles is incensed at being called "SAWFT." The Club verbally responded from the ring.
At this point, some guy in the crowd yelled out Enzo's customary "A COUPLE A HATAZ" and I absolutely died. It's incredible that even in a pretty quiet, dead crowd like Grand Rapids, Enzo and Cass are legitimately way over. A huge portion of the audience does their pre-match schtick, and in this match there was also an extended "AJ STYLES / LET'S GO ENZO" dueling chant. They've been on the main roster for three months.
This was a quite good tag match, but when you've got the best wrestler in the world, it's no surprise. The story of the match was that The Club—Styles and Karl Anderson in the ring, and Luke Gallows on the outside—tried their damnedest to isolate Enzo and stop Cass from getting a hot tag. It worked to perfection, as Styles made Enzo tap out to the Calf Crusher.
Darren Young's theme has Bob Backlund shouting, "MAKE DARREN YOUNG GREAT AGAIN" repeatedly throughout.
Somehow, The Miz is still massively underrated despite being one of the very best performers in all of WWE. Young did well here, though surely they're not putting the Intercontinental Championship on him at Battleground. Right?
The Miz showed a video package of Backlund career highlights, and the WWE Hall of Famer appears legitimately moved. The Miz then goes to show the highlights of Young's career ... and only displays an Emergency Broadcast System test.
Backlund claims that The Miz can't be a great champion because he doesn't set an example and isn't a role model. Maryse chimes in at this point to tell Backlund, "1982 called, and they said you're old." The Miz proceeds to berate Backlund and Young, and the challenger grabs his microphone. The Miz angrily says, "If you ever touch my mic again, I swear ..." Young, of course, immediately grabs the microphone and shouts, "YOU'LL WHAT? YOU'LL WHAT?" The A-lister backs away, making Young appear a legitimate threat.
If the WWE draft was a shoot, and it was based off who can best help a show, The Miz is an automatic top ten pick.
Dolph Ziggler defeated US Champion Rusev after a distraction from Zach Ryder.
Jobbing out Rusev to Ziggler—even via interference—is a painfully bad idea. Rusev has the charisma, mic skills, and work rate to be a main event guy. Unfortunately, it looks like the bookers can't get past "BIG FOREIGN BRUTE" and see the gem of a performer.
I should mention that Ziggler's offense looks even more ridiculous than usual against a mountain of a man like Rusev.
Ryder's push is nice, and he's a guy who is deservedly getting more TV time. But he really, really, really, really shouldn't beat Rusev in D.C (or ever, for that matter).
Also, it's a bit strange that Ryder is getting a title match when he lost to Sheamus on Monday, and Ziggler pinned the champion tonight.
Rusev's post-match hysterics are wonderful, as he pulls off the turnbuckle pads, throws chairs around, destroys the announce booth, and throws commentary's monitors for good measure.
Shane McMahon is seen backstage talking to Becky Lynch, and later R-Truth. They should have been able to squeeze in a short promo for Lynch on this show, but didn't. At least she got eight seconds of screen time.
Kalisto pins Tyler Breeze following a Salida Del Sol. This was actually a really nice, nifty, TV match. But Breeze just won this match Monday, and now Kalisto wins tonight. Who is this supposed to be helping?
A strong final show for Smackdown's taped run. I look forward to seeing how WWE can make Smackdown a fresh, unique show.
We'll see you Tuesday for the WWE draft on the first ever live Smackdown.