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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (May 16, 2017): Thank God for ‘The Fashion Files’

The blue brand meekly limps into Backlash.

Tyler Breeze and Fandango WWE.com

SmackDown Live hit Manchester, New Hampshire last night (May 16, 2017) for its Backlash go home show. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.


This is fine

Raw, Monday night: “Man, can’t wait to run some absolutely idiotic and perplexing booking decisions. No one can top this.”

SmackDown, last night: “Hold my beer.”

For whatever reason, the main roster has decided that babyface stars don’t need to win to actually be stars. Given that this is going against literally the entire history of the business, it’s a peculiar route to take. Characters and performers who stand out draw crowds, and the easiest way to do that is to make your stars better in kayfabe than anyone else.

Instead, we have AJ Styles jobbing to Jinder Mahal.

Unbelievable.

Kevin Owens hosted his first ever highlight reel to start the show, which was interrupted by Styles, the number one contender for the United States Championship. They briefly bickered, saying nothing of particular relevance, before Mahal’s music hit.

When Styles was ready to hit The Phenomenal Forearm, The Singh Brothers popped up on the apron, distracting the referee, allowing Kevin Owens—seated on commentary—to hit Styles in the back of the knee with the US title. Mahal hit his finisher for the win.

Speaking of the United States Champion: Remember when Owens was back to his sadistic best the first week of the Shake-Up on Talking Smack? When he was once again the sociopathic “family man” that made him such a hit in NXT? Safe to say we’re not getting that character anymore, because since then the blue brand has leaned into this “Face of America” nonsense which has him speak French “just because he can.” Some real lightweight stuff, this, and Owens doesn’t seem particularly motivated to give the spiel. One can hardly blame him: the guy knows his character, is great at it, and yet isn’t being scripted (allowed?) to play that character.

Anyway. Interference, yes, it took effectively four guys, yes, the fact of the matter is, Jinder Mahal pinned AJ Styles.

The elevation of Mahal into the world title program has been an absolute creative disaster, and it was proven yet again tonight when he used an inspirational quote from Mahatma Gandhi. Not only is a heel using a quote from Gandhi, which is ridiculous enough, but Mahal said the quote in Punjabi. Unfortunately, Gandhi was Gujarati, not Punjabi, which Gandhi didn’t even speak, making the reference even stupider. Why is nobody spending even ten seconds on Google to get their basic facts straight? This isn’t hard.

Thankfully, Orton backstage noted that people weren’t booing Mahal because he’s foreign, but because he’s an ass. Why couldn’t this have been noted three weeks ago in front of a live crowd? It would have made Mahal’s repeated attempts to blame ignorance actually false in storyline. Instead, for a month the optics seemed to suggest he was right.

That being said, Orton’s lackluster efforts as champion has not helped at all. It is not hard to figure out when SmackDown’s current slump began—when the emphasis of the show was removed from AJ Styles and placed onto Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton.

They cannot put the world title on Styles (or Shinsuke Nakamura, perhaps) fast enough. It’s nice and all to elevate your midcard title, to make it relevant again—though the US Championship doesn’t even feel that way—but not at the expense of running a dismally dire world title program.

In the main event, The Viper pinned Baron Corbin after a far-too long, dreadfully boring match. If you can’t fill a 15 minute match in entertaining fashion, don’t run a 15 minute match. Afterward, Mahal appeared in the entryway, The Singh Brothers attacked Orton from behind, he was prepared to hit a double DDT on the pair, but was struck from behind by Jinder. The number one contender and his lackeys stood tall to close the show.

It was aggressively dull.


Slowing down

You know SmackDown is struggling when even its women’s contract signing staple fell flat.

Commissioner Shane McMahon presided, and the Welcoming Committee came out first, followed by the face trio. Natalya said words, warned Becky Lynch she would regret not joining them, and then signed. Tamina and Carmella followed suit. Then Becky got on the mic, said she was going to slap all of them in the face on Sunday, and signed. Naomi threatened to snatch the heels bald, and called James Ellsworth a girl. Charlotte called the Welcoming Committee the “Babysitter’s Club,” then told Naomi that after they won she was coming for the title. Cool.

James Ellsworth grabbed a mic, told Becky and Charlotte they would never get with him, Naomi smashed his face on the table, the champion and Carmella nearly came to blows but were separated by Shane, who then put them in a match. All right.

Carmella pinned the champion with a rollup after the four others started a brouhaha on the outside. Great. Downright peachy.

Let’s be honest, there’s no great way out of this match that would keep with continuity over the last month:

  • It would be ridiculous to have Charlotte be the evil mastermind of the stable all along, given that the stable literally formed on camera in opposition to her and has truly laid into her multiple times. Furthermore there’s literally zero reason for her to be in on the gambit, given that her second week on SmackDown she pinned the champion clean as a whistle. The goon squad would just get in her way. (This is almost certainly what is going to happen, though.)
  • Becky being the evil mastermind isn’t great, neither. Then we’re left with a scenario pitting face Charlotte against heel Becky, which is something virtually no one wants and plays against the best alignments for both. Perhaps there’s a way to make Becky an anti-hero out of all this—rejecting both the Welcoming Committee and Charlotte, though why she’d reject Naomi is an unanswered question—but it seems unlikely.
  • The heel trio is ridiculously underpowered without any swerve in the picture, and frankly at even numbers shouldn’t last past five minutes. Frankly, that’s the most sensible result. This division badly needs an actual top heel, and badly needed another big part out of the Superstar Shake-Up. Hell, just call up Nikki Cross.
  • And the champion of the division—who was previously in the middle of a babyface breakout—is a complete afterthought in the entire scene and being pinned by goobers. That’s a problem.

The sad part is that this program started wildly interesting and over the span of the last month has lessened week-on-week. It is mind blowing that they didn’t drag out Becky Lynch’s “decision” longer, as that was the key part of the angle. Now it just seems likely that Bex will reprise her role of geek sidekick—which somehow would be doing better than the champion, who is just there.

The constant misuse of talent in the women’s divisions is beyond aggravating and betrays a complete lack of understanding of its characters and performers by top management. Full stop.


Like old times

Ironically, the tag team division is far and away the best part of SmackDown Live these days.

Indeed, the one segment where SmackDown still feels like its old, free-flowing, manically creative self is the tag division. No doubt, the SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos are terrific, and they cut another of their increasingly unhinged promos tonight after their Backlash opponents beat The Colons.

But my word, thank heavens for Breezango.

The third edition of The Fashion Files again brought the house down, with the most memorable bit being Fandango reading The Usos “Day One Ish” hoodie as “Day One Is H.” They are fun. This whole program is fun. Let’s hope it continues.

This is the only feud that’s entertaining on the entire brand.


All the rest

In a brief backstage promo, Dolph Ziggler said he was wrong about Shinsuke Nakamura, that he had reviewed the footage of his time in WWE, and had put all his accomplishments on a tape: “No footage found.”

Cute.

So, uh, it makes the fact that Ziggler isn’t The Miz really, really obvious when you give him material that is so obviously designed for Miz and would be delivered so much better by The A-Lister.

Sami Zayn cut a pretty smart promo about how he’s a threat to Baron Corbin’s tough guy schtick—you see, Sami won’t stay down, and the most dangerous thing to any schoolyard bully is the person who won’t back down, no matter what.

Corbin promptly attacked him from behind, and told him to stay down—or he would make Zayn stay down, permanently, at Backlash.

The New Day and Lana both had vignettes. Rusev did not appear on this show, despite promising to last week. He tweeted that he was at a Nashville Predators playoff hockey game instead.

Boy, this show really, really could use The New Day.

Erick Rowan popped a balloon on Talking Smack in Renee Young’s face and then laughed like a crazy person. It was probably the second best thing that happened on the night. He’s got a match vs. Luke Harper this Sunday.


This was a go home show.

Sure.

It was bad, heightened interest for only one angle heading into Sunday, and felt like it was three hours long. It felt, frankly, like a bad Raw.

Grade: 25

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