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WWE SmackDown review, recap, reactions (Mar. 13, 2020): A surreal experience

So uh...what a week, huh?

I don’t mean to downplay COVID-19 by speaking of it in terms of a week, by the way. It’s just that it finally reached us in the United States in the past week and it’s brought everything to a screeching halt. Sports leagues are all in an indefinite delay, concerts and other social gatherings are being cancelled en mass...and somehow, some way, wrestling is still here to provide entertainment.

It certainly wasn’t going to be easy, though. A reduced crew producing the show plus no crowd at all was going to force the performers to change the way they do things. I’ll get to the actual results of the show in a moment, but on earth did they react to the circumstances?

The biggest challenge was going to always be altering their behavior which so often plays to a crowd. You can’t be doing an entrance and trying to rev up a crowd right now unless you’re staring down a camera, after all. Bayley and Sasha Banks gave us the first taste. Instead of addressing a crowd with their promo, they addressed Triple H and Michael Cole at the commentary table. Roman Reigns changed the entire tone and tenor of his voice. In a sitdown interview, his voice was soft and warm when it’s usually cold and confident.

There were a few awkward moments, too. In a backstage segment, Baron Corbin confronted Jeff Hardy with some jokes before Hardy revealed that he was fighting Corbin on this show. He walked off and Corbin threw his head back all annoyed-like, but it looked odd as hell without the crowd cheering to fill that moment. Like watching a sitcom without the laugh track, really. Posing on the turnbuckles also looked awkward.

In all, this was such a difficult challenge for this crew and I think they did a really good job with what they had. If I were them, I’d look to Twitch streamers for some inspiration on dealing with a digital/home crowd only, and perhaps introduce some ways for fans to interact with the show from home. I’d also shoot segments all around the Performance Center as well since the backstage stuff feels much more normal. But all-in-all, props to the SmackDown crew. This couldn’t have been easy, and people are starved for entertainment and good times at the moment. Appreciate you guys for doing what you do.

Cena and Wyatt come face-to-face

But let’s get to the actual results, shall we?!

John Cena had an in-ring interview with Michael Cole to end the show, and he was asked about this whole Fiend business. I said a few weeks ago that Cena was going to need to have a compelling story here to help Wyatt after a rough loss to Goldberg, and Cena’s answer here was really good, in my opinion.

Cena didn’t like the idea that someone else was blaming him for their failures. He’s insulted, actually. He turned that around on Bray Wyatt by calling him overhyped, over-privileged, and a failure. The reason he lost to Cena previously at WrestleMania and has had his struggles in his career? It’s because Wyatt can’t get it together; he’s a failure.

Cena then pointed at his own career as an example. He’s had his own failures. He lost to Miz at WrestleMania, Rob Van Dam at One Night Stand, CM Punk at Money in the Bank…and he always bounced back because he didn’t blame anyone else. He put the blame on himself, kept working hard, and kept moving forward.

This is precisely the answer he needed to give, man. He has “Never Give Up” on his shirt, towels, and wristbands for a reason. For a guy who’s never failed to the degree of a Bray Wyatt this should be the answer. “Buck up, kid. I don’t understand why you struggle to do something so simple.” Cena also said he’s going to make a point to end Wyatt’s career at WrestleMania to open up opportunities for other wrestlers like Tommaso Ciampa, Velveteen Dream, etc.

Wyatt cackled at that moment, and the camera panned to show him at ringside. He hopped into the ring with a microphone and immediately called out Cena’s - wait for it - privilege of having a Hollywood career, attractive girlfriends, the muscles…

The ability to not self-destruct as well, perhaps?

And yet, Wyatt called Cena out on the fact that Cena still can’t say no. Oh, he’s fighting this match for the kids on NXT, eh? Opening a spot for them? In reality, Cena’s the sick one. He’s an addict. He...fiends for it.

Wyatt turned his promo here to hint at the Fiend’s origins which tells us way more about him as a character. Cena was the first person who really splintered his psyche. That loss at WrestleMania shook Wyatt to his core. He’s always been a fragile being. His reliance on a parental figure in Sister Abigail sort of signified that. Maybe that’s also the reason he couldn’t defeat Goldberg - he had no personally-rooted issue with the guy. The Fiend had always been used on people who wronged him before that match. Perhaps the Fiend would be much more effective a second time.

Anyway, this thing has layers now. From Cena’s disgust and inability to relate to Bray Wyatt as a person to the ominous “The Fiend confronting the original sinner” vibe, it’s gotten real fun.

It’s going to be a slaughter, alright. I just didn’t know it until this show.

Daniel Bryan and Drew Gulak rock

Y’all, this feud has played out exactly how I hoped. After Gulak brought his A game at Elimination Chamber, Bryan approached Gulak backstage to express his admiration and say that he’d love to have Gulak teach him and help him to eliminate some of his weaknesses. This was a moment that was actually helped from the lack of a crowd - it felt way more natural than most segments like this...if you discount Gulak’s soap opera-like turn away from Bryan to scratch his chin or the transition of Zayn and his crew rolling up to break up the moment.

Zayn confronted Bryan about not wanting to join the group in furtherance of gloating about his Intercontinental Championship win. Bryan stepped up to him, but Cesaro sidled up to stop Bryan from advancing further. We got a match, folks!

This was another fun one. Gulak was at ringside for Bryan and Zayn and Nakamura were out to support Cesaro. Zayn was on commentary with Triple H and Cole and guys...guys. Zayn and Triple H bantering is so fun. Can we get them in a Ride Along together?

In the end, Bryan overcame a flurry from Cesaro, turned it into a roll up, and won the match. Nakamura jumped in to beat him up after the match, and Gulak was quick to defend his new ally. Zayn ended up making it a 3-on-2 and called Gulak a nobody several times before Bryan dove out of the ring to return the favor and save him.

I’m all in on the Gulak/Bryan friendship, and I don’t trust you if you aren’t enjoying this story.

The Rest

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Nikki Cross, Alexa Bliss - The two main things here were Sasha and Bayley taunting Paige for not being on the show and Nikki and Alexa talking a bit of trash about the Kabuki Warriors hiding on Raw to save their titles. Asuka showed up during the match to take Bliss out, so we should see more of that moving forward.

Triple H was fantastic - He brought the light-heartedness in a huge way, and we could honestly use more of this sort of stuff all the time. From the small jabs at Cole and Cole being allowed to jab back to the ridiculous gag of being the camera guy for a bit - with the actual camera guy literally being in the shot - there was a lot to enjoy. I also reeeeally loved how he was all too happy to jump in on Mojo Rawley’s mauling of Cole and ordering him to “get hype” about Gronkowski. He also colored in Cole’s soul patch for him! What a great boss!

It’s 2002 again and we’re all bullying Michael Cole. I’ll allow it as long as we don’t show that bald spot.

Miz and Morrison cut a promo on their Elimination Chamber - Clever of them to turn the lack of a crowd into something heelish. They addressed the camera directly before mocking turning to the crowd for a “if anyone here thinks x, please speak up” bit. It’s the sort of thing that only works once, but it was pretty neat.

Rob Gronkowski will be here next week - I have absolutely no idea what he’ll be doing and I can’t say I care about the guy at the present time. Hopefully, WWE can do something fun with him.

Jeff Hardy def. Baron Corbin - How do you get surprise attacked in the ring with no one in the crowd to distract you, Jeff? Also, the comical effect of Corbin screaming at the ref in a crowdless arena + Elias playing his guitar on commentary was wonderful.

Y’all, I’m straight up giving this show an A. For the extremely difficult circumstances, they did a great job. They chose segment formats that work well without a crowd, and the matches themselves aren’t hurt too badly here. I think there are things they need to clean up, but the novelty of a crowdless show also gave some immensely talented people a chance to show off. And what do you know - wrestling is still fun without all the bells and whistles!

Grade: A

What did you think of the show, Cageside?

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