Pittsburgh! The site for this week’s episode of Smackdown, Pittsburgh is also home to the Penguins and this year’s controversial Royal Rumble. We drove down to see that Rumble, an experience that I immediately felt would be notable in WWE history, but has since become increasingly so.
Interesting moments from that show: Daniel Bryan’s excellent match against Bray Wyatt, and Brock Lesnar’s weaponized-chair attack on The Big Show. And I will never forget that uneasy feeling in my stomach when thousands of people booed Rey Mysterio, the sacrificial lamb sent out in the #30 position of the Rumble. Also, the look on CM Punk’s face as he mouthed an incredulous “What?!” when the ref whispered to him a message. He would be unceremoniously dispensed by Corporate Kane thereafter, the last time we’d see Punk in a wrestling ring. It all ended with a resounding chorus of dissent when Batista won the Rumble, prompting Batista to give a fan the middle finger, right up on the big screen.
Pittsburgh, what will you give us this time?
Sheamus wins by DQ over Bray Wyatt
Bray refers to the WWE Heavyweight Championship as his “ornament of power”, which I think is an appropriate route for a cultist to take. He and Sheamus hammer each other around the ring, and Sheamus shows his nimble side with a cool skin-the-cat type ascent to the top turnbuckle. It’s always fun to see wrestlers work against stereotype, and I feel these two have the potential to give us more than just slobberknockers. Never one to shy away from either side of a punch, Sheamus is a great foil for Bray. But I’m not sure that they deliver beyond that tonight, not for a lack of intensity on their part. I think tonight’s story was a simple one: both men want the title, and neither man felt like finessing it.
During the commercial break, the Usos come out to even the odds against Harper and Rowan at ringside. So they are effectively killing two birds with one stone by teasing two MITB matches at once. It turns into the expected melee, with the Usos and Sheamus standing tall after the Wyatt Family interferes. I’m not sure it’s worth recommending.
In-Ring Promo: Triple H, Randy Orton, and Seth Rollins
Triple H asserts that this period in wrestling history will be referred to as The Authority Era, and his assertion will be proven when Orton wins the title match and Rollins wins the briefcase match at MITB. He is really riding the “best for business” train these days, even inviting the audience to say it with him on Raw this week. Call me jaded, but it’s lost its lustre now. Like labelling the “Yes Movement” as such, sometimes trademarking something actually serves to diminish its sizzle.
Plus, I only just realized that Triple H - a decent although sometimes long-winded promo guy - has saddled himself with two promo-challenged dudes. Thank god he is in the ring with Rollins and Orton tonight, otherwise we’d be trapped in an infinite loop of re-iterating the obvious. I know I’m not the first person to notice this, but it does have the potential to be either super painful or uproariously funny when Evolution eventually implodes. "My name is Randy Orton and I am here to tell you that I'm here, Seth Rollins." "Listen here, Randy Orton, you may not know who you're talking to, I'm Seth Rollins and I AM HERE!"
Triple H makes nice work of bringing it all back to his slogan for Evolution: adapt or perish. He uses it as a threat to his squabbling cohorts, and we’re left wondering if both – or neither – will be able to get the job done on Sunday. I think it was a nice twist, required to keep what little sizzle is left in Evolution.
Dean Ambrose pins Bad News Barrett (Non-title match)
If you like to see Dean Ambrose get the snot beat out of him, this match is for you. It’s another case of not a lot of wrestling but a lot of loud body blows. There is a section of the match when Barrett has Ambrose in a super loosey-goosey headlock down on the mat. Ambrose is selling the hell out of it, but it looks horrible! Then I noticed that there was no commentary during all of it, so I suspect I was seeing the "commercial break action", which happens sometimes. Regardless, I really wasn’t feeling this match, especially after we’d already seen Sheamus and Bray do similar. Ambrose was just hitting all his signature gestures, sometimes regardless of them being warranted.
Ambrose sneaks in a Dirty Deeds for the win, which is Jack Swagger’s cue to come and wreak havoc – perhaps more than planned, since it looks like one of Swagger’s tosses into the barricade is what separated Wade Barrett’s shoulder. Then Swagger does a crappy job of throwing Ambrose over the ropes (where Seth Rollins eventually assaults him), and then Swagger somehow cuts his own forehead in the process. Get it together, Jack!
Paige pins Cameron
Anyone who watched Raw this week would have had the unfortunate “privilege” of listening to Cameron and Paige on comms during Naomi’s match with Alicia Fox. Paige tried to represent herself as a fearless, fighting champion, but it was near impossible to not be sucked into the riptide of Cameron’s incompetent shit-talking. She is highly unpleasant.
Cameron and Paige are meeting up this time, while Naomi sits at the announce table in advance of her Divas Title match at MITB. Naomi does much better in the messaging department, getting her point across in a very poised and clear manner. I’m looking forward to their match on Sunday, because if given the opportunity, I think Naomi’s athleticism and Paige’s skills could make a little magic.
But there’s no magic, only basic physics in Paige’s victory over Cameron. It should come as no surprise that Cameron sucks at fake fighting too.
Backstage Interview: Byron Saxton with Goldust and Stardust
Byron announces that Rybaxel has challenged Goldust and Stardust to a tag match at MITB, summoning Goldust’s “new” partner to the twinkly-lit locker room. Stardust cuts a breathless, constellation-themed promo, using all of the same spastic intonations as his half-brother. Goldust translates, saying it means that they accept the challenge.
I for one am happy to see the Rhodes brothers on the card, but the jury is out on Stardust. Cody was great without the gimmick! He was a classic, a throwback to the days of shaking hands and immaculate boots and proper trunks. He brought back the IC title in its current dazzling incarnation! While I can appreciate this experimental phase, and Cody being a big comic book fan, I fear it is experimentation for the sake of itself, and not because there is an end game. I’m no engineer, but I am familiar with the “try this, try that” philosophy of problem-solving that never solves problems, and I’m not even sure there was a problem here to begin with.
Alberto Del Rio/Cesaro submit Rob Van Dam/Dolph Ziggler
I love Paul Heyman. But in the age of high-def television, he always makes me think of the history class when we learned about syphilis. I tell myself that it adds to the skeevy effect, because he never fails to deliver otherwise. Mazel tov, Paul. Never change.
This has all the trappings of a paint-by-numbers go-home match. They go through the motions, with Ziggler bumping like crazy and RVD dusting off his usual moves. Del Rio gets the win with a cross arm-breaker on RVD, but then Cesaro double-crosses his cocky partner with a neutralizer. WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON SUNDAY? Gosh I really don’t have a good feel for what might happen, because the build to this has felt so… vague.
Backstage Interview: Renee Young with The Usos
This interview with the Usos falls short, which is too bad because I’ve been really digging their energy and natural flow as of late. I think they were probably given the notes “pop stuff up on a barbeque”, and “Uso Crazy”, and “you have one minute GO”. They tried to work it out, Randy Jackson style, but no.
Rusev submits Sin Cara
Lana understands promos. She has it all: tone, pace, gestures, and she never flubs her point. Rusev would be lost without her, but he also does his part by quickly disposing of Sin Cara.
It pains me to see Big E adopt this clichéd persona as Rusev’s foe: he comes out after the match, a gospel-preaching patriot trying to save us from the nasty foreigner. Big E could be so much more, but I fear his personality may not translate from backstage to center stage.
Roman Reigns wins by DQ over Kane
This match is a plodding snore. It makes me think of the Wrestling Challenge shows that I watched as a kid, a show that served the purpose of trotting people out to easily win matches. But unlike Wrestling Challenge, here neither man is made to look that great. Reigns’ offense looks so underwhelming against Kane, a slower and more predictable foe compared to what we’ve seen Reigns up against in the last year. But I suppose it’s in keeping with the rest of the night’s affairs. Wrestling in one’s sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Before long, Randy Orton runs out to attack Reigns. DQ. Reigns does get a Superman Punch on him, before Kane administers a choke slam. Then Orton scrambles up the ladder, Kane looking on with bewilderment, only for Reigns to regain control and end the show with the belts in hand. A spoiler? A swerve? What say you?
Sign of the Night
It warms my heart to think of someone cutting out those clouds and rain drops to make a nice wrestling sign. Also, I was a big fan of the band Garbage, and this is a shout-out to one of their songs. I dyed my hair red and wore fake Doc Martens because I adored Shirley Manson that much. Looking back at their videos, I’m not sure they hold up. It was all about the angst and the CD’s back then, apparently.
It must also be noted that a large number of the signs at this Smackdown were made in support of Roman Reigns. Seeing him standing so dominant at the end, and so very dominant for months now, I wonder if this is his time? I don’t think it is, but the company has been known to prematurely crown a new king, thereby ruling out future reigns.
Pardon the pun, I think.
Quote of the Night:
Cole: I don’t know about you, John, but Barrett has got to be a favorite in the Money In The Bank Ladder match come Sunday.
JBL: Ah, he’s in the top 7 for sure. [Pause] I agree with you, Michael! I’m just giving you a hard time.
This was an uninspiring go-home show aimed directly south at the B-program. I hate being so critical, but I was disappointed by how “filler” this all felt. You know what’s weird? I’m excited for the PPV. Money In The Bank never fails to disappoint, and I’m riding that precedent straight into Sunday. Who are my picks? I don’t know. The intrigue leading up to this event has been both predictable and lazy; I’m loathe to call the obvious, but hesitant to call an upset.