For reasons no one can understand, WWE is holding another main roster pay-per-view this weekend. That’s right, exactly one week after the biggest party of the summer, WWE has scheduled another pay-per-view: Payback. So in the same week, we have to process both the cool down from SummerSlam and as the go-home show for Payback — which I should add is a pay-per-view that’s only ever happened six times, making the scheduling even more perplexing.
But even with Payback happening tomorrow, I think it’s safe to say that most of us were tuning in to SmackDown last night to see what the deal with Roman Reigns is. THE BIG DOG made his return to his yard on Sunday night at SummerSlam and wrestling fans have been going crazy trying to figure out whether or not Reigns is a heel or face. Well, let’s just say that WWE threw a HUGE curveball at fans last night — and true to WWE’s word, we never saw it coming!
As we head into Payback, JJ and frequent PTW podcast guest Brendan Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of SmackDown for you: Bayley and Sasha’s boiling tension, Sami Zayn’s return, Alexa Bliss taking her first big step down a dark path, and the big unexpected moment out of Roman Reigns.
Brendan: On balance, this was a quality episode of SmackDown. I tend to judge WWE programming on a pass/fail basis, and tonight there were definitely more passing grades.
JJ: I was ready for a good time going into tonight’s show and I had a good time. Frankly, I was sports entertained. Though going into the evening, my attitude was admittedly more in the arena of “Who’s ready for tonight’s round of awful people changing their streaming camera to some awful horrible thing?”
Brendan: We now live in a world where it’s easier to find Bray Wyatt and the Fun House in whatever metaphysical place it might exist than it is to find Roman Reigns in the locker room. Things function differently in the THUNDERDOME. At least they were able to control streaming cameras.
JJ: The entire idea behind Vince sending Adam Pearce on a 007 mission to capture signatures for this triple-threat match was just absurd. Let’s have this guy spend two hours trying to get the signatures of three dudes who all want to fight for the title and want to be in this match. What, are they going to immediately disqualify themselves? Is Bray going to give up the title? Are Braun and Roman going to balk when presented with the dotted line? “Well, I was excited for this match until I found out that you needed me to sign a piece of paper to participate. Just forget everything I said last week.”
Brendan: The pacing and storytelling in this episode suffered from trying to set up new storylines coming out of SummerSlam, being the go home show for the 7-day build to Payback, and also following up on leftover threads from before both PPVs simultaneously. It’s hard to say if any of these approaches worked better than the other two, but it definitely felt like the writers/creative trying things out. RETRIBUTION being offscreen entirely for a PPV where the title is a synonym for their faction name after a month-long storyline tease was a level of restraint WWE rarely shows. Orrrrrrrr they just aren’t following up on this idea out of respect for current events and because it was poorly conceived from the start, right?
JJ: That would be the best possible thing that they could do right now. And yes, I’m biased in that I think RETRIBUTION is a horrible and pointless faction that was birthed from a Vince McMahon’s fit of rage over The Rock buying the XFL out from under him for next to nothing. Nothing about how they’ve used this faction thus far says long term planning, while everything about it gives credence to what every dirtsheet is reporting in that WWE is flying by the seat of their pants with both this and Raw Underground.
Brendan: Still, I didn’t hate this week’s episode. I made a running list of things I enjoyed that starts with Jeff Hardy coming down the ramp in ring gear that looked EXACTLY like a can of Cotton Candy Bang energy drink.
JJ: Similarities to energy drinks aside, I actually LOVED the attention provided to the Intercontinental Championship on this episode. It all started with AJ Styles channeling the late great Eddie Guerrero with his “YOU LIE! YOU CHEAT! YOU STEAL!” rhetoric that he was spewing at Jeff Hardy on commentary, and it reached its crescendo with the return of SAMI ZAYN! The Great Liberator has returned to us! I yelled so loudly when his music hit that my fiancée actually came into my office to check on me.
Brendan: I also popped for Graves saying “You were basically competing against a Terminator last week.” Can’t believe I’m handing praise to Corey Graves on commentary, but that’s 2020 for you. Sami coming back was unexpected and very, very welcome. Kinda rusty on hiding that leg slap though…haha. It also might have been the weird, non-standard WWE camera angle they used to shoot the kick too.
JJ: I also thoroughly enjoyed that line out of Graves and Michael Cole was trying so hard not to laugh multiple times during that match. AJ isn’t what I’d call a good promo, but this cheesy as hell heel character he’s running with does make me laugh.
There was a split second when Kayla caught up to Sami backstage that I thought we might actually get a breaking kayfabe moment from him during the brief interview.
Kayla Braxton: “Sami Zayn, why have you not been able to defend the championship?”
Sami Zayn: “Because WWE told me I could stay home and so I did.”
Brendan: Sami leading RETRIBUTION as a pro-labor movement against WWE for treating contract employees poorly and putting their health at risk during a pandemic would be the fantasy booking of my motherf*cking lifetime. Back in the real world, I’m totally fine with him pulling Canadian/Quebecois heat and anything that puts him in a ring with AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy. That’s a potential program and series of matches I didn’t know I needed, but I DEFINITELY want now.
JJ: Swinging things over to the ladies, let’s talk about Bayley and Sasha. Is this not one of the best slow burns they’ve ever done? Bayley was making me straight up uncomfortable with calling Sasha out on her title defense losing streak. There was a hell of a lot of tension in that ring.
Brendan: Bayley also executed the incredible feat of burying Tucker, Otis, Big E, AND HER OWN PARTNER in one line before they cut to commercial. Top notch mic work and acting from her right now. Bayley has been the most consistently enjoyable part of SmackDown, with the notable exception of Sonya Deville. It’s hard to say whether she or Asuka benefits more from Becky and Charlotte taking time away from WWE, but Bayley is owning this moment.
JJ: I’ll admit it. I was super hard on Bayley when she first turned heel and it took me months to come around. My first impression of her as this character turned out to be 100% wrong in the long run. But in this instance I’m really happy to be eating my words. Once I stopped perceiving her as someone that was trying really hard to play a villain, and instead started seeing just a straight up villain, I’ve haven’t doubted her since.
I love that there are two very distinct “good friends, but better enemies” stories that exist within the Four Horsewomen and they’re totally unique from one another. Nothing feels borrowed or copied. There’s so much history from NXT, each of their respective title reigns across the three brands, their feuds with one another, and everything in between. We’re in what is without question the best period of women’s wrestling in the history of the business and four of the best to ever do it all happen to be in the same company. #Spoiled.
Brendan: It’s also just a credit to Bayley’s ability to develop the character. Part of the reason that turn wasn’t an immediate success was that it took time for her and the writers to develop a natural voice for her heel persona. The longer this has gone on, you see more of Bayley improvising her lines and cutting better heel promos week after week. She’s put in the work, they are trusting her more, and the proof is in excellent weekly segments like tonight.
JJ: Since we’re discussing the women’s division and great characters I would feel remiss if we didn’t mention Alexa Bliss. Hats off to my PTW podcast co-host Pat, who called this one before it happened. Bliss is slowly but surely transforming into the Harley Quinn to Bray Wyatt’s Joker, and it’s so good. I absolutely love how they’re working this turn. The build has been near perfect thus far, with my only real complaint being that Bliss wasn’t involved in the title match at SummerSlam. But hey, we have another title match at another pay-per-view exactly one week later, so it looks like I might get my wish after all.
Brendan: This was another pleasant surprise tonight. When Alexa didn’t appear or get involved in the title match last week, I just assumed we’d never see or hear anything about her and Bray ever again, or that we had all wasted time fantasy booking this Bliss/Wyatt angle in our heads. I trust them to make this work outside of the ring. It appears that Wyatt gets a very long leash for his Fun House segments, so there’s no reason to believe that Alexa couldn’t be incorporated into that world in an unforced, organic way as a new character. Impact has at least like 2-3 women running a split personality supernatural gimmick at all times, so this is well-worn territory. Still, I believe in Bray and Alexa to develop something original and compelling if they are given the space and capacity to operate.
JJ: Sami Zayn returns, Bayley and Sasha have some serious real deal tension in the ring, Alexa Bliss takes her first big step down the path of the dark side, and we get an entire episode of main roster programming without RETRIBUTION. That’s about as good as it gets, right?
Ahem, Paul Heyman would like a word. This was a big “WTF!” moment for me. I never, ever would have seen this coming. I didn’t even think there was someone next to Roman Reigns on the couch when he was looking in the off camera direction and smiling, I just thought he was trying to avoid breaking character. But no, it’s Paul f*cking Heyman sitting there with his trademark sh*t eating grin.
Roman Reigns is probably one of the last people I’d expect WWE to pair with Heyman. Lesnar and Heyman are so synonymous with one another and Reigns has this bloody long history with Lesnar, that it just never crossed my mind. But now that it’s happened, I like it, Brendan. I LIKE IT A LOT.
Brendan: Well, it certainly cements the heel turn everyone was anticipating this week. I need to see where it’s going before judging the pairing. Maybe Roman’s going heel? Maybe Heyman’s setting up Roman? What if they are both playing each other? There’s more story potential here than just “Roman turned!”
If I had to be critical of anything, “Wreck Everyone & Leave” is a weird combination of Stone Cold and Brock posturing/catchphrases and extremely derivative. I also wasn’t a fan of having Reigns lay out The Fiend with one spear SECONDS AFTER returning the title to Wyatt as a monster heel capable of taking on Strowman. Both are small complaints, though, especially ahead of Sunday’s PPV.
JJ: Part of me is still surprised that all of this happened on SmackDown tonight. Is it me, or does Raw feel woefully underpowered by comparison? I can’t think of a single thing happening in the women’s division, the tag division is a joke, they bungled Keith Lee’s debut, and Raw Underground seems to be getting more time somehow. McIntyre vs. Orton is the only thing that springs to mind that I’d classify as great right now on that show.
But hey, if at least one of the two main roster shows is this stacked, I’m not going to complain about it too much. I really enjoyed almost every segment on SmackDown tonight and for the most part I had a great time watching it. It feels like WWE has definitely increased the pace of the show over the past few weeks and it’s a welcome change.
I couldn’t wait to see SmackDown this week after Roman’s return on Sunday, and I can’t wait to see SmackDown next week after tonight’s episode. If that isn’t a success, I don’t know what is.
Brendan: Needs more Peaky Blinders Sheamus. Only then will SmackDown truly be the A-show once again.
JJ: I feel like you’re the only other person who recognizes the importance of that change. It’s like Sheamus knows we want it. Every week he wears the outfit more and more around backstage, but still, every week, he comes to the ring in 2010 Sheamus gear. This aggression will not stand, man.
Brendan: We didn’t even talk about Miz using Talking Smack as a springboard to another enjoyable worked shoot feud, this time with Big E. Hopefully, that develops too.
JJ: We could probably write an entire article about Miz and Big E and all the implications that reach far beyond wrestling from that segment. But unfortunately, we’re out of time tonight. Thanks for breaking down this week’s episode with me, my dude. Hopefully we’ll be back next week.
Brendan: #PeakyBlindersSheamus. THERE ARE DOZENS OF US. DOZENS.
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