Roman Reigns came up big at Payback on Sunday, capturing the WWE Universal Championship in his first match back since taking a hiatus from WWE. And by his side for the momentous occasion? None other than “The Advocate”, Paul Heyman. Paul E with the Big Dog? Not a pairing I think anyone imaged for Reigns on his return, but I’m not complaining.
While Reigns’ star is rising, the Golden Role Models’ is waning. First Sasha, lost her Raw Women’s Championship to Asuka at SummerSlam, and at Payback The Boss and Bayley fell even further when they were defeated by Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax for their Women’s Tag Team Championships. Along with their string of defeats, tension has been building at an ever quickening pace between the pair. To top it off, Banks and Bayley were gifted one more chance at the Tag Team Championships last night, but it didn’t quite go the way they wanted.
JJ and frequent PTW podcast guest Brendan Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of SmackDown for you: what the landscape will look like under the rule of Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman, their continued fascination with Peaky Blinders Sheamus, and arguably the biggest moment in women’s wrestling that WWE fans have witnessed this year.
Brendan: JJ, let’s take a knee and bring it in real close for a second. In The Consolation of Philosophy (published in 520 AD), Boethius popularized the idea of the Wheel of Fortune. Inconsistency is the very essence of the whole relationship between humanity, Lady Fortune, and her wheel. It raises you up to unseen heights, plunges you into the depths of true darkness, and demands your conformity. It’s been said that no man can truly be secure until he has been forsaken by Fortune.
Having said that, are you ready for a good time?
JJ: I am ready for a good time.
Now, I need to start by saying that tonight’s show really solidified for me that SmackDown is the best show WWE is currently producing. NXT had a great run, but SmackDown is now superior. Baron Corbin truly is a king.
Brendan: This episode was so good that Jey Uso becoming #1 contender wasn’t even the most shocking thing that happened.
JJ: You lobbed me a softball, but I want to wait a bit before we get to the moment that we’ve all been waiting for, for, well, a really long time. It was incredible, but let’s take the cookies out of the oven first.
What better way to start the show than with Paul Heyman cutting a promo alongside Roman Reigns? “He corrupted me,” was easily my favorite line, besides when Heyman randomly referred to Corey Graves as “Carmella’s latest boyfriend.” Died. So random. So funny. So mean.
Brendan: That promo did more to cement Reigns as a heel than anything else that happened on-screen in the past two weeks. It’s what Heyman does best and something Reigns couldn’t accomplish on his own with a mic in his hand. You can’t leave that kind of talent on the sideline. Welcome back, Paul E.
JJ: Backed. I’m going to go ahead and slide his new shirt in there as well. “Show Up & Win.” It’s simple, but it’s also cocky, arrogant, and most importantly, true. That’s historically what Reigns does. He looked incredible tonight, he sounded great, Heyman’s promo did exactly what you said, and I’m really glad they tweaked his shirt. Now I hope his in-ring gear and music follows suit.
Brendan: “Show Up & Win” heels it up where “Wreck Everyone & Leave” is just more of the same. It goes. Plus, Roman Reigns very obviously dyes his beard. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. That’s real heel s--t. Seriously, he and Jey Uso are the same age. Look at the beards, Uce.
JJ: Dude has been a heel for two full episodes of weekly television and yet he feels like the biggest deal the company has had when it comes to a turn all year. Am I just too excited? Or is this as cool as it looks and feels?
Brendan: There’s something to be said about compelling returns AND well-executed storylines. I don’t usually look for that on main roster WWE programming, but this whole year is atypical to say the least.
JJ: I couldn’t wait to watch Payback because of Roman Reigns and I couldn’t wait to watch SmackDown for the past two weeks in a row, again, because of Roman Reigns. I can’t remember the last time I was this genuinely and consistently excited for a weekly WWE main roster show.
It’s 2020, Roman Reigns is a heel, Jey Uso is challenging him for the WWE Universal Championship, AND most surprising of all, I’m invested in the storyline. How did we get here? I guess it truly is all about the bloodline, Uce.
Brendan: The Wheel of Fortune, my dude. Speaking of which, we finally saw the implosion of the most compelling aspect of WWE weekly programming in 2020: Sasha Banks and Bayley. The best match of the week on broadcast TV was Team ShayNia vs. Bayley and Sasha. The takes don’t get much hotter than that, but I stand by it.
JJ: The match was definitely in the top 3 for WWE’s best matches of the week. Personally, I preferred the Iron Man on NXT (excluding the finish), but I won’t argue about this match being great. Shayna and Nia are 2 for 2 and actually look good together. Feels really weird to have just said that.
But seriously, there’s so much to unpack here. This is a moment WWE has been building to for essentially five years. Yes, they’ve feuded previously, but before what we witnessed tonight it’s never felt like the circle was actually coming to a close. Now it does. They’ve done an incredible job being patient — the slow burn with these two has been about as good as it gets and I can only hope that in the long run when this ends months from now, I’ll be able to say that the juice was worth the squeeze.
Brendan: The pre-match promo set the table so well. I could feel the ending coming, but had no idea how it would play out. Very puzzling that they built up tonight’s Women’s Tag Championship match as potentially “the best ever” tag match on SmackDown and left us waiting on those FIVE. YEARS. of history, then immediately cut out the first three minutes for commercial. It still delivered.
In particular, the crisp tag work by Sasha and Bayley was on full display tonight. I was having trouble keeping up with the moves in my notes while marking out: Slingshot double knees in the corner into running double knees by Sasha; Guillotine middle rope stunner-type DDT by Bayley into a Sasha apron-to-floor power bomb on a much larger opponent in Jax; Sasha’s sliding apron dropkick to Shayna’s shoulder assisted by Bayley. That was an NXT/Dynamite-level match and my pick of the week thus far (barring whatever happens at All Out). Again, this is not what I anticipate from SmackDown.
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) September 5, 2020
JJ: You’re right. This was far beyond what any of us expect out of SmackDown week-to-week and I’m really happy to have them blow my expectations out of the water.
I said it on the podcast this week, and now I’m even more sure of it. Sasha Banks will win the Royal Rumble and go on to face Bayley at WrestleMania 37. That beatdown was absolutely brutal, went on far longer than I expected it to, and set us up to not expect Sasha on TV for quite a while. All the required cards are now in play.
The biggest question that remains for me is what color will Sasha’s hair be when she eventually makes her return?
Brendan: There were some things I didn’t enjoy tonight. The Miz & Morrison/Heavy Machinery feud feels tired and leftover from an ancient pre-pandemic past. The most compelling parts of that whole storyline were Mandy and Sonya. Absent that angle, it’s a waste of time to rehash this program, even with a MITB briefcase potentially in play. Having Morrison in the ring with someone like Tucker feels like a complete and total squander of budget and talent.
JJ: I think they just don’t know what else to do with those guys now that Sonya and Mandy are on a break from TV. They were the glue that held that entire feud together for both the men and the women.
Speaking of things we didn’t enjoy, I can’t wrap my head around WWE’s logic when it comes to the Women’s tag division. In the last two months they’ve lost four major teams: Kairi left WWE (okay, that one’s not their fault), Bliss and Cross were broken up, they disbanded the IIconics (with no build up whatsoever), and now Sasha and Bayley are done.
So who’s left? Shayna and Nia and the Riott Squad? Is that really our Women’s Tag division?
Brendan: Team ShayNia forever. I can no longer remember a time when they weren’t undefeated champions. 2 for 2!
JJ: It was apparently a good night for the bad guys of SmackDown. We talked about Bayley, we talked about Roman, but there’s perhaps an even bigger heel that we almost forgot about. I’m talking of course, about PEAKY BLINDERS SHEAMUS! Is there a bigger heel move he could have pulled than attacking Big E on his goddamn birthday? Have you no heart Irishman?
Brendan: Lady Fortune caught up with the Big Fella tonight too, though. Sheamus will never realize his full potential until he unleashes Peaky Blinders Sheamus in the ring. It’s his Demon.
JJ: Each week he teases us more and more. Each week he spends more time in those god damn suspenders except where it matters most, the ring. If we don’t get Peaky Blinders Sheamus in the ring by Christmas then I am just gonna lose it.
Brendan: On a serious note, I’m hoping this is part of a longer term storyline for Big E, and not just WWE abandoning his solo push on week 3. He’s got serious heat with Miz from Talking Smack, is wildly over with every single demographic, can cut a mean promo, and is one of the most decorated tag wrestlers of all time. There’s backstage stuff and the on-air product, and I’m hoping that his talent, track record, and overall in-ring quality will prove out in the weeks ahead. An IC title run was never the goal in the first place. I want to see Big E in the main event picture. It’s where he belongs, solo or as a member of New Day.
JJ: Big. Meaty. Men. Slappin’. Meat.
Brendan: Always. But I don’t ever want to hear Michael Cole talk about Roman Reigns’ “stroke” ever again.
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