This Sunday every WWE Championship is on the line at WWE’s annual Clash of Champions pay-per-view. Thus, this week’s episode of SmackDown had the added pressure of not only carrying WWE programming on it’s back (thank you RETRIBUTION), but also of being the last go-home episode of WWE live-TV before Clash of Champions kicks off. As per usual AIPT’s very own JJ Travers and Brendan Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of the SmackDown for you: why WWE gives us pay-per-view matches at go-home shows, Alexa Bliss going off the deep end, Bayley’s continued excellence, Roman Reigns our tribal chief, and Jey Uso cutting the best promo of his career.
JJ: Thank God for SmackDown. The light in the WWE darkness.
Brendan: If you stare into the abyss, Raw stares back at you. I am DEFINITELY ready for a good time.
JJ: Once again thanks to the trifecta of Bayley, Roman Reigns, and Alexa Bliss leading the charge, I can confidently say that I had a very good time. And it isn’t even isolated to these three either, SmackDown is absolutely loaded right now. I feel like we’re in this brief period of the good ole days with SmackDown and the thunderstorm that is the WWE draft is on the horizon. We have to enjoy this as much as we can while it lasts.
Brendan: I found some other segments and matches tonight highly sports entertaining, if not a little puzzling from a booking and writing standpoint. Speaking of which, let’s start with tonight’s “first ever Intercontinental Championship ascension ceremony” and the subsequent triple threat no countout, no DQ (but definitely not a ladder) non-title match between Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, and Jeff Hardy.
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) September 26, 2020
JJ: So, while I really enjoyed SmackDown last night, I do have an issue or two and part of this segment is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never seen more pomp, circumstance, and majesty than I have while witnessing the first ever Intercontinental Championship ascension ceremony. But what’s with WWE’s everlasting hardon for giving us the pay-per-view match on the go-home show? The whole point of the go-home show is to build anticipation and by giving us the same match that we’re literally going to watch in two days, it pulls the rug out from under what they’ve been working towards.
Brendan: This was also my biggest issue with the show too. I’m never upset if AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, and Jeff Hardy are wrestling each other, but this was the worst possible choice for the ol’ “PPV match on the go-home show” spot. The anticipation for these dudes facing off in the hallowed ground of a ladder match is completely undercut if we are watching their pre-match walkthrough two nights early on Fox. The “ascension ceremony” conveys the gravity they are trying to build here. It yielded AJ Styles calling out Sami’s neckbeard and Sami asking Jeff Hardy if he understands how dangerous a ladder match can be. But the match itself was unnecessary.
Lastly, Viktor and Konnor are probably somewhere shedding single tears over the idea of an “ascension ceremony” happening on WWE tv without them. That’s the real tragedy here.
JJ: Hahaha perhaps my first real genuine pop for the Ascension. RIP.
Swinging it back to things that did work last night, how about Bayley huh? Every week she looks more and more confident. Every week she gets better. And I love seeing her walk out on that stage with that chair in her hand. With Sasha Banks out with her neck injury and Alexa Bliss going through her transformation, there isn’t a single woman on that roster who can hang with her right now. And that includes the mystery woman from the vignettes who dresses very fancy and enjoys lipstick (Carmella).
Brendan: Bayley was simple, direct, and ruthless last night. It’s so effective. The final look she gives after glancing at the chair is so menacing. We’re all expecting Jey Uso/Roman Reigns to be the brutal squash match of the evening on Sunday, but this one might surprise everyone.
JJ: I’m firmly convinced that Alexa Bliss is written all over Bayley’s match and that Nikki Cross is sadly just the means to an end. But before I dig into Alexa Bliss, I have to make note that Lacey Evans continues to grow on me. The Southern Belle has got to go, but watching her work in the ring this week cements for me that she could be something special if WWE finds the right character. Great athlete, good move set, aggressive, and while I don’t care for the character driven banter and mannerisms, she has really good timing with both.
As for Alexa Bliss, holy sh*t man. She is KILLING IT. Next to Bayley and Sasha, this is the best slow burn WWE has in the oven right now. The facial expressions and mannerisms this woman can pull out. Wow. I didn’t know she had it in her. What a treat it is to watch this play out every week.
There is no Alexa Bliss, only Zuul.
Brendan: Lacey Evans has the foundation to be an enjoyable, top of the card champion in WWE. Even as a heel. That gimmick, her gear, and entrance have to go though. She adds a new move every few weeks and they all look great (slingshot basement dropkick over the ropes from the apron tonight was new-ish, I think?).
Alexa is the only credible threat to Bayley on the roster, but that’s not even the most compelling part of her character at the moment. It’s not exactly subtle, but the pacing and the way they are executing this story are perfect. It’s super important to note to me that they are keeping The Fiend/Bray offscreen throughout, so the entire focus is on Alexa. WWE might not have handled a women’s division story like this in the past, and it feels like they are respecting Alexa and allowing her to tell the story without focusing on Wyatt’s involvement. Not exactly what I expect from a WWE writer’s room and it’s very refreshing. When Alexa was staring down Reigns during his entrance, it held so much meaning for her next steps and maybe Wyatt’s too. They were able to communicate that with no mics, words, or an overbearing focus. I also felt like she was ready to drop Roman Reigns. Bravo, Alexa Bliss.
JJ: Part of what makes what they’re doing with Alexa Bliss and Bray Wyatt / The Fiend so good is he’s kind of transcended the two labels that get slapped on every wrestler, face and heel. Especially with what Wyatt’s been up in the Funhouse and his lack on onscreen presence. You can definitely argue that he’s crazy and has some screws loose, but there isn’t anything really evil about how he’s behaving.
Whereas The Fiend is a creature of chaos. Utterly unpredictable with where, when, and who he attacks. There’s been attacks on people he was actively feuding with, but also one offs on WWE legends. When he finally did capture the Universal title, it didn’t look like he really knew what to do with it. There’s no pattern or plan to how he behaves. And yes, clearly he’s corrupting Bliss, but I don’t know that either he or she is going to be easily classified as a face or heel when this is all said and done.
When we finally do get to the end of Bliss’ transformation into whatever it is she’s becoming, I’m really looking forward to her first date with The Fiend at Ace Chemicals.
Brendan: I said it last time, but they are headed into chaotic neutral alignment territory with Wyatt, and it’s kinda cool to see it unfold.
On the other hand, they are executing a heel turn with Roman in a different way too. Roman doesn’t believe he’s a heel. He’s the tribal chief and his success defines not only his career, but also supports everyone he loves, even Jey and his family. The video packages they have been running the past few weeks really highlight that Roman’s motivation is trying to restore his family’s name. He even acknowledged that Jey did the same thing by being an all-time great tag wrestler last night. In his view, Roman is just doing whatever it takes to make the Anoa’i family the premier dynasty in wrestling again. It’s a really interesting take on why he chooses to lay out his own cousin, secure Paul Heyman as a manager, or wear joggers. Those are all classic heel behaviors, and yet Roman thinks he’s the hero of his story.
JJ: This week’s expanded video package of the Anoa’i family was a really nice addition to the offscreen work WWE has been putting in to build this feud. It helped to continue to hammer home how personal this is. Though I did pop really big for Rikishi dropping the emotional line, “Even at a young age Roman Reigns felt that he was the big dog.”
Reigns wasn’t pulling his punches with Jey (well figuratively anyway) and the line “I’d give you this title if I could, but the truth is you wouldn’t even know what to do with it,” was brutal. But what was even more brutal, and frankly, downright heartbreaking, was Jey Uso’s follow up:
“You know what they say when they see me Uce? Which one are you?”
This line is hands down the best promo work of the night and the best work of Jey’s career. It was a dagger to the heart because you know how accurate it is. I can just picture Roman, Jimmy, and Jey backstage as a fan walks up to them, lauds Roman with praise and then turns to Jey and drops “Which one are you?” You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s personally experienced this before and that’s what made this moment so incredibly powerful.
Perfect promo. A+.
Brendan: That was a brutal line and it evoked some pretty powerful feelings outside of this championship match, the bloodline, and wrestling in general. Jey is holding his own, delivering main event promos in the same ring as Paul Heyman. That felt more personal, though. Reigns matched that in the post-promo beatdown too. He’s taking huge steps forward with his mic work, ability to build story, and show changes in his character without screaming “I’M DIFFERENT NOW” or having Paul Heyman do it for him.
If there truly is a brass ring somewhere, Jey Uso is holding it. I’m definitely excited for their match on Sunday, and I wasn’t anticipating that at all when Jey won the #1 contender spot. Excellent work by everyone involved.
JJ: The last thing I want to mention before we get out of here is the stark difference I’m noticing in Paul Heyman. Everyone said that this partnership would be more or less a clone of Heyman and Brock Lesnar, but it isn’t. When Heyman is with Roman Reigns he looks nervous and slightly scared. And yeah, there’s plenty of times that he did around Lesnar, but the vast majority of the time Heyman had a resting smug face with The Beast. With The Big Dog Heyman looks uncomfortable because he can’t read him, he can’t figure him out, and because of that he can’t tell what’s coming next.
Brendan: For the first time, I can honestly say I’m excited for Clash of Champions, if only for the SmackDown matches. That’s what a go-home show is supposed to do, right?
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