Last night was the last pure episode of SmackDown that the WWE Universe will experience before the WWE Draft begins next week on the following episode of SmackDown. In addition to a roster shakeup bearing down on the SmackDown roster, there’s Hell in a Cell, the next WWE pay-per-view, peaking over the horizon.
AIPT’s very own JJ Travers and Brendan Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of the SmackDown for you: the highest stakes match in WWE history, the potential for The Rock vs. Roman Reigns, where Alexa Bliss goes from here, The Fiend’s upcoming first ever televised match, WWE’s stumble with Carmella, and the undeniable talent of Sami Zayn.
JJ: Before we get started today, I have a question for you Brendan. Who do they say writes history?
Brendan: I believe it’s said that the winners of any given conflict write history, JJ. By the way, I thought you were going to ask if I was ready for a good time.
JJ: INCORRECT. Historians is the answer we were looking for. Thank you Michael Cole and Corey Graves for delivering maybe my biggest genuine laugh of the night with this exchange.
Brendan: I think the modern day answer is “whoever happened to be editing Wikipedia at the time.” But Cole and Graves’ reasoning is sound. History is written by the historians. The best application of WWE logic of all time.
— WWE (@WWE) October 3, 2020
JJ: Speaking of history, Roman Reigns and Jey Uso are looking to make it with their next big match at Hell in a Cell. The condition of Reigns offering Jey another shot are to be “the highest stakes that any match has had in WWE history.” What’s possibly worse than a loser leaves town stipulation? My guess is we’re either going to get a ladder match for custody rights for Jimmy Uso, or if Jey loses he is forever split from his brother and bends the knee to the Tribal Chief.
Brendan: Given the importance lent to the Anoa’i family and the WWE Samaon dynasty in this storyline, I would surmise the stipulation is that Jey leaves the family if he loses. What could be more devastating than having everyone you love turn their back on you at the direction of the Tribal Chief?
JJ: That’s a good take and would certainly add a very real feeling of legitimacy to an already excellent story. Roman continues to knock his promos out of the park by holding the stance of “I’m not the bad guy here, I’m trying to do what’s right for the family.” Things really reached their peak when Roman was telling Jey he loved him and that Jey broke his heart. The best bad guys truly are the ones who think they’re the good guy.
Brendan: This is a very simple, entry level storyline that is 100% being sold by Reigns. Shakespearean stuff is only good when the actors are. It’s also the basic plot structure to every great Mafia/crime family movie ever and I love it. You never go against the family, Jey. Setting up some great emotional story beats for their eventual match. Imagine Jimmy turning on his brother because he’s unwilling to defy Roman. Also couldn’t help but notice Paul Heyman bringing up High Chief Peter Maivia last night too…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If it happened, who you got? pic.twitter.com/SehVTQvrCz
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) October 2, 2020
JJ: The seeds have absolutely been planted for Roman Reigns vs. The Rock at WrestleMania 2022. No way WWE does this match in front of anything less than a full capacity stadium and I’m glad that they’ll wait. This isn’t something you lose your patience with. The payoff from this hypothetical storyline has unlimited potential.
Just think, in another world, Roman would have defeated Goldberg in Tampa this year and we likely never would have gotten the Tribal Chief.
Brendan: The Reigns heel turn might have single-handedly revitalized his career, established SmackDown as the A show, and in general saved a dismal slate of storylines across all WWE-branded shows by giving us something captivating and worthwhile every week. This is what sports entertainment is supposed to look like.
JJ: Moving on, thanks to the brand-to-brand invitational, aka the Wildcard Rule 2.0, we got to see KO on SmackDown this week for a new episode of the KO Show. My hatred for these fake reasons why people can move between shows at-will aside, this was a fantastic segment from start to finish for everyone involved.
Brendan: I’m not entirely sure, but this was the first time the BTB invitational was used on a fake in-ring talk show. That’s the innovative content I’m looking for from WWE on a weekly basis.
Yeah, this whole segment was excellent. Owens trying to get Alexa to open up about her experiences with the Fiend in the context of his low stakes, meaningless feud with Aleister Black on Raw only highlights how much better SmackDown is right now by comparison.
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) October 3, 2020
JJ: As a result of this segment we’re seeing The Fiend’s first ever match on weekly TV. Which in itself is fantastic, and with it being against KO we know we’re in for a very entertaining match (assuming it isn’t a squash). But the real star of this segment was Alexa Bliss. Once again she knocked it out of the park. The mannerisms and acting was so good that I actually got nervous for WWE at one point as I realized it’s really only a matter of time before someone from Hollywood notices this and attempts to scoop her.
My question for you is, does this end in Alexa Bliss in face paint or a mask?
Brendan: It might be redundant to have both Alexa and Bray manage a split personality gimmick. The aspect of Alexa’s work here that works the best is how natural it feels onscreen, just like Roman working heel. Bliss has the ability to convey these emotions and do promo work that is more complex than the average performer. I almost want to see her stay the course and continue to oscillate back and forth between normal human behavior and this new version of Alexa that’s been unlocked by her encounter with The Fiend.
Do we get this storyline without WWE trying to make an Alexa and Braun partnership compelling in the unforgettable Mixed Match Challenge? Does it work out if Braun never fights The Fiend in a cinematic match? Character work drives WWE programming, and that’s why Alexa and Bray (and Roman now too) are the top of the card on SmackDown. Bad writing and abandoned concepts come and go, but it’s the performers selling the work no matter what that allows for the storylines that people love and remember over time. I also can’t wait to see what Alexa’s Funhouse character is like.
JJ: Since WWE has seemingly abandoned The Demon and the idea of Finn Balor ever being their go-to guy, I’d be down to see them adopt a similar idea with Bliss. Weekly TV we get a Fiend-influenced version of what we see now, and at pay-per-views she dawns some creepy makeup or a mask. But as long as they keep going down this road with her character, I won’t be upset if there aren’t any substantial changes to her look. This segment really made me reflect on how great of a job WWE has done with ensuring that everyone that interacts with The Fiend experiences some sort of change. It’s pretty incredible to see them sticking to something as consistently as they have with this.
Brendan: Hopefully, Kevin Owens comes out of his encounter with The Fiend with new purpose and direction (and hopefully on SmackDown). It might pair him back up with Sami Zayn. I will always and forever pop for a title belt being thrown in a trash can. That was some classic stuff from Sami tonight. You can contrast him airing grievances with fans in his promo directly with Carmella doing the same thing in her big reveal as the mystery woman tonight. It felt legitimate and natural for Sami to call out fans for not supporting him in his absence and allowing WWE to crown a new IC champion. It was…less effective for Carmella.
JJ: I’m not even sure where I should start with this one. I guess by saying that I know Carmella is a very talented performer and that this probably isn’t her fault. WWE has a Hollywood quality makeup and hair team and this is what they came up with? Nothing about the presentation was at all appealing, it just looked downright bad. I don’t know sh*t about how to do hair and makeup, but I know when things don’t look right together and none of this presentation did. It looked like a high school girl’s Halloween costume.
Also, why does Vince have such a hard-on for forcing his female performers into this highly generic role? I mean no disrespect to these women, but it didn’t work for Emma, Eva Marie, Lana, or Liv Morgan, so why the heck should it work for Carmella? It’s just a poor man’s repackaging of something they’ve already done countless times.
Brendan: You left Mandy Rose off your list, but only because she had a really engaging storyline with Sonya that hasn’t been resolved yet. Let’s hope she’s not the latest in a long line of Vince projects. Alexa escaped the WWE Blond Industrial Complex, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for Carmella and Mandy Rose. Not looking great for either one at the moment, though.
JJ: Sami Zayn’s first official SmackDown as the undisputed WWE Intercontinental Champion. Ahhh, it sure does feel good. Felt even better when I got to watch him pull a Medusa and drop one of those titles in the trash. Before we even talk about the match with Jeff Hardy, I just want to say how glad I am to see that WWE appears to understand what they have with him. I was legitimately worried that he’d be punished in some juvenile way for taking time off due to COVID, but that thankfully isn’t the case.
Brendan: “Sami as IC champ” feels like the right level for him on the card. I mean that with all the respect due to the credible IC title runs of my youth, and not in a placeholder or transitional way. He’s capable of great in-ring work on a weekly basis, can work with a variety of different wrestling styles, and has the ability to be part of an instant classic at any given moment (e.g. the Clash of Champions Ladder Match).
He also really understands heel psychology and wrestling history. After several months of Sheamus goading Jeff Hardy on-camera about his very real history with substance abuse, it’s refreshing to see Sami work an excellent feud with Jeff geared around wrestling, great matches, and simple established heel moves on his part, like removing the turnbuckle pad before the match starts and having it pay off at the close. It’s in-ring storytelling based on both performer’s ability to wrestle and doesn’t demean either person for their personal lives outside of wrestling. I had the same concerns as you about Sami’s booking when he returned and I’m thrilled that he’s still champion and elevating the belt back to past glories.
JJ: I’m curious how much longer these two will feud for with the Draft starting on next week’s episode of SmackDown. If this is the final feud Sami has as a member of the SmackDown roster, then I’m more than happy with it. You did a great job pointing on how much he’s excelled by working as a heel that doesn’t necessarily need to tear someone down based on their personal life or shortcomings. I sincerely hope once the dust from the Draft has settled, we see Zayn and KO on the same roster again so we can see that heel work pointed at Owens.
Speaking of which, WWE has given this SmackDown roster a nice sendoff with next week’s card. We’re getting Kevin Owens vs. The Fiend, Big E vs. Sheamus in a no holds barred, and Bayley vs. Sasha for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Seems like an okay way to say goodbye to one of SmackDown’s best periods over the last ten years.
Brendan: Since we’ve spent a whole column applauding WWE writers and performers for subtle character work and long-term storytelling, I can only guess next week is the in-ring debut of Peaky Sheamus. It’s the logical resolution to the story we’ve been craving. Or he’ll end up using it on Raw Underground and nobody will like it. It’s now or never, Big Fella. GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT.
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