Well folks, we did it. 2020 is finally over and we made it out the other side. Naturally, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the start of a new year than by talking about the first episode of SmackDown in 2021.
Are you ready for a good time? I sure hope so, because there’s five episodes of SmackDown to go until Royal Rumble is upon is, so let’s see what WWE has in store for our favorite Superstars from the Blue Brand.
AIPT’s very own JJ Travers and Brendan Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of the SmackDown for you: Roman Reigns picking apart KO on the mic, the confused booking for Sasha Banks and Carmella, Billie Kay’s impressive ingenuity, Sonya Deville’s strange return, Daniel Bryan humping Otis, the sad state of tag team wrestling, and the exciting potential of Big E as a single’s wrestler.
Brendan; We made it. It’s finally 2021 and I am ringing it in by clumsily meditating with all my favorite downers: fancy beer, weed gummies, metal records, and mid-grade WWE television product. I am definitely ready for a good time. Happy New Year, bud.
JJ: Happy New Year my friend. After some serious thought and consideration, I have to say it, this just might be the best episode of SmackDown we’ve seen all year.
Brendan: Nailed it. In classic WWE fashion, this week felt like a total placeholder. On the heels of last week’s Christmas spectacular and with Royal Rumble looming in the distance, there was not a ton of content OR wrestling here. But there were high points nonetheless, starting with more excellent mic work by our Tribal Chief, Roman Reigns.
That opening promo established him as more of a messianic figure in 3 minutes than an entire year of Rollins doing…whatever it was he was doing on Raw in 2020. He saved Paul Heyman! He created Main Event Jey! All you have to do is acknowledge his brilliance and his seat at the head of the table. Long live our benevolent, passive aggressive leader!
JJ: My stupid joke aside, thank you for humoring me, this wasn’t anything special and I’d say placeholder feels exactly right. We’ve got five more episodes of SmackDown to get through until Royal Rumble is upon us and it feels like WWE is spinning their wheels with more or less every division on the show.
While Roman and KO are entertaining, this isn’t the feud I want to see on my television in 5 weeks. That being said, Roman is yet again spitting straight fire. “Why do I wear the golden glove? Because everything I touch turns to greatness,” the man ain’t wrong.
Oh and Jesus, is the Tribal Chief really picking apart KO on the mic to start off 2021. Never thought I’d live to see this day. Watching the Head of the Table tell KO that “I hope you enjoyed the island of relevancy that I let you stay on” and “I was generous enough to give you a big pay day, I hope you invested it well,” was almost hard to watch.
I get heat for this every time I say it, but at this point I don’t care anymore. Roman Reigns is arguably the greatest wrestler in the world right now, and if not #1, then top 3 no questions asked.
Brendan: There was a large enough sample size of heel Roman in 2020 to justify that take. I think he’s going to own 2021, starting with the complete and utter destruction of Kevin Owens. You are completely right about Roman’s promo tonight (and in general since his return). KO is one of the best, most capable workers on the mic in the business, and there’s Roman Reigns, standing directly across from him and absolutely stealing his lunch by cutting a better promo. I’m completely shocked that we’ve arrived here so quickly.
This feud is starting to give me serious Moxley/Kingston vibes. We know the ending in advance, but I am curious about what they can drag out of each other during long, unscripted promos and their confrontations leading up to the inevitable trilogy match at Royal Rumble. They can definitely go in the ring and Owens stepped up to the plate last week in the cage match. Even if the finish is telegraphed, I’m ok with these two getting deeply personal with the insults and challenges on weekly TV.
On the other hand, I am very lukewarm about the Women’s title picture. Sasha and Carmella is an excellent feud on paper. Carmella’s gimmick is starting to click and the addition of a male valet is a perfect inversion of traditional gender roles in WWE. Sasha is red-hot right now coming off her work with Bayley and The Mandalorian in 2020. But something feels slightly…off. Am I misreading this situation, or missing something crucial?
JJ: I don’t think your take on Sasha Banks and Carmella is wrong, but that’s also because I don’t think it’s the clearly defined feud for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at the moment. We pivoted from a week-to-week program of Carmella and Sasha cutting promos and attacking one another, to a weird tag team situation that they haven’t stepped out of yet.
It all started because of Asuka and Charlotte Flair’s presence on SmackDown for a six-woman tag team match for the Women’s Tag Team championships, and even though the Raw Women’s Champion and The Queen are gone, SmackDown is still being booked in a way that has Sasha teaming with Bianca Belair, and Carmella with Bayley.
On paper I’m into these four women mixing it up week-to-week, but on weekly television it quickly starts to make no sense whatsoever if the tag belts aren’t in the picture and the matches keep getting booked.
Brendan: Not sure exactly what’s planned for the other talent in this match, but I would definitely welcome a month or so of Bianca/Bayley on SmackDown. On a completely unrelated note, Sasha and Bayley both had homemade “Brodie” armbands for the show and that kinda got me. Daniel Bryan too. Classy move by everyone involved.
The rest of the Women’s division is even less clear. The Riott Squad picks up a quick win over Natalya and Tamina, with Billie Kay just hanging out ringside? I’m tempted to say that all of these women deserve better, but in lieu of an actual direction or storyline, it was just exciting to see them on TV. The biggest surprise of the night was Sonya Deville walking around backstage like she owned the entire ThunderDome. For a 30 second segment with no mic work or actual wrestling, that was most welcome and I can’t wait to see how she’s used in 2021.
JJ: So, it’s weird to be saying this, but I actually think Billie Kay is having more success right now than Peyton Royce. We all know that Royce was pegged as the more valuable of the pair and is supposedly one of Vince’s picks for the future of the women’s division, but she really isn’t doing anything right now besides kind of teaming with Lacey Evans. Meanwhile, Kay is actually on TV every week and despite the small amount of time she’s given, she’s really impressing me with her ability to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of it.
I’m so stoked to see Sonya Deville back, but is this really the best they could do? She’s just randomly walking around backstage. That’s it? The woman blew us all away earlier this year with her abilities on the microphone and as a character, heck, no one really knew she had this level of skill. She had to leave SmackDown for a kayfabe reason. Can’t we have her return be for a kayfabe reason? Can’t Otis at least be pissed off about it? Anything?
Brendan: I’m cautiously optimistic that WWE will give Deville the breakout push she deserved in 2020. As you pointed out recently, she’s only been gone for 4 months, but it might as well have been a full year in terms how time passes in quarantine. I’m less sure that they will find something useful long-term for Billie Kay, but it’s a credit to her talent that she’s maximizing this role despite its limitations. Hopefully, they can do something to what’s currently unfolding over in the Men’s midcard.
I’m 100% into the Gable Academy, Otis and Daniel Bryan working together, and this entire gimmick. It’s a little reminiscent of Bryan’s work with Drew Gulak last spring, but that’s OK. That angle worked to perfection and produced some very compelling weekly backstage segments and excellent matches with Shinsuke, Cesaro, and Sami Zayn. They can repeat the process here and hopefully establish Otis as a serious midcard competitor while helping Gable wash the stink of “Shorty G” off for good. Also, whichever writer decided to marry the Three Amigos dance with Happy Gilmore’s “It’s all in the hips…” is a wrestling savant. I don’t even care if that’s a comedy reference point nightmare. Well done, folks.
JJ: I spit out my drink when they came back from commercial and Daniel Bryan was seemingly humping Otis’ brains out when Chad Gable cheered him on. I absolutely love these three together and the comedy chemistry they have is too good not to use until we’re at least at the Rumble. You hit the nail on the head with the Gulak comparison, but I’m still absolutely fine with them basically reusing the story because these dudes are clearly awesome together. We don’t have to worry about where Bryan goes from here, but I sincerely hope they use his star power to elevate Gable and Otis to a better place on the roster.
So, now that we’ve had our happy and fun moment, I have a take that may upset you and many other people, but I have to put it out there.
I feel like the complete irrelevance of the SmackDown tag team division is starting to significantly cool me on the Street Profits. And it isn’t even their fault, which makes me feel even worse. But they just don’t do anything. It’s the same exact formula each and every week and I don’t think they’ve had a single long term meaningful feud while they’ve been champions on either Raw or SmackDown over the past year.
Brendan: It’s super bleak. No other way to paint that picture.
Going down the roster quickly, there’s Cesaro & Shinsuke, Ziggler & Roode (“The Dirty Dawgs,” because they are heels or just…aren’t clean? It’s unclear), and a whole lot of nothing. Some combination of the Gable Academy trio could work, but they are trying to transition Otis out of the tag division. Maybe King Corbin’s Forgotten Knights of the Lone Wolf Sons? Street Profits are over in every single way possible, but they need a decent foil to make it stick in 2021. Giving them a talk show segment and allowing Angelo Dawkins to show us progress on his drum lessons is not going to do them any favors.
Having a dominant team headline the division and hold the belts only works if there’s compelling storylines and there’s nothing there for Street Profits at the moment.
JJ: Well, it’s not all bleak. Granted I don’t have any faith in WWE to restore tag team wrestling to anything resembling a proper division, but there’s a lot going on in the women’s and men’s divisions that could be huge this year. Big E being near the top of that list. Here’s hoping WWE can show us that breaking up The New Day was what needed to happen to propel Big E to singles stardom and a future main eventer.
Brendan: Big E is holding a major singles belt and Sami Zayn is rocking early 80’s Mid-South throwback shirts. I unconditionally love both of those things, and look forward to a year of wearing a shirt that declares “I’M THE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPION” everywhere once we can all go outdoors again. See? 2021 is already looking up.
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