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SmackDown: Show us things we’ve never seen before

It wouldn’t be WWE if the formula wasn’t one step forward, two steps back.

Are you ready? Are you ready for a good time? Are you ready to be shown something that you’ve never seen before? Are you ready for the WWE approach to celebrating Black History Month? Welp, either way you better give us a hell yeah and strap in, because this week’s SmackDown was doozy.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

And lucky for you, AIPT’s very own brothers of destruction Brendan and Tim Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of the SmackDown for you: Roman Reigns’ ridiculously long entrances, how to salvage Dominick Mysterio and Baron Corbin, an unexpected weak dream match from Daniel Bryan and Cesaro, the incredible in-ring work surrounding the Intercontinental Championship, and WWE’s incredibly tone deaf approach to celebrating Black History Month.


SmackDown

WWE

  • Dominick Mysterio vs. King Corbin (Dominick Mysterio, via pinfall)
  • Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro (Cesaro, via submission)
  • Bayley vs. Ruby Riott (Bayley, via pinfall)
  • Otis & Chad Gable vs. Dirty Dawgs (Dirty Dawgs, via pinfall)
  • Apollo Crews vs. Sami Zayn vs. Big E (IC Title Match) (Big E retains, via pinfall)

Brendan: We’re officially on the road to WrestleMania. At least Elimination Chamber. OKAY, we’re definitely headed…somewhere. Wrestling is happening on Friday night. And while The Tribal Chief might not be “a fan of recappin’” or the past, I am here and ready for a good time.

Tim, did you feel like also Roman wasn’t acknowledging us or disrespecting the wrestling commentariat in his weekly opening promo/fireside chat last night?

Tim: I feel like what they have to “acknowledge” is the entrance at some point. Even if it’s Graves complaining about it or Paul Heyman bragging about it, because right now the possibility exists that it’s unintentional. If he’s doing this as an homage to the marathon HHH promos of the early aughts or to intentionally rile up purist dildos like me, then it’s fine, but if they’re just doing this cause they need to fill space, they should just have a dang match.

His promo work is great and I genuinely enjoy SmackDown opening on him as a dominant heel, but they could trim it down to a lean 10-15 minutes total. There’s no reason why the Edge stuff had to wait until the end either. I wasn’t exactly glued to the TV waiting for a KO stunner. It was at least better than bringing out Christian, which was the ending I’d expected.

Brendan: If this current pattern holds and he averages an 8 minute walk to the ring each week, that’s a minimum of 416 minutes of our lives spent watching Roman Reigns walk to the ring on Friday nights. I don’t know if anyone has that kind of time, including him. Respect MY time, SmackDown.

There was a distinct lack of wrestling tonight, even by WWE standards. Normally, I wouldn’t feel compelled to talk about a Dominick Mysterio / King Corbin match, but we’re being forced into the awkward position of doing so. Mysterio is way too green for main roster action and I’m going to applaud Corbin for being able to make this program look reasonably professional. For his sake (and my own, frankly), I hope that tonight’s clean win by Dominick means we can all move onto bigger and better things. It can’t get much worse.

SmackDown

WWE

Tim: I legitimately and immediately forgot the result of that match because I was preoccupied by my “Tell-Tale Heart”-esque obsession with a Rey Mysterio heel turn. If he doesn’t turn on Dominick soon I’m going to lose my sh*t completely. It’s the only way to make Dominick compelling. A disappointed father angle with Rey outwrestling his son on a weekly basis is literally the only thing I can think of that would make this work. For nuclear heat they can invoke Eddie Guerrero, you could get Sasha involved, get real weird with it. Anything other than a plodding Dominick v Corbin TV match. I didn’t want to see Dominick wrestle as a baseline. Why do they think I want to see him wrestle Corbin?

Brendan: A Rey Mysterio turn could redeem certain aspects of Dominick’s current storyline. At least they mercifully shut down Murphy dating Aaliyah Mysterio. Even Murphy was uncomfortable with that angle. So there’s some hope that they will abandon Dominick and Corbin too.

Even things that look great on paper can fall flat though. Can I interest you in a Cesaro / Daniel Bryan rematch? Sure, right? It’s going to be great.

WELP. This was an innovative match tonight in that WWE somehow found a way to make me bored while presenting two of the best wrestlers of the 21st century working together. Shinsuke was watching backstage and he also wasn’t too invested. Last night caps a week of disappointing Cesaro news, as he is poised to re-sign with WWE and I have to stop fantasy booking him in a match with Tomohiro Ishii now.

Tim: I will give them credit for having the stones to put Cesaro over by submission. Watching Bryan tap was a legitimate surprise end to an otherwise mediocre match. I wonder how much control either wrestler had regarding the plotting and presentation of that match, because you almost never see Omega or Moxley or really anyone in AEW just completely mail in a “dream match” on television. I feel like Cesaro and Bryan just fulfilled the contract to the letter or something. It was weirdly disappointing.

SmackDown

WWE

Brendan: That racked stretch/pop-up backbreaker/big swing/sharpshooter sequence to finish by Cesaro was sick though. Here’s to hoping we get more of that over the life of his new WWE contract. By WWE logic, I guess he’s a babyface now too because he didn’t attack Bryan post-match?

Bayley going over Ruby Riott in an attempt to give us more Billie Kay screen time and the debut of Alpha Academy aside, we did get one excellent match tonight. The Intercontinental Triple Threat title match between Big E, Sami Zayn, and Apollo Crews is exactly the type of programming WWE should be striving to present on a weekly basis. It was a clinical masterpiece of midcard wrestling.

When I was much younger and just started watching wrestling, I always preferred the IC Title scene to the sparing Heavyweight Championship matches. Maybe it’s because I always disliked Hogan (more on that later), but the best wrestling in the 80s era of WWF revolved around excellent and frequent IC Title matches and feuds. I couldn’t be more pleased with the content SmackDown has provided post-Draft with the IC Title.

Tim: There is a distinct late 80s / early 90s revival (get it?) in wrestling right now. I think AEW is basically Cody’s love letter to that era of WCW and the resurgence of the IC title in WWE is their version of that nostalgia. It’s working for me in both cases. A triple threat IC title match and it’s not even a PPV? WWE had me going full Arquette tonight and the match did not disappoint. Crews is really on a tear lately and his talent was on display front and center in this one. One might easily expect Apollo to be the weak link in this match, but he was amazing.

I will offer one note of criticism that is more of the WWE product in general. Too many of the spots in this match felt a half step slower than they ought to have been. I think I’ve been spoiled by the frenetic pace  of AEW and NJPW, but so many of the set pieces in this match (and others) just make the action feel inorganic and artificial. Every rest hold and set-up move seems to linger a little too long and I end up perennially paraphrasing Milhouse “WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET TO THE FIREWORKS FACTORY!?”

Unrelated, but Sami Zayn and his Bouncing Souls yoga are attainable fitness goals for me in 2021.

Brendan: If I had to guess, this match was left off the card for Royal Rumble and we reaped the benefits. Just chock full of jaw-dropping spots throughout. I will never not be impressed by Crews hitting the trio of rolling Germans on Big E. In fact, Apollo Crews owned that match tonight. That standing flip over the top rope / apron moonsault combo was magic. We take this dude for granted and absolutely do not give him enough credit at the same time. Tonight, he was presented as a serious top of the card competitor for the first time in years. That military press slam into the wall on Zayn near the end of the watch was straight up disrespectful. You love to see it.

Big E also brought it in the ring too though. That German suplex on Apollo with Sami locked in position for the exploder suplex was absolutely bonkers. Definitely made my year-end “I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THAT BEFORE” list for 2021. Even Corey Graves agreed!

Tim: It didn’t disappoint and was the first truly amazing match that I’ve seen on SmackDown since I started recapping. I think Big E is currently the most interesting singles wrestler in the entirety of WWE. From a promo and match standpoint, he is consistently entertaining and elevates any opponent (not that Sami or Crews needed the rub). Agreed whole-heartedly, re: the current IC division. I almost wish that Edge would challenge Big E for the IC title instead of going after Reigns.

Brendan: Crews is an excellent wrestler, but definitely needed to work an extended program with someone like Big E for the sake of short-term career rehab. But this is WWE and I’m conditioned to expect certain things, so we can look forward to Apollo Crews vs. King Corbin with baited breath.

The only thing that took away from that match tonight was that it came on the heels of Terry Bollea cutting a trash promo about a match from 33 years ago and his support for Edge in the back of his dimly-lit merch store. For reasons, a mute Jimmy Hart was also there. Most improbably, that segment was preceded by a Black History Month video with Big E, Montez Ford, and Titus O’Neil and a Harriet Tubman quote. It’s not related to the action on tonight’s card or what’s currently happening in WWE in general, but holy sh*t, that was a tone-deaf moment. Do better, SmackDown and WWE.

Tim: This is the type of s--t that makes me want to take another sabbatical (with options) from WWE. Hogan is an inveterate racist and a creep. He should absolutely not be on TV, much less during Black History Month, especially after a Black History Month interstitial, and certainly not as a lead into a match with one of his most vocal critics currently in the company: Big E. That’s overt cynicism on a level that is inexcusable. Then. Now. Forever.

F*ck simpering corporate appeals to racial justice. It’s not even that AEW is any “better” from a political standpoint (Sup, Jericho, you wearing masks yet?), they just aren’t actively awful. Last night was legitimately rage-inducing and there’s no amount of obfuscating that anyone can do to convince me that it wasn’t intentional in some way. And yeah, marks, I am an SJW (Skeleton Jazz Wizard, doot doot).

Unrelated (and as a desperate attempt at a laptop saving segue): Sheamus vs. McIntyre is the booking that lets you know it won’t be a particularly robust live audience in attendance at ‘Mania. Two vaguely Celtic men using moves with politically loaded names. F*CK THE QUEEN AND LET THE FREEBIRDS FLY!

Brendan: At least we have Finn doing Finn things over in NXT. It’s times like this, though, I am glad we recap the A-show, brother.

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