Are you ready? Are you ready for a good time?
We sure hope so, because last night was the Blue Brand’s go-home show for WWE’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view this Sunday and 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: the Monday Night Messiah has become the Friday Night Messiah, the gift that is Big E, the potential evil anime faction of Otis and Chad Gable, the most boring pick for WrestleMania every guessed WWE would choose, and the wasted talents of Cesaro, Nakamura, Daniel Bryan, and Sami Zayn.
- Apollo Crews vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Nakamura, via pinfall)
- Riott Squad vs. Tamina / Natalya (Tamina / Natalya, via pinfall)
- Sasha Banks / Bianca Belair / Reginald vs. Shayna Bayzler / Nia Jax / Bayley (Sasha Banks / Bianca Belair / Reginald, via pinfall)
- The Mysterios vs. Otis & Gable (The Mysterios, via DQ)
- Sami Zayn / King Corbin / Jey Uso vs. Daniel Bryan / Cesaro / Kevin Owens (Daniel Bryan / Cesaro / Kevin Owens, via submission)
Brendan: This weekend, WWE is proudly presenting Elimination Chamber, its third PPV of 2021. Last night’s episode of SmackDown was the go-home show, something that they have sort of nailed over recent months. I was ready. I was ready for a good time. But that didn’t happen. Tim, was that a letdown even by WWE standards?
Tim: I suppose in order for it to have been a letdown, I would have to have had high expectations going in, which is something I’m still not ready to do in this iteration of my WWE fandom. I will say that starting the show off with Edge was a welcome change from the standard 20 minutes of Roman walking to the ring. I guess I just don’t have any interest in the possible storylines that don’t involve Edge vs. Styles or Edge vs. Bryan. Any other possible iteration of WrestleMania main event just doesn’t seem compelling to me.
I don’t need to see Roman beat Edge and I certainly don’t want to see, Edge beat Roman right now. As you noted while we were watching the Edge vs. Balor, chatter seems to have died out and that really was the only conceivable title match (with current champions) that would have been remotely daring. They’ll make the boring choice though, this episode confirmed as much. I don’t really have anything to say about the six-man tag. I could have not watched it and probably recapped what happened to a T. Big Swing, Stunner, Spear, Spear, whatever move Corbin does, Running knee, etc. Someone wins and we all lose.
Brendan: Without veering off too much into previewing the PPV, this episode highlighted the problem with the Universal title booking post-Rumble. You’re absolutely correct. We all know that we’re headed to Roman Reigns vs. Edge at WrestleMania, which has made all the Edge TV appearances over the past 4 weeks really cloying and boring. That extends even further out to tonight when the main event is a very predictable “faces vs. heels involved in the EC title match” six-man tag. Edge and Paul Heyman are on commentary…gee, I wonder if Roman Reigns will get involved? WWE programming isn’t a multiple volume English novel series or interconnected group of comic books sustaining the same storyline in a line-wide crossover, but it shouldn’t insult our collective intelligence by being this reductive. I’d say “Do better, WWE,” but this entire PPV is what it is: the Road to WrestleMania. It’s a toss up whether it’s the viewership or overall quality for weekly programming that suffers the most in this scenario.
Tim: Whoever popularized the forced arrangement of a heel/face tag match as the go-home show standard is a dick. This idea was overused in the ’90s. I get that you want to showcase the main event talent and also keep them from putting on a heavy performance days before the PPV. In that case, just have the bloated undercard roster get screen time. Wouldn’t this have been a perfect time for Aleister Black, Andrade, or Buddy Murphy to have a five minute glorified squash with basically anyone who wasn’t booked in a match on Sunday? I guess we got that to a certain extent in the Nakamura vs. Crews match, but they even cut that unreasonably short. And for what? We get to see Carmella throw wine in Reginald’s face. That’s going to put asses in the seats. I suppose faces on the Thunderdome screen is more of an apt statement in these unprecedented times.
Brendan: That match did cement Crews’ heel turn though. It also blessed us with another evening of Big E commentary, complete with sofa, mini-fridge, table lamp, foot spa, TV tray, and a Hungry Man dinner. Forget Bad Bunny, that’s the kind of Booker T tribute I want to see in 2020.
Brendan: Exactly. The post-match beatdown by Crews was extremely effective, amplified by Big E selling on both guys’ behalf. He spent most of that match on commentary putting Nakamura over, calling him legendary at one point. The entire time he was screaming in Crews’ face after the bell, it just heightened the inevitable moment when he would turn his back and get laid out. I know we were just complaining about the traditional main event at a WWE go-home show, but effective use of tropes can also really make a moment. In this case, it elevated Crews during his heel turn. Even when he’s not wrestling, Big E is still out there putting guys over. WWE really doesn’t deserve him.
Tim: I couldn’t agree more. Big E, Sami Zayn, Nakamura, and Crews continue to be the best part of SmackDown. Big E really is cementing himself as a future star-maker/vital piece of the roster. I also loved the use of the steel steps by Crews. The steel steps are a true test of how much you’re willing to suspend your disbelief as a wrestling fan. I believe those steps weigh 500 pounds. I believe that they aren’t merely a flimsy aluminum set prop. I believe that Big E might be injured. I believe because I want to believe. My only qualm remains that they didn’t let Nakamura and Crews have a longer match to set up the post-bell shenanigans. Shout out to Big E’s D.O.N. Issue 2’s. They’re a beautiful pair of sneakers, but potentially the least comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Doesn’t shock me that he took the bumps without them on.
Brendan: Converse All-Stars are still the least comfortable shoe of all-time. They are like tiny, unmarked shallow graves for your feet.
As always, I would have appreciated more wrestling in general. We got 5 matches last night. FIVE. One of them was Riott Squad vs. Tamina & Natalya. It’s very difficult to write about wrestling when it is not actually being featured on the program.
Tim: They literally showed a highlight package of a Rollins promo before a Rollins promo. This felt like a literal Elimination Chamber pre-show at a certain point. I feel like WWE has absolutely no faith in its audience to watch week-to-week. In this case, it benefits me because at this time last week I was intermittently vomiting up onion rings and frantically packing dirty dishes into bins. At least I aced the GREs. I suppose I buried the lead here: Seth Rollins is back! I guess that’s a big deal. I was enjoying his time off for paternity leave (and the concept that WWE was willing to normalize paternity leave in general).
Brendan: There is no bigger Rollins hater on the planet than me. Well, maybe Finn Balor or Sting or anyone else injured in a Rollins match at a crucial point in their careers. But I was cautiously optimistic that his return would come with a new version of his character, a change in gimmick, a face turn, or something that redeems his obvious in-ring talent. Nope. He’s still the “Monday Night Messiah,” except SmackDown airs on Fridays and we’re no longer using the phrase “messiah.” It’s only worth it if this elevates Cesaro to the top of the card, but I’m not holding my breath for WWE to have Rollins lose in his first big program after his return.
Also, this is the second time in 2021 that WWE has acknowledged wrestlers’ pre-WWE history with no countenance or build up to that backstory. They did it with Sheamus & Drew McIntyre over on Raw, and the practice made its way over to SmackDown tonight. For a company that goes out of its way to almost never reference anyone’s careers before WWE, it’s an extremely strange phenomenon.
I know that Tyler Black and Claudio Castagnoli had awesome matches in Ring of Honor. As far as we know in WWE though, Seth Rollins and Cesaro have nothing to do with each other. So it’s off-putting to hear Cesaro say something like “I’ve known Seth for many years” and the context given is that they are both WWE superstars. Again, it’s not cool to watch programming that both assumes I don’t tune in every week AND that I don’t have any knowledge of professional wrestling outside of WWE. But here we are.
Tim: I would like nothing more than to see Cesaro smash Seth Rollins into a jelly. Or, more likely, carry him through an entertaining and technically sound match with basically nothing at stake. It’s a real shame Seth Rollins didn’t start a s----y third wave emo/melodic hardcore band. I don’t say this because I want that evil in this world. I would only tangentially be aware of him in that scenario, and at that point most likely due to some kind of untoward scandal. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an A Day To Remember song, but I definitely get the feeling that Seth Rollins is the living embodiment of one. One time, my s----y pop-punk band played a matinee with a bunch of bands like that, and during the first band a bunch of 250lb dudes in neon tank tops just started kicking the ever loving sh*t out of each other. Seth Rollins seems like he could be one of those dudes.
Brendan: I get more Throwdown vibes off Rollins. Either way, it’s not a good look.
Tim: The only other kind of interesting thing that happened on this week’s SmackDown was Otis teasing a heel turn. I think it’d be cool to see what Otis can do as heel. Honestly if him and Gable become a tag-team version of Farley and Spade from Tommy Boy, I wouldn’t be mad at it. It’s nearly impossible to tell though, because they had a fraction of the screen time that Reginald and Carmella did.
My most prized student.
— Chad Gable (@WWEGable) February 20, 2021
Brendan: An Otis heel turn is where I anticipated we were headed when they started the Alpha Academy angle. Then, there was a diversion into training with Daniel Bryan, referencing Three Amigos and Happy Gilmore simultaneously, and almost getting over that way. Since we’re starting over again, the idea of Gable running an evil training program like the Cobra Kai dojo or an entry-level anime villain is really intriguing. I’m all for building out the tag division. It can’t be worse than Ziggler and Roode on commentary trying to add red solo cups to their gimmick to mess with Street Profits. To stay on message, it also means pretending that Beer Money never happened for Roode over 12 years ago in Impact.
Let’s hope that things get better next week when the whole of the mens’ top and upper midcards aren’t being held hostage by the forced premise that someone is beating Roman Reigns on Sunday. That’s the level of enthusiasm I want for a PPV weekend! (*awkwardly points to WrestleMania sign in living room and ends column*)
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