Are you ready? Are you ready for a good time?
We sure hope so, because there’s only six weeks left until the greatest show on earth arrives, which means we’re officially on the road to WrestleMania. 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 growth of Sasha Banks on the mic, the inevitable awesome feud between Banks and Bianca Belair at Mania, Roman Reigns’s reliability as one of the best heels in wrestling, Otis turning heel and Alpha Academy as a heel team, a brotherly feud over what exactly Baron Corbin is good for, and whether or not Seth Rollins is a poor man’s Jay White.
- The Mysterios vs. Alpha Academy (Alpha Academy, via pinfall)
- Apollo Crews vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Apollo Crews, via pinfall)
- Tamina vs. Liv Morgan (Tamina, via pinfall)
- Bianca Belair WrestleMania decision (Belair vs. Banks set for WM)
- Street Profits vs. Sami Zayn / King Corbin (Street Profits, via pinfall)
- Daniel Bryan vs. Jey Uso (No winner, double countout)
Brendan: The Road to WrestleMania is paved with seemingly endless hours of weekly TV, placeholder PPVs, questionable booking, new Peacock signups, and, occasionally, wrestling. Another Friday night in the books, Tim. Were you ready for a good time last night? Did you have a good time?
Tim: In a word…”no.” This type of absolutely moorless storytelling is what you’d expect from a SmackDown in late June/July. As you mentioned, we’re on the road to WrestleMania and outside of the fact that I don’t think I could tell you a single match on the Mania card, there aren’t even that many armchair bookings that I’d be excited about after watching the last two episodes. Jey Uso and Daniel Bryan had a surprisingly compelling main event and Roman’s heel work is unimpeachable, but the rest of the show had almost no coherence. Even a pretty good Crews vs. Nakamura match left me feeling cold overall. I honestly thought we’d hit rock bottom last week, but I guess we’re going to set up shop here for a minute.
Brendan: This WrestleMania season, it appears they are opening up a WWE Superstore and selling merch down here at rock bottom. Get comfortable. That doesn’t mean we can’t get down and review some WWE programming. At least they respected my time last night and combined the Elimination Chamber Universal Title match recap with Roman’s glacial introduction. Even so, That’s still another 5:05 of my life spent watching Roman Reigns walk to the ring on a Friday night. Word to Tommy Stinson.
You mentioned Roman’s promo, and it was excellent. Even though I wish they’d abandon the “show opening promo segment that establishes the night’s main event” format, Reigns is still out here doing the best work of his career. There’s no drop off in quality from 2020. For months now, he’s been in the ring with other performers who are known for their mic work and he’s more than returned volley every time. This week was Daniel Bryan’s turn to trade bromides with our Tribal Chief. Now that the match is booked, I look forward to 7 more weeks of him talking sh*t to Edge. It’s really a high point of every SmackDown episode, so it’s hard for me to find too much fault there.
Tim: I agree whole-heartedly about Reigns and Edge. It seems like a missed opportunity every time they DON’T have those two going back and forth on the mic. One of the more interesting debates I’ve encountered in my travels among the wasteland that is the Internet Wrestling Community, is whether or not Roman’s heel character would work with a live audience. I believe that it would, but the argument could be made that Roman might not be able to elicit the same reaction from a live crowd. It’s an interesting study in how well you can manipulate a television audience. Overall, I know pandemic wrestling is what it is, but this week was particularly jarring to me for some reason. There’s something inherently creepy about the piped in “Yes” chant for D-Bry.
Brendan: The crowd noise in the ThunderDome can sometimes sound like a hive of mechanical wasps. It’s…not ideal.
I also enjoyed the Bianca Belair WrestleMania decision segment for similar reasons. Reginald notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to see WWE turn over their show to two performers who appear to have excellent chemistry in Belair and Sasha Banks. It’s easy to book a quality angle when the participants are this well suited and obviously excited to work together.
As recently as a year ago, I would have laughed off the idea of a “good” Sasha Banks promo. It’s been the weakest part of her skill set for a long time, and it was easy to accept that as part of the overall deal with The Boss. I am very pleased to be wrong now. Maybe it’s working with Bayley for most of the past year, acting lessons for The Mandolorian, or just Banks deciding to put in the work, but she’s vastly improved on the mic and we reap the benefits when she’s working with some as preternaturally gifted as Bianca in that area.
Tim: The strides that Sasha has made on the mic are Roman-esque. Her promos were barely watchable when she first appeared on the main roster. As you mentioned, it was the one weak spot in her repertoire and I’m similarly glad that she continues to improve. I’m legitimately excited for a Belair vs. Banks main event on night one of WrestleMania. We did a random draw betting pool for Royal Rumble and I lucked into drawing Bianca’s number. I primarily wanted her to win for the inevitable showdown with Sasha. I’m surprised, Reginald appearances notwithstanding (that dude belongs on Mars), that WWE hasn’t managed to screw this up.
Brendan: I’m sensing a slow burn heel turn for Banks here. I’m not quite sure why Reginald is continually involved, especially in his current capacity as Carmella’s sommelier. WWE logic dictates that we’re getting endless minutes of unfettered Reginald mic work in a championship storyline on the A-show, while Malcolm Bivens just cools his heels hanging out with Tyler Rust in NXT. Sigh.
Tim: Reginald was surprisingly good in his match with Sasha a few weeks ago. He’s unsurprisingly awkward on the mic with Sasha. I don’t understand the story they’re trying to tell with him, but I’m terrified that it’s going to end up with Carmella shoehorned into a triple threat at Mania. As I mentioned I’m legitimately surprised WWE hasn’t f*cked this up.
Case in point. Giving us Sami Zayn only to immediately center King Corbin. King Corbin is someone I actually hate seeing on television and I just want him to go away. Remember when he was the Lone Wolf? That sucked. Remember when he dressed like a restaurant floor manager? That sucked too. Even the prospect of him tagging with Sami Zayn sucks.
Brendan: I support King Corbin’ current role as a C-level heel who puts other talent over without question. It’s a valuable thing to have someone with go-away heat that rivals the peak of X-Pac’s run. He has an extremely punchable face. Being a CHUD is his business, and business is great. Best not to tinker with something that works so well. So there’s definitely upsides to angles involving Corbin. I’m definitely not onboard with Sami Zayn being used as enhancement talent for Corbin face turn. I’m not even sure what face Corbin does on the roster.
Moving on, I love Alpha Academy. Make some new theme music, print the t-shirts, I’m all in. Give me more evil strength trainer Chad Gable corrupting Otis’s purity of spirit with squats and instruction on basic amateur wrestling holds. One of the best parts of wrestling fandom is fixating on nearly meaningless and nihilistically bad angles and supporting them until they finally get out of sheer spite and obstinance. In that spirit, long live Alpha Academy.
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) February 27, 2021
Tim: If Rey and Dominick attempted to fight Otis in real life, it would play out as quickly and violently as this match did. I generally feel like if you’re looking for believability in your wrestling matches, you’re a joyless dink. Occasionally, a particular size disparity makes it necessary. Otis is stupid fun and I have a passing interest in the trajectory of this heel turn. At least he’s not coming to the ring completely naked save a flesh colored fanny pack or something.
Brendan: Plus, Gable’s evil training already appears to be paying dividends. Otis’s full body Polish Hammer is one of my new favorite moves at the moment. Not sure if I’m late to the dance on this one, but it looks really cool on smaller opponents. The heel turn is official too, because he’s no longer interested in doing the worm. Blue Collar Solid Otis would have done The Caterpillar. Heel Otis does a middle rope splash. Scotty Too Hotty can sleep easy in the knowledge that his signature move is protected once again.
As for the rest of the tag product, WOOF. The SmackDown men’s tag division is like the darkest timeline counterpoint to the corresponding AEW product. I used to view teams like The Acclaimed, Top Flight, and Private Party as Street Profits-adjacent, but that position gets harder to defend every week. Dawkins did add a cool double underhook swinging neckbreaker as a setup for Ford’s frog splash finisher. That’s a positive development. Otherwise, it’s curious to see them spinning their wheels while Ziggler and Roode just stink up the joint with their mediocrity.
Tim: Vince has never favored a particularly robust tag division, but this is bad, dude. I’m so glad FTR got outta Dodge before they started carrying nunchucks to the ring or whatever they had planned for them. They might as well just not have tag matches on SmackDown at all right now. It would be a bold choice, but the tag division is clearly a tertiary consideration at best. Lord knows we need those minutes for talk-show segments and Roman doesn’t appear to be walking any faster.
Brendan: During the match, they cut away before Dirty Dawgs demonstratively crushed their red Solo cups to show their dismay with Street Profits. The sound still made it on the broadcast. Whoever was in gorilla position tonight was also like “Holy sh*t, these dudes bore me to tears. Let’s cut away before the end of this short, blatantly terrible sight gag designed to put our Tag champions on TV this week.” Either that, or it’s more production team excellence on tonight’s episode.
Tim: At one point earlier in the episode they piped in crowd noise LOUDER than Edge’s backstage promo. Why? Why is this happening in the best funded and most well-polished wrestling company in the history of the business?
Brendan: I’m not normally one to critique production miscues, but flashing “STILL TO COME: GOLDBERG VS. ROMAN REIGNS” on-screen during Apollo Crews warm-up before commercial is a pretty good indicator that presently we’re running on auto-pilot on SmackDown. That’s some Raw sh*t. Every week, I come here to see Roman Reigns get 5 to 8 minutes of light cardio and to have a good time.
Tim: We haven’t even touched on Crews vs. Nakamura or Bryan vs. Uso. In part, because they were serviceable matches (albeit with fairly predictable outcomes), but also because they jam packed this week with a lot of the aforementioned “meaningless and nihilistically” bad angles.
Brendan: Don’t forget Tamina vs. Liv Morgan. The main event ending in a double countout was effective, but not the most creative way to arrive at the inevitable conclusion. When Edge was doing his fast talking bit with Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville earlier in the program and dismissively mentioned the possibility of tagging with Bryan against Reigns and Jey Uso, I thought for a minute we might get something outside the box like Edge takes out Bryan and ruins his title shot rematch or Edge vs. Bryan dream match at FastLane. Sometimes, expectations can crush you.
Tim: At least we got 10 minutes of Rollins talking at Cesaro to help ease you back into the dystopian hellscape that our waking reality has become. They couldn’t let the Swiss Superman say even one word in response? It was frankly kind of impressive in how insulting it was to Cesaro in the midst of the biggest push he’s seen on the main roster.
Brendan: I want to believe that WWE has something good in store for Cesaro, but he executed a solid 30 count big swing instead of getting a mic and responding to Rollins. That’s, uh, not a vote of confidence in your mic skills or your WWE future, Claudio.
Tim: At this point, they need to have Rollins wrestle, even if it’s a squash or something. His mic work remains passable, if stagnant. The only thing that recommends him as a weekly worker is that he can, at significant risk to the well being of his opponent, usually put on a match that doesn’t have me checking to see if a MAGA chud responded to me on a Facebook thread.
Brendan: Let’s state some uncomfortable facts. Just because they are uncomfortable doesn’t make them any less true. At this point in his career, Seth Rollins is Dollar Tree Jay White. When you ask your mom for Jay White in the car and she tells you that you have Jay White at home, it’s Seth Rollins. Pick your meme format. Either way, BIG FACTS.
Tim: Agreed, and I already have a dim view of Jay White to begin with.
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