Are you ready? Are you ready for a good time?
We sure hope so, because there’s only two weeks left until the greatest show on earth arrives — 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: deconstructing the less than thrilling booking of Daniel Bryan, Edge, and Roman Reigns, the absence of Reginald, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks hanging out with Natalya for the evening, Otis and Chad Gable’s in-ring acumen, the potential of a Big E heel turn, feeling bad for Seth Rollins, and more.
- Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura [Rollins, via pinfall]
- Street Profits / Big E vs. Alpha Academy / Apollo Crews [Alpha Academy / Crews, via pinfall]
- Bianca Belair vs. Natalya (w/ Tamina) [Belair, via pinfall]
- Rey Mysterio (w/ Dominick) vs. Dolph Ziggler (w/ Robert Roode) [Mysterio, via pinfall]
- Adam Pearce decision regarding Universal Title match at WrestleMania [Surprise, it’s a Triple Threat]
Brendan: Six days removed from FastLane and it would appear that WWE is still trying to wash the stink off. SmackDown promises a good time every Friday night. It’s right there in the theme music. I can’t say that I was entertained this week though. Tim, how should we kick this week’s recap off?
Tim: Heavy sedatives or psychedelics. Choose your poison. Neither will truly enhance the experience but it might make it slightly less dull. I guess we oughta talk about the “surprise” addition of the triple threat match.
Brendan: Cool, but let me ask a broad, open-ended question first. It’s a multi-parter, so bear with me.
As fans of the modern day WWE product, do we get the booking we deserve? Was the Reigns / Bryan / Edge triple threat match at WrestleMania a self-fulfilling prophecy, so how we arrived there really wasn’t important? Or does storytelling matter and we have a right to be let down?
Tim: I’ve mentioned it a few times in these recaps that I’m predisposed to not enjoy WWE or Smackdown and to a certain extent that will always be self-fulfilling. I think WWE is deeply concerned about Edge’s ability to wrestle a 100% live main event match. So, the triple threat stipulation was inevitable for that reason and I don’t know that there’s a way storytelling would make it more or less compelling. You’re either excited to see these three dudes main event Mania or you aren’t. I am decidedly not excited.
I say this as a legitimate D-Bry fanboy and with a begrudging respect of what Reigns has become. The x-factor (both in the traditional use of that term, and in the fact that he’s about as cool as that stable…) is Edge. This heel turn was obvious because booking is obvious. I think the only way to have made it meaningful would have been to time it better. Edge turning heel at WrestleMania mid-match, for example would have at least given us the shock factor that seems necessary for this to work. At this point, I legitimately don’t know who I want to see win this match less, as I honestly don’t want to see any of them win. Not that I would be particularly upset with any possible outcome.
Brendan: After the Rumble win, I was prepared to invest in Reigns vs. Edge. There was an awful lot of complimentary booking in that match to allow him to go the distance and win from the #1 spot, but Edge looked every bit the role of a WWE part-time headliner. I expected compelling mic work on SmackDown, a tune-up match or two, maybe a hastily thrown together tag match, and then a pretty bland 3-3.5 star match at WrestleMania. We might end up with that exact result, but with Daniel Bryan now.
So, is the problem WWE’s inability to build a compelling program or cultivate challengers for Reigns, or is it me? I think it’s me. On paper, this is a great match. I can’t help but feel unfulfilled by the booking, especially after the laborious process of getting to Pearce’s decision tonight.
Tim: It doesn’t hurt that they’re holding the build up to these matches in a literal echo chamber, including piping in the desired crowd response. WWE is a company that has traditionally been unconcerned with what dildos like us think, probably for about as long as we’ve both been fans. The most fan service I think either of us ever got were some DX segments and CM Punk talking about straight-edge and hardcore a bunch.
That said, they truly don’t have any idea what current fandom wants, and I can’t say it’s entirely their fault. The wealth of columns and think pieces that get written, and the sheer enormity of the wrestling criticism industrial complex make it nearly impossible for them to find a coherent thread among the fans. Someone is always going to be bummed, it’s the nature of booking. It might as well be me because I don’t buy merch and I’m probably always gonna have an issue with the product. I’m like the work friend that you invite to one of your band’s shows. I’m here out of proper etiquette and ritual.
Brendan: It wouldn’t matter so much to me if “the decision” and the non-wrestling segments with all three parties didn’t completely overshadow everything else on this week’s episode. We spent weeks sailing into the proverbial iceberg of “TRIPLE THREAT MATCH” and the two hours of last night’s air time just felt like overkill. The whole thing could have been handled with a 90-180 second clip of all three wrestlers in an office with Pearce and him delivering a decision. The reactions could have been done backstage. Instead, we only got 4 matches in two hours of airtime because they myopically focused on showing in granular detail just how much “storytelling” is happening in this program. It’s paper thin and boring, but that’s never stopped me from watching WWE programming before.
Tim: I said out loud during Omega vs. Sydal on Wednesday night that I knew exactly how SmackDown would open by contrast. I was correct. I didn’t even watch the go-home episode or FastLane. It shouldn’t be that predictable. Anyways, there were other things that happened last night by recollection. Not that they weren’t also plagued with some of the same laborious storytelling.
I will say that the six-man tag didn’t upset me as deeply as those types of bookings usually do. Big E with the Street Profits felt fresh and familiar at the same time in a way that really worked for me. I could easily see a Big E heel turn where he betrays New Day in favor of the Street Profits, leading to a single’s feud between Kofi and Big E. Otis continues to impress as an in-ring performer alongside Gable, and the Street Profits have Montez Ford doing Montez Ford things every week. The odd man out for this one was Apollo, whose gimmick I will continue to not say anything about. His work rate has been amazing these last two months, but he kinda no showed this one.
Brendan: That tag match was easily the best one of the night, which is an indictment of Rollins and Nakamura more than SmackDown writers. Gable catching Montez Ford mid-air and hitting a northern lights suplex was legitimately one of the most impressive spots I’ve seen this year. Otis showed us a cool powerslam variation, and Ford had a practically balletic sequence immediately preceding the pinfall. I could have done with 5-10 more minutes of that match instead of Adam Pearce going on an RPG side quest to book a triple threat match. Hell, the tag match could have been advertised as a main event. I’m a little more sanguine on Apollo’s presentation last night. I like the new tron video and theme music, plus I’m glad they left the Royal guards at home. They also seemingly invested some cash into the prop department for his spear.
Tim: RE: Pearce, for real. It was unconscionable how much time was spent backstage with ‘Ol Scrap Iron. Especially given the quality of the aforementioned six man tag and the alluring promise of Shinsuke and Rollins deciding they still care about performing. Spoiler for that one: they both still don’t. I agree completely about that particular match being worthy of indictment. I’d go off on another rant about how much Rollins sucks, but that seems like the kind of thing Jim Cornette would do, so I’m gonna skip it. I will say that I should be more excited about any match that involves Nakamura or Cesaro.
Brendan: They’ve literally made “Rollins gets no respect!” the primary feature of this feud. I can’t tell if they are insulating themselves from criticism on his post-Shield reunion booking or if it’s in direct response to commentary about Rollins in general. Either way, it’s a bad look. He had the temerity not to steal anyone’s signature spots tonight and didn’t injure his opponent, but that’s the low bar I have set personally for Rollins.
Tim: At the risk of alarming anyone reading this, even the KO and Zayn segment left me flat this week. I expected a lot more from those two both in terms of build and mic work. Sami’s gimmick is unimpeachable in my opinion, but I think I wanted more from KO. Maybe an attempt to “deprogram” Sami, or at least a little bit of emotion/concern for the deleterious mental state he’s in? Instead, I got awkward bullying into another inevitable Mania match. Oh and Logan Paul too. Who’s a puppeteer, I think?
Brendan: It’s the same exact problem as the Universal Title program, but in miniature. These two men have a deep, rich history, both inside and outside of WWE. It all matters, and WWE has leaned into that on the occasions they’ve been booked together. So, spinning up a WrestleMania match between KO and Sami out of thin air three weeks before the event just reeks of filler content. Owens and Zayn should never be an afterthought, especially when adding to their overall storyline.
Would we be getting this feud if WWE didn’t have 10+ hours of WrestleMania content to fill over two nights? Does it matter that the booking is flimsy? Is Logan Paul the guy who knocked out Nate Robinson, or an influencer who plays video games and sells supplements? Does not knowing who Logan Paul is, but being into Bad Bunny mean that I still part of the key demo? These are largely rhetorical exercises, but that’s not the point here. I’m sure the match will be excellent if they get more than 10 minutes to air it out. It definitely could have benefited from some promo work or additional build up though. Feels like a waste that they didn’t let them do it.
Tim: Logan Paul is a man of many talents, I just have no idea what they are or why he’s here.
Also on the card last night was Bianca having an entirely meaningless match against Natalya, which would almost have been refreshing if it didn’t feature Sasha Banks on commentary and inevitable interference. I think Belair is still at the point where the audience should see her skill set more regularly. She’s absolutely amazing in the ring. Let her beat Natalya outright and then have Banks confront her. Ideally coming to the ring from the back, because she’s NOT on commentary.
Brendan: I agree with you on all those points, but you left one thing out. Reginald did not appear tonight and was not mentioned at all, so we’ve already improved this historic women’s championship program a thousand fold. At least they gave us that small mercy.
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