OPENING SEGMENT- Last week’s show started with Shane McMahon wanting to fire Owens & Zayn, and ended with Sami Zayn violating Shane McMahon’s order that he be barred from ringside in order to interfere in the main event… so of course Shane allows this week’s show to start with them running their mouths and insulting him. They cut a great heel promo in which, as everyone expected, Sami made a distinction between the ramp and the “ringside area” to claim that he didn’t actually violate Shane’s orders last week. Randy Orton then came out of the crowd and jumped Owens from behind, like a coward, with an RKO.
Then Shane McMahon came out to be a smarmy piece of sh*t while telling Owens & Zayn that they have a match at Clash of Champions against Randy Orton and a partner of Orton’s choosing. Shane also booked Orton vs. Zayn for tonight, with the stipulation that Kevin Owens will be handcuffed to a radiator backstage to prevent him from interfering.
Or at least that’s what Shane would have said if he wasn’t a complete moron. What Shane actually said is that Owens would be handcuffed to the ring-ropes, a place from which he will easily be able to interfere in the match.
OWENS & ZAYN BACKSTAGE- For some reason they’re upset about this, because I guess they’re just as dumb as Shane. I mean their characters are. The men themselves seemed to understand how dumb this is because they tried to frame Owens having to be handcuffed in public as some form of humiliating indignity Shane was forcing upon Owens. Owens said he would fix this by talking to Daniel Bryan. Owens also deserves major props for the way he sold the RKO all throughout this segment.
AIDEN ENGLISH SINGS “THE TWELVE DAYS OF RUSEV”- this was entertaining, and went on for exactly as long as it needed to (long enough to show off the new “Happy Rusev Day” shirts) before New Day interrupted them.
AIDEN ENGLISH & RUSEV vs. THE NEW DAY (w/Xavier Woods)- 6.75/10
Hooray! Rusev and English win! I assume this means that they, too, will be added to the tag title match for the PPV.
RENEE YOUNG ASKS MOJO RILEY WHY HE ATTACKED ZACK RYDER LAST WEEK- meh
He name-dropped Gronk within two sentences. Mojo explains that he was doing better without Ryder than he was with him but he got stuck with and dragged back down by Ryder when Ryder came back from his injury, and he had finally had enough of Zack last week and attacked him. His delivery was too over the top… and I really don’t think Mojo is capable of doing anything in a way that isn’t over the top, so we’re kind of screwed here.
DANIEL BRYAN AND A BUNCH OF HEEL WOMEN BACKSTAGE- bad
Carmella and Tamina both say they want to be in the title match at the PPV (Lana actually did the talking for Tamina), despite having done jack sh*t to earn it. Then the Riott Squad showed up. Ruby pointed out that she pinned the champion last week and said that she should be in the title match, and insinuated that the reason she wasn’t is because Bryan doesn’t like how she looks. She made a valid point and followed it up by accusing our babyface of something we know isn’t true, but she’s a heel so that’s fine.
Then Liv Morgan opened her mouth and claimed that Bryan was partial to brunettes and thus was “treating us beautiful blondes like we don’t matter.” Um… Liv? You know that title match your friend just mentioned? It’s between two blondes.
Then Sarah Logan accused Bryan of being prejudiced against Southerners, which was oddly amusing, considering my comments about her accent last week (it’s okay, though. Some of my best friends are from the South so that makes it okay for me to say those things). The questions she asked him were funny and all… and that’s when it hit me that that right there is exactly the problem. In this one segment they stopped being a vicious gang of women who were going around and beating people up without mercy and who had put Becky Lynch on the shelf, and they just became three more women showing up in backstage segments all together and being given terrible dialogue. Ruby called the other group of heels “afterthoughts,” which led to them all yelling at each other. Bryan screamed “STOP IT!” at the top of his lungs, and then mollified them all by randomly turning the PPV title match into a Lumberjill Match. You know… because the logical follow-up to a match that ended via outside interference is to book a gimmick whose purpose is to prevent the wrestlers from running away. And even worse, it’s one where you surround the ring with other wrestlers!
This whole thing is SOOOOOOO f*cking stupid! If you are that desperate to get all of these women on the PPV, why not do the obvious thing and book a six-woman tag match between them? It would give the Riott Squad a solid win, and they could have Lana, who they have made clear is not someone who they have any intention of pushing as a wrestler, take the pin. It puts the new women over and doesn’t hurt anyone they would ever conceivably care about hurting. And the PPV needs this match, too! Assuming that English & Rusev are added to the tag title match (why else would they beat the guys who just earned their way into that same title match by beating other guys who were already in the title match), and assuming that Nakamura will be Orton’s tag partner against Owens & Zayn because he’s the only main eventer without anything going on right now (I could see Shane taking the spot, but I don’t think it will happen), and assuming that Mojo vs. Ryder gets added to the card, we’ll be up to a grand total of six matches, and the only guys left healthy and unbooked are Dillinger and Kanellis (jobbers who haven’t had a televised match in two months), the Fashion Police (comedy dorks who also haven’t had a televised match in forever), the Bludgeon Brothers (who, if they are on the PPV at all, will be in a very short squash match), so that just leaves Sin Cara wrestling himself, or something with the Singh Brothers, which I doubt they’re going to do right now, so you’re stuck with six matches and one squash for a three-hour PPV plus the pre-show (you can’t use the Ascension because they died last week). Why would you not eat up eight minutes (twelve with entrances) for a six-woman tag that is all up-side booking-wise?
BOBBY ROODE, BARON CORBIN, & DOLPH ZIGGLER BACKSTAGE- bad
Corbin came up to Roode and asked him what his thoughts were about Dolph Ziggler also being the title match with them at the PPV. Is he being possessed by Dasha Fuentes or something? Roode said that he could beat Corbin in a singles match- as he intended to prove later tonight, but with Ziggler added to the match “my odds of winning the US Title…” and I was SOOOOOOOO badly hoping he would say that his odds would “drastic go down” but alas Roode instead one-upped Scott Steiner by being able to do math coherently in his promo and merely said that his odds go down by 33%. Corbin also complained about his odds of winning going down… and then of course Dolph Ziggler showed up because G-d forbid we have a backstage segment where everyone involved just happens to be walking by at exactly the right time. Dolph cut a promo that would have been a lot better if his delivery hadn’t come off like he was trying way too hard to sound cool.
THE BLUDGEON BROTHERS vs. TWO JOBBERS- squash
OWENS & ZAYN BACKSTAGE (AGAIN)- Owens tells Zayn that Bryan said that he “would think about it.” Basically this was just a reminder about the plot point, but at least it was short.
BOBBY ROODE vs. BARON CORBIN- DUD!
Dolph Ziggler was predictably on commentary for this match. Roode and Corbin did a quick double-down, then Dolph ran in and attacked both of them. Here’s an idea: how about instead of announcing on Twitter that there is going to be a title match on the PPV between the champion, a guy who asked the champ for a match and got turned down because he hasn’t done sh*t to earn it, and a third guy who has done even less to earn it and then wasting time on your TV show by first sticking them all in a segment where they just tell the other two that they are going to win the match, then booking a match between two of them where the third one runs in for a DQ, you use your TV show to actually tell the story of why these two men are getting a championship match and then announce the match once you’ve justified it within the narrative? That way you’d be using your TV show to actually f*cking do something rather than just stalling for time until the PPV (never mind making your title look like something that actually has some value because you have to do something to earn a title shot)!
HEELL WOMEN BACKSTAGE- bad.
Nattie tries to suck up to Lana, Carmella, and Tamina to get them to be on her side in the Lumberjill Match. The verbiage here was the standard terrible WWE bullsh*t, and I’m honestly struggling to remember the last time there was a backstage women’s segment on Smackdown that didn’t have at least three women in it. It’s not just multi-woman matches they’re obsessed with, it’s multi-woman segments, too.
And speaking of which… right after Nattie insulted the Riott Squad (she called them “stray cats”), guess who just happened to walk up behind Nattie. Nattie immediately tried to suck up to them as well. She thanked them for taking out Becky two weeks ago, and for taking out Naomi last week, which was the first time that either of those things were mentioned on tonight’s show, despite them being major injuries to the women are the #3 and #4 players in their division. Nattie walked off after trying to suck up to them, leaving the Riott Squad staring at Tamina, Lana, and Carmella, and then we cut away. Considering what we’ve seen from them the past two weeks, it has become pretty apparent that the only reason the Riott Squad haven’t assaulted Tamina, Carmella, and Lana yet is solely to increase the odds that Charlotte will have to overcome at Clash of Champions.
JINDER MAHAL VS. AJ STYLES VIDEO PACKAGE- great!
This feud is the only one on Smackdown that has been booked in a logical manner, and it is the program in which the two principle parties have physically interacted the least. You’d think that this might be WWE learning some sort of lesson, but the sad reality is that this is the way all of Jinder’s programs have been booked because they know he’s not very good in the ring… and yet they still put the belt on him, anyway!
CHARLOTTE FLAIR vs. TAMINA (w/Natalya, Lana, & Carmella)- 2.75/10
Boring. I was shocked when I found out that this only went six minutes.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- terrible.
Nattie cut a bad promo trying to build up the title match by noting that Charlotte was currently in a ring surrounded by other women… which was true, but one woman on each side really didn’t make it feel like she was trapped at all, plus she’s not the one who we are supposed to be worried about running away during the match.
The Riott Squad then came out and they cut bad promos that I’m sure none of them came up with on their own. Creative’s entire conception of Sarah Logan seems to be that she hunts her own food and she uses colorful Southern metaphors (and of course they started off with the clichéd “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” which was made only worse by having her start it off with the even more clichéd “as my grand-pappy used to say”). Liv was given the honor of trying out a catchphrase for them, which was “no one escapes when a riot is about to break out.” I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what happens, and even if it was true, wouldn’t a better catchphrase be “no one escapes when a riot breaks out,” without the “is about to” part?
Anyway, Tamina punches Logan, and those two start to fight… but then their pals break them up. Are you kidding me? The stable is called the “Riott Squad,” and their response to someone punching one of their members is to break up the fight?
Then Charlotte’s music started to play again for some reason and the segment ended, meaning that all of this tension they’ve spent the entire episode creating led to zilch. It would have been a million times better to just not have The Riott Squad come out at all.
OWENS, ZAYN, & BRYAN BACKSTAGE- bad.
Owens thanked Bryan for hearing him out and considering his feelings. I know that he was only saying it to try to suck up to Bryan, but the fact that Owens did it still made Bryan come off like a dick for rubbing things in while making his announcement. Bryan said he agrees with Shane not wanting any interference in the match, so he has ruled that Owens will indeed be handcuffed to the ring-ropes. This means that Bryan now joins Shane, Owens, and Zayn as people too dumb to figure out that someone handcuffed to the ring ropes is in a perfect position to interfere in a wrestling match (although at least Owens will get to look smart by realizing it eventually, but that will just make Bryan and Shane look even dumber).
Bryan then summoned three large men to ensure that Owens would be handcuffed into place. One of them had an afro, and the other two had the most atrocious hair I’ve ever seen, both on their faces and the tops of their heads.
SINGLES MATCH WITH KEVIN OWENS HANDCUFFED TO RINGSIDE: Sami Zayn vs. Randy Orton- 6.5/10 for the actual wrestling, but a big fat zero for the booking.
They go through a whole big song and dance to get Owens handcuffed to the bottom rope… and they have gotten the handcuffs with the longest chain I have ever seen on a pair of handcuffs, giving Owens even more ability to interfere in the match. As if to rub in how stupid this is, Owens expressed his frustration by POUNDING THE APRON several times in anger.
Speaking of stupid, the phrasing the announcers were using to push the idea that this was humiliating to Owens was being “chained up like a common criminal.” While debating whether or not this was deserved, Byron Saxton said that if they don’t want to be chained up like criminals, they shouldn’t act like criminals. Corey Graves responded by asking Byron what they had done that was criminal, to which Byron responded with the following list of offenses:
1. “They attacked the seventy-year-old chairman of this company.”
2. They caused Smackdown to lose at Survivor Series.
3. They cost other Smackdown wrestlers money by their actions.
For the first one, only Owens did that, and while that could certainly be criminal, it should be noted that he did so only after securing a promise that he wouldn’t get in trouble for doing so. The second one is not criminal at all, and even if it were, they are hardly the first wrestlers to have done so and no one has ever suggested that such a thing was “criminal” before. As for the third one, the only way that that is criminal is if Owens & Zayn are the ones responsible for calculating the wrestlers’ payouts based on the gates and they were intentionally lying about the gate and giving everyone a lower percentage of money and then pocketing the remainder, but I highly doubt that that’s the case (I guess it’s possible that this was a follow-up to point #2, and in that case it would really only be the guys on in the Survivor Series main event who they cost money, and also in which case the same thing I said about #2 would apply to #3).
They fought on the outside a lot, including Orton backdropping Sami onto one of the announcers’ tables and Sami landed right on (at least) one of the monitors and screamed in pain like I don’t ever remember hearing anyone scream in pain on a wrestling show in a very long time. He had a huge bruise on his back afterwards.
Sami got some heat for a while, and when Orton started to make a comeback Sami slid out of the ring and retrieved a pair of bolt cutters from underneath it because why wouldn’t there be bolt cutters under the ring? Sami tried to free Owens but Orton stopped him from doing so. Orton then attacked Owens, which he really shouldn’t have had any reason to do because the whole idea of this match is that the handcuffs would prevent Owens from interfering. This attack gave Zayn an opening to nail Randy from behind, sending the bolt cutters flying into the ring… where rather than get them out of the ring like a good referee should do to any foreign object, the ref simply used his foot to nudge them to the corner… right near Kevin Owens. What a moron! If you have to do this stupid sh*t, why not just have Orton make sure to drop the bolt-cutters outside of the ring when Zayn hits him, so that you don’t make your referees look completely incompetent?
They did a double-down after Randy hit Zayn with a superplex, at which point Owens used the bolt-cutters to free himself… and then immediately got nailed by Orton. About fifteen seconds later he popped up to distract Orton, allowing Sami to roll Orton up… and then Orton kicked out, went for an RKO but Sami blocked it and pushed Randy into the corner, Sami went for a Helluva Kick but Randy ducked… and then rolled Sami up and pinned him cleanly.
This was one of those matches that became more frustrating as time went on because of how stupid the whole thing was, and how they just kept layering more layers of stupidity on top. I’ve already explained why the whole idea of the gimmick is stupid, but in the context of everything that has come before, it’s even worse. Last week Shane wanted to prevent Sami Zayn from interfering so he barred him from the ringside area… and yet he was still able to interfere, so their solution this week is to force Owens to stand right next to the ring? The logical thing to do to prevent Owens from interfering this week would then be to once again increase the radius to close the loophole- like barring Owens from the entire building (and then not being an idiot and making this a Falls Count Anywhere Match). In fact, it wasn’t even six months ago on this very show when Daniel Bryan wanted to prevent James Ellsworth from interfering in a match and so he barred Ellsworth from the building. While Ellsworth did manage to interfere in that match (because WWE security sucks at their jobs), he was punished for his interference with a one-month suspension. Suspension was clearly an effective threat here because that’s what Bryan threatened Owens with in order to get him to finally give in to being handcuffed, so ejecting Owens from the building under threat of this punishment clearly would have worked.
Then we have the bolt-cutters. They needed Owens to escape so that he and Zayn could beat Randy down after the match so that Nakamura could make the save, hence they needed bolt-cutters… and thus it just so happened that, for no discernible reason, they not only needed bolt-cutters at tonight’s show, but needed them stored under the ring. And Sami Zayn knew exactly where they were to be able to go get them.
Imagine if rather than being Harry’s father’s cloak, Dumbledore’s wand, and the stone from Gaunt’s ring that Dumbledore purposely hit inside a snitch he had bequeathed to Harry, the Deathly Hallows had just been some other invisibility cloak, some other random wand, and some other random stone. And when Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out from the Lovegood’s house to go search for them, they had been walking for a grand total of five minutes when they came across all three Deathly Hallows, plus all of the remaining Horcruxes (including a sleeping Nagini), and Gryffindor’s sword all sitting in a f*cking pile on the side of the road. “Well that was certainly fortunate!” Harry said, picking up the Elder Wand as Ron went about destroying the Horcruxes with the sword and Hermione verified the markings on the Resurrection Stone. “Now that we have everything we need, let’s go kill Voldemort.”
That would f*cking SUCK, wouldn’t it? To have the necessary items just randomly be right where the characters need them even though there is no logical reason for them to be there? Well that’s exactly what this sh*t with the bolt-cutters was.
A large part of the problems here stem from WWE’s mistaken belief that the only way to make something impactful is to take it an order of magnitude above something we would normally see. A great example of this is the whole Braun Strowman trash compactor fiasco. At its core, the goal of doing what they did with Braun there was to set up for a Braun vs. Kane feud. The simplest way to do that would be to have them each cut promos on each other where they claim that they are most dominant monster in the WWE while they destroy guys every week, maybe we get a stare-down one week, a short brawl with the entire locker room needing to empty out to restrain them on the go-home show, and you do your PPV match with the two biggest, scariest, most dominant big-men in the company facing off against each other. Simple and effective, right?
Well WWE’s mindset on it is as follows:
“We want to book Braun vs. Kane, but we need an angle for it. Let’s have them brawl! On Raw? No! We’ll do it on a PPV because that will make it bigger! And doing it in the main event will make it even bigger! But the main event of the next PPV is Sheamus, Cesaro, & Miz vs. The Shield in a TLC match... so let’s add Braun to the match to make The Shield overcome even bigger odds! And Kane will do a surprise run in and attack Braun… but then won’t Braun’s teammates help him? AHA! We’ll have Kane also be on the heel team so the odds The Shield overcome will be even bigger!
We want Braun to be the babyface, so Kane will turn on him during the match and take him out, but it’s got to be something big. Hmm. I know! We’ll have him chokeslam Braun through the stage! Yeah! And then he can use the set to drop a whole bunch of chairs on him afterwards! People always remember when someone pulls down part of the set!
Wait… but if Kane wins the brawl and takes Braun out won’t that be like Kane winning? How about we have Braun come back! No one has ever come back after getting slammed through the stage! And then the other heels can help Kane beat Braun up so that Braun is protected because it’s not just one guy beating him up. But if Kane needs so much help beating Braun up he won’t look strong enough to face Braun one-on-one, so we’ll need to keep Braun off TV for a few weeks so we have time to build up Kane… but Braun walked off getting hit with a truck a few months ago so we need to do something big to keep him down and put him out for a few weeks…
I know! We’ll have him get squashed in a garbage truck! GREAT IDEA! But how are we going to get him to a garbage truck? I know! We’ll have one right there in the ringside area! But why would there be a garbage truck in the ringside area? Um… we’ll have Miz cut a promo saying he wants to treat The Shield like garbage and humiliate them by throwing them into the back of a garbage truck! BRILLIANT!
And just like that, the desire to push something to the next order of magnitude in order to get attention for it has taken your simple clash of the titans and turned it into a feud that no one can take seriously because it was created by a sequence of extremely contrived circumstances that resulted in a dude getting crushed in a garbage truck because you needed to keep him off of TV for a few weeks.
The circumstances surrounding tonight’s main event followed a similar mindset. The goal of all of this (plus what came after it) was to create a situation where Shane would look unreasonable enough at the end to get that shot of Bryan being conflicted in order to tease that he might turn on Shane. That’s why Shane announced these clearly unfair stipulations for the PPV match. This announcement had to come at the end of the show because otherwise Bryan would have to say something about it before the end of the show and Shane would have to respond to him, all during the show, but they couldn’t have that because that’s the sort of exchange they’re going to want to have next week on the go-home show.
Announcing that stip in the opening segment when the PPV match itself was announced would also make tonight’s match feel totally pointless because you know that even if he doesn’t get his revenge tonight, Randy will definitely be getting his revenge at the PPV because he’ll have Shane as ref to ensure that it happens.
Now, to their credit, if you ignore the specifics involved, the general idea of what they did here was good storytelling to lead up to their ultimate goal. Having Shane come up with a way to punish them tonight makes it more surprising when he reveals the stips of the PPV match as a second punishment as well as making Shane come off as more unreasonable (especially with the way Bryan’s question of “are we done punishing them now?” frames it) and having them appeal to Bryan and having Bryan hear them out and think about it before siding with Shane makes Bryan’s emotions in all of this seem more reasonable and does a better job of establishing pathos in the audience.
The problem, though, stems from the specifics- in this case the “handcuffed to the ropes” thing- and that, in turn, was driven by their belief that the only way to get attention for something is to up the order of magnitude. Because if they can’t announce the real stips of the PPV match at the beginning of the show then they need tonight’s punishment (and the resultant match) to make you stick around to the end to hear the real stips, and to see the reveal of Randy’s partner, which they don’t want to reveal before the main event because that’s the most important place on the show. And if they want to do that reveal as the main event then they need to set up a situation where Randy needs to be saved from the double-team, if Randy needs to be double-teamed after the match then they have to do the idiotic “handcuffed to the ropes” stip instead of the logical “barred from the building” stip, and doing that requires a way for Owens to be freed from the handcuffs, which requires Sami to magically pull an inexplicably conveniently-placed pair of bolt-cutters out of the Creative team’s metaphorical ass.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- idiotic
Owens jumped Orton from behind, and he and Zayn beat Orton down until Nakamura came out to make the save and beat them both up on his own. He hit Owens with a Kinshasa… and then, just to make sure the heels got no heat at all, Orton got up and nailed Zayn with an RKO. Then, just to rub it in, Nakamura picked Owens up to feed him to Orton for an RKO and Orton returned the favor by picking Sami up to feed him to Nakamura for a Kinshasa.
BRYAN & SHANE BACKSTAGE- terrible!
Shane declared to Bryan that his was “one of the most satisfying finishes to Smackdown Live in its history since you and I started running the show together.” Bryan then said “so you’re done punishing them now, right?” to which Shane replied that he was not. Instead, he has decided that he is going to be the special guest referee for the tag match at the PPV, and if Owens & Zayn lose, he will fire them… and not just from Smackdown, but from the entire WWE. Then Shane walked off and we zoomed in on Bryan, just to make it more obvious that Bryan is going to wind up getting involved in this in some way.
To again give credit where it is due, they did in fact do an excellent job of making Shane seem totally unreasonable here. The problem is that unless they’re turning everybody involved rather than just Bryan, making Shane seem totally unreasonable is a terrible idea. After all, if Shane is being so unreasonable towards Owens and Zayn that Bryan’s moral compass causes him to turn on Shane despite his distaste for what Kevin & Sami have done, then that means that Shane, persecuting them beyond what is reasonable for their crimes, has in fact truly become the heel here, and Owens & Zayn have become the babyfaces.
The other thing that I thought was stupid about this was Shane declaring that if they lost he would “fire them not just from Smackdown but from the entire WWE.” Wasn’t the reason that Bryan convinced Shane not to fire them two weeks ago the fact that if they were fired they could just go to Raw? So how does Shane now have the power to prevent them from doing so?
Another bad episode of Smackdown, marred by the same issues that always drive me nuts with this show: terribly-scripted women’s segments (basically everything they do that isn’t wrestle during matches), double (or even triple) standards as far as earning title shots go, and a general treading water of the midcard. It’s now December so I can truly say with confidence that in a year where I gave up regularly watching both Impact and ROH TV, Smackdown has still somehow managed to be an easy pick for Worst TV Show.
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