Renee Young interviewed AJ Styles in the ring was decent. He did a good job of hammering home WWE’s favorite talking point for non-elimination matches that “the champion doesn’t have to be involved in the fall to lose the match” without using the same phrasing WWE always uses.
He got interrupted by Baron Corbin, who I think has new music. He cut a surprisingly good promo on AJ, claiming to have AJ’s number, using his US Title victories over AJ as proof. Owens then came out and cut promos on both of them, plus Shane. Corbin gave a good response; AJ… not so much. In fact, it was a downright cringe-worthy line asking Owens if he had “gotten the boil lanced on your back.” If you’re confused as to what AJ is talking about, you weren’t alone. I don’t think anyone- even Kevin Owens- understood what AJ was talking about, until AJ explained that he was referring to Sami Zayn, at which point everyone understood what he was talking about, but I don’t think anyone found it to be anything even remotely close to passable.
Owens claims that he would have beaten Corbin last week if he had had time to prepare for his match, and that therefore it’s not really his fault that Corbin was added to the Fastlane main event, but says that it is Sami Zayn’s fault that Ziggler was because Sami had all night to prepare for Dolph and still lost.
Shane then came out, recited Generic WWE “Enough Talk! It’s Time For Action!” Script Package #3, and booked both AJ vs. Corbin and Owens vs. Dolph, with the latter staring right now. Holy f*ck. We have now had two straight Shane McMahon segments where he has not annoyed me or said anything stupid.
KEVIN OWENS vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER- 6.75/10
They had a fine match that ended in a distraction finish that these guys (and Sami, the distractor) deserve some credit for making it feel different than usual. This wasn’t Dolph being dumb and getting distracted by someone wandering out to ringside. This was a feint by Sami Zayn specifically designed to require Dolph’s urgent attention so that Owens could superkick Dolph in the back of the head for the pin.
US TITLE PICUTRE SEGMENT- good
Jinder Mahal (with Sunil Signh) comes out and claims to have uncovered Bobby Roode’s Smackdown Top 10 ballot. It’s mostly the same as the official one, but Orton is not on the list at all (Dillinger is nine and Zack Ryder is at ten), but most importantly, right there at the top is Bobby Roode. This is, as Jinder points out, a violation of the rules, because you can’t vote for yourself. I enjoyed Jinder being unable to not complain about being on Roode’s list even though his real plan here is all about stirring up problems between Randy and Roode, to which his own placement on the list is irrelevant. Jinder paints Roode not only as an egomaniac (which isn’t necessarily untrue) but also as a liar for not having Randy on the list even though he says he respects Randy so much.
Roode comes out and tells everyone that Jinder is making it all up and this isn’t his ballot. He says what most of us have probably already figured out, which is that Jinder’s plan is to stir up trouble between Randy and Roode so that during an eventual title match Roode will be, as he put it “looking over my shoulder to make sure I don’t get attacked out of nowhere” and thus Jinder will have an advantage. While I don’t think Roode is wrong here, I feel the need to point out that the whole reason Jinder thinks he has an opportunity to make this plan work is that Orton already did attack Roode out of nowhere, for no damn reason, before Jinder ever got involved. And let’s face it: Randy has a well-earned reputation for doing exactly that (it feels like most of Randy’s feuds start this way, but I did some checking and it turns out that this really hasn’t been true in the past year and a half or so [although that really only covers three feuds because that atrocious Wyatt feud took forever]).
Shockingly, Jinder basically admits that Roode’s analysis is correct… but says that “now that I have come clean, I need you to speak the truth: you think you’re better than Randy Orton.” Roode responds by defensively saying “I never said that,” which I expected Jinder to pounce on by trying to force Roode into saying he thinks he is better than Randy by saying something like “oh. So you think Randy Orton is better than you are?” but instead Jinder simply insisted that Roode also thinks that is “the new Legend Killer.” Jinder then followed up with something more along the lines of what I expected, and Roode starts to deny it. That one “new Legend Killer” line bugged me a lot because it is exactly the sort of dumb crap WWE feels the need to force into their feuds so that the announcers have something to talk in circles at each other about, when the whole idea feels totally irrelevant to the rest of the story. It really feels like Hunter wrote this angle, and then Vince gave it the once-over and insisted that this line be inserted.
It’s actually worse in this case because Roode is supposed to be a babyface, so why would he want to be “the new Legend Killer.” “The Legend Killer” was a heel gimmick that often saw Orton attack old men. Does WWE really expect me to believe that Bobby Roode wants to go around and beat up WWE Hall of Famers? Then again, this segment felt a lot more like two heels talking than it did one heel and one babyface (Roode’s denial of the quotes Jinder ascribed to him came off like a heel trying to walk back past comments to get himself out of hot water more than they did an outraged babyface trying to prove that this heel is framing him and just trying to stir sh*t up for him).
Anyway, Roode says he’s not afraid of Jinder. Jinder says that Roode should be because Jinder has beaten Orton, at which point Roode got annoyed shout “FORGET ABOUT RANDY ORTON! THIS IS ABOUT YOU AND ME!”
At this point Randy came out and, after getting in Roode’s face, turned and punched Jinder instead. Roode then clotheslined Jinder over the top rope to the floor and chased Sunil Singh out of the ring… at which point Orton tried to RKO Roode but Roode blocked it and laid Randy out with the Glorious DDT. His music played and he posed… and then Jinder came up behind him and hit him with the Khallas.
Whatever little bits are annoying me in this feud, I am, on the whole, enjoying it. This feels like a better version of a Delirious feud where it’s just built around this one general idea and if you’ve seen wrestling before you can understand what they’re going for based on what the wrestlers and announcers say, even if it doesn’t feel supported by the details that make a storyline good. The difference between the two is that in a Delirious feud those details- the supporting evidence, if you will- often seem to inexplicably be booked to support an opposite conclusion from what the wrestlers and announcers are telling me the story is, in this feud the evidence is merely mostly absent. Then again, this feud is a grand total of three segments and zero matches old, so we’ll see how it develops.
The other reason I am a bit skeptical is that one of the things I’m enjoying most about this feud so far is that it very much feels like it is heel vs. tweener vs. tweener, or even heel (Jinder) vs. tweener (Orton) vs. popular heel (Roode), and while I think WWE is perfectly happy to have Orton in that tweener/babyface role where he is going to be the babyface when he feuds with heels and more of a popular heel when he feuds with other babyfaces, I don’t think it is in any way WWE’s intention that Roode to come off as heelish in these segments, which he definitely has been. Maybe it’s the fact that he never really turned or maybe that the fact that his character in WWE has felt a lot more like singles heel Robert Roode in TNA than it has like any of his babyface runs, but if it weren’t for Randy’s presence as a balancing factor to, in essence, prevent it from feeling like the entirety of the WWE propaganda machine is trying to push Roode on me as some sort of hero even though he comes off like a dick, WWE’s announcing/hype quirks would start to bug me much faster.
BRYAN & SHANE BACKSTAGE- HORRIFIC!
Speaking of such things, we then cut backstage to Bryan and Shane, and Bryan turns to Shane and recites the following line:
“I had no idea the Top 10 list would create this much controversy. Clearly Jinder has a plan, and it’s working.”
Please note that I described Bryan as “reciting a line” rather than the much more simple “Bryan said.” That’s because this whole thing was so generic while also being such a simple, concise hitting-the-nail-on-the-head description of the whole situation that it felt a lot less Bryan was talking to Shane and a lot more like the people writing the show attempting to explain things directly to us viewers (and WWE’s way of shooting these segments where at first we only see Bryan and then they pulled back to reveal that Shane was standing next to him halfway through Bryan’s line also probably also contributed to this feeling).
Also… is Bryan an idiot? He didn’t think that asking his employees to each submit a ranked list of which ten of their peers they thought were best at their job and most deserving of respect would cause controversy? That would cause controversy in ANY business, never mind professional wrestling, which is famous for its egos.
Shane asks Bryan what he thinks should happen. Bryan thinks Roode should defend the title against Jinder at Fastlane because Jinder has gotten the better of him two weeks in a row. Shane, on the other hand, points out that Orton did answer Roode’s US Title Open Challenge last week, and so “clearly everyone wants to see Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode.” Well clearly not “everybody” because Jinder doesn’t want to see it, and I doubt the Singh Brothers do either, so how about instead of using justifications that you think will make you the voice of the people like saying that “everybody wants to see Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode,” you base your assertions on logic and point out that Randy answered the open challenge but never got the resulting title match because Jinder interrupted the proceedings?
They determine that they’re “not on the same page about this” just like they’re not on the same page about WWE World Heavyweight Title. Shane says that Bryan only wants Owens or Zayn to be the champion, and accuses Bryan of “allowing” them to get up to “their old tricks again” earlier tonight. Excuse me? Bryan Is the one that “allowed them” to do that? YOU were the one that booked the match, dickhead! If these are such “old tricks” then why didn’t you attempt to head them off by barring Zayn from ringside, like you’ve done a bunch of times before?
Shane then went on to use this as a justification for why he “gave the opportunity to Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin to be a part of that match-up.” Except that that happened earlier tonight, and Shane announced that Dolph and Corbin would have this “opportunity” almost two weeks ago! It doesn’t even work if you claim Shane meant it in reference to last week’s events because that opportunity was the whole reason Owens & Zayn attacked them. I guess it makes sense if he is saying he “gave” the “opportunity” (more on that phrasing in a minute) because he thinks Bryan only wants Owens or Zayn to be champion, but, quite frankly, Shane has come on TV enough times over the course of this angle and completely distorted the truth- especially as related to timelines of events- that I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. (Remember that he even had his own video package made that makes it look like the entire reason Smackdown lost to Raw at Survivor Series was because Owens & Zayn attacked him, even though his team was already down by a bunch and would have been down by more if Raw guys hadn’t been fighting amongst themselves and if the referee hadn’t let Smackdown get away with cheating, and that attack had nothing to do with the situation that led to the final pinfall [unless you’re someone who thinks that Shane could have taken out Hunter, Angle, and Braun all by himself… which Shane is delusional enough that he probably does].) And if this is all on Shane for flubbing lines in the script then I still have no sympathy for WWE because the job of any character- but especially one in an authority role on a wrestling show- is to be able to accurately convey the idea present in the script, and this is something Shane has had a lot of trouble doing over the past two years, which should be an indication that he is not a good choice for this role.
Rather than use a logical argument- like, say, Owens and Zayn deserved a rematch because they did, in fact, get screwed out of the match at the Royal Rumble via referee’s mistake, Bryan simply complains that Shane hired him to run the show but is fighting him at every turn. Shane insists that he is “only resisting the decisions you make based on emotion.”
I’ve been waiting for this one:
Here is Shane making a decision to give someone a rematch in a WWE World Heavyweight Title match based entirely on emotion even though there were several clear just causes to make it based off of logic. HYPOCRITE! And what’s worse is that Bryan only did what he did because Shane himself made a decision based on emotion rather than logic when Owens & Zayn complained about the finish to him right after it happened, and Shane responded by being a smug douchebag.”BRM from his review of the 6/27/2017 Smackdown, after Money in the Bank” wrote: Shane says that because he understands what Randy is feeling, he’ll give him his rematch. Not because the heels cheated, and not because there was a controversial call, but because he can empathize with Randy, Shane will give Randy a rematch.
While we’re on the subject of Shane’s hypocrisy, I’d like to take a minute to note that Shane’s phrasing in this segment really bothered me. I’ve talked a lot about how much I despise this “Land of Opportunity” bullsh*t catchphrase that Shane and Bryan have been given because of how often it and its counterpart- the lecture that “title opportunities must be earned” here on Smackdown- turn our babyface authority figures into hypocrites because the clumsy booking often has them applying these two principles arbitrarily, and usually in a way that makes it feel like they are favoring the babyfaces simply for being babyfaces (Charlotte comes over in the Superstar Shakeup and demands a title shot and Shane gives her a stern lecture about needing to earn it; New Day come over in the Superstar Shakeup and Shane just gives them a title shot).
This is obviously a result of the combination of WWE’s bad booking and their obsessive need for catchphrases and branding, which makes it very grating to me, but this week it reached a new level due to Shane’s phrasing here. He “gave the opportunity to Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin.” They didn’t earn it; Shane just “gave” it to them. Why them and not, say Randy Orton or Jinder Mahal or someone else? No reason is given. They’re just guys that Shane arbitrarily picked. They didn’t do anything to earn this. And that just makes Shane look like even more of a hypocrite.
Anyway, after telling Bryan that he only resists decisions that Bryan makes based on emotion, literally the next words out of Shane’s mouth (it’s even arguable as to whether or not he started a new sentence!) are “clearly, Randy Orton taking on Bobby Roode at Fastlane is a decision that should be happening.” Someone please explain to me the connection between these two things, because it felt an awful lot to me like Shane purposely trying to change the subject so that Bryan wouldn’t have the chance to respond. Shane declares this decision to be final, and Bryan just says “whatever you want, boss,” and then walks out.
Shane’s insistence on this matter and Bryan’s reaction to Shane’s insistence both bring up the other reason why I didn’t like this segment. This whole thing about whether or Orton or Jinder should get the title shot at Fast Lane is a false dilemma. The PPV is in two and a half weeks. There is plenty of time for both guys to get title shots between now and then, and yet Bryan and Shane are acting like Fastlane is the only possible time someone can have a title match. This is even more ridiculous when you realize that this belt has been scheduled to be defended on Smackdown each of the past two weeks. And even if it were true that you could only get a title shot at Fastlane, there is no rule mandating that only one person can have a title shot at a time. The other title match they were talking about in this segment has FOUR CHALLENGERS at once.
THE RIOTT SQUAD vs. BECKY LYNCH, CHARLOTTE FLAIR, & NAOMI- 6/10
They decided to do this week’s Mixed-Match Challenge promos in the middle of this supposedly important match.
Liv Morgan and Naomi had a really good little sequence of spots together. I often find Naomi’s intensity to come off as totally phony and she is often sloppy, and Liv has had a lot of trouble finding herself and I’ve never been very confident in her in-ring abilities, but in this bit both women had great facials and body language, and everything they did looked wonderfully crisp. It was actually Becky and Charlotte who seemed to have trouble making their strikes look good here. The match was good. The heels won clean when Ruby pinned Becky. Water continues to be tread.
OWENS & ZAYN BACKSTAGE- They make up and are totally definitely friends again. Zayn tells Owens that at the PPV they will take everyone else out, then promises that he will lie down for Owens so Owens can win the title.
WINNER GETS A WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH AT FASTLANE: Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable vs. The New Day (w/Kofi Kingston)- 5.75/10
Umm… didn’t these two teams just wrestle last week and New Day won clean? Shouldn’t New Day have already earned a title shot?
The answer to that question is that the win wasn’t quite clean because Woods distracting the referee resulted in the referee missed Benjamin & Gable making a tag, and they lost because of it. It would have been nice someone had a cut a promo explaining that to us before the match was about to begin. Perhaps this theoretical promo could have been cut by Gable and Benjamin earlier on this show? Not only would it explain the storyline to those of us who have apparently forgotten it, but it would have also served to HYPE UP THIS MATCH! They booked a match based on an on-going feud in which the winner will get a tag title shot on PPV… and the first time they told us about it was immediately before the commercial break that directly preceded the match!
Corey Graves told us that it was Daniel Bryan who “acknowledged the interference” of Woods and thus signed a rematch, and also made it for the title shot. So once again we’ve got heels getting screwed because of a refereeing mistake, and Daniel Bryan steps up and does the right thing… and yet here is a case where Bryan has no reason to have the supposed “emotional” attachment that Shane has accused him of having to Owens & Zayn. You’d think Bryan would have pointed this out in their earlier dispute, but he didn’t because the storyline there requires Bryan to be wrong, and thus he is not allowed to give intelligent responses to Shane’s arguments that the plot doesn’t require him to give. Even worse, I’ll bet you anything that WWE thinks that this is actually subtly helping that angle and sowing doubt in our minds because this is a case of Bryan siding with the heels over the babyfaces, but the reality is that it actually undermines their storyline because it’s an example of Bryan doing the right thing while Shane sits back and doesn’t care if two of his employees got screwed because the referee’s mistake benefited his pals The New Day.
At the beginning of this match, Corey Graves asked what essentially boils down to the following question (he worded it differently, but only slightly): If you are tuning in for the first time, and you see Gable & Benjamin being serious wrestlers while New Day are f*cking around with pancakes, how are you supposed to take New Day seriously? The finish to this match was Kofi distracting the ref like a total heel so that he didn’t see Benjamin & Gable get a legitimate pinfall on Big E. After the ref finally got rid of Kofi and started to count, Woods was able to break it up, then quickly hit his move and pinned Shelton for the win. If you are tuning in for the first time (or the millionth time), who would you think are the good guys here?
Anyway… New Day won, so we’re getting New Day vs. Usos YET AGAIN. Of the last seven PPVs on which the Smackdown Tag Team Titles have been defended, New Day and The Usos have faced off in six of them. Remember back four and a half months ago when they told us that Hell in a Cell match these teams had would be the blow-off.
After the match, the Bludgeon Brothers did their new thing where they come out the moment the previous math stops, just so they can have a stare-down with someone.
CHARLOTTE CUTS A PROMO ON RUBY RIOTT ON HER PHONE- She says that if putting her title on the line is what it takes to get a match against Ruby Riott, she’s willing to do it. Um… did I miss a few segments? Like one where Charlotte cut a promo challenging Ruby to a match, then another when Ruby cut a promo refusing to face Charlotte unless she gets a title shot (she does, after all, have an outstanding pin on the champion)? Because that’s what it feels like.
BLUDGEON BROTHERS vs. NORVILLE ROGERS & EDUARDO- vicious squash… but I’m getting bored of these.
That’s what Corey Graves called them, anyway. I’m skeptical about those names, however, as “Norville Rogers” is the given name of Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
RUBY RIOTT PHONE PROMO- she says “one down, two to go,” as if pinning Becky in this random six-woman tag team match is the same as putting her on the shelf. She challenges Naomi to a match next, and tells Charlotte that if she wants a match against her, she’ll have to put her title on the line at Fastlane. Did they air these in the wrong order? Because there is absolutely no excuse for that. That’s WCW-level sh*t right there.
BARON CORBIN PHONE PROMO- not bad, except for the words on the screen (which have been present in most promos, plus New Day’s entrance), and shakiness of the phone.
NAKAMURA VIDEO PACKAGE- the dude wins the Royal Rumble… and has gotten a grand total of about one minute of screen time since, including ZERO matches.
The women’s title match at the PPV is now official, so between that, the tag title match, the World Heavyweight Title match, and the US Title match, we now have four matches announced for Fastlane, which takes place in two and a half weeks… which is the same number of matches that have been announced for Elimination Chamber, which takes place in five days.
AJ STYLES vs. BARON CORBIN- 5.75/10
The announcers are chatting about Zayn offering to LIE DOWN FOR KEVIN OWENS FOR THE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE IN THE MAIN EVENT OF A PPV… and no seems particularly outraged about two competitors conspiring to fix a world title match. They also repeated their earlier Mixed Match Challenge promo… in the middle of the freakin’ MAIN EVENT.
Byron tried to defend Shane by claiming that Shane gave Dolph and Corbin the opportunity to be in the PPV main event because their “resumés” show that they are “worthy,” but Graves was quick to do my job for me and point out that Shane never once said that.
The personality clash element of this was good but the match itself was pretty meh (it is a Corbin match after all) and only went eleven and a half minutes. Some things not even AJ Styles can make work.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- didn’t like it.
Owens & Zayn attack AJ, but both get laid out by Corbin. This felt like them trying to mitigate Corbin looking weak in his clean loss by having him lay these guys out. If you didn’t want him to look weak, don’t have him lose.
Another bad episode of Smackdown. This time even AJ didn’t have a good match, and managed to find a new way to screw up by inserting the promos into their show in the wrong order. F*ck this show.