Every so often, I like to reflect on the state of WWE. Sometimes I do this because starting off every review with “hey guys! It’s David Spain here again, and I hope you’re all looking forward to another episode of blah blah blah” gets a bit on my nerves, but also because I get slightly worried that we, as a collective, might somehow lose grasp of quite how fucking mental that wonderful world known as the WWE actually is.
For starters, Universal Champion and Destroyer of Roman Reigns’ Dreams Brock Lesnar has embarked upon another long absence whilst refusing to loosen his death grip on one of the industry’s top prizes. And I think the weird thing is that everyone’s apparently okay with this, like they never wanted that title anyway and are just happy that Brock’s got a distraction from carrying out whatever monstrous sexual frustrations he has on them. In any other form of fiction, his absence would merit a comment. In Shakespeare, a Duke pretends to nip off for a quick holiday and the city immediately begins executing anyone getting a bit of strange, so it feels weird that everyone’s acting like it’s totally normal for Brock to be literally anywhere else, rather than where he belongs, snapping spines and indulging in jus primae noctis.
Roman Reigns is still dealing with his most vicious nemesis to date: the WWE Universe’s unironic and heartfelt hatred of him. It’s got so bad that he’s now facing Jinder Mahal in the hopes that he will be cheered as the lesser of two evils, which to be honest does nobody any favours and just reflects badly on Jinder, Roman and Vince McMahon’s antiquated views on skin colour and worth.
And I’d feel smug about most of this, but SmackDown is currently a little bit batshit itself in terms of its main players’ motivations. Shinsuke Nakamura has embarked on what might as well be a blood-feud against AJ Styles’ testicles, presumably because that same pair of dangling nards once murdered Shinsuke’s master, slaughtered his family and razed his village to the ground. AJ’s responding the same way that he does to pretty much everything: by becoming the Gollum to the WWE Championship’s One Ring, only if Gollum had a lot more self-confidence and spent most of the books hitting forearms to every Hobbit, Orc or Gondorian he locked eyes with.
Only slightly less baffling is the new General Manager, Paige, who apparently took one look at Shane McMahon’s bad judgement, poor impulse control and willingness to hurl himself off high things and thought, “I like the cut of his gib”. Except at least Shane’s feud with Owens and Zayn had some genuine ill-feeling on either side, stemming largely organically from the actions and reactions of all involved. Whereas Paige has, without any justification, turned upon her former teammates in Absolution with all the fury of a woman scorned, only the entirety of the scorn has been provided by her. We’re apparently supposed to side with her and hate Mandy and Sonya, who for the most part have just stood there and once mocked Becky Lynch, whereas Charlotte Flair can flip a table literally onto Carmella and be held up as a shining example of fighting spirit.
So RAW is a mad kingdom missing its madder king, whereas SmackDown is a place where the rulers have traditionally always fought with the ruled, only Paige isn’t medically cleared to compete and so Shane will probably, with a heavy heart, have to do another WrestleMania match before all of this is over.
It’s too early to discuss pancake control
The Miz is in the ring, doubling down on his midlife crisis by cosplaying as a background character from Naruto. He mocks the town’s sports team, because he is eeeevil indeeeed, and then he announces his own entry in the long line of reality television shows about how relationships stand a decent chance of withering under the unforgiving and unrelenting gaze of cameras everywhere. And where oh where was this shit when Edge and Lita played Matt Hardy for a tragic fool? I’d have watched that; we’d all have watched that. But then I’ve watched three Punjabi Prison matches, so my word on quality media probably carries as much weight as Goebbels’
The Miz introduces the New Day, who hop, skip and jump their way to the ring, hurling pancakes and cereal at the WWE Universe: something else we’ve all accepted as just a thing that exists in this world we live in. Miz cuts to the chase, asking which member of the New Day is getting the push…and all three of them claim that it’s them. Miz gets annoyed, claiming that love fades, loyalty dies and tag teams disintegrate when one member gets thrown through a glass window: this is how things are and how they always will be, forever and ever, amen. He says that the New Day are all holding each other back by remaining a team.
Woods says that there’s no denying that the Miz has accomplished a fuck of a lot, but he’s never let anyone get close to him. Except, you know, Maryse. And John Morrison for a while. And the Miztourage for a fair bit. Miz points out that he’s won Money in the Bank already, unlike Kofi’s six unsuccessful attempts. He suggests that maybe someone else deserves a chance, like maybe Big E. Oh wait: Big E’s cheerful personality will hold him back, way more than being black in Vince McMahon’s WWE.
And then the Miz turns to Woods, tempting him with visions of holding the WWE Championship, like Supreme Leader Snoke if he had the fashion sense of a weeaboo and no social awareness. Woods says that it should be Big E, who states that it should be Kofi, who offers the chance to Woods. The Miz, who would sell whatever remains of his soul for a chance to break up a tag team that he’s not even part of, yells at them to just make with the decision already, because he could beat any one of them. The New Day huddles, and then proclaims that it’s going to Big E.
The Miz seems satisfied, but the New Day go on to explain that they were referring to who’s going to face the Miz tonight. The Miz takes the fact that he’s going to have to spend some time getting up close and personal with the leotard-clad pervert known as Big E pretty stoically, continuing to demand that they tell him who’s in the Money in the Bank match and saying that if he doesn’t get what he wants, then they don’t get their match: no announcement, no match.
The New Day throw pancakes at Miz in some kind of quasi-religious humiliation ritual, because the fuck is even going on. Miz heads backstage and runs right into Paige, who tells the Miz that he’s going back out there for his match against Big E. At least she managed to do that without being hideously vindictive or nerve-gratingly irritating, which is a laudable achievement if you’re judging her by her own standards, and not those you use for actual human beings.
The Miz is in the ring with Big E, with Xavier Woods on commentary. Both men tussle against the ropes, ending with Miz getting backed into a corner. He climbs up the ropes, but Big E just lets him drop to the canvas. Big E uses his hips and sexual aggression to escape a waistlock, whilst Byron does all he can to fellate Xavier Woods without actually putting his mouth on the man’s genitals, because that would stop him from being able to spout his shameless toadying. Christ, I get tired of this.
E hurls Miz right across the ring and waits on him. The Miz challenges Big E to a test of strength, then kicks him in the gut and smacks the big bastard around. He runs the ropes, but Big E ducks and leapfrogs him before clamping on an abdominal stretch and spanking dat ass. Framed differently, this is the story of one employee facing a torrent of sexual harassment and receiving no support from management. Framed actually, it’s pretty funny. Big E hits the Miz with a splash on the apron, and then Woods and Kofi set Big E up with a stool, spray maple syrup into his mouth and towel him off. Fuck, that’s some good comedy.
The Miz recovers enough to slap Big E, and manages to take advantage after rocking the man’s head off the apron. We head to a break, and when we come back Big E is muscling his way out of a sleeper hold and Kofi Kingston is on commentary now. The Miz hits his corner clothesline, but that literally plays into Big E’s hands as he catches the A-Lister and chucks him this way, that way and on the mat before hitting that Warrior Splash. The Miz tries to dodge around him and roll him up, scoring with a desperation boot before getting slammed out of the corner by E for two.
Big E goes for his apron spear, running slap-bang into Miz’s knee before getting DDT’d onto the mat. Big E counters a Skull-Crushing Finale, has his Big Ending attempt thwarted, and both men clothesline each other. Suddenly, Sheamus and Cesaro dash onto the scene, smacking around the New Day like racism’s socially acceptable again. Big E is distracted mid-Big Ending; the Miz takes advantage with a Skull-Crushing Finale and takes the win.
Nicely done match, with Miz being able to fight from underneath really well. I’m still pulling for Woods to be in the Money in the Bank match, but this did show Big E’s chops as a singles competitor. 2.5 Stars.
We revisit last week, when Daniel Bryan emasculated Big Cass so hard and with such viciousness there’s an 100% chance he’s received a cash payment from Carmella. Big Cass is on crutches and not medically cleared to compete tonight, proving that the best way to deal with a bully is to beat them so severely that they never work up the nerve or physical capability to come at you again. WWE is reinforcing this message by giving Daniel Bryan a second chance to enter the Money in the Bank Ladder match tonight, either because their morality is shot or they’re super-keen to be on his good side considering his ability and willingness to cripple whomever he wants.
Daniel Bryan is backstage, presumably marked by snipers for security’s sake, and Dasha nervously approaches to ask him if he’s feeling much bloodlust in general tonight. Bryan says he’s focused on beating Jeff Hardy and winning the match, because if Jeff winds up anywhere near a ladder again he’s either going to kill himself or go on a drug-fuelled slaughter with the damn thing, which might cast a pall over the rest of the PPV.
Lana’s going to fucking die at MITB
Aiden Goddamn English, the one man who can get a pop just by clearing his throat, is in the house. Tonight he’s introducing Lana, clearly unaware of this bitch’s potential to ruin the best thing in her husband’s life. Lana shows up, and I have to hand it to her: lady can dance. Rusev’s not out there with her, so they’re either having a fight or he’s delegated the task of being a supportive partner to Aiden English, which is absolutely the grounds for having a fight. He apparently tweeted his support, which wouldn’t be enough to get me out of trouble and so shouldn’t get Rusev out of matrimonial strife neither.
Billie and Peyton arrive, holding microphones which means they intend to get some bullying done. Have to admire their nerve after seeing how injuring a bully is rewarded on this show. Not that I’m imagining Bryan showing up and kicking the shit out of the IIconics, but honestly I couldn’t imagine anything getting a bigger pop, with the possible exception of Roman Reigns being executed at the hands of Isis.
The IIconics compliment Aiden’s song, because just because you’re bitches doesn’t mean you’re deaf, and then sing a duet. Jesus, you could kill bees with that high note. They get ready for the match, and Aiden English has a “Lana Day” sign. Fuck it, Lana: leave Rusev and marry this pale, bald prince. Peyton and Billie go to confront the Shakespeare of Song, slapping him across the face. Aiden does nothing, despite being bigger than them and holding a large object with which he could probably put them on the shelf for a Big Cass-esque length of time, because like the Bludgeon Brothers he’s paralysed when faced with a female of his own species. Jesus, WWE: either segregate the men and women like you’re trying an alternate take on the 1950s or don’t make every guy idiotically chivalrous to the point of not reacting when a lady hits him.
Lana saves Aiden by slapping Peyton, which is about a fifth of her overall offence. Billie attacks her and throws her back into the ring, only to get clocked upside the head with a Russian roundhouse kick, then takes a facebuster to give Lana the win! The crowd are totally into it, and Lana’s happy celebration is really sweet.
Okay, so we’re putting Lana in a Money in the Bank match with actual wrestlers? Are WWE setting up a hit? 1 Star.
Jesus, you can’t just cut to footage of Zelina grinning like that: that’s the kind of thing I’d expect to see if I’d just said “Bloody Mary” three times whilst staring at a mirror. I’m not saying Zelina Vega’s not attractive: her smiles just carry the same sinister undertone as a priest looming over a preteen.
Anyway, Cien Almas is pissed that he had to fight a fucking jobber last week; he’s either going to get opportunities or he’s going to start murdering the hometown heroes they send at him. See how WWE feels when they’re buried under a mountain of lawsuits and the weeping relatives of the fallen are camped outside their headquarters, burning effigies of Cien Almas and Roman Reigns.
Basically a hotter Alberto Del Rio
I still don’t recognise Cien Almas’ music, so it’s nice of them to flash the words “CIEN ALMAS” up on the screen for me like I’ve got that condition where I can’t recognise faces. That being said, I think the smile Zelina Vega was doing backstage would somehow stick with me even if I did have it. Anyway, the latest acquisition by SmackDown is here, and he’s taking your jobbers. Because yep: he’s facing another jobber tonight. No-one gives a shit, because the outcome is obvious and if we wanted to check out Almas’ move set we could just hop onto YouTube.
Cien wins, looking damned attractive whilst doing so. He’s like Alberto Del Rio without the unfortunate habit of standing up to institutional racism, which is sort of step one to a happy life in the WWE.
I don’t mind squash matches: I do mind when they’re against people I’ve never heard of and will never see again. 1 Star.
We get taken to a close-up shot of Asuka’s mask, which is way less terrifying than Zelina’s teeth-baring excuse for a smile, I should say. It’s actually Carmella wearing it, because suicidal impulses take many forms. She’s being interviewed by Dasha, and tells her that she’s not afraid of Asuka because of wrestling mathematics: she beat Charlotte, who beat Asuka. I’d laugh about how no-one should be able to beat Roman Reigns by that logic, but I’m scared that if I mention it I’ll summon it, like the Candyman or Zelina’s smile.
Last Man Standing matches should require wrestlers to count like The Count from Sesame Street
Renee Young is here to interview AJ Styles and resist the urge to throttle Shinsuke Nakamura when he pulls his “suddenly not bilingual” shit. AJ arrives, followed by Smashy McBollocks himself, who seizures his way down to the ring like he’s found a way to mainline epilepsy.
Renee tries to introduce the topic and lead up to the reveal, but Styles knows that there’s a clock in Nakamura’s head currently ticking down from “Calm and Civilised” to “Cocksmash Mania” and the best part about that clock is there’s no way of knowing when it’ll stop. He demands that Shinsuke tell him the stipulation, but Nakamura’s more interested in turning his Ls into Rs and showing footage of him from last week showing AJ how to actually sell a low blow.
Styles tries to refute this, but Shinsuke tells him to be quiet and once again threatens Styles with “dishonour”; I don’t know if by that he means that AJ Styles’ parents will be disappointed in him or whether this is some weirdly worded way of threatening Styles with anal rape. AJ, channeling the Miz from earlier tonight, keeps asking about the stipulation, which Nakamura says is a pillow fight. Fuck you: I’d watch that. Hell, the audience is chanting for it.
AJ Styles makes a joke about “soft style” that in any civilised country would receive the death penalty. Nakamura accuses him of being afraid, and then repeatedly yells “knee to face” like he’s running the world’s shittest soccer camp. AJ Styles tells him that he’s not being the Shinsuke Nakamura that Mr Rogers knows he could be, and whatever stipulation he picks won’t matter.
Shinsuke takes a cheap shot, which is to be expected, although it’s not at Styles’ swinging pickle, which is not. AJ catches the blow, decking Nakamura and sending him out of the ring. AJ follows and they brawl on the outside, with Styles clearing off the table and Testicles McSquashy coming after him with a chair. They fight in the crowd before the smell gets too much for them, and Shinsuke clobbers Styles with a chair off a forearm attempt.
And then Shinsuke starts counting. Oh shit: Last Man Standing match. AJ beats the count, so Nakamura drops him on the table and then fucks his shit up with a Kinshasa before counting again. When he reaches ten, Shinsuke grabs a mic and yells “Last Man Standing Match” in case there’s anyone in the audience who didn’t quite grasp the implications, presumably because they were too busy drooling and masturbating with a feral urgency.
It seems cruel to use Dolph Ziggler’s likeness to sell the “don’t smoke, fuckwits” advertising that WWE are doing, especially when the adverts themselves talk about not reaching your full potential. I’m not sure if WWE are being really self-aware or if they’re trying to pin the blame for Ziggler’s lacklustre career on him being a twenty-a-day man, but either way it seems a little vicious.
Where’s the Ascension’s title opportunity?
The Usos and Gallows and Anderson are all in the ring in this four-man game of “Who’s The Jobber”. The Good Brothers mock the Usos for losing to the Bludgeon Brothers, and if you think that this segment has already used the word “brothers” too much then you win nothing, because that was fucking obvious and you get jack for realising. The Usos threaten Gallows and Anderson with jail time, which is fairly appropriate considering they both look like pre-rape Ed Norton from American History X.
Gallows and Anderson call the Usos “nerds”, which apparently is one of them fighting words I’ve heard so much about, and this leads to a brawl. The Usos take out the Good Brothers with a dive as we go to a break, and when we come back Anderson has just knocked down one or other of the Usos: they’re literally the same person except one of them’s married.
Anderson starts clapping his hands like it’s some kind of pathetic self-affirmation, and then runs into a boot like he shouldn’t have wasted all that time clapping. He manages to regain the advantage, but Jey shoves him off the top and levels him with a kick. Anderson recoils, managing to tag in the WWE Superstar most likely to own his own made-to-measure gimp suit: Luke Gallows.
Gallows misses a charge, eats a pair of boots from the Usos, who trade quick tags, throw some superkicks and score with a splash to almost pin Gallows. They go to the top for stereo splashes, but Anderson shoves one of the Usos off the ropes and Gallows grabs the other one by the throat. Whichever Uso Gallows is cradling smacks the big man in the face and superkicks him as a follow-up, but runs right into a superkick from Gallows like they’re having an argument entirely through superkicks, which to be honest is a typical WWE match sometimes.
The Good Brothers hit the Magic Killer, and they win a Championship opportunity against the Bludgeon Brothers at Money in the Bank!
Hard-hitting match, and it’s nice that we’re shuffling the teams on SmackDown at the moment. Looking forward to see what Gallows and Anderson can do to the Bludgeon Brothers. 2 Stars.
Absolution and the IIconics will just have their own Ladder Match
Naomi makes her way to the ring, right after seeing her husband get emasculated. She is facing Sonya DeVille, one of the two targets of Paige’s spiteful fury in recent weeks. And Sonya cements her reputation as a villain once again as her lighting manages to prompt epileptic fits amongst members of the WWE Universe, who at this point seem like they’re pursuing a very targeted form of eugenics.
Naomi and Sonya circle each other, and then DeVille waistlocks Naomi to the mat, trying to roll her up for a quick pin. She stays clamped onto the former Champ like they’re posing for a maternity photo, and Becky Lynch is standing by the television for a good old “I’m already in the Ladder Match” gloat. Sonya shoves Naomi to the floor, who shifts seamlessly into the splits in a shameless attempt to distract her opponent.
Sonya, unruffled, goes for a quick to the head and damn near spears her off her feet. Now Charlotte’s watching from backstage; I can’t tell if it’s the same TV or not, but either way it’s unsettling. Sonya continues to work over Naomi, wrapping her legs around her opponent and trying to cinch in a sleeper. Naomi climbs to her feet, carrying Sonya like she weighs nothing at all. She slams her into a corner but runs right into a spinebuster for two.
Sonya throws a few kicks at Naomi, runs into a boot and finds herself having to work hard to maintain the momentum. Sonya tries to trade kicks with Naomi, and the pair of them end up smashing each other in the face at the same time, knocking each other to the floor. DeVille hits Naomi with knees, misses a clothesline but suddenly gets caught by a roll-up! Naomi’s going to Money in the Bank.
Decent display from DeVille: she got in a lot of offence before the finish. 2 Stars.
Backstage, Jeff Hardy exits the men’s locker room whilst whooping, which more or less fits in exactly with how I picture him now. Renee Young interviews him in passing, and he continues to act exactly how I picture him. You can’t let that man anywhere near a ladder, surely.
Didn’t see this match happening a year ago
Samoa Joe’s here to do commentary, which feels like the prelude to whatever the wrestling equivalent of a school shooting is. I mean, probably another Nexus-style attack, right? He’s actually very polite and well-spoken, which only makes him more terrifying when you remember the guy once jumped Brock Lesnar to make a point. Whoever wins this match will face Joe next week, with the winner of that match going on to Money in the Bank. This is due to Bryan giving what can only be described as a prison-style beating to Big Cass, Joe’s intended opponent.
Jeff Hardy arrives, followed by Daniel Bryan. The two shake hands, meaning Bryan’s already got a contact high. They jockey for position, exchanging holds before Hardy runs the ropes and drops Bryan. Daniel approaches again, meeting Jeff in a test of strength before working over Hardy’s arm like it’s got a tattoo of Big Cass on it. Jeff shoves Bryan off the ropes and gets knocked down hard by the smaller man.
Bryan’s sent into the corner and backflips over Hardy, but Jeff is able to catch him mid-sprint with an inverted atomic drop and a couple of dropkicks. We come back from a break as both men collide with stereo crossbodies. They recover, throwing hands and kicks before Bryan enzuigiris Jeff out of the ring, following that up with a pair of boots which send Jeff slamming into the barricade. Bryan misses a dive, but Hardy catches him with his own!
Back in the ring, Hardy goes high. Bryan catches him, hanging him up in the Tree of Woe and lacing him with kicks before slamming a dropkick into Jeff’s face. Bryan stays on him, looking for a back superplex. Hardy elbows Bryan to the floor, then takes him out with a Whisper in the Wind! Bryan reverses the Twist of Fate, taking Jeff out with a dropkick to the knee. Yes Kicks slam into Jeff, who dodges the last before laying Bryan out with a Twist of Fate! Jeff heads up for the Swanton Bomb; Bryan manages to get his knees up and then puts his fucking lights out with a kick!
Bryan goes to the knee; Jeff dodges and rolls him up. Bryan keeps kicking out, uppercutting Hardy. Jeff tries for another Twist of Fate, but Bryan hits the dragon screw and locks in the heel hook! Jeff Hardy taps out!
Match of the night, with genuine tension over who would win. Love that Bryan’s expanding his finisher repertoire, almost as much as I love that we’re getting Bryan/Joe next week! 3 Stars.
Samoa Joe immediately grabs a mic and starts yelling Bryan’s name, like he’s from a gang in The Warriors. He tells Bryan not to celebrate, because next week he’s facing him.
And Renee must have been lying in wait for Joe backstage, because she’s already interviewing him. He promises to put Bryan to sleep next week, and I’m just pissed I have to wait seven days for it.
Tags: aiden english, AJ Styles, Big E, Billie Kay, Carmella, Cien Almas, Daniel Bryan, Gallows and Anderson, Jeff Hardy, Lana, Paige, Samoa Joe, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown live, The Bar, The IIconics, The Miz, The New Day, the usos, WWE, Zelina