So, this is what it’s come to? Dragging myself out of bed on a Saturday morning to bash one of these things out? Is this some conspiracy to confine my alcoholism strictly to weekends? Because I will not have it.
Anyway, SmackDown’s on Friday nights now. It’s also brought to us by Fox, bringing us the unique scenario of wrestling actually cheapening itself through its association with another entity. Still, I’ll try not to add too political a timbre to my slurred and misspelled vitriol, at least not until WWE actually rolls out the Black and White Minstrels and offers title opportunities for dirt on Joe Biden.
So, with all that being said, onwards we ride into the glorious new dawn of sports entertainment. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.
And with a new era comes an old face, both in the sense that it’s familiar and that it’s aging at a truly horrifying rate. Yes: it’s Stephanie McMahon. Except it’s actually Vince McMahon; Steph’s there too, but emasculating every wrestler within slapping distance is clearly doing for her the work of ten plastic surgeons and monthly sacrifices to Lucifer. Stephanie welcomes us “to history”, and it’s a sad state of affairs when a broadcasting shift is heralded with that kind of talk. Why not topple a statue of Chris McCumber while you’re acting like this is going to be an event studied by future generations? Vince welcomes us to Friday Night SmackDown, which is at least accurate, and we get the new opening credits which are…actually good enough that I’ve got nothing in the line of sneering jokes to make about them. Maybe I’m just getting old.
It’s not always good to be the King
And the show proper kicks off with Becky Lynch, making the first wrestler to appear on the new season of SmackDown the RAW Women’s Champion. Nice to see that the Wild Card Rule’s going down swinging. And speaking of things that are usually confined to the red show, Michael Cole’s on commentary now, sitting with Corey Graves. My word, it’ll be nice to hear what tired catchphrases he’ll repeat on a weekly basis from now until his final utterance of “and that is just vintage Grim Reaper”.
Becky says that SmackDown’s in her blood, along with a heady cocktail of Jameson, Guinness and whatever Seth Rollins picked up from that Nazi chick. She reminisces on how the SmackDown crowd was the first place to ever allow her to smash through the glass ceiling, and she wants to repay them tonight by beating someone senseless. That’s…nice of her?
Before she can announce her would-be victim, we are all made the victims of a royal visit by King Corbin. If he announces that he’s joining Prince Harry’s lawsuit against the British tabloids for their treatment of Meghan, then he’s my new favourite wrestler forever and ever. As an American entertainer-turned-royal, he more than anyone should be able to empathise with her. But Corbin’s got other things on his mind, which is mainly that he should be the first RAW superstar to kick off, you know, SmackDown. It actually looks like we’re about to get a fight out of this interaction, but then the Rock shows up. I’m beginning to think that the disgraceful treatment of royalty by the media isn’t going to be brought up for discussion at all.
The Rock makes his entrance, shaking hands with Becky before blanking Corbin. It would be nice if this new era finally put an end to the pattern of old legends coming back for a quick masturbatory session at the expense of active wrestlers, but I think we all know that that’s not going anywhere. Anyway, the Rock reminds everyone of how he was the first to ever coin the term “smackdown” before verbally abusing Corbin and, let’s face it, still being the best talker in the business even when he’s barely even in the business.
Finally, our skinhead monarch has had enough of this, reminding everyone that he’s the King while still being very reticent on what his actual function is in that role. I know that I keep going on about it, but I think we all sensed that King Corbin’s reign was off to a bad start when he didn’t have a real coronation. The Rock tells Corbin that King of the Ring barely means anything, then mocks his awful Game of Thrones costume, then starts a roundtable on testicles: I wish that I was joking. King Corbin describes his nards as being “perfectly adequate”, which absolutely needs to be on a t-shirt, then starts swinging wild with shots at LeBron James. If I remember A Tale of Two Cities correctly, that’s literally how the French Revolution started.
The Rock and Becky team up to embarrass Corbin more than just being the Aristocrat Formerly Known As Baron Corbin should embarrass him, then the Rock uses “STD” as a slur. It would make more sense if it was “STI”, but I’m sure people as responsible and careful as professional wrestlers have had very little experience with sexually-communicable afflictions. Also, is this the start of a right-wing push to shame wrestling fans who have active sex lives? Is the word “abortion” going to start being used by commentators to describe a match so bad that the participants are irrevocably damned to an eternity in hell? Is Gene Snitsky going to be dragged back into wrestling so he can face justice beyond being a part of WWECW? POLITICAL.
Finally dissatisfied with merely verbally abusing Corbin, the Rock and Becky square up to physically assault him as well. They smack him around for a while before the Rock drops the People’s Elbow and drops Corbin with the Rock Bottom, finishes off with a final catchphrase and celebrates with Becky. That’s certainly one way to get the crowd fired up.
We’re reminded of some of the events coming up later tonight, causing me to pause the footage so that I can have a good long laugh at the phrase “a lawsuit to be settled in a ladder match”. Wrestling is fucking mental.
Horsewomen Four-Way at WrestleMania
When we come back, it’s time for the Horsewomen Tag Team match, with Charlotte Flair joining Becky in the ring. The pyro’s still a pleasant surprise, with Becky getting smoke, Charlotte getting some sort of firecrackers and none for Sasha Banks, bye. At least she gets to share in Bayley’s terrifying horde of trapped inflatable souls. SmackDown tonight is sponsored by Progressive, presumably so that Fox can finally be associated with that word.
Charlotte starts the match off against Bayley, who gives Becky a shove in a brilliant strategic display of letting Charlotte take full advantage of that distraction. The Queen boots Bayley around in the corner, but the SmackDown Women’s Champion counters an exploder, dragging Flair over to her corner and tagging in her partner. Banks hits Charlotte with a pair of knees, only for Flair to chop her way back into the match, finally booting Sasha right off the apron.
And now Charlotte’s thinking “moonsault”, because if there’s one thing that Charlotte Flair likes to do, it’s piss away any amount of momentum and face a gruelling uphill struggle on account of one high-risk move. Charlotte Flair does not deserve nine Championship reigns. Bayley tries to stop Charlotte from climbing to the top, which technically qualifies as charity, but Flair’s determined to see this through, and that determination is probably a factor in Bayley shoving her off the top rope and into the ringside area.
After the break, Bayley is in control of Charlotte, in what should be seen by everyone as a silent yet scathing condemnation of the moonsault and every wrestler who optimistically includes it in their arsenal. The Queen finally regains some control with a boot and an elbow, tagging in Becky, who goes after Bayley like she’s a Brexiteer and Bayley’s the Irish backstop: POLITICAL. A distraction from Banks allows Bayley a brief moment of energy, but like all the Irish, Becky’s pretty tough to oppress. She tags in Flair, who hits Natural Selection to Bayley before Banks breaks up the pin. This leads to a brawl between Becky and Sasha, with the other two Horsewomen getting involved.
Charlott suplexes Bayley while Becky struggles with Sasha, finally hitting her with a dropkick. Both Bayley and Banks are on the outside, and…please tell me that she’s not going to go for another moonsault? At a certain point, which was probably two years ago, this needs to be considered a cry for help. Admittedly, she manages to connect with this moonsault, and she tosses Bayley back into the ring for the Figure Eight. The hold’s locked in, and Bayley taps out.
Solid if unspectacular, though I can well understand Becky and Sasha holding a lot back for this Sunday. 2.5 Stars.
Oh God, there’s an NFL interviewer backstage. I know nothing about this woman, but I’d feel confident stating in front of a jury that she’s never taken an interest in wrestling before in her life. She introduces the New Day as a “posse”, which might be innocent but probably isn’t, and otherwise just struggles along as best she can as Woods reveals that he and Big E won’t be at ringside with Kofi tonight.
Enough fear allows Seth Rollins limited teleportation abilities
Here’s Seth Rollins: the third RAW superstar to make an in-ring appearance on a show which has featured two SmackDown wrestlers so far. What is Wild Card will never die, but rises again, wilder and cardier. Before we can get to his match with Shinsuke Nakamura, we get another glimpse into the wholesome nightmare world of Bray Wyatt, who’s taking the time to introduce us to all his puppet friends.
But, of course, Ramblin’ Rabbit has to go back to his subversive ways, desperately warning Seth Rollins against getting into the Cell with the Fiend. As punishment for daring to speak about against this crackpot dystopia, Ramblin’ Rabbit’s placed in a cage with Mercy the Buzzard, who fucking eats him. Seth’s watching all of this in a pretty relaxed fashion for a guy who was crying like a greasy bitch when he met the Fiend on Monday night.
Anyway, once the lunacy has finished, Nakamura and Sami Zayn make their entrance. I’ll cheerfully admit that the Fiend vs. Aleister Black is my dream endgame to all of this, but a match between Bray’s darker side and Shinsuke “I’ll Stamp A Concussion Directly Into Your Brain” Nakamura would be an intriguing concept too.
The bell rings, and the match starts off at a furious pace, with Nakamura countering a lock-up attempt right into an armbar, causing Rollins to deadlift him up before powerbombing him into the corner, diving through the ropes at Shinsuke twice when his opponent rolls out to the floor. A distraction from Sami almost sees Seth eat a Kinshasa, but he recovers and fells Nakamura with a slingblade.
Rollins is elevated onto the apron; he blocks strikes from Nakamura before decking him with a flying knee and putting him down with a superkick, then stamping his foot and waiting for a chance to deliver the Curbstomp. Before he can, however, the lights start to go down, and when they come up again, Rollins has been smart enough to book it right out of the ring and up the entrance ramp, leaving a bemused Shinsuke in the ring. Unfortunately, the Fiend was on the entrance ramp, making you wonder what would have happened if Rollins had stayed in the ring. Possibly a decoy Fiend? Anyway, the dreadlocked nightmare Claws Rollins in a Mandible fashion before hurling him off the stage, then he vanishes.
Personally, I’d have hidden behind Hulk Hogan, who was shown to be in the crowd at the time. Not because I think he’d be able to protect me, but because I’d pay actual money to see the Fiend take out Hogan. I think I’d pay Bray Wyatt to take out Hulk Hogan, out of character. Would I pay a random man on the street money to assault Hulk Hogan? I’ve been advised not to answer that by my lawyer. I’m not sure what he’s doing in my apartment, but he says that he’s just saved me “a lot of trouble down the road”.
We recap the fact that SmackDown is a cold, reasonless place in which a wrongful dismissal case can somehow mutate into a ladder match, and when we come back, Kevin Owens has been jobber-entranced. Shit’s bananas tonight. Anyway, Shane makes his entrance and Kevin Owens goes mad, beating the honest fuck out of his former employer. This had better be a five minutes and done job. Don’t get me wrong: I love watching Shane McMahon risk his future mobility and quality of life, albeit in a more mean-spirited sense than I did, say, during the Attitude Era, but there’s such a thing as the willing suspension of disbelief.
Owens tries to climb the ladder, allowing Shane to hit him with side Russian leg sweep and try to climb up himself. Owens recovers, narrowly missing Shane as he hurls the ladder at him, clotheslining him to the mat. KO retrieves a ladder, allowing Shane to baseball-slide it into his face and then smack him around with it. Now Shane’s clearing off an announce table, getting ready for that flying elbow drop we all tolerate so much. Owens is draped over the table, with Shane beating him down, and then the elbow drop puts him through it. I’m trying to make this sound exciting, but there’s something about a Shane McMahon match that drains the energy from my body and the whisky from my glass.
After a break, Kevin Owens has regained control (I’d normally want to know how, but I’m willing to accept “because Kevin Owens is actually a wrestler” in this instance). Owens splashes Shane through a ladder on the outside of the ring. Corey Graves says that these two might “fight all night”, which seems both optimistic and horrifyingly cynical in equal measure. Now Kevin Owens is climbing up another ladder, but Shane McMahon apparently stole some of Wolverine’s DNA, because he’s up again and he’s got a chair. Jesus Christ, don’t ask me to take Kevin Owens seriously for the rest of his career.
After tiredly battering him with a steel chair, Shane hits Coast-to-Coast on Owens with the aid of a ladder. Now Shane’s trying to climb up another ladder as Cole asks us what Owens’ family must be thinking. Honestly, probably that their husband/father is a total bitch. Anyway, said bitch catches Shane and powerbombs him onto a ladder. Beat still my heart. He grabs the briefcase, getting rid of Shane McMahon for…shall we go ahead and guess three weeks? That seems realistic.
Literally the only good thing about this match is that the very condition that it was a symptom of is dead forever. 0 Stars.
After the match, Owens fires Shane and hits him with a stunner. I don’t seem to be able to make myself care.
We look back at twenty years of SmackDown. There are so many real wrestlers in these highlights as opposed to, you know, Shane McMahon.
Backstage, Kayla Braxton is with Paul Heyman, who is looking at her like he’s trying to work out if she’s real. He demands that she show the footage of Lesnar assaulting Rey Mysterio and beating down the biological son of his arch-enemy, Eddie Guerrero. Brock Lesnar doesn’t care what adoption papers, the legal system or a goddamn ladder match say; he wants revenge for No Way Out 2004, and this is the best way he has of getting it until Jesus finally books the rematch.
Heyman says that what happened to Rey and Dominick will happen to Kofi Kingston tonight, promising that Brock will be the new WWE Champion.
I’m getting Mayweather flashbacks
But before that, it’s time for some filler: Ziggler, Styles, Orton and Roode vs. Strowman, Heavy Machinery and the Miz. The Miz starts the match against Dolph Ziggler, proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Dolph hits the ZigZag in the opening moments, just in case you were wondering whether this would be a drawn-out, multi-act classic, but Miz catches the superkick and responds with a DDT.
Miz tags out after that less-than-stellar start, and he tags in Strowman: the WWE equivalent of using a cheat code. We get a quick avalanche of finishers from everyone, leaving Strowman and Ziggler in the ring together as everyone’s managed to take each other out. Braun charges around the room, playing a fun little game of shoulder-tackling bitches. And then he challenges Tyson Fury to a fight, which allows Ziggler to attack Strowman from behind, winning the grand prize of getting launched all over the ringside area, knocking him into Tyson Fury in the process.
Back in the ring, Braun slams Ziggler for the win. As the team celebrates, Tyson Fury tries to get in the ring, instantly getting tackled by security. Oh joy: more celebrity involvement. You know what? Let him get in the ring with Braun, Otis, Tucker and I guess the Miz too. I want to see exactly how that goes. Actually, I want to see them send out Brock Lesnar to horse-whisper Tyson into a calmer state before feeding him a sugar lump and leading him gently backstage. I think I might need to take it easy on this scotch.
WWE just tried to tell me to go and see Gemini Man. I’ve wished cancer on people for less than that.
After the break, Graves and Cole talk about how you must never jump over the barricade and get involved, despite WWE normalising, nay, celebrating that very act with Tyson Fury’s involvement. Mixed messages and also 50/50 booking, thy name is WWE.
I still believe that every wrestler should have an actual lumberjack costume for situations like this
Daniel Bryan is on commentary, still looking as though he’s trying to cosplay as Grigori Rasputin without making it suuuuuper obvious. Roman Reigns makes his entrance, revealing that a group of wrestlers with nothing to do have encircled the ring. Erick Rowan arrives, sadly not using the Bludgeon Brothers theme music, which was my jam, my preserve, and even my marmalade.
Rowan begins on the offensive, battering Reigns until the Big Dawg’s sent out of the ring. Cole acts outraged when the lumberjacks take the opportunity to beat Roman down, as though he’d expected nothing but patrician reserve from a bunch of dudes whose job description literally reads 1) don’t wear a shirt all that much and B) fight for money. Roman recovers, sending Erick out of the ring in return. The lumberjacks try to fuck around with him as well, but he’s not having any of it, smacking them away from him at every turn. Reigns pursues him to the outside, with Rowan managing to fight him off too, laying him out with a spinning kick when they’re both back in the ring.
Following the commercial break, Roman is trying to fight his way back into the match, gaining ground with each strike. A Samoan drop finally fells Rowan but only gets Reigns a two-count. Now Roman goes for the Superman punch, eating a big boot but rebounding with another Superman punch attempt, this time connecting. Both men are laid out in the centre of the ring, and Luke Harper arrives, happy to fight anyone who tries to get in his way, which in this instance is every member of the roster without a match tonight.
Bryan hurls himself at Harper, but he’s flung away almost immediately. The lumberjacks devolve into a mass brawl, which certainly should come as a surprise to anyone who’s never seen a lumberjack match before, with Roman diving out of the ring onto everyone. Rowan uses Ali as a weapon, chucking him right at Reigns before flattening him with a crossbody back in the ring. The Iron Claw is countered by Roman, who hits another Superman punch. Harper fights off two lumberjacks who are still dedicated to the match continuing, but Bryan blasts him with the running knee. Rowan looks to Iron Claw Bryan, but Reigns runs right through him with a spear, winning the match.
It might have been more effective if the Bludgeon Brothers had taken out the mid-carders together, which definitely would have been a good use of the lumberjack format, but this was still fine. 2 Stars.
Post-match, Roman and Bryan shake hands, solidifying their non-aggression pact.
I’ll be mentioning this in my suicide note
It’s main event time, with less than ten minutes to go. Well, at least we’ll have an actual match. Brock Lesnar makes his entrance, followed by Kofi Kingston, who doesn’t get the full New Day introduction; that seems like a waste with a crowd this hot.
Post-entrance announcements have apparently survived the regime change, allowing me that Big Match Feel I love and crave. Heyman does his usual exemplary job of introducing Brock, and it’s time for the first Lesnar match I’ll ever review; it’s rather exciting.
Lesnar opens with an F-5 and wins.
Fuck’s sake. -5 Stars.
And then Rey Mysterio shows up. I could not give less of a shit, because I truly doubt that Rey-Rey has any more of a chance of beating Brock than he did back in the early 2000’s, at least not without the death of a close friend that he can exploit. But he has Cain Velsquez with him, someone whom I needed to have identified for me by the commentary team, because I couldn’t have picked him out of a line-up of out-of-shape skinheads.
Vasquez gets in the ring and beats down Lesnar, forcing the NEW WWE CHAMPION to flee from the ring. I hate everything and everyone. Brock then walks back to the ring, then walks away again. I cannot believe they ended Kofi’s title reign for this. Ooh, Brock’s getting close to the ring again…and he’s walking away. Velasquez looks confused, and to be fair, I am too. I am very confused indeed, and also very angry, and definitely not drunk enough for this. I’m off to open a few bottles of wine and really try to puzzle my way through this.