Christ, but it’s hard to be a fan of WWE right now. And I’ll admit, there were moments when I was willing to be truly, insensibly optimistic about the future. I was willing to overlook the Fiend getting rushed into Championship contention, thinking that WWE might have the sheer audacity to put the belt on him and hope like hell that Wyatt would know where to take the act next. I was even hopeful that there might be a plan for Lesnar vs. Kofi beyond the blindingly obvious and, in hindsight, bleakly inevitable. Mysterio could have cost Brock the gold and provoked the Beast into fucking Dominick Guerrero/Mini Walter/Cain Velasquez’s more muscular cousin to death in Saudi Arabia; it would be a better match than Undertaker vs. Goldberg. Hell, if you’re going to ruin Kingston like that anyway, go all-in on it and have Big E and Woods cost Kofi the Championship, then ride that heartbreak all the way to a New Day Triple Threat match at WrestleMania.
Some of these plans aren’t realistic, primarily because they involve execution by violent sodomy (it’s the only kind Brock knows), but my point is that WWE had myriad options that weren’t…well, this. The Fiend holding the title wasn’t something that WWE knew how to handle, but if they’d waited a year, letting him pile up body after body until the one un-Mandibled man left standing just so happened to be the Universal Champion, it would have been the perfect finale to a reign of terror and, more importantly, WWE would have had an entire year to work out how to make the Fiend + the Universal Championship = the best thing ever. Kofi didn’t have to retain the Championship, but there could have been a personal storyline waiting for him as a result of that loss, rather than what seems guaranteed to be an immediate demotion to the Tag Team Division with every memory of a six-month title reign fading faster with each passing day.
Usually, I’d say that I never expect much from WWE, but that’s giving them too easy an out. I expect incredible things from WWE. They have some amazing athletes at their beck and call. They have the ability to plan long-running, interconnected and intertwining storylines out for months in advance. They have a cast of characters with enough personality disorders that they make Arkham Asylum look positively staid. Saying that they don’t have the creativity, the intellect or the ambition to do better than they’re doing is not an excuse, because they have the money to hire people that do. Shit, I’d do it; an eighteen-year fascination with professional wrestling and an MA and Ph.D. in Creative Writing feels like a winning combination for that particular role. But WWE needs to start doing better because, as it stands now, we’re owed something of an apology.
Also, WWE 2K20 looks like someone ate and then shat out WWE 2K19.
I feel better for having said that.
The show begins, and it feels ghoulish that Kofi Kingston is now portrayed so prominently. We’ve got Bayley’s new haircut featured, so surely there’s the option to show Kofi getting kicked to death by WWE Creative, all in the interests of transparency.
I genuinely forgot that Reigns had been the Intercontinental Champion before
And the show’s kicking off with an Intercontinental Championship match, with the challenger being none other than Roman Reigns, who’s done a sterling job of putting any and all attempts on his tattooed, canine-esque life behind him. WWE proudly and prominently displays the fact that Roman has headlined four straight WrestleManias as the Big Dawg makes his way to the ring, because we’re not even allowed to forget unpleasant facts in this brave new world of sports entertainment.
Michael Cole states that many people backstage are angered by Roman being the number one pick of the draft, but considering that Reigns has faced multiple assassination attempts for just being himself (assassination attempts for which there were multiple plausible suspects), I really don’t think that things can get much worse for him, popularity-wise.
Anyway, Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn dance their way to the ring. I can’t help but notice that there are no post-entrance announcements (alas, poor Big Match Feel. I knew him, Horatio), and the bell rings. The pair tie up, already making this a more competitive outing than the last WWE Championship match. They end up in the corner, with the referee forcing a break. Sami’s on commentary, so we get to enjoy long shots of his face, uninterrupted by, for example, the wrestling match we tuned in to see.
Nakamura manages to gain the upper hand during one of these sustained, loving gazes at Mr. Zayn, but Roman’s power allows him to fight back, eventually planting Shinsuke with a Samoan Drop. Nakamura rolls out of the ring, and Sami moves to aid him. Roman attempts a Drive-By, only for Zayn to drag Nakamura out of his path, allowing Shinsuke to blast Reigns with a huge kick as we go into the commercial break.
When we return, Nakamura has Reigns trapped in a headlock. Reigns manages to get to his feet, elbowing his way free. Shinsuke tries to take back control with a dive, but Roman manages to deck him in mid-air. Now Reigns is on the warpath, blasting the Intercontinental Champion with a barrage of clotheslines before nailing him with a big boot. Roman wants the Superman Punch, only for Nakamura to catch him, locking him into an armbar, transitioning swiftly into a triangle choke. Reigns counters by deadlifting Nakamura into a sit-out powerbomb, almost picking up the win right there.
Roman retreats to the corner, now wanting either the Superman Punch or the Spear, neither of which offer a lot of future for Shinsuke’s Championship career. Zayn leaps up on the apron for a distraction, allowing Nakamura to catch an unaware Reigns with a sliding German suplex. One day, in a far-off, magical world, someone is not going to fall for that. Nakamura wants the Kinshasa, but this time it’s Roman who counters a finishing move, catching Shinsuke full in the face with a Superman Punch for a near-fall.
Roman wants a spear, but suddenly King Corbin appears, jabbing him with his sceptre. Oh God, this is going to be uninspired.
Not a bad match, but if you’re going to have it end like this, at least act as if Roman might become the Intercontinental Champion: build a program over a couple of weeks, or do the same ending but for a number one contender’s match for the WWE Championship. 2 Stars.
Corbin hits Roman with the Deep Six. I hope that’s not his main finisher now. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but the End of Days is one of my absolute favourite moves. Before anything worse than, well, this storyline can happen, Daniel Bryan dashes into the ring, taking on both Corbin and Shinsuke, low-bridging His Royal Baldness to the outside. If this leads to a Bryan/Nakamura feud, then I’ll sit through as many Corbin promos as I have to.
Bryan clears the ring, but Zayn prevents him from diving out onto Nakamura because NXT guys stick together. This allows Shinsuke to blast Bryan with a Kinshasa. Dear Christ, it’s the next iteration of Corbin, McIntyre and Lashley. Why is Corbin so dedicated to forming three-man stables which exist purely to get Reigns over? And, if he’s going to do that, why can’t he, Drew and Jinder at least become the second generation of 3MB?
The New Day is backstage, with Kofi’s days of being World Champion blissfully forgotten. That Power of Positivity is some potent shit. Heavy Machinery are there to make them some protein pancakes, which at least allows me to see two of my favourite teams interact.
Elsewhere backstage (in fairness, there is a lot of it), Corbin is trying to walk and smirk at the same time and doing a bad job of both. Kayla stops him to ask if there is at least a rationale to this: the latest act forming one small part of his serious dedication to being a complete and utter dickhead. Corbin puts on his crown, smirks once again and walks away. Regal.
If you’re going to let him pick his own nickname, at least have him call himself “Big Dick Gable”
Here’s Chad Gable (I’m not calling him “Shorty”), and WWE actually plays a short film to explain how this nickname came about. I’m not sure why they felt it was necessary to emasculate one of their talents in order to explain a very simple concept, but if I had the collective wisdom and intellect of WWE’s top minds inside my head, I truly doubt that I’d be able to feed and clothe myself.
So, Chad is facing Curtis Axel, which is one way to build a promising talent. It’s a bad way, admittedly, but still better than making his entire character short joke which, as you may have noticed, WWE are also doing.
The match is your typical pointless affair: Gable gets beaten down a little by Axel, then builds some momentum, counters some interference from Dallas and makes Axel tap.
I’ve known primary school bullies that couldn’t get this much mileage out of short jokes. 1.5 Stars.
Gable is interviewed after the match, and he makes what I assume someone thought was an inspiring speech about being yourself. I’d respect him a lot more if he’d told people that making a short joke about him is giving him permission to shatter their ankles and drop them onto their heads repeatedly. Having him stand up and say that he likes who he is and no-one can make him feel bad about it actually makes me want to see him get the shit kicked out of him by everyone who’s made fun of him, which is what I always want when the underdog is also a grating pile of earnestness.
He also calls himself “Shorty G” which, in my ideal reality, would earn him an appointment with a firing squad.
If you care about Team Hogan vs. Team Flair, you’re an idiot, but this segment is also for you. Team Hogan has only two members on it, presumably because while you can pay a fair section of the locker room to fight for a nigh-crippled, elephant-skinned racist, or to travel to the human rights black site of Saudi Arabia, you apparently can’t pay them enough to do both at once.
Hulk Hogan is in touch with the show via Skype, presumably because he wants to erase memories of the last time he was recorded as well as the memories of his last WWE match. He claims that he’s got all the talent he needs, two of whom are Chad Gable and Mustafa Ali. If this is Hogan’s attempt to be a father figure, hopefully he’ll remember to teach Ali and Gable not to drink and drive.
Otis is one clothing malfunction away from a new Attitude Era
Heavy Machinery and the New Day make their way to the ring, ready to take on the Revival, Ziggler, and Roode. This is all circling the “Best Tag Team in the World” tournament that’s taking place in Saudi Arabia, which means about as much as the “Greatest Royal Rumble” and considerably less than the “Best in the World” tournament, seeing as how that one actually managed to knock some years off my life expectancy from sheer anger.
Tucker and Dolph start off first, grappling against the ropes before Ziggler lays in with some strikes and a dropkick. Knight returns one of his own before tagging in Otis for a double-team. Roode tries to interfere, but he only ends up receiving a suplex alongside Ziggler.
Now Big E enters the match, working with Otis to wishbone Ziggler’s legs before belly-to-belly suplexing the Revival out of the ring, with Woods diving out onto the SmackDown Tag Team Champions. Xavier next dashes at Roode, but he’s caught by a Spinebuster/ZigZag double-team, laying him out at ringside.
Following a commercial break, Dash Wilder has Woods in a headlock. He takes a back suplex from a vulnerable Woods, but Dawson opportunistically tags in, doing his best to keep the New Day member contained. Xavier fights back, swinging at everyone both in and out of the ring, finally felling Dawson with an enzuigiri. Roode and Ziggler run interference, taking out Woods’ partners before a tag can be made, allowing the Revival to put Xavier down with another double-team.
Dolph tags in now, and he takes Woods up to the top rope for a superplex. Xavier counters, throwing some hands into Ziggler’s ribs before headbutting him right back down to the mat. A beautiful missile dropkick takes out Dolph, and Woods manages to tag in Otis, who charges into the ring, laying waste to everything like…well, an absurdly strong, mostly nude, hairy man. That is a very accurate simile.
Scott Dawson makes a blind tag as Otis demolishes Roode and Ziggler. The Caterpillar connects to Roode, and then Otis catches Dawson. Dolph interrupts the Trash Compactor, dragging Knight out of the ring as the Revival put down Otis for a near-fall. A suplex attempt to Otis by Dawson is reversed, with the Heavy Machinery member placing Dawson on Big E’s shoulders. One Midnight Hour later, and the New Day pick up the pin.
An entertaining match with some solid tag team strategy. I’d be happy to see either the New Day or Heavy Machinery taking on the Revival in a Championship capacity. 2.5 Stars.
Daniel Bryan, who is teaming with Reigns later tonight to take on Nakamura and King Corbin, is getting interviewed by Kayla. He’s pretty fired up for his first match on Friday Night SmackDown, and that’s basically all the information we get from that exchange.
Mustafa Ali’s making videos again, except now he’s apparently more about breaking down barriers and shedding labels than, you know, confronting evil. Maybe he’s changed his priorities since the Fiend wound up on the same show as him.
Bayley’s hairstyle is like an homage to AJ Styles
It’s Miz TV time, because God knows we need to talk about Bayley’s new haircut. Miz introduces Bayley, whose villainous entrance music is a solid piece of work. Sasha’s there too, because she’s still bad at winning Championships on PPVs. Sasha and Bayley start by reminding us that Bayley is now the first-ever female Grand Slam Champion, which I assume includes the Tag belts plus the RAW, SmackDown and NXT Women’s Championships.
But the Miz ain’t here to talk about accolades; he’s here to talk about the murder of inflatables and children crying on Twitter. You know: the real stories. We’re shown a video package demonstrating Bayley’s descent into douchebaggery, and the Miz asks her why. It’s like the man’s forgotten that his entire personality, for over ten years, could have been summarised by the word “prick”.
Bayley says that she owes no-one an explanation, which is a weird stance to take when appearing on a talk show. The Miz continues to lambast Bayley, like he’s some beacon of morality as opposed to a man so depraved that he once resurrected half of the Spirit Squad to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Sasha starts using the draft as a means to insult the Miz, and somewhere the Wild Card rule is laughing. But the Miz seems determined to start a feud with the holder of a Championship he can’t hold, continuing to insult Bayley for her quarter-life crisis.
Bayley finally offers an explanation for her change of heart, which would mean more if it was genuine as opposed to something casually glued together in some writers’ room. Basically, the fans weren’t there for her, so she realised that she had to do it herself as opposed to, you know, wondering if there’s a reason that people stopped supporting her. She claims that the Women’s Division lacks passion and that she’s outgrown them. She follows this up by literally saying “life sucks and then you die”. First Shorty G and now this.
Nikki Cross makes her presence known at this point. I’d ask why, but Bayley’s middle school nihilism has sapped my will to live, which isn’t even the point of nihilism. Nikki tells Bayley that the time for talking is done, promising to win the six-pack challenge and become the new number one contender. As fighting talk goes, I’ve felt more threatened when a Glaswegian has shaken my hand and said that it’s nice to meet me. She’s interrupted by Dana Brooke, who claims that she’s done being underutilised and overlooked. If she’d been a little more realistic, I’d have called her an optimist. As it is, I’ll settle for “idiot”.
Lacey Evans is up next, walking to the ring and fanning herself as we go to commercials. When we return, everyone is in the ring, making this a match between Nikki, Dana, Lacey, Sonya, Mandy and Carmella. The action kicks off as Lacey immediately steps out of the ring and everyone else starts smacking each other around. Sonya and Mandy are relying on their alliance early on, punishing first Carmella and then Nikki.
Cross fights back, gutsy little psychopath that she is, but Fire and Desire’s alliance make it a tough ask, and Nikki rolls out of the ring, prompting Sonya and Mandy to head out of the ring to take their various issues out on Carmella. Brooke suddenly crossbodies both Fire and Desire, with Lacey Evans taking her out in turn. Nikki Cross blasts Lacey with a kick, and Carmella dives off the barricade onto half of the match’s participants.
After another break, Fire and Desire have regained control of the match, currently subduing Carmella. The former 24/7 Champion isn’t making it easy for them, and she manages to overcome the joint offence as the rest of the talent joins the match. The action comes thick and fast, with the advantage shifting from wrestler to wrestler every few seconds, which is a really complimentary way of saying that I can’t cover everything that’s going on in this match.
Dana gets her time to shine, powerbombing Lacey before hitting a senton bomb to the Sassy Southern Secessionist. Moments later, Mandy and Carmella are teeing off with each other, and Carmella applies the Code of Silence, only for Sonya to make the save. Everyone piles into the ring, laying each other out with a volley of signature moves. Finally, Nikki catches Mandy with a neckbreaker, picking up the win and the number one contendership.
I enjoyed this one: between smart wrestling from Mandy and Sonya, the action was hectic and constantly changing. Nikki’s a smart choice to go down fighting first against the new Bayley; what’ll be interesting is seeing who eventually gets chosen to dethrone her. 3 Stars.
Did you know that Braun Strowman’s really strong? Because WWE thinks you might have forgotten, so they’ve prepared a video package to hype up a man who’s going to lose to Tyson Fury next Thursday.
We also relive Seth Rollins doing the exact opposite of what you’d expect a man called “The Architect” to do. He’s literally got -1 structures to his name now. He owes us two buildings before he can call himself an architect again.
At least Fury vs. Strowman will have fewer concussions than Undertaker vs. Goldberg
Here’s Braun Strowman, who tonight is facing Drew Gulak. This seems like it’s not going to be good for either of them. Drew begins by requesting the chance to introduce himself before his first match on SmackDown, claiming to be the number one combat sports historian in the world without offering any evidence. Then again, the day a wrestler’s word no longer means anything is the day I stop reviewing these shows.
Gulak warns Braun that he needs to change his strategy if he wants to take on Tyson Fury, and he’s got literally 345 powerpoint slides to show Braun how. I think Matt Striker might just have been the victim of gimmick infringement. Before we can see any of the presentation, Braun begins flinging Gulak about before running a boot into his face. In Strowman’s defence, I’ve felt like doing that during the fourth hour of an academic conference.
Strowman continues to murder Gulak, displaying much more intensity than we’ve seen of late. Hopefully that’s a good sign, or at the very least it might impress people backstage and they might give him a fucking championship. A running powerslam finishes the match.
If you’re going to do a squash match, have it be visually impressive, which this was. 2 Stars.
Corey and Michael shill WWE 2K20, which doesn’t even have ’98 Kane on its roster. I’ll admit to initially looking forward to this game, because God knows I thought it might be the first wrestling game in years with a decent story mode, but it looks like I’ll be going another year without dropping £50 on a 2K title. Besides, I doubt anything could compare to the surrealist nightmare of a storyline I encountered in 2K18‘s MyCareer mode.
I miss Rusev and Nakamura’s quirky, international friendship
Daniel Bryan, King Corbin and Shinsuke Nakamura make their way to the ring. Before Roman Reigns arrives, it’s announced that he is now the Captain of Team Hogan: news of such momentous import that it receives zero reaction from the crowd.
Reigns starts off by smacking Corbin around, then tags in Bryan so that he can get in on this fun new hobby that he’s discovered. Before Bryan can concuss the latest addition to WWE’s royal family, Shinsuke Nakamura tags himself in for a little sample of a dream match. Bryan takes the fight to him too, but a distraction from Zayn allows Nakamura to knock Bryan into a commercial break.
When we return, His Royal Corbinness is beating down Bryan before he takes a swing at Roman. Bryan counters a double back suplex attempt, clearing Corbin out of the ring before managing to regain some momentum against Nakamura. Reigns wants the tag and, from the look on his face, an orgasm, but Corbin drags him off the apron and tosses him into the steel steps. What a cocktease.
As Nakamura drives fist after fist into Bryan’s face, Corbin sets Roman’s head on one portion of the steel steps and picks up the other half. Oh God, who told Corbin that he was allowed to execute wrestlers? Is that one of the perks of King of the Ring? Thankfully, the threat of disqualification by the referee is enough to stop Corbin from committing murder, which is a sentence I didn’t expect to have to write today. He abandons his homicidal tendencies just in time to eat a boot in the face from Bryan, who then reverses a roll-up attempt from Shinsuke into a crossface.
Corbin manages to make the save, stomping on Bryan as is his royal wont. Bryan dodges a charge; Corbin slips out of the ring, is intercepted by a Superman Punch and then speared through the barricade! Bryan tries to kick his way through Nakamura’s chest before attempting to kick his head right into the crowd. A running knee is countered with a knee of Shinsuke’s own, but Bryan ducks the Kinshasa, hitting the finisher on his second pass for the win.
A good main event, particularly the ending. I do wonder if Bryan and Roman’s partnership is going anywhere, or if this was more a way of moving Bryan towards the Intercontinental Championship. 3 Stars.