It’s a new year, yes it is. I’ve finally emerged from my Christmas chrysalis of hard alcohol (I’d like to proffer my extreme gratitude to Santa Claus for the bottle of Glenfiddich), and now it’s time to be productive, be better and, most importantly, be enraged by whatever nonsense the SmackDown portion of WWE dares throw at me.
Shall we see how long that takes?
Thankfully, the episode begins with a recap, because even the sirensong of Corbin vs. Miz vs. Bryan wasn’t enough to make me sober and decent for a couple of hours during the Christmas holidays. Bryan won, presumably on account of something called “a coherent narrative”: a rare beast in WWE. Also, Roman Reigns did his whole “angry badass” routine again, which I’ve noticed only ever seems to happen when I’m not reviewing the show. I know that correlation doesn’t prove causation, but I’ve got enough inherent narcissism to assume that by writing these reviews for the past several years, I’ve helped to make Reigns the neutered, hapless incompetent that we’ve become so wearily familiar with.
I’ve also got to give a shout-out to the Miz for having the weirdest detective career I’ve ever seen. How many times in all of crime has a missing person reemerged only to assault the detective tasked with finding them, then go on a vendetta after their original kidnapper? I’m going to say that it must have happened at least once, because we live in a world with Florida in it, but it’s the kind of thing that I would expect from Sherlock season four (which, just so that we’re all absolutely clear on this point, means “shit”).
Anyway, we join Bryan backstage where he’s taping up his wrists, I can only imagine in preparation for a fairly intense wank. Before he can drop trou and start getting groovy, the Miz arrives, wearing this week’s hottest “Nightclub Magician” look. The Miz ain’t best pleased, and he starts channeling Al Pacino, which unfortunately does not mean that he aggressively kisses Bryan before telling him that he broke his heart (in my view, an incredibly strong way to start the first SmackDown of the decade), but rather by making sure that Bryan knows exactly where his wife and children sleep, which is probably the sort of thing you should avoid if being victimised by a masked pervert.
But the Miz’s plans for revenge have been derailed somewhat by a man who lost to the Fiend recently defeating him last week, which one would think would make the Miz consider the viability of his approach. Maybe taking on Wyatt in a wrestling match isn’t the way to go on this one, especially not when you’re apparently allowed to attempt murder backstage and never hear a whisper from the cops (for further details, see Erick Rowan, Baron Corbin, Vince McMahon, Kane, the Undertaker, Heidenreich, and Gene Snitsky, who once dropkicked a fucking baby into a crowd). So, the Miz tells Bryan that he’d best defeat the Fiend at the Royal Rumble while he goes and buys a gun or something.
100 Stars if Lacey references Pearl Harbour or Hiroshima during the Tag Team Championship feud
Meanwhile, it’s Bawss Time, featuring Bayley. We’re told that Bayley’s held the SmackDown Women’s Championship longer than anyone in history, because someone had to make it past that three-month mark eventually. This is a Triple Threat Women’s Tag Team match, but first Bayley has some words to say, and those words could accurately be summed up as “people bad, Bayley good”. She claims that the people attending a wrestling show on January 3rd don’t have what it takes to make a positive change in their lives, which is the kind of honesty that people attending a wrestling show on January 3rd don’t appreciate.
And apparently Bayley’s list of New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t include “have a compelling feud” because she brings up Lacey “Mother and Marine” Evans. This brings Lacey herself out, with Dana Brooke as her back-up blonde. Evans accuses Bayley and Sasha of not being able to keep her daughter’s name out of their mouths, which is weird considering that they’d not actually mentioned her before Lacey showed up. If you’re going to open with complete non-sequitur, at least tell people that they fight like a dairy farmer.
Lacey then rambles on about her daughter for a while. I know nothing about Evans Junior, and I’m sure that she’s a wonderful person, but I’ve practically been waterboarded by references to her to the point that I’ve just sort of started to dislike her. Apparently Lacey’s New Year’s Resolution is to show everyone that a lack of wrestling ability is no barrier to holding a Championship, and she heads to the ring, followed by Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross.
Bliss and Cross say that they’ve got no personal stake in this fight; they just want to get their Tag Team Championships back. And just like that, they’re my favourite team.
The match kicks off with Lacey Evans awkwardly trying to wrestle Sasha, then awkwardly trying to wrestle Nikki. Brooke tags in, because sometimes wrestling’s better when both of the two people in the ring know how to wrestle. Cross works over Brooke before tagging in Bliss. Dana and Alexa play reverse-and-counter, neither of them gaining an advantage before Banks blind-tags Dana, who Bayley then drags out of the ring.
Bliss takes out Bayley on the outside before turning her attention to Sasha, managing to stagger her with a flurry of offence culminating in a dropkick. Banks elevates Bliss onto the outside before tagging in Bayley, and that tag allows Bayley to take advantage of Alexa from the outside, quickly gaining control of the match. Sasha ensures that Bayley stays on top with a kick to Bliss from the apron, then she tags in to keep the pressure on Alexa.
A jawbreaker allows Bliss some separation, and she’s able to toss both Bayley and then Banks into Lacey and Dana, with Nikki hurling herself off the top rope onto the lot of them as we head into a commercial break. When we return, Dana Brooke has sent both Banks and Bayley into a corner, nailing them with a handspring elbow before handing out suplexes to all comers. The action starts to break down as everyone storms into the ring, with Sasha and Bayley managing to double-team Brooke, seizing control of the match once again.
Brooke gets worked over by the team formerly known as the Boss and Hug Connection, with the occasional cheap shot to Evans. Dana tries to fight out of the corner with a boot, but a suplex from Banks puts her down once again. Brooke finally counters Banks to hit a suplex of her own, enzuigiris Bayley and tags in Lacey to drastically bring down the quality of this match.
Lacey hits some sloppy offence to Bayley, fighting for all those brave men and women who are about to get shipped off to the Middle East again. Some interference from Sasha allows Bayley to catch Evans with a Bayley-to-Belly, but both Bliss and Brooke dive into the ring to break up the cover. Banks and Bayley clear Alexa and Nikki out of the ring before turning their attention to Lacey, who counters a double-team to allow Brooke to tag herself in.
A Woman’s Right connects, followed by a terrible senton from Dana, and Asuka and Kairi breathe a sigh of relief as the least-credible team gets the win. Then again, I thought Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton was going to be a squash match and look how that turned out.
I know that she’s blonde and attractive, which is all you need to be a successful woman in Vince’s world, but Lacey Evans should be sprayed with water every time she gets remotely close to a Championship. 2 Stars.
And in the latest lap of his race to the bottom, Dolph Ziggler is in a feud revolving around cake. Backstage, Mandy tries to console Otis, but Tucker arrives to cockblock his friend.
Elsewhere backstage, the New Day try to cheer up the Miz and distract him from the fact that his family is in constant danger from a masked psychopath. But the Miz will just not get off that topic, asking Kofi if he knows what it feels like to have his family threatened, even though Randy Orton provided that service as part of Kofi’s WWE Champion experience. Miz tips the New Day’s pancakes onto the floor, leading Kofi to challenge him to a match tonight.
And Elias is in the ring. I wish I could summon up more enthusiasm, but I genuinely preferred Bad News Barrett to these little segments. This seems to be nothing more than canvassing for the upcoming Royal Rumble, and I’ll admit that I do like a variation on the theme of everyone tossing each other out of the ring for the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Revival are starting to reflect on their position in WWE, which is the sort of thought process that leads to drug abuse and suicide. Gable arrives to tell them not to think about it, but rather to accept their situation without reflection. Kind of a dark twist on motivational speaking, but it leads to a wrestling match so it’s all good.
How dare the Revival wish for relevance?
And that match is now, pitting muscular infant Shorty G against Randy Orton’s erstwhile protege, Dash Wilder. According to his little information graphic, Dash comes from a place called “Kill Devil Hills”, which manages to be a more cringe-worthy name than “Dash Wilder”. During this match, Scott Dawson is on commentary, trying to convince us that he has a personality. I’d love to say what’s going on in the match, but the cameraman and editors are clearly infatuated with the bald Revival member, devoting positive minutes at a time to footage of the man just sitting there and talking.
During one of our brief, distracted glances at the ring, we’re fortunate enough to see Wilder take Gable down off the top rope with a back suplex. He locks in a rear chinlock, then goes for a second back suplex, only for Shorty G to slip out of his clutches, hitting a volley of strikes before taking Wilder out of the ring with a cross body.
Back inside the ring, a flying crossbody is reversed into a cover by Wilder, who also reverses an ankle lock into another cover. Gable attempts a roll-up of his own, getting a near-fall, then another ankle lock forces a tap.
This was a fine match, other than the cameraman’s attempts to gain Scott Dawson’s attentions/affections. 2.5 Stars.
The Revival hit the Shatter Machine on Gable post-match, setting up Sheamus’ return. He chases off the Revival then hits Shorty G with a Brogue Kick. Looks like we’re getting another iteration of the Daniel Bryan/Big Cass feud, in case you were super-into that for some reason.
Wyatt just had to wait until Cena left to debut his “everyone who feuds with me turns heel” gimmick
Here comes Kofi Kingston, who’ll make the Miz learn the New Day’s positive ways by force. The Miz, who’s apparently not so concerned about his family to not dress up as a cross between a Naruto character and dildo, makes his way out of the ring, and the latest version of every Intercontinental and US Championship match of the mid-2000’s begins now.
Kofi wins the first exchange, having a laugh at Miz’s expense before knocking him down again and taking him over with a monkey flip. This seems to irk the Miz just a little, who starts wrestling more aggressively, which really means he just runs faster into Kofi’s back elbow. Miz tosses Kofi to the outside, misses a kick through the ropes and then has Kingston fake him out with a dive.
The Miz lays into Kofi with some hard kicks, grounding the former WWE Champion. A Trouble in Paradise outta nowhere is countered into a Figure Four attempt, which is fought off, and now the Miz hits running knees to Kofi in the corner. The last knee is reversed with a kick from Kofi, who begins to build momentum with a flying right hand and a Boom Drop. A second Trouble in Paradise attempt is countered, as is Miz’s neckbreaker, and the two men trade reversals until Kofi pulls out the win with a roll-up.
As much as I make fun of the fact we’ve seen countless versions of this match, it’s still very watchable and I enjoyed it. 2.5 Stars.
The Miz attacks Kofi after the match until Big E runs him off. You could blame this all on the Fiend’s influence if it weren’t for the fact that 90% of Miz’s career has seen him pull shit exactly like this.
Backstage, Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns are towering over Cathy Kelly as they answer questions. Bryan says that what’s happening to the Miz has happened to everyone who’s faced the Fiend: a mental break. He promises to win the Universal Championship from the Fiend, prompting Roman, in a stunning display of his people skills, to promise to win the Royal Rumble and take Bryan’s Championship. Outstanding.
In all fairness, you should kill anyone who tries to make you sit through a PowerPoint
Heavy Machinery are here in an attempt to emotionally work through the Assassination of Otis’ Cake by the Coward Dolph Ziggler. Remember when wrestling was just about Championships, betrayal and Triple H simulating rape on a mannequin while dressed up as you?
Before we can see that, we’re shown backstage, where Cathy Kelly knocks on the Miz’s door and is greeted by the lovechild of Billy Ray Cyrus and John Morrison, which is to say John Morrison in the year 2020. How the mighty and extremely attractive have fallen. The Miz has also apparently employed him as his doorman; is he going to make him call himself “Johnny Nitro” again, or is that where Morrison’s pride kicks in?
Anyway, we’re back with Heavy Machinery, and apparently WWE has decided that the best solution to the emotional torment that Otis has found himself in is to throw Drew Gulak out there so the big lug can murder and fuck his way back to happiness.
Drew Gulak tries to show Otis a PowerPoint presentation, and Otis reacts to it the way that anyone who makes “blue-collar” a large segment of their personality typically responds to being presented with knowledge: with aggression and violence. As this goes on, Dolph Ziggler is backstage, trying to persuade Mandy Rose to sniff a chloroform-soaked rag while Sonya DeVille looks on, reflecting on how exhausting being straight in WWE must be.
Otis wins with a splash, in case you were interested. I really wasn’t.
This was just sort of there, though I’m all in favour of Otis/Heavy Machinery getting a real feud. 1 Star.
Braun will strength you all to death
And now we’re getting Braun Strowman vs. Cesaro: a match I never knew I wanted but would now happily die for. If this could run for ten or so minutes without any interference, that’d be a solid start to 2020, thanks.
Apparently Cesaro’s entrance is trying to tell us that we’re all a part of the Matrix. His graphic also informs me that he speaks six “unique” languages. I have never heard anyone use that phrase. Did someone try to find another word for “different” and massively fuck up? Does Cesaro in fact speak six languages that are spoken only by him, because that’s what unique indicates to me. What a shitshow.
Cesaro is accompanied by Sami Zayn and Nakamura, which doesn’t do much for my hopes of a clean match. The bout begins with a shoving contest between the two men, powering each other around the ring. Cesaro then latches on a headlock before running into a wall made of solid Strowman, but he doesn’t slow down, trying to batter away at each part of Braun before the Monster Among Men charges into him with a shoulder tackle and throws him across the ring.
Strowman squashes Cesaro into the corner, then gets hung up on the ropes. This only irritates Braun, who knocks him right into the barricade as we go to a commercial break. When we return, Cesaro has been trying to wear Braun down with a sleeper, allowing Shinsuke a kick to the skull when the Swiss Cyborg distracts the referee. Cesaro flies off the top rope, right into Braun’s hands, but he’s able to turn a powerslam attempt into a sleeper hold, once again sapping Strowman’s strength before getting levelled with a side slam.
A woozy Braun goes on the offensive, pausing to swat Nakamura off the apron before charging into Cesaro again. He decides to go for a run around the ring, knocking down both Cesaro and Nakamura, then Cesaro again. Meanwhile, Sami Zayn has hidden underneath the ring apron, because he is a treasure that must be protected. Inside, Strowman wants a powerslam; Zayn darts into the ring for a distraction, causing Braun to drop Cesaro, who drives Strowman’s shoulder into the turnbuckle. He teases the Neutraliser, which I would have loved to see, but a running powerslam ends the match.
I’m not sure if you can call it a clean match, but I’ll absolutely take it. Braun’s selling and Cesaro’s strategy were on point, and if life was fair, this would lead to bigger things for both men. 2.5 Stars.
Right after the match, Nakamura blasts Strowman with a Kinshasa, putting him down for the count. Shinsuke has to be dragged from the ring by Zayn, looking murderous the whole time. Consider me sold on the upcoming title match.
“Day One Ish” is code for “driving under the influence”
Before the main event, we’re reminded that Roman Reigns and King Corbin have been feuding together for a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very long time. I’m hoping that the length of this programme is in order to match the intensity of its distant climax, which will involve Roman Reigns first removing and then making violent, sloppy love to the head of Baron Corbin in a manner that Al Snow himself would describe as “a little weird”.
Bryan and Roman make their way to the ring. I’m trying not to see Bryan as a buffer that’s keeping Reigns and Wyatt apart, but I am terrified that Reigns is going to win the Rumble and beat Wyatt. I would literally prefer another Lesnar/Reigns match that ends with Brock winning after seventeen F-5s and pinfall attempts in a row. I’m not joking. I wouldn’t joke about this, because I’m not a psychopath.
Speaking of psychopaths, here’s Dolph Ziggler. I’ve nothing to base that on, but if I was him, I think my lack of World Championships compared to my years in the industry would be causing a bit of mental stress. And here’s King Corbin, whose crown looks like it was made out of leftover material used to form Nakamura’s new title. The match starts, and apparently Corbin is back to shielding his slack, doughy body with a full-on t-shirt. Well, anything beats the shirt and waistcoat look.
Reigns smacks Corbin around for a while, which isn’t the definition of “cathartic” but is a decent visual example. After dealing with both Corbin and Ziggler for a while, Roman tags in Bryan, who I like to imagine has been wondering why people have not shut up about dog food recently. He knocks Ziggler out of the ring before the lights flicker and Wyatt’s laughter plays and…why would you go to commercial then?
We’re back from commercials and no-one’s dead, which WWE has conditioned me to believe could actually happen when Wyatt’s sniffing around. Roman is in control too, so apparently Bray’s distraction was the only thing keeping Corbin and Ziggler from being summarily beaten during the break. A distraction from Dolph allows the King to hit the Deep Six.
Ziggler tags in after Roman gets a violent trip around the ringside area. He mostly just yells at Reigns, because why bother with physical activity when you’re never going to get a World Championship out of it? He gets smacked in the face for his efforts but regains control for long enough to tag in King Corbin, who does some of the heavy lifting before eating a Superman Punch that, in a just and fair world, would have killed his brain and made him a vegetable.
Roman tags in Bryan, who hits Ziggler with a barrage of kicks before taking him down with a top-rope hurricanrana. More kicks to the chest follow, but Dolph ducks the final blow to his head, attempting a roll-up that’s turned into the LaBell Lock. Corbin breaks up the hold, trying to chokeslam Bryan before eating a spear from Roman, who turns around into a superkick from Ziggler. Dolph tries to capitalise on the cleared ring, attempting to ZigZag Bryan before the Number One Contender levels him with a Running Knee.
And the lights go out.
When they come back up, the Fiend is at ringside. Bryan, never one to think of a Plan B when Plan A is “kick a bitch to death”, dives through the ropes at the Fiend. It’s not very effective, but at least he didn’t get Sister Abigailed this time. A brawl breaks out, with Bryan trying to hold off the Fiend before he’s hurled bodily through the barricade, with the Fiend applying the Mandible Claw to finish the job.
The Fiend vanishes and the lights come back up. No-one says it, but one has to assume that the match ended in a DQ. Roman tries to check on Bryan, but he’s jumped by Ziggler and Corbin and…fuck me, we’ve got handcuffs and dog food. This is why I make jokes, if they even are jokes at this stage, about Corbin receiving an injury that either kills or paralyzes him. Because I’m still allowed to dream.
And then the Usos arrive, and I only hope that someone else drove them to the stadium. They lay out Dolph Ziggler with superkicks, then they square up to King Corbin like he’s a police officer who’s pulled them over for driving under the influence. Another pair of superkicks and a dive over the top rope take out Corbin and Dolph, and then the Usos, not exactly strangers to handcuffs, free Roman.
Graves asks who Roman could rely on more than the Usos and, you know, maybe someone you can rely on not to drive after a few drinks.
If the Usos chain Corbin up and pour beer over him instead of dog food, this might have all been worth it.
I think that’s enough.
Which is what both of the Usos should have said before deciding to drive a car.
Okay, I’ll stop.
Said the Usos after seeing red and blue lights in their rearview mirror.
Tags: Alexa Bliss, bayley, Bray Wyatt, Chad Gable, Dana Brooke, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Drew Gulak, Elias, Heavy Machinery, King Corbin, Kofi Kingston, Lacey Evans, Mandy Rose, Nikki Cross, Roman Reigns, sasha banks, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown, Sonya Deville, The Miz, The New Day, The Revival, the usos, WWE