Aw man, Friday the 13th and SmackDown is taking place in the Performance Centre because of the coronavirus. My living situation and daily routine mean that this is the most impact that COVID-19 has had on my life so far, and it’ll be interesting to see an entire show of empty arena matches. There’s probably a bunch of cool ideas that WWE could do with this scenario, but I bet that they will make no attempt at a single one of them.
At least he didn’t promise to see the coronavirus at WrestleMania
The show starts off with Big Poppa H standing in front of the Performance Centre with a microphone in hand. Oh Christ, here we go: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer. AEW is lebensraum; it’s time for WWE to find its place in the sun.
Okay, so it turns out that I might have jumped the gun on WWE’s fascist rise to power; this is more about Triple H wanking off the WWE Performance Centre and all of its wonderful work. And, let me say, it does look like a hell of a facility for its strength and conditioning area alone. Captain Trips frames this whole night as the old masters returning to their original place of training to show how much they’ve grown, which is a very cool narrative.
He then tells us to try to forget about the world around us, which more than anything else I’ve heard so far has made me believe that this genuinely might be the apocalypse.
This is going to be a weird show.
The time is…slipping inexorably away
Michael Cole and Triple H are on commentary, in an empty arena. I’d have definitely had the other wrestlers sitting in the stands watching, which if nothing else would lend a certain pantomime quality to run-ins and interference (“He’s behind you!” “Oh no, he’s not!” “Oh yes, he is!”).
Bayley and Sasha Banks make their entrance and start cutting a promo. They should absolutely jump Triple H and make a new feud going into WrestleMania. To be honest, they should cough heavily on Triple H and see how fast he can move these days. Actually, they do start interrogating Cole and Triple H on the whereabouts of Paige, because I guess we’re all just dying to see her right now.
But instead of Paige, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross show up, complaining about the lack of response to their challenge to the Kabuki Warriors. This quickly develops into a tag team match between the quartet. I wonder how obvious calling the match is going to be without any crowd noise to cover it up.
Cross and Bliss take advantage in the early going, with Sasha having to drag Bayley out of the ring to save her from a Twisted Bliss. Cross and Bliss still take them out with a dive and a baseball slide as we move into a commercial break. When we return, the heels are in control of Alexa, who manages to bamboozle Banks with some slaps and a tilt-a-whirl headscissors, but a missed charge allows Sasha to take control again, hitting a pair of running knees to Alexa in the corner.
Bayley takes over from Banks, hammering away at Bliss for a while before tagging the Boss back in. Alexa suddenly rallies with a pin attempt, but Sasha shuts her down once again. Nikki, God love her, tries to start a crowd chant. Alexa is placed in a rear chinlock before Banks wrenches back on her arms. More frequent tags between the heels, but Bliss has a last gasp at resistance, managing to dodge a Meteora and tag in Cross.
Nikki hits the ring with a lot of energy, cleaning house until Banks counters a tornado DDT. A Meteora is dodged again, followed by a rapid exchange of pins. Nikki almost wins with a crossbody, but Bayley breaks up the pin, causing Alexa to deck her in the face. While the referee tends to Bayley, Asuka suddenly attacks Alexa on the outside. As Asuka dances on the outside for some reason, Sasha applies the Bank Statement and forces a tap from Nikki.
Dancing Asuka is super-weird, but a new feud for the Kabuki Warriors is all I want. 2 Stars.
Triple H leaves, very obviously shaking hands with Michael Cole. Jesus Christ, guys.
Blessed be the regulations
We relive a WrestleMania main event feud being built with all the enthusiasm of Career Mode in the WWE 2K series, and then Michael Cole announces that he’s interviewing Roman Reigns. Roman rocks up, and they laugh about him receiving no reaction to his entrance. A break from deafening boos must be a bit of a change for him.
Cole addresses people’s complaints about Reigns putting himself in the main event. My problem with it was more the half-hearted way that it was all handled and the fact that I wouldn’t trust Goldberg with the second match of Backlash at this point, much less a WrestleMania main event, but sure: act like this is Roman just dealing with naysayers who don’t know any better.
Reigns says that he’s been dealing with this all his life, although I suppose having Vince McMahon’s undying support must even that out a bit. And then we get into comparing spears, as though all the underlying innuendo in professional wrestling has gotten a bit too subtle, and Cole manages to present some fighting talk from Goldberg without either man sniggering about it. Reigns calls Goldberg stupid, but then he ruins that piece of goodwill by saying that he respects him. I don’t want you to respect him, Roman: I want you to say that you’re going to rip his heart out and take a bite out of it as you watch the light leave his eyes. To hell with saying it; I want you to actually do it.
At least Reigns does promise to “whup Goldberg’s ass”, although my threat was a lot better.
Kayla Braxton is backstage – and what honestly is the point of that tonight – and it looks like she’s here to interview Sami Zayn before revealing that the guest is actually Jeff Hardy. Oh God, again with this? Jeff Hardy was my favourite wrestler when I first discovered WWF, but I really don’t like the fact that WWE is happy employing a guy with this many substance abuse problems.
Jeff rambles on, but the main point seems to be that he’s got a lot more to do in WWE. This is interrupted, but it’s by King Corbin, and I think WWE’s just created another feud that I have no interest in. Corbin says that not everyone’s happy that Jeff Hardy’s back, and I resent being made to agree with Corbin. The King does get in some decent digs about Jeff’s personal demons, which I do appreciate. Mostly because, past the casual cruelty, he makes some solid points.
Anyway, Jeff and Corbin are having a match tonight, and I don’t care. And Elias is here to play a song for Corbin, but His Majesty just walks off.
We look back at Gulak vs. Bryan: a great match in terms of its technical quality and in terms of taunting you by making you think that Bryan had just broken his neck.
Backstage, Bryan comes across Gulak, gushing about how awesome a strategist and technician Drew is. He’s then interrupted by Zayn and his transnational posse, who mock Bryan for asking for wrestling tips from some nobody from 205 Live.
Tensions rise, and it ends with Bryan challenging Cesaro to a match and Gulak apparently planning to help Daniel out.
They used to be us
WWE then uses a lot of time to broadcasting the Tag Team Elimination Chamber match in its entirety, despite the fact that the Bryan/Gulak match is something I’d have happily subjected to a second watch. This one was…okay, I guess? I’d have just much preferred that this Chamber match be for the number one contender spot to the Universal Championship, even if it would have meant shuffling some of the other matches around. Hell, show some of Goldberg’s dominant WWE victories, which would at least make up for the fact that the lazy prick has been present for about five minutes of this entire feud.
Anyway, this is essentially a super-long introduction to a promo from Miz and Morrison. They rub their victory in people’s faces, claiming to be the greatest tag team of the 21st century. And I’ll admit that they’re still decent at this without a crowd, but I do have to say that the crowd does add a lot to segments like these, and it might have been better if they’d switched up their promo styles to accommodate this weird situation. Really, doing in-ring interviews with Cole would have been the best option for this whole night.
We keep them alive for our sport
Here come Daniel Bryan and Drew Gulak. They’re really pushing their growing friendship, whereas it might have been better to let this develop a lot more slowly. I guess WrestleMania is something of a universal deadline for everything. And look: if I get Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro out of this, I’ll put up with more or less anything.
Speaking of things that I’ll need to put up with, apparently Rob Gronkowski is coming to SmackDown. I suppose anything’s a step up from misogynist, homophobe and moron, Tyson Fury, but this isn’t something I’m about to throw a street parade for.
And I love street parades.
Anyway, Mojo Rawley is on commentary, compensating for my lack of enthusiasm towards all Gronk-related developments with an intensity that might very well cause his heart to stop.
What’s hilarious is picturing Bryan and Gulak watching all of this from inside the ring.
Cesaro arrives, Zayn and Nakamura in tow. It seems like Shinsuke’s been taking the repossession of the Intercontinental Championship really well; I was hoping that this would lead to Nakamura vs. Zayn at WrestleMania for the IC Championship.
The bell rings, and Bryan and Cesaro lock up, tussling quickly to try to gain an early advantage. This devolves into a brawl in the corner, with Cesaro not listening to the lady referee, because he doesn’t listen to anyone that he could hurl into the sun.
Post-commercial break, Cesaro suplexes Bryan back into the ring, working on the man’s still-weakened neck. Bryan manages to rally, flipping over Cesaro’s head and running through him with a clothesline. After a quick pep talk from Drew, Bryan kicks away at Cesaro, hammering him senseless before the Swiss Cyborg blasts him with a ridiculous elevated uppercut.
Cesaro tries to pick up the win with the crossface, but Bryan counters into a pin. Both men trade covers, with Bryan’s inside cradle getting the win.
It seems like we could have had way more of this as opposed to the full Elimination Chamber match. 2 Stars.
Shinsuke attacks Bryan right after the match, but Drew gets involved. A brawl breaks out, with Drew getting worked over by Zayn and his artists. Bryan attacks, saving Drew before Zayn and the others decide to back off.
Teddy Long would have been a welcome sight in this scenario.
In fairness, Triple H then sharpies in Michael Cole’s soul patch, which I shouldn’t care for but I do.
They’re really trying to get in
Post-commercials, King Corbin is in the ring, awaiting Jeff Hardy. There’s a good chance that Hardy just assumes that he’s hallucinating the empty arena and believes that this is a regular episode of SmackDown.
Corbin attacks Hardy before the bell rings, smacking him around on the outside. Once the bell finally rings, this abuse continues for a while before Jeff fights back with right hands and a running forearm. A leg drop and a basement dropkick put Corbin down as Michael Cole talks about Jeff’s recent candid interview about overcoming his demons and getting back on the right track. I don’t want to come across as unfeeling, but it does seem like you could just use one of the multiple previous interviews that Jeff has given along those lines and just change the date instead of filming a whole new one.
Corbin counters the Twist of Fate but is unable to take advantage of the reversal for a moment, only doing so when Jeff runs right into a Deep Six. Corbin takes a second to yell at Elias, which just prompts the man to get on the announce table and start aggressively playing his guitar. Meanwhile, Jeff counters an End of Days, hitting what Michael Cole for some reason refers to as a “Twist of Fury”, which is a weird change and one which I have elected to ignore.
Swanton Fury Bomb follows, and Jeff Hardy starts off his nth chance with a win.
This was competent, but I dislike Jeff Hardy so much now that I was actively supporting Corbin. 2 Stars.
We get another rousing speech from Triple H, which is thankfully lighter on the apocalyptic overtones than his first one. Honestly, this whole show would have been better if it had involved Trips just sitting on the balcony he’s standing on now, introducing each segment with a Shakespearean soliloquy on the nature of fate, what actions our ambition will push us to commit, and the fact that Jeff Hardy’s most recent piss test melted the beaker.
Do not think about The Event. It will cause distress.
John Cena’s here now, and the empty arena presents him with the difficult problem of whom to toss his towel to. Cole then asks Cena about his previous match against Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania.
Cena says that plenty of people have blamed him for their failures. Well, this is already pretty close to the knuckle. He claims that Wyatt got lazy and declined, meaning that Bray is the reason for his own failure. Cena claims that he’s had plenty of big losses, though it’s not convincing considering I could name practically all of them before he listed them.
Cena states that no-one’s ever complained about him being buried following those losses, which is mostly because: A) these happened after multiple long World Championship reigns, and 2) we were all completely thrilled by any loss Cena took. When Batista beat Triple H three times in a row, no-one ever claimed that the Game was being buried either, but I guess we’re all just hypocrites.
We’re then shown Cena deciding to stay out of WrestleMania and then deciding to get involved two minutes later. He claims that Wyatt is not the future of WWE, comparing him unfavourably to people like McIntyre, Velveteen Dream and Riddle, which is another extremely hostile direction to take this interview. Cena finally promises that this match isn’t going to steal the show (there’s a lot of matches you can say that about this year), promising to take Wyatt out for good and calling him overprivileged for good measure.
There’s sudden laughter, and Sweater!Bray is revealed to be in the empty arena. He tells Cena that this is all riveting and that he’s glad that John’s here. Bray takes a moment to say that Cena’s got everything he needs in life, then challenges his claim that he’s invested in WWE’s future, stating that Cena only cares about Cena.
Bray talks for a while about his loss and how the Fiend helped him recover afterwards. He promises to slaughter Cena at WrestleMania, asking John to let him in. There is something rather creepy about even Sweater!Bray in an empty arena, and I am really curious to know how the Fiend would play out in a venue like this.
Lights out and laughter to finish a pretty okay show.
Tags: Alexa Bliss, Asuka, Baron Corbin, bayley, Bayley and Sasha Banks vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro, Drew Gulak, Elias, Elimination Chamber, goldberg, John Cena, John Morrison, Kabuki Warriors, King Corbin, King Corbin vs. Jeff Hardy, Michael Cole, Miz and Morrison, Nikki Cross, Roman Reigns, Roman Reigns vs. Goldberg, sami zayn, sasha banks, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown, Tag Team Championships Elimination Chamber, The Fiend, The Miz, Triple H, wrestlemania, WWE