So, apparently professional wrestling is considered “essential business” in Florida.
I feel like any joke I make would somehow weaken the ridiculousness of that entire statement and, by extension, of Florida itself, so I’ll just let that hang there as the article’s opening line.
In other news, Vincent K. McMental just got the closest that he will ever – hopefully – get to a Stalinist purge of his very own, and a lot of talented and/or loyal men and women are now out of work during a global pandemic.
And Howard Finkel died at sixty-nine years of age on the sixteenth.
Suffice to say, it’s a weird context that houses this episode of Friday Night SmackDown.
Let’s just get on with it.
We’ve got the Tag Team Championship singles Triple Threat match tonight, as well as Bryan vs. Cesaro and Naomi vs. Dana Brooke in another set of Money in the Bank qualifying matches. And Sonya will apparently attempt to clear the air with Mandy, with “clear the air” assumedly meaning “somehow try to explain weeks of lies, deception, and gaslighting”. Got to hand it to the girl: she’s bold.
But they won’t let Finn call his move “Bloody Sunday”
But we start the show off with A Moment of Bliss: a WWE talk show with more staying power than its fellows (The Cutting Edge, The Peep Show, The VIP Lounge, Carlito’s Cabana), and with the added attraction of a Scottish psychopath.
Nikki, not Drew. Although Drew McIntyre giggling and sipping coffee while aggressively hugging Alexa Bliss is something that I would give my undivided attention to.
Alexa and Nikki are here to interview Braun Strowman, and I am fine with this as long as no-one says “Bray Wyatt” or “The Fiend”. I want this match: I really want this match. I just don’t want it so soon; it’s ludicrous to do something like this so early into Braun’s reign.
Oh, for God’s sake: it’s going to happen at Money in the Bank.
I hate you, WWE Creative. As a fan and as someone who understands the intricacies of narrative writing, I hate you.
Alexa congratulates Braun – apparent transitional Universal Champion – on his soon-to-be-meaningless victory over Goldberg, and he congratulates the pair of them on their far more significant triumphs over the Kabuki Warriors. But these sweet nothings don’t last long enough before we’re dragged into the gloomy mire of Braun vs. Bray.
Bliss comments on Bray’s multiple personalities and his lack of willingness to seek help, which while pertinent to Braun’s current situation is, in another sense, a group of friends gossiping about the mental difficulties of a co-worker. That’s an HR matter where I come from: a land in which professional wrestling is not considered an essential business and we understand the nuances of long-term storytelling.
We look back at Bray thrusting himself into Braun’s Championship story with all the grace and charm of your stepdad after a hard day at work and a long night of drinking, and Alexa asks Braun’s response. Strowman comments briefly on his former association with Wyatt, claiming that Bray never created him (if anything, Adam Rose created him, and that’s a feud I’d watch more enthusiastically than this one).
Braun states that he’s not going to let Bray play any psychological games with him, mostly because Braun doesn’t have a psychology. He then notices that there’s a wrapped present in the corner of the ring and goes to inspect it. Jesus, even if Strowman’s dumb enough to just grab an unattended package that looks like it was wrapped by the world’s campest supervillain, you’d think that Nikki’s marriage to Killian Dain would have given her at least a surface knowledge of why that sort of thing’s a bad idea. Nikki’s got a BA in History, for God’s sake: were the Troubles just sort of skated over on that curriculum?
Anyway, Braun acts like the world’s dumbest terrorism victim and picks up the present, ignoring Alexa’s increasingly uncertain and nervous denials of her having anything to do with it as he brings it back over to his seat, ensuring three casualties rather than just one. Strowman, God’s gift to extremism, then opens the gift and reveals that it’s a black sheep mask.
Given the circumstances, which can be summarised as “the potential for disembodied limbs to rain down over an empty Performance Centre as Michael Cole screams ‘vintage IRA!’ through his own tears”, I’d consider this a good result. Braun doesn’t look too happy, though. I don’t blame him: look at the poor quality of that mask.
And then Bray’s laughter echoes through the empty arena. It’s like Phantom of the Opera, only it’s shit. We’re then shown a picture of Braun back in his “giant hairy baby” form, wearing the sheep mask. And that’s the end of the segment, except for the part where Michael Cole explains the entire history of Braun’s relationship with Bray and why a black sheep mask is significant, followed by a brief discourse on the entire history of the known world, just so the fans aren’t confused.
Everywhere I look, I see Lacey Evans
Sasha Banks is in the house, and I can actually hear Streeter bashing his head off the wall from here. Bayley hops on commentary, wanting to get a good look at the Viking funeral she’s arranged for her friend. Tamina then arrives, planning on adding to her family’s proud legacy of beating a woman to death, and we get a recap of how this match came about. My summary of that is: Bayley is a weasel.
The bell rings, and Sasha seems to want to make a peace offering, which is a small-sized t-shirt with her own name on. I get the feeling that Banks didn’t make herself popular during WWE’s Secret Santa. This fatshaming enrages Tamina, who starts beating on Sasha, who is forced to rely on her athleticism to survive. It’s not enough, however, and she eats a hard headbutt before Tamina dumps her on the apron and knocks her right out of the ring.
Post-commercials, Tamina misses a charge at Sasha, who quickly takes advantage with a hard knee to the face and a Meteora, trying her best to keep the big lass down. Tamina weathers Sasha’s assault, working her way back up to her feet despite the volley of strikes, forcing Banks to latch on a headlock. Please just take Michael Cole’s obsessive chipping away at Bayley and Sasha’s friendship like break-ups are the one thing that can give him an erection anymore as read.
Tamina finally powers out of Sasha’s grasp, starting to fight her way back in, tanking through Banks’ assault before hitting her with what I’m informed by commentary was a ura-nage; I myself am skeptical. A distraction from Bayley gives Sasha the opening she needs to drive Tamina into the ring post and hit her with what I’m told is a 619. I’m not sure what I can believe these days.
Bayley looks to be preparing herself to insert herself into the match, but suddenly a wild Lacey Evans appears, hurling herself at Bayley in a flying clothesline. Tamina takes advantage of a distracted Banks, nailing her with a superkick on the outside and another in the ring, winning the match.
There are better wrestlers than Tamina, but her getting a title shot keeps things different and interesting. The match itself was an extended beatdown and swallowed by the commercials, so we’ve still got to see what Tamina can do in singles action on a PPV. 1.5 Stars.
Jey Uso is backstage, describing himself as the “Uce with the juice”. God, the drink-driving jokes write themselves.
Speaking of drinking and driving (as in “Lacey Evans drives me to drink”), Lacey Evans is also backstage, getting interviewed so that she can hit her quota of describing herself as a mother, a veteran, and a terrible wrestler. Evans has apparently dedicated herself to the utter destruction of Sasha Banks, and it is important to get new hobbies in a lockdown situation. She’s written “Sasha” on her right hand, which I can only assume is going to make masturbation a conflict-filled endeavour.
Well, Lacey’s used to conflict. She used to be a marine.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him
Sheamus is here to preside over the development of the master race and to commend a young jobber’s soul to the afterlife.
To put it in athletic terms, Sheamus massacres the fuck out of his opponent. The Brogue Kick that ends the match could legally qualify as euthanasia, meaning that the jobber presumably owes Sheamus some kind of exorbitant fee for the healthcare.
If you’re going to have a squash match, make it vicious. 2 Stars.
Post-match, Sheamus takes issue with Michael Cole talking about Jeff Hardy while he’s within earshot. To be fair, the boundaries of “within earshot” have broadened considerably with these empty arena shows. Sheamus promises that he will “not be disrespected”, which is the kind of self-worth I like to see from that hulking, pasty, ginga fuck.
If you like tiny snippets of a documentary about people who show up to a PPV show drugged to the gills, you’ll love the next little segment about Jeff Hardy. I don’t, so I couldn’t tell you what it was even about. I assume drugs.
Backstage, Dana Brooke is getting taken to task by Carmella for having the audacity to compete in two matches in two weeks. Way to grab that brass ring, Staten Island Princess. Dana says that she can handle it, which I don’t believe she can, though not because of the whole “two matches in two weeks” reason.
Good for her
Well, it’s time for Dana to prove herself, and Naomi makes her way to the ring dressed as your last acid trip. Michael Cole, for some reason, starts talking shit about how Triple H has never won a Money in the Bank Ladder match. Flame, meet moth.
Dana makes her way to the ring as the commentary team start negging her like…well, like they want to lower her self-esteem to the point that either of them seems like a reasonable sexual partner. An opening flurry from both women sees Brooke eat a dropkick, but she rallies, throwing Naomi out of the ring.
Brooke demands that the referee start the count, only to hit Naomi with a baseball slide when the former Champion reaches her feet. In the ring, Brooke stays on the offensive, vining her legs around Naomi’s waist until Naomi blitzes her with a pair of elbows, trying to seize back the advantage. She hammers away at Dana, then blasts her with three hard kicks to the skull, but Brooke is able to get the shoulder up at two.
Naomi continues to dance with what brought her (kicks rather than actual dancing, which also would have been a fair answer), but Dana suddenly catches her by surprise with a huge sit-out powerbomb. Brooke continues to thwart Naomi’s attempts to put her away, countering one Rear View before kicking out of another! She dodges a split-legged moonsault, then hits a sunset flip roll-up to pick up the win!
Hell of a coming-out party for Dana Brooke, with some solid exchanges (especially the Rear View dodge). It’s nice, amidst all of this, to see WWE pulling the trigger on talent. 2.5 Stars.
After the match, Dana celebrates, hugging Michael Cole and continuously repeating “I did it”, half-in celebration and half-in disbelief. Hell, it’s enough to get me rooting for her.
The identity and agenda of the Mysterious Hacker have gone relatively unquestioned
We then get a recap of every second of the Mandy/Otis storyline, just in case you didn’t catch it while it was happening, or missed the myriad recaps that have already been done. Another reminder that Sonya DeVille narrates what she’s doing, something that sadly doesn’t happen during her matches but which hopefully does happen when she makes love.
Here comes that friend who hates your boyfriend for no apparent reason. Sonya makes her way to the ring, saying into a microphone that she’s tried everything to get in touch with Mandy so that she can explain herself, and we’ve apparently got far enough down the list that “go and make a scene at your place of work” seems like a real winner.
Sonya tears up as Mandy refuses to hear whatever ridiculous explanation there could possibly be for everything DeVille’s done. It’s only when things have gotten actual-sad as well as pathetic-sad that Rose deigns to come to the ring, glaring at Sonya. She tells Sonya that she really has nothing to say, but Sonya begs for a chance to at least explain.
Sonya stutters and starts for a moment or so before calling Mandy selfish. That would be a curveball if you’ve never watched WWE before. DeVille states that Rose’s interest in Otis apparently made it clear to her that Mandy was looking for any excuse to kick her to the curb. She runs down a list of all the times that Mandy – admittedly the far poorer wrestler – has been pushed far ahead of Sonya in terms of publicity, claiming that she almost gags when she has to say the words “Golden Goddess” before commenting that Mandy must have been doing the same thing.
Goddamn, Sonya DeVille out here speculating on the size of Otis’ caterpillar. No-crowd SmackDown is wild tonight.
DeVille states that if Mandy had gone along with her plan than everything would have worked out…somehow. Although Sonya then explains that the “somehow” involved her literally whoring Rose out to Dolph “Could Never Get A Girlfriend On His Own Merits” Ziggler (I believe that’s a traditionally Danish name) so that he could – some crazy how – get them a Women’s Tag Team Championship shot. I don’t know what sort of pull Dolph has with Kairi and Asuka, but I refuse to believe that he’d have won them over on the basis of his sparkling personality.
Anyway, Sonya is the new Fabulous Moolah and Mandy Rose probably needs counselling.
DeVille then says that all she wants now is to see Mandy hurt, which means that this friendship now fits the standard co-worker relationship found in WWE. She rages at being forced to be second-best to someone like Mandy after years of hard work. Sonya finishes by calling Mandy a “bitch”, and the pair of them square up to fight (well, “fight” in Sonya’s case; I don’t know what you can legally call the stuff that Mandy does in the ring).
This is interrupted by Dolph Ziggler, unlikely playboy. He begs for Mandy to listen to him, trying to persuade her that their sham relationship that was nothing more than a transaction and a chance for Ziggler to feel human companionship was actually real. Mandy rebuffs him, and then Sonya blasts Rose with a punch to the face. It’s awkward and badly planned, then Otis races out to take on Ziggler.
Otis knocks Dolph right out of the ring before Sonya leaps on his back. Mandy throws herself on Sonya, who darts out of the ring to escape her wrath. And then Dolph heads back into the ring for some reason, which earns him a Caterpillar. It’s difficult to say whether it makes him gag or not.
Michael Cole and Corey give a brief, serious eulogy for Howard Finkel, with Cole mentioning their own history riding together. This is followed by a touching video tribute, featuring some of his most famous announcements. It’s pretty impressive work considering how little time they would have had to put it all together.
Backstage, the Miz is here to give us his two cents on the SmackDown Tag Team Championship situation. Long story short: he’s not a fan.
We then have a video about the Forgotten Sons, and maybe it would have been better to show that before their debut match rather than afterward.
Just this lot wrestling forever, please
Here comes Cesaro, accompanied by Shinsuke Nakamura, ready to take on Daniel Bryan for a chance to enter the Money in the Bank Ladder match. I’d love for Cesaro to win this, and then to win the whole thing, and then to win the Universal Championship, mostly because I really want Cesaro to win the Universal Championship and always have.
Bryan and Gulak join Cesaro and Nakamura, and this match is on. Cesaro uses his strength while Bryan relies on his ring canniness in the early going, throwing the Swiss Cyborg out of the ring before diving through the ropes onto him.
And then we get the interference of the video feed again. Really? Hacker shenanigans in this match? Who the hell do you think you are, Mysterious Hacker Who Needs Seven Different Screens and Four Keyboards? Because I think you’re Mustafa Ali and a bastard.
Anyone, Hoody McCryptic promises to “reveal the truth”. If it’s that Mayor Kane raped a corpse once, I am well aware. We’re shown a series of conversations between WWE superstars that actually appeared on live television, which is a poor advertisement for whatever this Anonymous wannabe has to offer. DX once barged into a production truck with zero planning and were able to show a live crowd a video of Vince McMahon urinating, which is a lot more impressive than just splicing together broadcast footage even if it does raise several questions, the first of which is “what sort of arena has cameras pointing at their urinals?”
Anyway, the match just sort of continues despite this ludicrous interruption, and Bryan is currently teaching an in-ring seminar called “Making Your Limbs Bend Like They Shouldn’t”. Cesaro finally elbows his way out of this painful education, but Bryan just can’t quit Cesaro or his increasingly-malleable joints, and it takes a huge slam from the Swiss Cyborg to gain any form of reprieve.
Cesaro scoop slams Bryan a couple of times, but the former WWE Champion remains dedicated to his sick fascination with Cesaro’s left arm and its weakening structural integrity. A huge backbreaker finally takes some of the fight and biological interest out of Bryan, and Cesaro tries to capitalise with the Sharpshooter. Bryan quickly grabs the ropes, escaping out of the ring only for Cesaro to deck him with a big old uppercut.
After a commercial break, both men are still in the fight, and Bryan suddenly applies an armbar, switching his focus to Cesaro’s leg when the Swissman looks to power out. Bryan unloads a volley of kicks, hitting the chest, wounded arm, and Cesaro’s head for a near-fall. Daniel stays vigilant, throwing elbows into Cesaro’s shoulder before Cesaro suddenly manages to lift him right over his head, hitting a modified GTS!
Cesaro applies the crossface, but Bryan rolls through an reverses, applying a Yes Lock. Both men trade pins, with Cesaro then beating Bryan to the punch, or rather a clothesline, which doesn’t do his damaged arm any favours. Cesaro guts through, blasting Bryan with uppercut after uppercut. Cesaro catches a dive from Bryan, but he finds himself trapped in the Yes Lock! Shinsuke tries to interfere, but Gulak stops him from entering the ring, keeping him contained until Bryan can win via submission.
I’ll admit to being disappointed by the result; it’s not like Cesaro would have offered any less than Bryan. Still, the match was as good as you could imagine one between these two men being, and Bryan’s impressed in Ladder matches many times before. 3 Stars.
Big E has his own thoughts on the Tag Team Championship situation, and it’s mostly that he, Kofi and Woods all sleep in triple bunkbeds. I can definitely imagine that, so easily that I’m certain it’s true.
Elias is backstage, walking to the ring to give an impromptu concert, when King Corbin attacks, beating the grease off him before crushing his arm between two crates. He then drags him away to another area of backstage, where he continues beating him. What is this: a love letter to Edge vs. Orton?
Corbin promises to make “an example” out of Elias, standing on his crushed hand, then smashing him in the throat with his sceptre. Wow, this definitely should have happened before WrestleMania. Mostly because then I wouldn’t have to see another long Corbin feud, but this was a hell of a lot more intense than another murder attempt. Corbin finishes by shattering the guitar over Elias’ back.
Short but sweet
Here comes Big E, ready for an unusual Tag Team Championship bout. He sexually menaces Corey Graves, as is the tradition and one which I’m sure none of us would change. Jey Uso and the Miz follow, foregoing the opportunity to harass Graves like the amateurs that they are.
The bell rings, and Big E immediately identifies himself as the man to beat, throwing both the Miz and Jey Uso around with ease. He starts dismantling the announce table, looking to put someone through it before Jey and the Miz catch him with a superkick and a big boot respectively, then suplex him right through the table!
After a commercial break, Jey clotheslines the Miz out of the ring before diving out first onto Big E then onto the Miz. He continues to go after the Tag Team Champion before blasting Big E with a dragon whip and hitting both men with Samoan Wrecking Balls. Big E manages to slam Jey with a ura-nage, only for the Miz to catch him unawares with a leaping clothesline and hit a springboard axe-handle to fell the New Day member.
The Miz stalks Big E, but his Skull-Crushing Finale attempt is foiled, and he eats a superkick from Jey, who’s got one for Big E as well. The Miz tries to roll him up, but Jey’s able to kick out. Big E is knocked out of the ring before the Miz hits the SCK to Jey Uso, but the Uso still gets the shoulder up! The Miz immediately transitions into the Figure Four Leg Lock, with Jey trapped in the centre of the ring!
Jey tries to club his way free of the Miz’s hold, but the A-Lister holds on for grim death. Suddenly, Big E darts into the ring, deadlifts the Miz up from the floor, and hits him with the Big Ending, winning the match!
I did not expect the titles to change hands here, mostly because it would then seem to make sense to swap them at WrestleMania, but I’m always happy to see a New Day title reign. Past that, I really enjoyed the match. Big E thrives in a situation where he’s always audible, and this was a well-structured contest. 3 Stars.
We’re shown a video of Kofi celebrating via his phone as Big E gives Corey Graves a brief lapdance. The New Day are now the eight-time Tag Team Champions, with Cole mentioning the possibility of them breaking the Dudley Boyz’s record. If any team deserves to do it…