Dr Spain’s SmackDown Report for August 14th 2020: Things Are Getting Weird

At this point, I’m really looking forward to SummerSlam. Competent build, for the most part, plus matches that I’m actually invested in have all come together to create a promising PPV. As long as nothing goes hilariously wrong in the next couple of weeks – and we all know WWE’s propensity for unexpectedly ruining a good thing (DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THE INVASION?) – I think this has all the makings of an excellent show.

We get a little summary of the natural progression from technical interference to chainsaw-related vandalism that is Retribution’s stock in trade. With that sort of average height, I’d be unsurprised to see Hornswoggle as a member before all this is over. I’m also unsurprised that WWE has not asked for police protection or employed extra security, maybe even the type with guns. I realise that we’re building up to WWE vs Nexus 2.0: This Time We’re Not Going To Let John Cena Fuck It All Up, but WWE setting up a sting operation and having these actual criminals arrested would be some sensational television.

But yeah: sensational television isn’t really what we watch this for. I don’t know why you watch it, at any rate; I watch it because I hate myself.

And it only took WWE a week to link Retribution to “current events”. Alright: you want to sit at the big kids’ table and do political allegory. Fine. Exactly what current events are we talking about here? Are we talking about the predominantly peaceful protests against the lack of oversight and accountability in modern American policing, combined with the disproportionate amount of police brutality suffered by black Americans? Or are you talking about the looting and rioting carried out by a small minority of those out on the streets?

Because the thing is, WWE, either version still casts you as the authority (ha ha) that is being railed against. You are the government: the current administration. And maybe you’re not trying to provoke direct comparisons between yourselves and the wildfire of sleaze and incompetence that’s been in control for over three years – maybe you see yourselves as a more of a feudal region or a mild dictatorship – but using this allegory isn’t helping. The McMahon family’s ties to Donald Trump definitely don’t help.

Worst of all, even if you are trying to say that Retribution are just meant to represent the criminals who are taking advantage of a fraught sociopolitical situation to improve their own position, that still means that there’s a sentiment – an anti-WWE sentiment – to take hold of. Are Retribution linked to AEW? Is the #NaomiDeservesBetter a wing under which this radical element is nurtured? Are Retribution the physical manifestation of fans’ dissatisfaction with WWE’s lazy storytelling and poor decisionmaking?

I’ve said time and time again that WWE shouldn’t do politics. Mostly because their intended audience are, with the best will in the world, probably not the sharpest spoons in the drawer, so political allegory is wasted on them. And also because at times like this, these sorts of allusions and coy innuendoes don’t help. People are on the streets because the police can execute a suspect or even someone unrelated to any crime, and they face laughably meagre consequences, if any. People have been murdered, and people want it to stop. WWE doing a storyline about it, particularly one that seems like it was spunked out of the grizzled cock of whichever Fox executive was available at the time, seems ghoulish.

But I look forward to more political storylines, like maybe an ungrateful former child sex slave wrestler who’s hellbent on falsely accusing Vince McMahon, or a young cruiserweight who holds down a second job at USPS who can get murdered by Sheamus night after night after night.

I can’t believe that this what I’m using my Doctorate for.

WWE has apparently hired “extra security”, and “extra security” means two blokes standing in front of a door if what we’re shown means anything. I can’t imagine that holding back a mob armed with baseball bats and chainsaws.

Yeah, who needs good wrestling matches?

My word, actual wrestling. Big E’s here to compete as WWE launches another New Day singles career. I hope Xavier Woods gets a chance once he’s back; it’d be nice to do the whole set.

Big E’s facing Jon Morrison, who is sans the Miz tonight. The lights flicker, and I wonder if WWE performs these “technical difficulties” in such a way that the relevant people know they’re not a real problem, or if they’re just really bad at this aspect of their jobs.

And there’s a member of Retribution standing on the apron now: one of the female ones, which should make for a hilarious contest. But of course, there are other members of Retribution surrounding the ring. This seems to surprise Morrison and Big E, even though they have tangled with both the Nexus and the Shield respectively.

Retribution attack and the numbers game quickly overwhelms both Big E and Morrison. I am frankly amazed that WWE’s extra security was unequal to their task.

Retribution don’t destroy the ring this time, limiting their activities to the announce table and active wrestlers. That’s remarkably considerate of them. After about thirty seconds, they vamoose, presumably pacing themselves for a long night of shenanigans.

After a break, there’s an informal meeting of the wrestlers backstage, with the room divided between heels and faces. Interestingly enough, Chad Gable is dead centre. The Miz is apologising to Jon Morrison for not being out there, because former WWE Champion The Miz, who once led his team to a loss with a 5-on-3 advantage, would have been an asset in that scenario.

Apparently, Big E sent out a tweet which caused this whole issue. I’m not going to look up the tweet because I have a life, but it really does seem like a single tweet is only capable of either ending your career or kicking off a WWE storyline and nothing else.

King Corbin, dressed in a suit but also still wearing his crown, steps forward. It’s weird, but that ensemble works. It works well enough that I’m quite annoyed this is the first time I’ve seen it. Corbin, like a lot of dictators, attempts to use the political upheaval (I’m assuming Retribution has some ideological aim; it’s always possible that they’re just extremely committed assholes) to rise up the ranks and cement himself some absolute authority.

I can imagine a worse storyline than WWE fracturing itself into fractions over how they’re going to deal with this situation, linking multiple ongoing storylines with a broader overall narrative, before finally managing to come together and co-exist long enough to end the threat. We’re not going to get that, but it would be entertaining.

Big E talks over Corbin, promising to go back out to the ring and face Jon Morrison. I mean…why? Why not first band together, get some weapons, find Retribution, and cripple them? With a bit of detective work (hello, Fashion Police) and some good, old-fashioned mob justice, they could end this whole storyline tonight.

And now it’s Sheamus’ turn on the soapbox. He’s dressed like Brad Pitt from Snatch for some reason, and he claims that Retribution attacked Big E because he’s alone and vulnerable, whereas they’d never think of attacking him. Grave dug.

Big E says that he’s not alone before leaving the locker room, and the faces leave with him. Chad Gable goes with them, playing that neutrality card for all it’s worth.

Huh: a battle royal I didn’t fast-forward through

Sasha and Bayley are in the ring now. There’s more security around the ring, which should be about as much use as a chocolate condom. Bayley and Sasha take shots at Retribution before addressing the current title situation. The general thrust of it is, they’re not worried.

They then toss Greg Hamilton, taking over the ring announcing duties. They’re pretty good at it, though it’s not fair until we hear their “best in the world” while Shane McMahon chokes them. The field is Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Tegan Nox, Shotzi Blackheart, Lacey Evans and…Asuka? Asuka rushes to the ring, attacking Sasha and Bayley, and then a whole load of other competitors show up so that we can end this bit.

After the break, the match gets started. Ruby Riott gets eliminated first, saving Liv Morgan in the process. The IIconics, who took out Ruby, and Liv Morgan all get eliminated next, culminating in a short brawl on the outside to further that storyline. Nikki and Dana Brooke get into it on the outside, with Nikki showing greater aggression than usual before heading off to fight Asuka.

Naomi and Lacey continue their feud in the corner as Nikki tries to take on Tamina, who absorbs all the Scotswoman’s punishment before managing to boot her off the apron. She comes face-to-face with Bianca Belair, who spears her right out of her boots before throwing Tamina out of the ring like she weighs nothing.

Naomi and Lacey Evans take centre stage now, with Lacey taking advantage of interference from Baszler to Woman’s Right her out of the running. Evans takes a little too long to celebrate, allowing Shotzi to kick her right off the apron! Baszler pounces, choking Blackheart out on the apron until Lacey drags Shotzi out of the ring for the elimination.

Belair is trying to take out Nox, who refuses to make it easy for her, coming up with a counter for all her offence until she’s able to low-bridge the EST out of there! We’re left with Nox, Asuka, and Baszler, and Nox hits a flurry of offence before Baszler…I actually don’t know what it was supposed to be, but Nox is flung into the ring ropes in a sequence that did not look like it went to plan. Brooke eliminates Nox by pulling her off the apron, reminding everyone that Dana Brooke A) exists and B) is still in the match.

Brooke gets into the ring, kicking away Shayna getting caught in the Clutch. She’s hauled onto the apron, managing to fight her way free, only for Asuka to blast her with the hip attack, eliminating her.

For the second time in an elimination format, it comes down to Asuka and Baszler. I’m torn between wanting Asuka and Shayna to both be Champions and wanting them to fight over the same belt, but I’m content to watch them kick each other to death here first. Both women take a moment to eye each other, suddenly cautious, as Bayley’s life flashes before her eyes.

Bayley tries to drag Asuka off the apron, but the Empress of Tomorrow manages to deck both Banks and Bayley with a sliding knee. Baszler, taking advantage, hits Asuka with a knee of her own, knocking her not to the floor, but rather onto Bayley and Sasha’s semi-conscious bodies.

Asuka hauls herself back up to the apron just in time to get caught in the Clutch. She persists, dragging Shayna out of the ring and eliminating her.

This was a perfectly blocked match: everyone got an opportunity to either shine (Nox, Belair) or further a storyline (Riott, Morgan, IIconics), with a great ending. Great storytelling. 3.5 Stars.

Anyway, Sasha and Bayley are talking about how this whole situation is a disgrace. They don’t get far before Asuka jumps them both from behind, screaming what are presumably obscenities. This whole thing lasts a couple of seconds before officials separate them. I’d have thought that security would be more focused on keeping Retribution away from the arena.

We’re still acting like Sonya DeVille committed a genocide as opposed to just acting like every other wrestler, except with scissors. I swear to God there used to be a wrestler with a whole hair-cutting gimmick. If only I could remember his name…

Mandy Rose gives an interview backstage, saying that people have been saying mean things about her her whole life. One of those things is “she can’t wrestle”, which is a weird thing to have heard your entire life. I mean, it’s absolutely true, but it’s still an odd criticism to make. She mentions being a Bikini World Champion, meaning she’s had more accolades for wearing swimwear than she has for wrestling. I’m not sure how any of this helps make her point, or even what that point is.

Apparently, Mandy Rose works hard. It’s a shame, then, that Mandy Rose is still a middling-to-poor wrestler. She challenges Sonya to a hair vs hair match at SummerSlam, and fuck you for immediately making me invested in this feud, WWE.

Backstage, Sheamus approaches some security folks and tells them to clock off for a pint. I know they probably realise that Sheamus works for WWE, not least because he’s wandering around the arena in his pants, but he’s not the guy who employed them, so it’s bizarre that they agree to leave.

So, WWE’s extra security leaves their posts whenever a bloke in his underwear tells them to, and they drink on the job. Truly outstanding.

Elsewhere backstage, Nikki Cross is down in the dumps until Alexa Bliss is just…around. Seems like the Fiend operates on a catch-and-release policy. She tries to apologise to Alexa, who is keen to avoid the subject and who also seems strangely resistant to leaving, despite the Fiend being there, Braun going off whatever new deep end he’s managed to find for himself, and Retribution presumably still knocking around.

You cannot escape Sheamus vs Chad Gable

Here’s Sheamus, who has the power to dismiss security wherever he finds it. He’s up against Chad Gable in the feud that is OFFICIALLY GOING ON FOREVER. I understand the desire to return to simpler times and a less insane world, but Sheamus vs Shorty G isn’t how we’re going to get there.

Still, the bell rings for the Rock vs Stone Cold of our generation. Gable starts off aggressively, which Sheamus manages to counter by being many, many times stronger. Gable gets the boots put to him for a nice long while until he manages to dropkick Sheamus’ leg out from under him.

Gable goes to work on the leg, changing things up eventually by hitting Sheamus in the face. The Celtic Warrior shuts him down again with the Irish Curse backbreaker, but Gable surprises by continuing to fight back. He blasts Sheamus in the skull with a rolling kick, catches him with a missile dropkick, and even applies the ankle lock! WHERE WAS THIS? WHERE WAS THIS WHEN WE WANTED IT?

Sheamus escapes, kicks out of a desperation roll up, then hits White Noise. One Brogue Kick later, and it’s like the last year never happened.

I think the only way I’d have liked this match is if Gable had been presented as an equal challenge to Sheamus, which despite his performance, he wasn’t. I just want them to do something with this absurdly talented individual that isn’t getting Brogue Kicked by an Irishman. 2 Stars.

Sheamus decides to stick around, I guess because killing Chad Gable again awakened his taste for murdering the undersized and he’s hoping that Retribution come back. His wishes go ungranted, as no miniature terrorists appear.

AJ Styles has got STATS

AJ Styles is here, but sadly not for another open challenge match. He seems to have brought Attorney General William Barr’s slightly slimmer brother with him, so this should be interesting.

Styles doesn’t care about terrorists, or at least not the type that wastes their time with WWE. He’s more concerned with who’s worthy enough to face him for the Intercontinental Championship, presumably after being told that “no-one” was not an acceptable answer.

But Styles is irritated with people apparently throwing statistics at him and demanding that he put on more incredible matches. So, he’s come up with his own set of statistics, known as the Phenomenal Intercontinental Statistics System, otherwise known as P.I.S.S.

Jesus, Vince.

And AJ’s system pretty much names himself number one and nobody else in any other position. This is rapidly turning into a phenomenal waste of my time, and then Jeff Hardy shows up: jury’s still out on whether that’s an improvement.

Jeff says that he never got a chance to finish the tournament, and if things had been different then it might have been him vs Styles in the final. Yeah: that sounds way better than Styles/Bryan. Basically, Jeff wants his shot.

AJ acts respectful for a while, but then, of course, denies Hardy his shot. That earns him a Twist of Fate, and then Jeff writes his name on Styles’ statistics whiteboard. Well, if anyone can coax a decent match out of Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles is one of those people.

Meanwhile, Lucha House Party steals Cesaro and Shinsuke’s titles. The fun we all have.

Backstage, AJ Styles is fuming. He tries to erase Jeff’s name but finds that it’s written in permanent marker. I’m starting to think this whole business is a big joke.

Now that LHP has reformed, Lars Sullivan will return

Number one contenders and title thieves, Lucha House Party, make their way to the ring. Gran Metalik will be facing Shinsuke Nakamura tonight, and we see an interview where the Champions call Lucha House Party “insubordinate and churlish”. That’s the greatest fighting talk I’ve ever heard in my life.

Shinsuke starts the match by kicking Metalik around, winning the advantage in the early going before some quick offence and a hurricanrana that sends Shinsuke out of the ring. Metalik manages to keep Nakamura reeling, avoiding any of the Artist’s high-impact moves before Cesaro provides crucial interference. Shinsuke hits a reverse exploder suplex and sets up for the Kinshasa, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Kalisto!

Kalisto and Dorado take out Dorado, allowing Metalik to defeat Shinsuke with a flying elbow.

This does add an interesting wrinkle, though it’s a shame that the New Day is out of commission considering the 3-on-3 match potential. 2 Stars.

Matt Riddle is backstage with Kayla, who’s asking him about King Corbin’s ransom. The takeaway here is that Riddle is too stoned to care about any bounty, but he’s really keen to casually murder Corbin.

Chad Gable shows up to apologise/set Riddle up for an obvious ambush. Matt accepts the apology, and he’s promptly attacked by Corbin. Shorty G seems conflicted, but forgive me for not buying that for a second.

This ends with Alexa Bliss making out with the Fiend, doesn’t it?

And now, WWE is interviewing Alexa Bliss on her Fiend-flavoured ordeal, because nothing says “we’re a caring company” by exploiting your employees’ PTSD for ratings. She talks a little about her relationship with Braun Strowman, which combined with video footage makes it quite touching. There are even hints of romantic potential brought up, and then the conversation moves on to the Fiend.

The interviewer says that Alexa was around the Fiend and “lived to tell the tale”, making her like everyone else who’s interacted with the Fiend. Goldberg beat the Fiend, with the minimum of effort. It’s not like he murders any wrestler he defeats. Alexa describes her experience with the Fiend as “scary” and “terrifying” like the poet she is. In all fairness, she drops a couple of incongruous terms as well, including “compelling” and describing the feeling of “a moth to a flame”, which are some intriguing hints.

The interview then shifts to Braun Strowman’s comments from last week, where he gave Alexa up for dead. Bliss is clearly affected by the footage, and the interview fades to black. As a horror fan, I appreciated that segment; it was just on the right side of disquieting, which is what the third chapter of this feud needs. WWE, and more than likely Bray himself, have done an excellent job keeping this on the rails.

In another random backstage interview, Sonya DeVille accepts Mandy’s challenge. I can’t deny, this thing ending with Mandy getting her head shaved would be hysterical, though I admit I’m probably not the person this feud was aimed at.

Retribution wishes they were the Nexus

In the ring, Jon Morrison and Big E are going to get another New Day singles push off the ground if it kills them. With Miz on commentary, both men circle each other and then go at it.

Morrison taunts Big E with a kick to the leg, but Big E knocks him down with a shoulder tackle. Jon and E keep trading the advantage back and forth between them, relying on speed and power respectively, until Big E’s strength advantage allows him to build a head of steam.

Miz, on commentary, finally distracts Big E so that his friend can attack him from behind. This allows Morrison to slow the pace of the match down and take Big E’s vertical base away from him, while the Miz talks smack about Mandy Rose.

Miz’s unwise talk brings out Otis, who has a bit of a shout at the Miz before the lights flicker. We go to a commercial break, just in case something interesting happens. When we come back to the action, WWE talent is surrounding the ring, forming one of their famous shaky alliances that has all the structural integrity of a moist tissue.

And as the main arena is guarded by wrestlers and any security professionals that Sheamus hasn’t yet sent to the pub, Retribution start attacking the backstage area, putting referees through tables. I think one of them also traps someone in a toilet.

We get more spraypainting and vandalism, the shock factor of which depleting with repeat viewings, and Corey and Michael bemoan the fact that none of the WWE stars are aware that Retribution is backstage. If only, somehow, they could walk a few steps and let the wrestlers know.

Finally, one of the referees lets the WWE talent know what’s going on, and they charge backstage, finding what I’m minded to call “mild devastation” backstage, which they greet with the same horror and awe as I’d expect to see from a visitor to Auschwitz.

Meanwhile, Jon Morrison counters the Big Ending, misses a Shining Wizard and gets caught in the Stretch Muffler for the submission.

The Big E push continues, and I hope that this is the groundwork to positioning him as a leader of whatever faction takes on the Retribution forces. He’d be incredible in that role. 2.5 Stars

Before Big E can celebrate too much, Sheamus lays him out with a Brogue Kick. Oh, look: an awesome feud between two powerhouses. I can live with that.

Sheamus looks around, pretty pleased with himself, but is interrupted by Braun Strowman’s music. Braun, head shaved, emerges from the smoke, marching purposefully to the ring as Sheamus backs off. I know all heels are cowards, but I’d love for a villain whose whole deal is enjoying a good fight to actually stick around when one shows up.

Alexa Bliss is just getting battered this month

In the ring, Braun says that people say “you’ll never see it coming at SummerSlam”. Who says that? Who has ever said that? Strowman goes on to make a lot of threats about literally eating the Fiend, then asks for him to come out to the ring. Seriously: who would go out to the ring after that kind of invitation?

Apparently, Alexa Bliss would. She wants to have a conversation with Braun, who is very obviously not in the mood for this sort of thing. Alexa tries to appeal to their friendship, but Strowman rebuffs all of this, claiming that Bliss wanted to use him and change him into something that he’s not. He demands that Alexa get out of his ring, which causes Bliss to threaten to slap him…which she does.

Alexa slaps Strowman a bunch of times, which causes him to lift her right up in the air. Once again, there are no heroes in the WWE locker room, nor indeed among the crowd of trainees.

The lights start going out, making the Fiend the hero of this piece by default. Braun throws Alexa up into the air, and everything cuts to black before she hits the ground. When the lights come back up, Braun is gone, the Fiend is in the ring, and Alexa is sprawled on the mat.

Then Braun appears on the titantron, and he starts laughing. The Fiend also starts laughing, then Braun roars, and the pair of them stare at each other.

Okay, things have officially got a little weird.

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