Smackdown + 205 Live Thoughts- The Car Slows Down
Couldn't think of a witty tag line for either show, so a clumsy reference to the Road to Wrestlemania will do. That's what happens when across 3 hours of WWE programming, they don't give you a ton to get excited about in terms of building to Mania. Not bad shows by any means, but definitely lacking when you consider that we are less than 4 weeks away from the big show. Let's just say in terms of delivering a compelling wrestling episode that built to the PPV, this week, Raw put the blue and purple brands over its knee and turned their butt cheeks the appropriate colours.
-Smackdown open the show with Shane O Mac and Daniel Bryan to address the WWE Title situation. They spend a good 10 minutes getting to the point, which was that AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton is the main event. Cool, but we already knew that, WWE have been hyping it for the last week. Weirdly pointless time killing segment.
-Ellsworth is comically bad as the overconfident coward. Sounds like an oxymoron but it works well. And it's simplistic stuff, but I got a good chuckle out of Ellsworth's line, "my girlfriend... err, my friend who is also a girl". Funny... but painfully relatable.
-Cena and Nikki have zero on-screen chemistry. Everything looks so forced, from the hugs and kisses to the horrible timed "tandem" offence.
-On the plus side, it gave Miz free reign to cut blistering promos on the "fake" couple, both on guest commentary and post-match in the ring. I'm on board with the apparent Cena/Nikki vs. Miz/Maryse match at Mania. Miz is killing it on the mic, Maryse will be wrestling again, and the pressure is off Cena to have a main event calibre match for once. And Nikki... well, Nikki will do a good job looking hot. I better think of something more complimentary to say when I meet her at Axxess.
-I like the whole Ambrose/Corbin angle, but they seemed to be stretching things out by giving 2017's answer to Shawn Stasiak- Curt Hawkins- mic time, as well as multiple shots of Ambrose looking for Corbin backstage. Again, weird time killing stuff. I'm wondering if SD didn't have their whole roster for some reason.
-I always enjoy seeing Alexa Bliss. and I like the continual puns on her name- Blissertation- but this was a train wreck of a segment. All four ladies sounded uncomfortable in trading heavily scripted insults- even Alexa sounded off in delivering that cat-nip line to Natalya. Bryan's presence saved the segment, but then his announcement was like they're not even trying. All the Smackdown women in one match, but as was touched on later, will it be a battle royal? Elimination match? Gauntlet? Just seems lazy... like what has Carmella done to deserve a spot at Mania? I think the emphasis on "all available women" is setting the stage for Naomi to make her "big" return at Mania in her hometown of Orlando. Hope nobody is getting their hopes up that Bryan or Shane signed Trish or Lita to SD on the sly.
-The tag match wasn't horrible, but it was by the numbers. Rare off moment by Mauro when he called Natalya suplexing her partner Becky like it was totally normal, as if Natalya was Becky's opponent. I mean, it was clearly a tenuous partnership at best, but it should have been called with even a modicum of surprise.
-What put the women's segment on the positive side was Mickie James immediately unleashing a Mick Kick on Alexa post-match after the snub during the Blissertation. Veteran Mickie has no time for that shit!
-Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles, first time ever! So, this match alone prevented me from calling Smackdown a bad episode. Wasn't the classic that a PPV encounter would be, but it was a very entertaining main event, with an inspired finishing sequence which saw AJ avoid Orton's attempt at catching him mid-air with a RKO. Smarter than the average bear, is Styles. Orton, being the great he is, finds another way to hit the RKO outta nowhere moments later. Randy Orton faces Bray Wyatt at Mania.
Speaking of Bray Wyatt, no appearance at all from the WWE champ on Smackdown. Also, I thought Luke Harper might have had some impact on this main event, but he was nowhere to be found either. Seriously, I'll have to do a little research, Smackdown worked with a skeleton crew this week for some reason. Anyway, Orton vs. Styles saved the show, which was otherwise disappointing.
-Straight to the big guns following Austin Aries' big return to the active roster on Raw, he opens 205 Live with entrance music and all. He looks ecstatic to be back. He humorously interviews himself before Neville's interruption. Neville rightly points out that Aries can't cut the line after being out of action for so long, and Aries agrees to take on all comers, whoever wants to step up. On commentary, Corey Graves calls it an open challenge for tonight. Very effective opening segment. Aries with the humour and then ability to be serious, while Neville brought the intensity that he's gotten so good at.
-The odd couple of Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher gave me a good laugh with their backstage antics, and worked well in the tag match that followed. I don't like that Swann has very little character beyond "dancing black guy", but his Phoenix Splash is a thing of beauty. Nice pace to the opening match on 205 Live.
-Brilliant stuff from The Brian Kendrick, who appeared to accept a match with Tozawa, but instead calls upon "A Bryan Kendrick" to take his place. Tozawa destroys the jobber- who had quite a bit of bulk for a cruiser- and seems itching to get his hands on the real Man With The Plan.
-Notably, Neville said that only one man can stand across the ring from him at Wrestlemania. Looks like that man has to be Austin Aries then. I love that they appear to have shown some restraint, unlike what they did with the SD women's division.
-Austin Aries vs. Tony Nese! I feel like Nese's role in life is to be the warm up match for any of Neville's opponents, due to their similar build and style. Aries has a couple of moments where the ropes appear to get the better of him- one where it looks like he was supposed to catch himself on the apron but slipped off, and the other where he did his trademark low suicide dive and clipped his feet on the bottom rope a little. Overall though, nice return where Austin Aries showed little rust.
I enjoyed 205 Live a lot more than Smackdown this week. 205 Live didn't have any standout matches this week, but they're building the Tozawa/Kendrick and Aries/Neville feuds nicely. Also looks like they're doing something with Rich Swann sending Alicia Fox romantic gifts. Not a very babyface move to try and steal someone's girl, but hey, it's interesting.
In closing, SD needs to build to Mania better, but they did have the very good AJ vs. Orton match. 205 Live built to Mania well, but they need to get a very good match in there. Let's hope the two brands start firing on all cylinders as we head towards Orlando!
Until next time, take care,