Smackdown Thoughts- AJ vs The Boss, Baby!
AJ Styles. The Phenomenal One. The brightest star to come out of TNA. Following the close of WCW and ECW, Jeff Jarrett ambitiously tried to create the no. 2 pro wrestling brand in North America in 2002. He filled the company with several ex-WCW and ECW stars for name value, to draw eyeballs to the product, but it was a young AJ that caught my attention when I gave Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling (ugh, sexual innuendo acronym aside, horrible name for a wrestling promotion) a chance. He was synonymous with TNA in much the same way as Sting was synonymous with WCW. After raising his profile even more with a stint in New Japan, AJ finally signed with WWE and debuted in the Royal Rumble 2016. With a career spanning 19 years, he has faced the best of the best, from Samoa Joe to Kurt Angle to Shinsuke Nakamura to Chris Jericho to John Cena. At Wrestlemania 33, he faces possibly his toughest challenge to date- Shane McMahon.
Sound ridiculous? Well, it kind of is. But that's the story we're being sold on this edition of Smackdown Live. Let's look at what went down.
- Major sense of déjà vu here, as we open the show with Daniel Bryan being confronted by AJ Styles. However, unlike last week, where AJ was irate, he was positively jovial this week, decked out in a Wrestlemania 33 visor and t-shirt to celebrate his inclusion in WWE's biggest event of the year. He decides to hit the ring to talk about how good it felt to beat up Shane O Mac. This is where Bryan and the commentators start selling it like AJ doesn't know what he's getting into. The badass Super Shane. The 47 year old non-wrestler (it feels generous to even call him a part-time wrestler). By all means, promote Shane as a fearless daredevil and all that, but promoting him as someone who can best AJ in a straight up contest feels disingenuous. AJ feels the same based on his boastful promo. But, pride comes before the fall. Sigh.
-Speaking of the commentators. Otunga is back on the desk. Mauro is not. He is "out sick" according to Tom Phillips. The heavy rumour circulating the Internet is that Mauro is having a tough time dealing with his mental health. He has a well-documented history of bi-polar and depression. Wishing him a speedy recovery in whatever is ailing him.
-Hell of a match to open Smackdown's wrestling action, American Alpha defending their tag titles against the Usos. Fast and furious action where both teams shine- really like the new electric chair/top rope bulldog Alpha have started busting out recently. Jey crotches Jordan on the middle rope, allowing Jimmy to hit the super kick- for the 3 count! New champs! Well, that's a shocking result right before Mania. I'm always an advocate for unexpected title changes, so no problems here.
-On Talking Smack after the show, the Usos campaign to get on the Wrestlemania card. Fun fact- even though they debuted in WWE in 2010, the Usos have never made the main card at Wrestlemania. I feel like they get the short straw again here. Unless WWE pull some crazy six hour show, the card is really too full to add any more matches, and the SD tag division is too low on the totem pole to bump anything else off the main card, so even if Alpha and Usos do a re-match, it'd likely be pre-showed. The best bet for Alpha and Usos is to get added to the Andre Battle Royal, and hope that stays on the main card (I believe it will).
-The Miz and Maryse did a brilliant send up of the "Total Bellas" reality show, revealing "unaired footage" where Miz plays Cena and Maryse plays both Bellas in a hilarious parody. It was the Vegemite of wrestling segments- you either loved the humour or hated it. As someone who's watched both Total Divas and Total Bellas, I was busting a gut laughing at the accuracy of the jokes. Maryse looked uber hot dressed as Nikki, and Miz did a brilliant job on Cena's robotic persona on those shows (for those who haven't seen them, Cena is oddly tense and stiff on them, like he's super conscious of saying the wrong thing). Miz saying "John Cena. Recognize" in a complete monotone every time was a highlight.
-Randy Orton vs. Baron Corbin was a surprising treat on SD. Made by Daniel Bryan earlier in the show, so not advertised ahead of time, it was mildly shocking to see a pinfall finish, even with the Dean Ambrose distraction. No. 1 contender to the WWE title trumps no. 1 contender to the IC title, so Corbin takes the RKO and the L. Really well wrestled, Baron seems to have a lot of poise when placed in these situations with the very top main event guys. This was far superior to the Cena vs. Corbin match from a couple of months ago, where Cena ran through the Lone Wolf with little difficulty. This was a hard fought win for the Viper, where Corbin looked Orton's equal through 95% of the match.
-Corbin vs. Ambrose is made official for Mania. Even though it's been made official a little late in the game, I feel like it's been building long enough to stay on the main card. WWE management are clearly high on Corbin, who is meeting those expectations after a rocky start in NXT and his early days on the main roster.
-I actually liked the little Wyatt-Orton segment backstage. I feel like Wyatt at this stage would benefit more as a singles star by having faceless minions do his bidding, rather than a "Family" stable of actual wrestlers. Beats the hell out of burning houses/corpses then rubbing the ashes on your face. By the way, Wyatt vs. Orton is for the WWE title. Yeah, I almost forgot too, neither guy has really mentioned it lately.
-Breezy Bella... just... what the fuck. Poor Tyler. He's so talented. Still in the doghouse for asking to leave Smackdown early one day. Bad career move, but talk about holding a grudge! Fandango issuing tickets to Cena for wearing jorts in 2017 was kinda funny though.
-Cena beat Fandango in a couple of minutes. What a shocking result. Post-match, Nikki Bella spears Tyler Breeze and locks him in the STF, which he taps to immediately. Seriously, Vince, leave Tyler alone!
-Becky vs. Carmella was just an excuse to get all the SD women out in the ring brawling. Alexa, Becky and Mickie deserve better. Carmella, not so much. I would bet my savings that the SD women's match gets pre-showed. Not legally binding.
-For those wondering why I keep making an issue about the pre-show thing- without Googling, tell me who was on the Wrestlemania 32 pre-show. Yep. It'd be kinda demoralising as a talent to perform in a stadium packed with... hundreds of people. I mean, I hope to be one of those hundreds. A lot of people, whether it be in concerts, in fighting, whatever, don't worry about the support acts/prelims. Me, I always want my money's worth.
- Shane dupes AJ, who waited all show in the parking lot (car park for my Aussie friends) to ambush him again. AJ encounters Heath Slater and Rhyno coming out of a limo (I'm assuming the limo picked them up from Slater's double-wide), and Shane calls AJ out from the ring. Standard brawl ensues, and Shane gets to stand tall after putting Styles through the announce table with a massive diving elbow off the top rope. Doesn't look like Shane O Mac connects clean but they hide it a little with camera angles. At least Styles didn't have to sell ridiculous air punches, like Randy Orton once did. Decent angle to close the show, if nothing ground-breaking.
Good show from the blue brand. The WWE title feud had a good week, where the Wyatt weirdness was toned down a little and Orton looked strong as the no. 1 contender in his match with Corbin. They just need to put more focus on the title itself on the go-home show. It's unfortunate the way the women's division on Smackdown is being treated but I guess there needs to be one match as the piss break for some people. Not me. If you think I'm missing Alexa Bliss live, you're out of your freaking mind! And I like the AJ vs. Shane feud. I wasn't crazy about the apparent presentation of Shane at the show open, but the way he got the upper hand in a scrappy manner, before risking his body to take out the more talented wrestler, that's a fine approach to take. So, AJ Styles won't have a 5 star match at this year's Mania. It's a Shane O Mac match. I swear, the last time he had a singles match without a gimmick was against X-Pac at Wrestlemania 15. So, I'm strapping myself in for the car crash fun that AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon should be at Wrestlemania 33.
Until next time, take care,